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Jack Tame: Sometimes you have to make unpopular calls

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jul 2023, 9:32AM
Photo / File
Photo / File

Jack Tame: Sometimes you have to make unpopular calls

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jul 2023, 9:32AM

I was driving about some of the outskirts of Nelson this week and it took me a bit of time to notice it.

Since my last visit to the region earlier this year, several of the large billboards that had been hammered up on the sides of the road to protest the Three Waters reforms have been removed and not obviously replaced.

I don’t know if it’s a Nelson thing or if the billboards have just been moved to another location, or if their removal is symptomatic of something greater nationwide. But at the very least, it’s been my observation that much of the anger around Three Waters has dissipated since Kieran McAnulty took over the portfolio and the government reset the plan.

I’m not saying Three Waters isn’t still contentious. There are still public meetings and roadshows and Facebook groups spilling with fury. I’m just saying it’s not nearly as contentious as it was 12 months ago. And even though the new ten-entity plan doesn’t make anything like the financial savings that were initially promised, the government has correctly bet that it can push ahead with a version of Three Waters without it being the single issue that costs it the election.

In six years, I can think of few other significant reforms in which Labour has pursued a vision over short-term political popularity. Auckland’s Light Rail project might make the cut, except –like Three Waters– I suspect the project is probably more popular and less contentious than some of the pushback would have us believe.

The nature of political leadership is that sometimes you have to make unpopular calls for the greater good. As much as voters have a collective wisdom, they’re also human. They’re motivated by short term incentives. Everyone wants more for less. I suspect that many of those who vehemently oppose Three Waters, for example, have also railed for decades against the rates increases that might have gone some way to developing water infrastructure and removing the need for the reforms in the first place.

If you’re only prepared to make popular decisions, then what is the point in leadership? It’s not really leadership, is it? It’s just focus-grouping. Polling. Instead of laying out a platform, debating its merits, and pursuing a distinct vision, you might as well just have a smartphone app or a website on which everyone votes on every little policy so that you can be sure you never fall afoul of the masses.

I’m not remotely surprised by Chris Hipkins’ captain’s call on tax, this week. The Prime Minister has made it clear from day one that his absolute priority is winning the election. But I do wonder if somewhere on the ninth floor, at some point, Labour’s strategists find themselves in an existential bind.

If the cost of winning an election means sacrificing your political vision, then what’s the point in winning?

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