It's a back down, but it's a back down worth doing. Labour won't be punished for it.
At the last election Labour promised to force farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) this term. It's just broken that promise.
Instead, farmers get to design their own system. An alternative to the ETS. It's what farmers wanted. Chalk that up as a win for the farming lobby.
But a win for farmers isn't necessarily a loss for the Government. This is also a win for Labour, many times over.
The compromise lets the Prime Minister show off a bit of deft coalition management. It can't have been easy to find a middle ground between the Greens and New Zealand First. Those two parties are opposite ends of the spectrum on what to do with farming. The Greens accuse farmers of "climate pollution". NZ First wants to do farmers all the favours it can. Finding a way to mange that difference is masterful. With falling polls, she needs this kind of win.
It also suggests Labour's prepared to be pragmatic. So many of the policies it took to the 2017 election were either embarrassingly naive, poorly thought-through or vote losers. Count this one as a major vote loser. Had farmers been forced into the ETS they would've kicked up such merry hell it would've covered the Government in bruises even Thin Lizzy couldn't hide. Ditching the idea shows this is a government prepared to shelve its worst student-politics ideas for a bit of grown-up pragmatism.
It also neutralises the National Party. You'd expect the traditional friend-of-the-farmer to wail in protest and promise to unwind all these evil rules at the next election. But, it's very hard to unwind these rules when these rules are designed by the farmers themselves. Pretty much, National's going to have to find something else to wail about. The best attack the Nats could mount this week was that the Government was kicking the can down the road. Well that's hardly a sucker punch. That's exactly what every government's done since the ETS was established.
The biggest win is that this government can say it's done what no other government has managed to achieve. Which is to get farmers to pay for their emissions. No, it's not in the ETS - the method of getting there is different - but the direction of travel is the same. The final destination is lower emissions. That's a win Labour can crow about at the next election. And they need every win they can get right now. The "achieved" column for Labour this term is a little sparse.
The biggest risk with this decision is that Labour's own supporters see it as another back down. But, as far as back downs go, this one hardly registers. I'd be surprised if many Labour voters even knew this was a party policy. It was hardly the election headliner Capital Gains Tax or KiwiBuild was.
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Jacindamania II is not on the cards
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Few care about council elections
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Cheaper power prices? More like a 'cruel joke'
The ETS is pretty nerdy stuff for your average townie. It's complicated. If you cared that much about getting farmers into the ETS, you're voting Green already. And if you cared that much about the ETS, you know enough to know that the solution that's been designed achieves the same thing anyway.
So there's a lot of upside for Labour, and very little downside. Which is to say, if you were going to pick a policy to back down on, this was it.