By delaying partial asset sales to deal with Maori interests, National is burning off core voters.
When the issue of Maori claims on water arose, I mused that this may be the angle National needed to regain support from mainstream voters. I thought National could gain support from middle-New Zealanders peeved to see Maori interests dictating the matter.
To gain that support, National needed to be strident about its plan. By delaying for further negotiation and perhaps legal challenges, National now appears to core National voters, and some swinging voters, as having weakly given in to Maori interests.
This is politically dangerous because these voters were among the few people supportive, or at least agnostic, on partial asset sales.
National has now managed to annoy two very sizable chunks of voters: “nationalists” who are bothered by the idea of selling profitable assets to foreigners, and conservative white voters who don’t like giving in to ‘unjustified’ Maori claims.
Maybe National is making the only choice it can in the circumstances. Maybe it is the right choice. Key says the delay will provide certainty that should shore up the share price.
Either way, the announcement makes the asset sale programme look very tatty. At best it is a delay forced by not planning well. At worst it is a delay forced by lack of willpower.
It has been pointed out that the issue could be the crippling of National as the Foreshore and Seabed issue was for the Labour administration in 2003. The pundits forget that despite antagonising Maori, Labour saw out two more terms in power!
This delay is more reminiscent of a particular moment in Labour’s foreshore saga. In Christmas 2004 (I think) Helen Clark delayed a decision on the issue until the following year, hoping that the summer recess would defuse the heat. She was wrong, Labour came back to increased controversy.
Politicians love delay, but it only stalls the inevitable. The partial float delay is likely to give the public even more reasons to wish National had never thought of asset sales at all.