Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wanted: an independent Green Party

This is my column, published in the Waikato Times on January 12:

The summer break is usually a good time for the Greens. People have been away from work, with time to think about more than the daily grind. They go to the beach and maybe reflect on the lack of kai moana (sea food) or whether there is faeces in the water. That will be cold comfort to the Green Party this year. Some people won big when National took the election (or at least felt satisfaction at sticking it to Labour) but it looks like the environment will be the big loser.

The same cannot be said for Maori. John Key met tribal leaders immediately after the election and invited the Maori Party to talk. It was an astute move to pull ACT's teeth, but it also reflects a generational attitude shift. There are great risks, for both sides, but it is already paying off, with two Maori Party ministers and a new focus on Treaty settlements. This would never have happened under Labour. In return, John Key has had the doors to te ao Maori opened to him, as evidenced at Pukawa Marae.

Did the Maori Party get only the shiny wrappings of power and no actual presents, as some suggest? Their relationship agreement contains few policy points. The Greens' experience with Labour suggests everything needs to be in writing and signed in blood. Even then Labour would claw it back. Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia may find it hard to deliver much, if National plays the same game. Yet their agreement starts with the importance of the relationship. In the end it will be about whether Mr Key, and his Cabinet, is serious about that.

There is no relationship for the Greens, however. National has already got rid of the biofuel obligation on petrol companies, and new green investments and jobs have disappeared as a result. The Government's position on climate change is dangerously myopic. ACT (always critical when other people waste money) has demanded a special select committee, hoping to challenge the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its thousands of scientists. The result of this farce: business uncertainty, investments cancelled and valuable time wasted.

National itself is treating climate change negotiations like a trade negotiation, trying to get sweet deals and special favours for New Zealand. These are not trade negotiations. They are an attempt to co-ordinate an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for the good of all people (actually all species) now and for the foreseeable future.

But then National is not an environmental party. It is the Green Party's job to influence governments on the issues that count and why would National listen to them? The Greens made it very clear in the election campaign that they were not interested in talking to National.

I thought at the time that it was an extraordinarily stupid thing to do, to fasten your lifeboat to a sinking ship. Greens do best when there is an outgoing Labour Government, but this election the results were disappointing. The Green Party might well have won their biggest caucus yet, if they had been prepared to stop licking Labour's hand.

There is a question of whether National would have paid any attention to them anyway. Senior National MPs were privately hinting so early last year and Mr Key's approach to the Maori Party indicates a new openness. There was never a better time for the Greens to see if they could forge a new political space, genuinely independent of Labour and National. Unfortunately for us all, they lacked the courage to try.


11 comments:

Durham said...

Valid points Nandor. Just because it has always seemed that Labour is a natural fit for the Greens doesn't mean it has to be that way.
If they are not truly independent then they will always be in Labour's shadow and unable to do much more than split Labour's vote.
The onus is on the new leadership to reinvent themselves as more than a bunch of hippies from the Coromandel and try to bring together environmentalists from both sides of the politcal fence.

Nandor Tanczos said...

Kia ora Durham

My thinking is that relationships should be made on policy and program. I liked the idea of creating a policy list by which to evaluate different parties and thereby create a preference order for post election negotiations. So I wasn't unhappy about saying "our preference for talking to other parties after the election, based on policy alignment, is (probably) Maori Party, then Labour, then ??? ...." The point is that National should be on the list somewhere. If a Labour Government is not viable, I think it unwise to rule out talking with National.

From a Labour point of view, they surely want us to straddle the divide so as to draw National voters and thereby enlarge the Labour / Green bloc. From a Green point of view I would have thought the most important thing is to redefine the main political duality away from 'left / right' to 'sustainable / unsustainable'. Otherwise Greens remain a clip-on party forever.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Besides, now we're facing 3 years with a government apparently unwilling to take global warming seriously. We can't wait that long to do something - so the Greens need to engage with National now in an effort to make them see sense. Like the campaign slogan said, some things are bigger than politics...

Stephen Franks said...

I hope the genuine greens do not dismiss your comments Nandor. I saw in the election here in Wellington Central, just how much green influence was driven down (despite the high Green party vote) by the doctrinaire personal hostility and unpleasantness of some Green branded folk.
I felt they were clinging to their hatreds. Perhaps they'd collectively defined themselves for so long by who they hated together that they were afraid of the complexity there could be in a world without a familiar IFF (identify friend or foe) catechism.

Anonymous said...

You mean like those people tearing down the "Vote With Both Eyes Open" posters?

Nandor Tanczos said...

Hi Stephen, welcome to Dread Times.

Don't mean to be personal, but you've shown a little hostility and unpleasantness in your time haven't you? Not to me, but I remember a couple of meetings.... LOL

Dylan, I'm seriously worried about NZ's position in the climate change negotiations. We are a small country but I think we have influence beyond our size- I've seen this at Inter Parliamentary Union meetings. We could be a positive force at Copenhagen, but at the rate we are going we are looking more like a spoiler.

Green Tea said...

Hi Nandor. Interesting titled post.

In light of that title Im wondering if you wouldn't mind sharing your thoughts on Bryce Edwards article about Green Party funding, found here:

http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2008/10/political-fin-1.html

This also raises questions about the need for an independant green party.

Nandor Tanczos said...

Hi Green Tea

Very detailed reading of the entrails. I think the article does raise an interesting general point about the way that success tends to lead to a professionalisation of political parties, and centralisation of power, and therefor tends to uncut the power of the membership to some degree. I would still contend that the Green Party is one of the most member driven of any parliamentary party - along with the Maori Party I suspect.

The stuff about donors influencing the party's direction is simply incorrect in my view.

Mr Dennis said...

I think the main issue with the Green party is that although outwardly an environmental party, based on their track record they have achieved far more in the way of liberal socialism (the "smacking law", gay rights etc), with the only recent environmental achievement I can think of being your own waste minimisation act - which few voters were aware of.

Now certainly many Green party voters will support liberal socialist policies. But there are many other people who wish to protect the environment (such as myself) but morally and economically are further to the right and could never support the Greens as a result.

I personally believe the Green party needs to be a bit more honest about their position. If they a deep-red-to-the-left-of-Labour hard-line socialist party that happens to like the environment, as seems to be the case at the moment, then they should be open about that, and maybe even change their name.

If they really believe the environment is the most important issue, they need to honestly move to a more centrist position on other issues - and that involves getting candidates that will actually vote that way, not just changing the rhetoric. Otherwise they will always remain "a bunch of hippies from the Coromandel" in the eyes of most voters.

As I said, there are many others who care about the environment, the Green party does not have a monopoly on that. I was the environmental spokesperson for the Family Party last election, and am completing my PhD in the environmental sciences (soil science) at the moment. I care about the environment. But I am with the Family Party because I could never support the Greens, because of their social and economic policies, and because I do not believe the Green's regulation-based approach to the environment is the most effective way of protecting it.

I currently believe the Green party gets many voters from the "I don't know who to vote for so I'll tick Green because the environment is cool" crowd - although that obviously isn't their core support, it is these votes that push them over the 5% threshold. As these voters slowly realise the Greens aren't actually achieving much for the environment, and instead are pushing liberal left-wing policies that actually go against the beliefs of some Green voters (who voted primarily because of the environment) this support may drain away.

Hopefully to ourselves, then we can achieve something real for the environment!

Cameron said...

The main reason I vote for Greens is its good record on standing up to attacks on civil liberties in NZ. Keith Locke does a great job opposing undemocratic laws such as the Terrorism Suppression Act and human rights abuses in NZ and around the World. Also I really appreciate Sue Bradford's work sticking up for workers.

If the Greens became a solely environmental party and stopped pushing for social justice I would find someone else to vote for.

Mr Dennis said...

In other words Cameron, you support and vote for their liberal socialist policies, those being more important to you than the environment.

My point is not that these policies are incorrect, they are valid points of view. My point is that their primary focus does not appear to be the environment, so calling it the "Green" party may be somewhat misleading, especially as when socialist policies conflict with the environment the socialist ones seem to take priority (such as apparent Green Party support for cabotage regulations to support unions despite the fact that such policies could increase transport fuel consumption through less efficient use of shipping).