First, 'Bruiser' Bill English, a man whose prowess in the boxing ring ranks alongside my own, announced that National were going to flog off state own enterprises. English suggested that the sales would be used to fund infrastructure spending (1), but the real reason would be to pay for tax cuts. Were the tax cuts were as affordable as National keep suggesting, then the sale of the SOEs wouldn't be needed. English is suggesting National will slash tax, and make up the short fall by selling off profitable and efficient state owned enterprises that bring in a steady stream of revenue to the country, not to foreign shareholders. While Bill isn't sure (2) if National would retain a majority stake in the SOEs, or squeeze out a few extra cents of tax cuts by giving up control, that isn't very important.
Selling a minority stake now opens the way to selling off the rest of it next time around: "We sold part last time, the world didn't end, so we can sell of the rest. You'll have a nice tax cut, never mind that it will be more than used up paying for the newly privatised services, and by the loss of the revenue stream the country will experience."
Realising that Bill had pretty much knocked himself out, National spin-meisters launched a diversionary assault, announcing another stupid idea. The hope was it would distract us from the last one. Announcing that the the cap on G.P's fees would be lifted (3), Key and Ryall proclaimed their vision of New Zealand health in the future - a country where injured and sick people trail about from one doctor to another, trying to find the one they can afford. Key thinks that market forces will keep prices down. Wrong. When you are sick, you are sick, and you need treatment. A market relies on people being able to bargain effectively. Sick people aren't in a position to bargain. "Nah, I don't like the price, mate. I might have Bubonic plague, but I'll hold off a few days, see if it the price comes down." Silly argument? No, silly idea. Another step in entirely the wrong direction.
Then National, crazed by the gibby rush of policy announcements after what seemed like an endless drought, indicated the way they are moving on education (4). More money for private schools, which will promote an elitist, two tier system of eduction. New schools to be built and operated through the private sector, so we'll have to pay someone to do the job and them pay other people to check they are doing it properly, which will probably end up costing more than the current system. Key also indicated that National might be reconsidering its suicidal advocacy of bulk funding of teachers salaries, but the words of Bill English from 2005 are still unequivcal - "No ifs, no buts, and no fighting in school communities over whether to have it. Everyone is going bulk funding" (5). Key backed away from this sort of rhetoric, saying the party were considering "other options to give schools more flexibility in their management locally" (6), an ominous ofrmualtion which may mean nothing at all or which may indicate National has decided to introduce bulk-funding slowly, rather than tackling the teachers head on.
And all this when Labour enjoy their best polling (7) in eons - cutting National's lead to a scrape over 5%. Most of this is the result of Natiobal support dropping. It will be interesting to see how the slew of policy misfires will affect National and Key in the next round of polls, but I suspect the public won't care particularly for re-heated ideas from the bad old days.
1 - 'Nats want to sell assets to finance tax cuts - PM,' by Paula Oliver in the New Zealand Herald, 24th of September, 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10465539&ref=rss)
2 - ibid.
3 - 'National to scrap cap on GPs' fees,' by Sue Eden in the New Zealand Herald, 26th of September,
4 - "Key plans to boost private school funding," by Colin Espiner, in the Press, 29th of September, 2007. Reproduced on
5 - ibid.
6 - ibid.
7 - 'Labour gets boost in latest poll,' unattributed NZPA article, 29th of September, 2007. (http://nz.news.yahoo.com/070928/3/1uwc.html)