Last election, Labour presented its opposition to asset sales as a contrast. This is typical of the modern NZLP’s centrist approach to politics.
The way you contrast yourself to a painful privatisation agenda is not to simply oppose it. No, you punch your opposition in the face, you take the reverse of their position. You say “You want to talk about ownership of assets? Fine. We’re going to nationalise assets that will perform well as SOEs.”
And if Labour grew a spine, they could do this in a popular and fair way. Announce they’re going to nationalise everything National has sold, and that they’ll only pay people for their shares if they were bought directly through the option. They don’t even have to promise a refund to be fair- hammer the point that these people were trying to steal property they already collectively owned, like uprooting a public drinking fountain, and protesting that you paid rates for it.
But Labour can go still further. You know what else would be better back in public hands? TVNZ. Force a split to the broadcaster- let them keep TV2 and the various commercial-owned channels. Reinstate TV7 as a public service channel, and run TV1 as a cultural/news/documentary/public entertainment channel. Make the governance aim that they attempt to self-fund, and ban them from providing dividends to the government- if they run a profit, they can either save it for when they have higher costs, or reinvest it.
There’s also a good argument for nationalising the telecommunications infrastructure, (hell, we invested in most of it in the first place) nationalising or forcing a buyback* of State insurance, (state-run insurance is almost inevitably cheaper, as it doesn’t need to collect the same profit) making Kiwisaver compulsory in all but exceptional circumstances, and requiring all kiwisaver funds to invest 50% of their assets in New Zealand businesses.
That would be a real conversation about ownership and the state’s role in productive enterprise, and National couldn’t stop it with cheap ads about dancing Cossacks this time- we saw what happened to the economy after they tanked our last attempt to have New Zealanders investing in New Zealand.
But Labour won’t do this, because to push for such a plan yourself is to admit to New Zealand you are no longer wholly a party of the centre, that you believe in some leftist principles, (as opposed to taking a left-leaning slant at centrist principles) and the politics of the NZLP is now firmly rooted in the centre of political discourse. They might do some of these things under the political cover of a coalition partner asking for them, (thank you, Winston. And may I never have to say those three words again) but the current leadership of the Labour party are scared little boys that only know how to compromise and appear “sensible”. I require more than sensible from my government, thank you. I want them to lead.
*I don’t require that we simply “steal” every asset back that was immorally sold in the past, but we can force the owners to accept a fair and reasonable price, rather than being forced into an inflated buyback. National is going to criticise you for paying too much if you do a market buyback, so why pay more when you can get the same business for less money and the same political cost? Also, I don’t accept that the word stealing applies to taking back something that should never have been sold, and that people got for bargain prices and for which they have received more than a full return on their investment.
update: You could also run a billboard for people’s hilarious grass-roots mockery of asset sales, like, say, this auction.