I still have the photos from the day in 1998 that the Green Party left the Alliance. It was the day I joined. I'd refused to become a member before then as I couldn't stand the kind of old left politics that the Alliance represented and I couldn't understand why the Greens would continue to yoke themselves to a party that despised them. Just as I could never understand why we yoked ourselves to the Labour Party when I was an MP, a party who despised us no less.
So I was happy to see the Greens finally take an independent stance on post-election negotiations at this weekend's conference. The Greens have said that they will attempt to work constructively with, and challenge, whichever party leads the government after the November elections but that anyone who wants Green support would need to make “significant progress on Green Party environmental, economic and social policies and initiatives” before that could happen. In conclusion, it is unlikely, but not impossible, that they would support a National-led government, and it is possible, but not certain, that they would support a Labour-led government.
Cue the hyperbole. Bomber says its about loyalty, although he doesn't explain why the Greens owe Labour any loyalty in the first place. Paradoxically, he also says that while he “believe(s) in everything the Greens have ever said and done when it comes to policy” voting Labour would be a better choice. He remains conspicuously silent on how he reconciles this with Labour's record on all the issues he holds dear. Sue Bradford attacks the Greens for “taking a step towards the right". When you see the political world in monochrome then of course black, white, and shades of grey are all you have to describe it. The Greens have always been more colourful than that.
The Greens can be described as 'left', just as the colour of a puriri tree can be described as 'dark', but not adequately so. The Greens have an uncompromising commitment to fairness and equality. They also have a commitment to individual rights and to limitations on the power of the State, but I wouldn't describe them as 'rightwing' either. What I would say is that by rejecting the left / right dichotomy as inadequate to describe Green politics, the Greens become free to adopt what is valuable from either end of that spectrum and evolve it in accordance with their own philosophies. Some people on the left would say there is nothing valuable to be found on the right, and vice versa. That kind of locked-in thinking is exactly the problem. Being 'green' identified provides room for finding creative, holistic, solutions to current social and environmental challenges.
The post-election negotiating strategy is not about the Greens commitment to the 'left' in any case, but their (lack of) commitment to the Labour Party. Labour has time and again shown that it prefers going into coalition with just about anyone but the Greens. Only the Maori Party and Hone Harawira seem more distateful to them. The Greens continuing to pledge themselves unreservedly to Labour would indicate a distinct lack of self esteem and political nouse.
To my mind there are a number of reasons for the Greens new approach. The first is simple negotiation tactics. Only a fool gives their commitment to a deal before negotiations have begun. Actually it is worse than that. In the past the Greens have said only that they won't support National to govern. While they never promised to support Labour, their commitment has always included the recognition that they would have to support Labour if Greens held the balance of power. Allowing National to govern by withholding support from Labour would be as bad as actually voting for National. Labour knows this. What the Greens have done in the past, then, is to guarantee a deal with Labour, before seeing any terms, but only if Labour can't find anyone better. That is what various spokespeople for the left would have the Greens keep doing, it would seem.
The other reason is that sooner or later a child has to let go of mama's skirt. Given the sad state of the Labour Party right now, it seems an appropriate time to do so. The Greens announcement at the weekend does not indicate that they are about to support National to form a government. In fact it suggests the opposite. What it does say is that the Greens are finally standing on their own two feet.