Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Greens step forward

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.


nommopilot said...

Thanks Nandor,

Well articulated.

Rayna said...

yeah totally concur. I've felt nothing but a strong sense of relief at the decisions that came out of conference. I fail to understand why anyone still thinks we owe Labour anything.

There's no point of the Greens going into parliamentary politics to do things differently if we don't actually do anything different to the rest of them.

Also, as always, your poetry is spot on. Tautoko.


Anonymous said...

Kia ora Nandor. As a Green of many years, I really appreciate hearing this from you. And we missed you at conference too!

I believe the left-right spectrum is still meaningful to many and does have its place, but the Greens will never thrive if we allow ourselves to be defined solely by it.

Alison said...

Thank you so much Nandor... you have articulated so well what many Greens think & feel. I hope this helps dispell some of the Black Vs White hysteria style discussion thats been happening over this issue the past few days.

Potaua Biasiny-Tule said...

Kia ora e te Rangatira - nga mihi o te tau hou! Powerful korero brother and especially love "...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." - too true. But that's what we're up against - red and blue - much like my community at times, which only has 2 patches to choose between. Then what? Talk to one side, the other side hate on you. No different. It actually takes on to it people with a good kaupapa to lead the way - cos the kaupapa alone gets ignored and good people without the right korero inside get run over...

Simc said...

I concur. well said. Confirms my lay understanding of the situation (through the fog of left-right commentary). Perhaps more importantly this strengthens my resolve that Green is now the only vote I'll make.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think the Greens did a bad job on this one - by all means get away from Labour, but what came across was a small propaganda coup for National.

I used to see it as "if you are going to be in parliament, you might as well play the game", but I've read some material on cognitive dissonance and values and changed my mind (or possibly gone back to my original, rather more principled approach).

A clear message - "unless we see some real commitment to environmentally sustainable policies, we won't be able to support either of the two main parties" would have been better.

By suggesting that the Green Party just might work with National, they have gained a tiny bit of green credibility, where they deserved, and expected, none.

Whether this is good strategy depends on whether the aim of the Green Party is to win the odd policy point and gain funding for the odd project, or to change behaviour more deeply. There's some good thinking coming out of UK NGOs, pointing out that you can't do both at the same time.

I blogged about this behaviour change theory (in relation to international development, but the principles apply to all sectors) here:


Sam Buchanan

Anonymous said...

you appear to be looking backwards..

..and it is hard to see what you are saying.. you not see this possibility of supporting this extreme rightwing regime..with asset-sales/much-mischief + gleaming in their little beady eyes..

..having the outcome of repelling some current green voters..and any possible defectors from labour..?

"..What it does say is that the Greens are finally standing on their own two feet..."

not really... says they are now for sale to the highest ministerial-bidder..

(and i was going to make a blog- in 2nd post for '11..?..

..whoar..!..ease up tiger...!.. don't want to risk r.s.i ..there..!)

..but i won't...


Anonymous said...

Well said, Nandor. Greens don't owe Labour anything - especially with the party being such a mess as it is right now.

Also: Phil, could you take a punctuation class? Your comment was near unreadable. Ellipses are not periods. :)

Kerry said...

Kia ora, Nandor.

Well we've been saying 'beyond left or right' since the 2006 AGM, eh kare? You spoke well on those issues then, and you speak out again well.

Miss hearing your voice in the green debates, must stop by here more often!

cheers, Kerry

Anake said...

i'm also a long-time Greens supporter and i totally agree with Nandor's point about it being long overdue for the party to own its own voice, maintain its complete independence, and keep available all the opportunities to influence the debate: that is the whole point of operating in the political space i would have thought!

Draco TB said...

…to current social and environmental challenges.

Both of which are caused by right-wing politics.

Unknown said...

Kia ora koutou

Thanks for all the comments and the tautoko.

Sam - your link was an interesting read and I completely agree with the point. I don't see that as contradicting what I have written above though, unless you see slavish devotion to Labour as somehow a more principled stance than independent decision-making based on parties policies. Maybe you are right about how it could have been better articulated, but that only temporarily defers the questions - "so if Nats made a real commitment to environmentally sustainable policies, would you support them?" At the end of the day you have to either say "we will never support them no matter what they do because they wear blue ties" or "well we could support them if they changed alot but it seems highly unlikely". The Greens chose 2, which I myself think is the more principled position.

Phil, yep it's been a long time between posts this year. Still, it's quality rather than quantity that counts, eh? lol, I guess its time to get back into regular writing.

As for repelling voters - not really I don't think. Well, only those who were already going to vote Mana and are looking for more reasons to justify their decision. Most Green voters go by what the Party has actually said and done and see that they are "highly unlikely" to support National and assume that it would take some real change on Nationals part before that happens.

Draco - yay, that makes it all SO much simpler.

Anonymous said...

So rather than use the 2d left-right political description where do the greens stand on a 3d model where
X=communist-capitalist and


Anonymous said...

"X=communist-capitalist and

Umm... that's still 2d. Why do you need to place them on a scale anyway? That's really simplistic and says very little about their positions and policies. One policy could be in a very different place on a scale from another policy, because real life requires a variety of solutions to a variety of problems. It's far more informative to actually look at their voting history and what they say in debates on the issues you're interested in - and to me, doing that makes it very clear that Greens are the only viable choice for my vote, wherever they happen to fall on overly simplistic political scales.

David Hay said...

Good work Nandor. I was part of the New Labour Party and then the Alliance - but I drifted away because I couldn't stand the ideological pissing contests.

I want the Greens to govern, and that means dealing in the world of ideas, and people, that New Zealanders will vote for. The hard left's pious adherence to ideology is a form of self-gratification, not a recipe for leadership.

And I'm with you in rejecting the left/right dichotomy: it so 20th century. Time to let it go and move on:

Lyndal said...

What we need is leadership, strong policies that look at social, environmental and economic solutions to the the unsustainable situation we find our country in.
hanging on the coat-tails of any other party will not deliver a strong message for our communities. Importantly we all need to be educated about how to vote in the referendum regarding our electoral system or the green voice could be lost forever.

Max D Coyle said...

Thankyou Nandor, wonderful to see another post and such brilliant one at that, I tautoko with every statement you make, kia ora.

Anonymous said...

btw nandor...

in the last month my little news/enviro-daily
was read in 91 countries..

..and translated into 52 different languages...

how come you still don't read it..?

and if you have better sources of daily-news..

please point me in their direction..

..and i will promote them/direct my readership to them..


Anonymous said...

"unless you see slavish devotion to Labour as somehow a more principled stance than independent decision-making based on parties policies."

Well, I haven't seen anybody demand the Greens be devoted to Labour - Bradbury actually talked about "ideological loyalty" rather than loyalty to (supposed) political allies.

"so if Nats made a real commitment to environmentally sustainable policies, would you support them?"

That's fine, if the message was phrased: "There isn't a chance in hell we'll support them if they continue with their present policies" (which still leaves the possibility of future change open) rather than "we just might support them, and we can work with them on specific things". It's partially a question of poor delivery, but also a question of whether specific gains from minor programmes will do more than strongly asserting that National's present policies and ideology are completely at odds with any kind of sustainability.



Unknown said...

Hi Sam,
thanks for the reply.

Apart from the fact that my Hungarian blood shivers at the term "ideological loyalty", I have to say that actually loyalty to Labour is exactly what this is about. No one is seriously suggesting that the Greens have abandoned their commitment to their charter principles or any of their policies. Their positioning statement makes clear that any decision will be based on those very things. The only thing that has changed is that the decision about post-election negotiations will be based on actual policies and track-record rather than on whether it's Labour or National. To me that is the most principled position, as opposed to the previous one that says that the Greens will give any leverage they are given by the voters straight to Labour (directly or indirectly, see my original column)

As for the specific wording, well maybe, maybe not but it feels a bit like we're arguing over text editing rather than policy. I doubt you'll see the Green stepping back from "strongly asserting that National's present policies and ideology are completely at odds with any kind of sustainability" as a result of this.

Tara Coleman said...

Interesting to read these comments and thank you Nandor for creating this forum. As someone who teaches critical perspectives on health policy, is invovled in policy creation and has a small grassroots past, what stands out clearly to me in these discussions is the power of ideology in what is being said here. I think it is important to remember that the difference party policies make in every day life is so much smaller at the level of policy itself than the difference that is made by the mobilisation of particular ideologoes that we live through and feel, consciously and unconsciously. Ideology that is not black, white or grey, and that allows connections across a more colourful spectrum of diverse belief systems is what we need to really make a difference to environmental issues and inequalities in current society. Making such connections does not have to mean forsaking core values, but that we work together for the greater good while retaining difference and diversity. This kind of ideology is much more powerful than individual and politically distinct policies or positions could ever be.

Many thanks,
Tara Coleman

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