Why was he so confident? And why was his Finance Minister so happy to tell us that when it came to his precious partial privatisation programme there was no “Plan B”?
If the Supreme Court hadn’t delivered the desired result, are Bill English and John Key really asking us to believe that they would have shrugged their shoulders and said: “Oh well, back to the drawing-board.”
Of course there was a Plan B.
The signs were there weeks ago in the form of dark mutterings about the Chief Justice’s impartiality – or lack of it – on Treaty issues. Nothing too overt, of course, just the odd line or two in newspaper columns, but sufficient to attract the attention of Dame Sian Elias and the other judges of the Supreme Court. Enough to let them know that if the Judiciary was contemplating thwarting the Executive on a matter of such importance it should think again.
John Key and his government are adamant that they possess an unchallengeable mandate to proceed with their partial privatisation programme. Were the Supreme Court to prevent them from carrying it out there can be little doubt that the Government would present its behaviour as a case of five unelected judges ignoring the democratic verdict of the people of New Zealand.
Such a judgement would not be permitted to stand.
Had the Supreme Court found in favour of the Maori Council, I believe the Prime Minister would have asked the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and issue the writs for a new election. That election would have been fought on the proposition that New Zealand has become a state in which a minority of citizens (Maori) aided and abetted by their allies in the Supreme Court (Dame Sian Elias) is able to ride roughshod over the will of the (Pakeha) majority.
It would have been an extremely racist and an extremely divisive campaign, and the Right would have swept all before it to claim a landslide victory.
Labour and the Greens would have been impossibly placed to resist the massive backlash that an overtly anti-Maori, anti-Treaty, anti-Political Correctness political campaign would have unleashed. They would have no option but to stand with the Supreme Court’s decision and defend the Treaty as the guarantor of Maori rights. It would have been a noble and principled gesture, and in Auckland Central, Wellington Central and Dunedin North it would have been rewarded with big majorities. But in the suburbs, the provinces and throughout rural New Zealand National would have carried all before them.
The Left would have found itself in the position of the Labour Party after the events of 1951. In some difficult to define and wholly unfair way Labour and the Greens would have been tainted: pushed outside the razor-wire defences of the new, authoritarian and overtly racist consensus.
Though they would have remained unspoken, such thoughts must have been in the minds of the five Supreme Court judges as they weighed the Maori Council’s case.
Dame Sian Elias must surely have asked herself whether a judgement against the Government would have been worth the trouble it would cause.
National, under John Key, has been advancing Maori claims at a pace that Labour proved incapable of matching when in office. Why put that steady advance at risk by effectively slapping the Prime Minister in the face? Especially when, in 2011, his party came within three percentage points of achieving an absolute electoral majority for its partial privatisation programme?
John Key, Bill English and the National Party didn’t have a Plan B for the very simple reason that they didn’t need one. The sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism are much too vicious to be recklessly kicked into rabid, slavering wakefulness. The Supreme Court was always going to let them lie.
As for Labour and the Greens: they have had a very lucky escape.
Chris Trotter blogs at Bowalley Road