Policies to Upset the Purists

If National's only pretending to be 'centrist', it's a very good act.

Most lobby groups ramp up their activities in election year. The Business Roundtable gets quieter. Emails might fly behind the scenes (as they did in 2005), but the organisation aims for a low public profile.

In this campaign it's a strategy that has done National no favours. If the Roundtable had been a louder advocate of its free-market principles, they might have silenced those who continue to believe that men in suits lurk behind each of the Tories’ policy decisions.

The Roundtable is entirely devoted to reducing the level of government intervention – a line of attack that has become increasingly challenging in the face of the global financial crisis. But this campaign National, despite its history, is by no means attempting to convince the public of a need for less government interference in their lives (unless we pay attention to their vote-grabbing, disingenuous sound-bites about the ‘anti-smacking bill’).

Last week, the Tories announced their Super Fund policy. A National-led government would “allow the Minister of Finance to give direction to the Guardians of the Fund in relation to the proportion of the fund which is to be allocated to New Zealand. National will set the target of at least 40 per cent of the Super Fund to be invested in New Zealand.”

As the National Business Review’s Ben Thomas and former Super Fund guardian Brian Gaynor opined, it’s a scary day when politicians believe that they know better than the qualified professionals who mind the fund.

If ever there were a policy that would raise the hackles of the Roundtable’s policy purists, this is it. It opens the door for future political meddling – how about forcing the Super Fund to invest in wind-farms, to get the Greens into a coalition?

Indeed, the Roundtable’s Roger Kerr published an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times criticising the idea, pointing out that the fund’s investments already largely flow back to New Zealand. But tactfully he didn’t refer to the fact that it was National’s policy he was attacking. (It was a strange omission, with the article added to the Roundtable’s website several days after National announced its policy.)

This week, the Nats were at it again. Like Labour, the party is launching a welfare policy designed to financially help those who lose their jobs as a result of the global financial crisis.

Welfare in and of itself isn’t going to upset the Roundtable – and the organisation probably believes that ‘swallowing some dead rats’ is an acceptable price to pay for a centre-right government – but the policy’s messiness and scope for bureaucratic excess is going to give Kerr heartburn.

If, as Nicky Hager claims on this site, “the centrist John Key is a fake” and National is “tricking” its way to electoral success, the party is going to extraordinary lengths to convince even its ideological allies of the lie.