Privatisation as electoral poison

Twitter is not a very useful medium for sustained debate. I’ve discovered this in the course of a rather strange interchange with Peter Brent (the psephblogger known as Mumble) and Piping Shrike, a pseudonymous blogger. These are both commentators I generally respect, but they are making a case that I find unbelievable. I made what I thought was the unexceptionable point that the proposed privatisation of Western Power was a central issue in the recent WA election, pointing to the polling evidence cited in the post below

In response it was claimed (if I’ve interpreted the tweets correctly that such polling evidence is useless and that privatisation has never been a central issue, not even in the Queensland elections which saw the Bligh and Newman governments successively turfed out with huge swings. Mumble asserted that these results reflected hostility to the national governments of the same party.

I’ll open this one up to readers, and invite comments from Mumble and Shrike.

What do people think about the substantive claim here. Am I wrong in thinking that, in the many election campaigns ostensibly dominated by privatisation, the fact that the pro-privatisation side has almost invariably lost is a mere coincidence. In particular, were the huge swings in Queensland mainly due to other factors?

What kind of evidence counts? I’ve cited extensive polling evidence on the unpopularity of privatisation, but Mumble and Shrike have both dismissed this?

I’ve said my piece, so I’ll sit back for a while and let others discuss this if they choose to.

Also, if someone knows how to storify the Twitter exchange and can be bothered doing so, I’d be very grateful

35 thoughts on “Privatisation as electoral poison

  1. Nothing is more boring than the bourgeois reduction of political economy to psephology. It illuminates absolutely nothing about the real challenges of political economy nor about the human and moral challenges of economics. Psephology a side-issue distraction of the worst type.

    People are rusted on to the two main parties, meaning the two neoliberal pro-capitalist parties, because they do not understand political economy. That is the basic issue. They then flip-flop between the two main parties (well the “swinging vote” subset does) in the vain hope they will get something different out of the other neoliberal pro-capitalist party. Vain hope indeed! Meanwhile power and control is being continuously transferred away from our governments and to corporations as we move towards corporate dictatorship of our society.

    Nothing will change until the two-party, one ideology nature of our political economy system (a fig-leaf for capitalist control anyway) is overthrown in a comprehensive manner.

  2. @Ikonoclast
    Actually, I’d suggest that the repeated reduction of various social and political issues to a Marxist delenda carthago is equally boring. Just sayin’. 😀

  3. @Ikonoclast

    Indeed, ikonoclast. This is one reason why making claims about the electorate’s attitude to a particular issue on the basis of election results (as I did above) is risky. From long conditioning, the electorate can’t be blamed for expecting that both parties will privatise, regardless of their protestations before the election. It is only occasionally such as in Western Australia where it was perhaps the primary issues taken to the campaign, or in Queensland where the deception factor reinforced the antagonism, that one can be confident of this interpretation.

  4. In the last NSW election one reason I voted against the liberals was because they wanted to privatise the power grid.

  5. In defence of Twitter, it can be used to replicate the primordial form of (we)blogging, namely pointing people to interesting places on the web, with a quick comment that may pique their interest or summarise the tweeter’s view.

    That’s my primary use. When I get into a long exchange as a result, I mostly regret it.

  6. Most of the arguments against the “privatisation is poison” thesis seem to me to come down to “We can’t possibly know anything about why voters vote the way they do”. Certainly, scepticism about easy explanations is appropriate. But (to go slightly ad hominem) it doesn’t seem as if those commenting along these lines apply the same scepticism to their own preferred explanations.

    I think we could do a reasonably satisfactory statistical test with a vote share regression including “proposed privatisation” as a dummy variable, along with standard explanatory factors. Since I have no time for this, I’ll just observe that you’d get a fair bit of statistical significance from the big swings in WA, NT and Qld (twice)

  7. @Smith
    More fossil fuels is now the anti neo-liberal position?

    No, that isn’t what I said and that is not the position. But I’m not going to derail the thread by elaborating and your question is answered elsewhere.

    It seems pretty clear that John is right and many voters instinctively know that is is senseless to sell off infrastructure and force taxpayers to fork out extra money to give the capitalists a decent profit. On top of that, the legal regime post-privatisation is notoriously difficult to get right and invariably creates a range of perverse incentives, which has led top things like gold plating and insufficient system redundancy.

  8. Sorry I prefaced my remarks with something obviously inflammatory. Any response to the subsequent, more substantial points?

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