Definitely NOT a Hippy!: The new Governor of Germany's third-largest state is the Green Party's Winfried Kretschmann. For the first time - anywhere - the Greens have come second in a significant electoral contest. In the recent Baden-Wurttemberg elections Kretschmann's party won more votes than the left-leaning Social Democrats (who now become the junior partner in a Green-Red coalition) and shattered the 50-year dominance of the conservative Christian Democrats. Russel Norman's suits and ties suddenly make a lot more sense.
BADEN-WURTTEMBERG is one of those curious names that only students of European history and geography – and frequent flyers – recognise. Located in the south-western corner of the Federal Republic of Germany, it is both geographically and by population (10.7 million) that country’s third largest state.
The only reason Baden-Wurttemberg is in the headlines (at least internationally) is because, for the first time in a state election, anywhere, a green party came in second. By giving Die Grunen more support than its social-democratic coalition partner, the eight million voters of Baden-Wurttemberg ensured that their next governor will not be the usual Christian Democrat, or even a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats. For the first time – ever – he’ll be a Green: Winfried Kretschmann.
Now, New Zealand is a very long way from Baden-Wurttemberg, and what happens in Germany doesn’t necessarily happen here. But the surprise victory of the Green-Social Democrat coalition in Baden-Wurttemberg – a German state which has returned nothing but conservative Christian Democratic governments since the 1950s – bears more than a little antipodean scrutiny.
What could make a deeply conservative state like Baden-Wurttemberg – the home of Mercedes and Porsche – abandon its traditional allegiances and embrace a party which the good burghers of Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Ulm, only a few years ago, would’ve dismissed as irresponsible hippies?
If I wanted to be glib and superficial, I’d offer you just one word: “Fukushima”. The Japanese catastrophe occurred slap-bang-in-the-middle of the election campaign – throwing into sharp focus the voters’ hitherto ill-defined fears about the Christian Democrat-led Federal Government’s renewed commitment to Germany’s nuclear energy programme.
But, of course, the real reasons go much deeper than that.
The defection of so many conservative voters to The Greens reflects a political malaise that has already “gone global”. All over the world the social, economic and environmental status-quo is being challenged. This political distemper is exhibited not only in the so-called “developed countries”, but also, and with increasing ferocity, in the countries of what used to be called the Third World – especially the Middle East.
It is born, I believe, from the indifference and self-imposed isolation of the economic elites. These “One Percenters” rely upon a compliant media to filter out and/or distort the electorate’s cries for change. Failing that, they use their colossal wealth to manufacture bogus “grass-roots” movements” (such as the US “Tea Party”) whose duped participants will embrace as their own an economic, social and environmental agenda designed to make their masters even richer and more powerful.
The more sophisticated sort of Green politicians responds to this grim political malaise by making themselves as appealing as possible not to the down-trodden and oppressed worker and/or beneficiary (who have their own political party) but to the status-anxious, politically-disconnected (but still compassionate) members of the educated middle class.
A wise old television journalist once told me that the typical Green voter in Wellington was the wife of the local university lecturer, doctor, architect, engineer or senior civil-servant. If this is true, then the most obvious method of doubling the Greens electoral support would be to choose candidates these women’s husbands could conceivably vote for as well.
That appears to be what happened in Baden-Wurttemberg and, judging by the New Zealand Greens’ preliminary Party List, it also appears to be the strategic objective of their coolly cerebral co-leader, Dr Russel Norman.
Just compare the fourteenth-ranked candidate, James Shaw, with sixteenth-ranked Steffan Browning.
James styles himself a Green entrepreneur and is an energetic promoter of the Green technological fix. Steffan is a delver and digger-out of environmentally hazardous corporate secrets. James sees science providing pure and politically unencumbered solutions to the planet’s problems. Steffan recognises that science, like every other human endeavour, has a paymaster, and that the purposes of our paymasters are not always planet-friendly.
In the best of all possible worlds, James and Steffan would both get into Parliament. But, in the brave new world of political possibilities ushered in by Baden-Wurttemberg, it’ll be candidates like James who “sophisticated Greens” feel more inclined to push up the List.
As Green Party members throughout New Zealand turn to the task of ranking the definitive Green Party List, my hope is that they’ll weigh with equal care the political contributions of those who envision the world as it might be, and those who grapple with the world as it is.
This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 April 2011.