Hide on an off day

We must fervently hope there are no more by-elections. The country simply can’t afford them.

I am not talking about the cost of running the by-election – although they’re not proving cheap. Last year’s Northland by-election cost just under a million dollars. That’s $30 a vote.

But the real expense is they make politicians dig deeper into our pockets.

The Northland by-election spooked National into promising upgrades to 10 bridges. The cost was put between $32 million and $69m.

Labour Leader Andrew Little dismissed National’s announcement as “pork barrel and a desperate bid to win the confidence of the Northland people”. He was quite correct in his assessment.

The disappointing thing is that National has stuck with the bridges despite losing to Winston Peters.

Their message should have been clearer: no votes, no bridges. The pork can’t arrive regardless of how people vote: that undermines the entire rationale of pork barrel politics.

Hide’s political radar must be down. ?To deny Northland its pork, National would have all but guaranteed another loss in the general election. ?Besides, taking things away isn’t John Key’s thing. ?

But now it’s Labour shovelling pork on a truly gargantuan scale. They’re promising $680m for a tram from Mt Roskill into town. That’s more than $25,000 a vote. And that’s only half the cost. Labour wants Auckland Council to stump up with the rest.

There’s a snag there. Phil Goff was inside the Labour caucus less than a month ago. Now he’s mayor of Auckland – and now he’s elected he disagrees with Labour: he’s not prepared to shake ratepayers down for the cash.

That shows how roughly cobbled together Labour’s policy is.

Of course, now National are calling Labour’s promise “pork barrel politics”.

The good news for taxpayers is that the policy is not one Labour can deliver on. Their candidate winning Mt Roskill doesn’t propel them into government and their hands into our pockets.

They will be trying to push National around into taking positions and promising their own pork however. ? Sometimes political strategy doesn’t so much matter what you promise, it’s what you can force the other side into.


– Rodney Hide, NZ Herald