Policy progress easiest made in opposition’s patch

by Jake Quinn

txtdriveThe secret to political progress is doing it in the opposition’s traditional policy space.  We have seen this time and time again, with the latest example being the banning of hand held cell phone use in cars.

The Labour-led New Zealand Government is working on a law change to ban the use of talking or texting on your cell phone while driving.

Labour of course are big fans of banning things and controlling people’s lives.

Words like these (by Dave Gee, in July 2008) will occur less frequently now that National is the government, despite the fact that National has announced the same policy.

Labour was able to radically slash government spending and deregulate the economy in the mid 1980’s.  National was able to make serious gains in the treaty settlement process in the 1990’s.  In the 2000’s, Labour was able to sign significant Free Trade Agreements and send the SAS troops off to war on multiple occasions.

National has been able to form a government with the Maori Party and is likely to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act within the next year. None of these actions were considered to be within their party’s core policy space.

They were able to progress these policies (easier, perhaps than their opponents might have) because the changes existed either in the traditional policy space of their opponents (in the case of the FTA or sending the SAS) or completely outside of any party policy space at the time (think, 1980’s economic reforms).

Making change in your opposition’s patch has multiple positive effects politically.  It neutralises the parliamentary opposition because they are naturally less inclined to kick up a fuss about changes they do not disapprove of in principle, and it neutralises ‘outside the beltway’ opposition because the action doesn’t appeal to pre-existing gripes about the governing party.

In the current case, National will have a free run on areas that Labour would have been criticised for being too ‘nanny state’ in, because that gripe is not one attached to them.

A side effect of this phenomenon is that John Key and his ministers have considerably more political capital up their sleeves if they wanted to make lasting, meaningful and progressive change in the area of carbon emission reductions.

Why? Because the farming, big electricity user and business lobbies, won’t instinctively be skeptical and react negatively to everything they announce regardless of its merits, the way they were renowned for doing under the last government.  So will this political capital be put to good use? It is not looking likely and that is a shame.

Note: the subtext of the above picture from Stuff is not “nanny state govt bans phones”, but “you’re mad to be doing this in the first place”. Interesting huh?