Friday, 7 December 2012

An Appointment With Reality

Making Greens See Red: German Green Party leader (and Foreign Minister in Germany's first Red-Green Coalition Government) Joschka Fischer, copped an earful of abuse (and red paint) after endorsing the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. Paint-bombs notwithstanding, the special Green Party conference which convened at Bielefeld to debate Fischer's decision voted to put the retention of political power ahead of its pacifist principles. Sometime between now and 2014 New Zealand's Greens face an equally uncomfortable appointment with reality.

“WARMONGERS! WARMONGERS!”, chanted the protesters as Green Party delegates, escorted by police, made their way into Bielefeld’s Seidensticker Hall. It was May 13 1999 and the Children of May 1968 had an appointment with Reality.
 
Over the rogue state of Serbia NATO bombers were staging a “humanitarian intervention” on behalf of the threatened citizens of the breakaway province of Kosovo. For the first time since the end of World War II, German forces were engaged abroad.
 
Joschka Fischer, Green Party leader and Foreign Minister in Germany’s first Red-Green Coalition Government, had endorsed the decision to intervene. At Bielefeld, 800 delegates would decide whether or not his dramatic departure from the Green Party’s founding principle of “Non-Violence” would stand. The long-simmering battle between the right-leaning “Realos” (Realists) and the left-leaning “Fundis” (Fundamentalists) was about to be decided.
 
As it usually does, “Reality” won the day at Bielefeld. The German Greens, faced with the choice of modifying their principles or stepping away from their coalition with the Social Democrats, decided (415/335) to modify their principles. All violence might be awful – but some forms of violence were more awful than others.
 
The NATO sorties continued.
 
Whether they believe the German Greens grew up – or sold out – at Bielefeld, New Zealand’s Greens, at some point during the next three years, will inevitably be faced with a Bielefeld of their own.
 
It is entirely unrealistic for a political party to join a coalition government without first acknowledging the inevitability of compromise. This is especially true if the party in question attracted fewer votes, and thus has fewer seats, than its prospective partner. The larger party cannot be expected to re-order its policy priorities or sacrifice its leading personnel merely to keep its junior partner happy. To do so would attract – and merit – universal scorn.
 
Such are the brutal realities of coalition politics. Parties either accept them – and become genuine players in the political game. Or, they reject them and remain permanent political spectators.
 
It is really only the world’s Green parties which struggle to accept these largely self-evident rules. As the ideological offspring of May 1968 (the year in which the great counter-cultural uprising of the world’s youth reached its zenith) the prototypical German Greens eschewed all political hierarchy in favour of “Appropriate Decision-Making” – by which they meant “grass-roots”, “bottom-up”, consensus-based democracy. And this was no mere rhetorical flourish: Greens really do believe that the way they arrive at major decisions is every bit as important as the decisions they make.
 
All of which lays a heavy burden on the shoulders of Russel Norman and Metiria Turei. Rather than laying claim to portfolios their prospective coalition partners in the Labour Party couldn’t possibly agree to assign them (not without opening up huge divisions within its own ranks) the Greens’ co-leaders should be thinking about how to reconcile their fellow party members’ to the unavoidable compromises of coalition politics.
 
Because these are likely to be both numerous and unpalatable. On practically every economic and social issue that matters the Greens have positioned themselves well to the left of Labour. That being the case, very few, if any, of the Greens’ preferred solutions to the high dollar, unemployment, child poverty, homelessness, climate change and dirty dairying, will win Labour’s unqualified endorsement.
 
As a political party on its way to the Treasury Benches, the New Zealand Greens would be wise to learn from the experience of their German counterparts. Tumultuous gatherings on the model of the Bielefeld Conference make for the most stunning political theatre, but the long-term consequences in terms of preserving ideological coherence, or even the enduring good-will and commitment of the party rank-and-file can be extremely debilitating.
 
It wasn’t just an earful of red-paint that the “warmonger”, Joschka Fischer, received in the Seidensticker Hall. His role in undermining the Green’s pacifist traditions won him a new and much less flattering image than the “principled activist” persona he had worn since 1968.
 
Reality plays no favourites.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 December 2012.

24 comments:

bsprout said...

Chris, I find there is a level of condescension evident in much of the commentary regarding how the Greens will operated in a coalition. It is often implied that once in Government the Greens will be faced with the real world of politics as if we currently have no appreciation of what that may mean.

The Party is now 22 years old and if you include the Values Party we succeeded, there is forty years of Green political experience. Over that time we have negotiated numerous agreements with ruling parties and even have one currently with National. In terms of progressing our policies while in opposition we are probably more effective than Labour.

We Greens are fully aware of what being in a coalition will mean as we have seen many smaller parties shrivel and die in past coalitions and there are concerning lessons to be gleaned from the Liberal Democrats experience in Britain (however it is "highly unlikely" that we would have ever formed a government with a conservative party).

While there will be some compromises needed while in coalition this is nothing new, it happened when we supported Labour's ETS when we would rather have had a carbon tax. Our MPs were also criticised from within the party for supporting the Earthquake Recovery bill that gave excessive powers to Brownlee.

Compromise isn't just an issue for the Greens, it is possibly a bigger issue for Labour. From what I can tell many of the proposed changes in policy and organisation appear to be shifting closer to Green thinking and process. Labour is moving to more bottom up democratic decision making and both parties claim to form evidence based policy. Labour has to try and convince the 80s remnants within the party that they aren't moving too far to the left or becoming too green. There are probably bigger divisions within Labour than the Greens and internal conflict is just as likely to occur. The Greens are reasonably skilled at managing conflict and leadership change and I can't imagine any of our leaders having to put up with the circus that Shearer has had to endure.

There will be points of difference and you rightly point out the Greens principle of nonviolence. Large differences in policy could probably be flagged during negotiations and a process set up to manage situations where no agreement can be reached.

To me the crux of a successful coalition will be the agreement and what processes are set in place to manage the relationship. The Greens may be the smaller party but would would never accept the sort of treatment experienced by the Maori Party under National. Your statement "Greens really do believe that the way they arrive at major decisions is every bit as important as the decisions they make" is largely true, appropriate decision making is one of our principles. Rather than being perceived as a weakness however I'm sure the people of Christchurch will see it as a strength.

Jigsaw said...

The left is dreaming if they think that the Greens can compromise on anything important if they are in any sort of coalition with Labour and the comments from Gsprout above merely comfirm this. They consider themselves to be 'pure' not only in the way that they have arrived at their policy decisions but the quality of the policies. Even more interesting will be the way that Labour, should they get into a coalition with the Greens, will react when inevitably the public reacts to the unpopular decisions they make and Labour has to cope with the backlash. Labour will reap the public odium that will come from being cosy with a party that at best represents about 10% of the population. The calibre of the Greens who will make cabinet will be another eyeopener!

bsprout said...

Jigsaw, a bizarre statement considering I gave two examples of compromise. The Greens hit a high of 17% in poll earlier this year and have been pretty consistent at around 13%. Labour had 27% of the vote on election day. You are obviously happy with National allowing a party with 1% support and nowhere near the thresh hold being allowed to bring in major change like Charter Schools.

I guess it is all a matter of perception of what makes unpopular policy the Greens campaigns against selling state assets, stopping child poverty cleaning up our rivers, saving our manufacturers and wanting polluters to pay for their own pollution rather than the tax payer are obviously radical and unpopular.

As for the calibre of the Greens as Ministers some one has already given it some thought and thinks pretty highly of our MPs: http://thestandard.org.nz/ministers-in-a-labgreen-govt/

Somehow I don't think the sky will fall but we will be able to stop the kind of growth that this National led Government is pursuing: http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/2012/12/new-zealand-is-high-growth-economy.html

Anonymous said...

As an average, politically inactive voter who voted Lab/Green at the last general election, I have no aversion to compromise. What I *do* want to see is policies that show more respect for the environment and more awareness of climate change.

OneTrack said...

bsprout - But, of course, you skipped the details in your wonderous policies. How are you going to stop child poverty? That's right, you are going to tax everybody else more and give it to no-hoper parents who will quite likely spend the extra on booze and gambling. How are you going to clean up rivers? That's right, you are going to load charges on to the farming sector, Increasing their costs. How are you going to "save manufacturing" when you are going to increase company taxes, increase union power and increase the overall costs of employment with a range of measures including minimum wage rates and other costs (52 weeks maternity leave?). The things you didn't mention include drastically reducing the size of the dairy herd and throwing money at lots of feel-good schemes which won't do anything except flush money down the drain. Then we get onto the fairy tale "green jobs" which no one can explain exactly what they mean by that. Will the green company be called Solyndra by any chance? And just to top it off, you have the money printing debacle. Does anybody in the greens actually believe that when the printng presses start that they will ever stop. Zimbabwe and Greece, here we come. Some of the comments by your Green cohorts reveal the level of their thinking processes -usually snails first, humans second. The likely result of the anti-democratic lobbying bill is just scary. And the hypocracy is particularly galling - Gareth Hughes and Kennedy Graham and their frequent fliers program, telling us prols that we shouldn't fly because it's bad for the environment. But it seems to be ok for them. Once again for communists, some people are more equal than others. How convenient.

Jigsaw said...

I still doubt that there is more than around 10% core support for the Greens and even that will come under pressure when they give us galloping inflation and some of the other results of their policies.
Charter schools are hardly a major change since there will only be a very few and compared with Canada where I taught, our schools are already considered by them to be charter schools since under Tomorrow's Schools they already enjoy a high degree of automony.
Be interesting to see how the Greens will be able to wave a magic wand and eliminate child poverty.
Slogans (which the Greens are so goood at) are one thing but reality will prove to be an entirely different thing I fear.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how the left and right seem to both loath the Greens. Fear?

bsprout said...

One Track, it is very obvious that you didn't read the our information regarding creating jobs during the last election and all that you say is just repeating the anti Green propaganda. The current Government is throwing money ($12 billion) at wacky motorway schemes that have dismal cost benefit reports. Meanwhile the only initiative that has produced a genuinely positive benefit was the home insulation scheme that the Greens pushed through their memorandum of agreement.

We were the only party to have a fully costed plan for creating jobs and I recommend you read it before repeating the nonsense you are told: http://www.greens.org.nz/sites/default/files/gp_jobsbooklet_20final.pdf

This Government's reliance on market forces is failing, so is their support of crude inflation related controls to manage our currency (most countries use a range of determiners) and their enthusiasm for fossil fuel extraction is also misguided. National refused to front up at an economic debate held in Invercargill last night to address the potential loss of around 4,000 jobs to our region. The other main parties did show and it was interesting to note the similarities in their answers and the commonsense solutions provided. http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/2012/12/the-southland-economic-debate.html

Jigsaw, you are right to note that we already have self managed schools in New Zealand, however we do have an expectation that teachers should be qualified and that there should be some controls on what should be taught. Charter schools don't have to use registered teachers and don't have to follow our National Curriculum. Most Charter schools in the US perform worse than their public schools (and remember their Primary system is ranked well beneath ours in performance) and those that are successful generally exclude children who will perform poorly.

As for eliminating poverty, reducing the huge inequities in our society will be the first priority. It will probably take time but it needs to be done. 40% of our children who live in poverty have a parent in fulltime work. Raising the minimum wage would be a good start.

Simon said...

“Greens principle of nonviolence”

Whew won’t have to pay income taxes anymore if the Greens form a govt.

No more violence against individuals not hurting anyone else like someone choosing not to pay income tax. Party Vote Green! & their principle of nonviolence.

OneTrackViper said...

bsprout - I had recently read the document on the end of the url you gave and I don't think it answers many of my questions. It definitely doesn't alleviate my concerns about what else the Greens intend to do or how they intend to pay for it. But, my question, as always, is what is a "green job". Please, just one practical example will get me started. I have been asking for this for a number of months now, including on frogblog, and no one seems willing to even try and give me an answer. A specific job, with a specific salary which will have a quantifiable economic benefit, hopefully in overseas dollars but local will do. But not something which will just be a make work scheme funded by general taxation so they may as well be on the dole. Is this too much to ask?

Loz said...

The role of government is being pushed center stage by environmental and economic crisis. Super-storm Sandy and Typhoon Bopha (the most southern Typhoon ever recorded in South East Asia), Auckland's Tornado and Christchurch's earthquakes are timely reminders that government has a central role in providing for the needs of the people.

The role of government after a crisis probably holds universal acceptance but its importance in preventing disasters continues to come into focus. The failure to impose regulations on corporate activity is clearly responsible for the unfolding global financial crisis. And, all but the most die-hard free-marketeers can see that accelerating climate catastrophe is fueled by the 80's dogma against any form of state regulation or control.

The Realpolitik of today is that government must regulate the activity of corporations and big money if any catastrophes are to be alleviated and democracy has any meaning at all. The compromise that's needed is for Labour to abandon it's commitment to neo-liberalism... not for green principles to be dropped in favour of maintaining the status quo. I doubt many of us can see that happening.

The core issue of contention between Labour and the Greens will be over the role of government being active or passive within the physical, social and economic environment of New Zealand.

NZ Greens may have learned that uniting in coalition with any larger party guarantees oblivion. Federal Greens in Australia are support a minority Labour government without compromising their principles.

SPC said...

On the issue of foreign military involvement - it is unlikely that Shearer would commit the government to operations other than peacekeeping. This would not be problematic for the coalition.

Becoming associated with government policy by association will of course be a new experience for Greens.

But so will the Labour caucus/Cabinet governing with more policy formulation involvement by the wider party be a new experience for those of earlier governments.

Jigsaw said...

Bsprout-You claim that teachers in our schools have to be qualified-what about the large number of unqualified teachers in Maori language schools? Where is/was the protest about them?
It is quite impossible to talk about US schools just as it is about Canadian schools-Canada doesn't have a national system and neither does the US. Systems are largely state or province based. Much of the protest over charter schools comes from the teacher unions who fear that their influence will be diluted. In truth education systems do and should, belong to the parents.
People fear a Green government because they see their impractical policies - after years of neglect we are at last seeing some progress on roading as an example. Lucky you if you live on a bus route or have available some other form of public transport-none where I live and none is practical.

Sparky said...

Interesting comments form both side here!

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with 'Printing Money' if it is used wisely. Would I trust Key et al with it? Not in a million years.
Where do you think the State Houses came from? They were all built with 'Printed Money'. The proviso was they had to be built with only NZ products, that's why the original houses had concrete tile rooves.
Where do you think the Kaiangaroa Forest came from? Did it magically pop out of the ground like an apple tree in the garden of Eden? No, those trees were planted by workers paid for with 'Printed Money'!
What we must not do is print money that immediately goes overseas. That just feeds inflation, so forget the doom and gloom merchants and the armchair economists who constantly talk about Zimbabwe and Greece (The latter did not print money anyway).
We have a Gambler as our PM and a bunch of people surrounding him who are no more than 'Noddy's' all are divorced from the reality of life for ordinary Kiwis.

Reality first said...

@bsprout on December 8, 2012 9:58 AM

"Most Charter schools in the US perform worse than their public schools......"
So we can conclude that many Charter schools in the US perform better than their public schools.

"......and those that are successful generally exclude children who will perform poorly."
And we can conclude that many do not exclude children who will perform poorly.

Why do you only make comparison with the worst examples?
Do the successful examples undermine your dismissive arguements?
Do you not think that any improvement in the underperforming 27% of NZ schoolchildren is worthwhile?
Would successful Charter Schools in NZ be a bad thing?
Do the teachers unions fear that others may overcome the failures that teachers currently cannot?

bsprout said...

Jigsaw, Teaching is an evidence based profession and this Government is forcing flawed ideology onto our system that has no solid evidence base. They forced National Standards onto schools without a trial with disastrous results, they attempted to increase class sizes to improve learning, they've sacked most of our advisors, they've cut funding to the Ministry and introduced a new pay system before it was ready. Charter schools are just another dumb idea that have largely failed overseas.

Education doesn't "belong" to parents, nor does it belong to politicians or teachers. Education should involve collaboration from all three and also include the learner. To claim that the teaching profession has no role in determining the future of education is as dumb as saying doctors should play no part in determining healthcare. The best education systems in the world (and New Zealand used to be one of them, we have dropped 3-4 places under this Government) have a good working relationship between their government and the teaching profession.

As for your comment regarding the Government's Roads of National Significance, you are obviously ill informed. The Greens aren't against roads just those that don't meet basic cost benefit analysis. The $12 billion will largely pay for roads where traffic volumes are static or decreasing and funding has been cut from public transport where demand is increasing.

Funding has also been cut from provincial areas where the local economy is dependent on sound roads. Southland earns 11% of our export income but because we have only 2% of New Zealand's population our road maintenance has been cut by a 1/4. This means our growing numbers of milk tankers, logging and stock trucks are having to drive on substandard roads. A milk tanker rolled the other day as it pulled to the side of a gravel road to let another vehicle pass. A bridge on the main road south of Queenstown (New Zealand's premier tourist destination) is only a single lane and there is often a bottle neck as cars and tourist buses queue to cross, the construction of a new bridge has been delayed again due to funding shortages. Roading infrastructure that supports our economy should be properly maintained and upgraded where there is a cost benefit for doing so. Gerry Brownlee has admitted after being questioned in Parliament that he has no evidence to support the majority of National's roading projects other than "he" thinks that they are a good idea.

bsprout said...

Reality First, New Zealand schools are already self managed and can adapt their curriculum to meet the specific needs of their children and communities. The main difference between Charter Schools and public schools is that the normal quality controls will be removed (following curriculum guidelines and employing registered and qualified teachers). I am sure that there could very well be instances where a Charter School could perform better than a public one as there are opportunities for private investment. However, do we want to implement a system that can have serious failures for the sake of having the odd success. All children should have the ability to attend a good school and setting up a system where there will be winner and loser schools does not make sense, it will just create greater inequities. If we looked to the most successful education system in the world, Finland, they have lifted achievement by having an equitable system, a well qualified teaching profession and promoting collaboration rather than competition. All countries that have introduced a Charter School type system are seeing their achievement levels slip. http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/the-germ-is-infecting-our-schools.html

Reality first said...

"......setting up a system where there will be winner and loser schools....."

What on earth are you talking about?

Jigsaw said...

bsprout- You still ignore the unqualified teachers that were apparently quite ok in totally independent but state funded Maori schools. Normal quallity controls have long been removed from them. Peter Sharples made it perfectly clear that they were not subject to the same quality controls as other state schools-where's the difference? NCEA was forced on the education system without a trial the only difference being that the unions were in favour. Many of the the weaknesses in that system such as internal assessment could have been easily forseen. Finland doesn't have our level of indigeous and PI pupils-you are hardly comparing oranges with oranges are you? Stop being so selective about what you quote. Just why is the left so frightened of charter schools-worried they will be successful?

bsprout said...

Reality First, when you have schools competing against each other and some have more funding than others, some schools will end up winning but others will become "loser" schools. I saw tis happen in the UK when I was there. Schools in the equivalent of low decile areas struggled to get their students achieving the standards and were deemed failures and closed down. The children at the closed schools were forced to attend others that had been doing well and then after an influx of low achieving students those schools would start struggling too. All schools should be supported to do the best they can and not left to fall over.

Jigsaw, I think you are talking about the LATs http://www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/prof/lat.stm

These are teachers with limited authority to teach and are allowed to do so because there are no trained teachers to do the job. In this instance it is probably in full emersion schools where it is hard to get teachers with fluent Maori. You are wrong about quality control for Kura, they also have their own curriculum and National Standards and get visited by ERO.

You are correct about the cultural demographics in Finland but there system could be applied anywhere. Their drive for equity across schools is actually more important in NZ.

Probably one of the most important aspects of the Finnish system is the status of teachers, which is higher than a GP. Because of this they have 6,000 applicants for 600 training positions each year.

Anonymous said...

There were and are, few if any fully qualified fluent Maori speakers.

RobertM said...

In one ways the Greens are right a higher degree of government management is required. Immigration needs to be tightly controlled to reduce the population to a more immediately economically and sustainable economy. Unlike Jigsaw and friends I believe the tight management and control of health system and doctors needs to be expanded to impose an intelligent modern syllabus geared to the top 50% on the country as Margaret Thatcher intended with her 'blue book' but didn't have the gutz to take on the teacher unions.
As with Thatcher decisive moves need to be made to impose central government control over local government - the Auckland Council needs to be dealt with the Thatcher dealt with Livingstone and the LRC.
It is clear that the theories of the Elworthies and Studholmes that Agriculture could be sustaible if governmnet support was removed from agriculture and related urban activities is nonsense- it has resulted in rural and provincial improvishment

Reality first said...

@bsprout. Your views on anything other than the current teacher union endorsed public schools seem rather jaundiced.

I am repeating my earlier unanswered questions, although I am getting a pretty good feel as to what those answers might seek to avoid.

1. Why do you only make comparison with the worst examples?
2. Do the successful examples undermine your dismissive arguements?
3. Do you not think that any improvement in the underperforming 27% of NZ schoolchildren is worthwhile?
4. Would successful Charter Schools in NZ be a bad thing?
5. Do the teachers unions fear that others may overcome the failures that teachers currently cannot?

bsprout said...

Reality First- There seems to be the view that if the New Zealand Educational Institute expresses a view it should be immediately discredited because it is a union and therefore is only interested in the industrial aspects of its membership. This is a very simplistic view because NZEI also serves as the professional voice of teachers.

The decision to close Salisbury School has been deemed unlawful through a judicial review because it was quickly discovered that the Minister disregarded important information and did not follow good process. This has been happening throughout education and has been evident in the highly flawed data used to close Christchurch schools and the bizarre attempt to increase class sizes to improve outcomes (which would have gutted intermediate schools and closed down all our technology centres). The Novapay debacle also occurred because it was introduced despite the trial finding serious flaws.

I will try and answer each of your questions:

1. Why do you only make comparison with the worst examples?

This misrepresents my argument. Using the US and UK experience, for every successful school in the Charter School system there are three that under perform and at least one that is very poor. I cannot support a system where with such a low success rate.

2. Do the successful examples undermine your dismissive arguements?

Read my answer above and remember that the New Zealand system is ranked well above the US and UK systems and our system already delivers much that Charter Schools were supposed to do in theses countries. Why introduce a system into ours that has mixed results in countries that are already underperforming?

3. Do you not think that any improvement in the underperforming 27% of NZ schoolchildren is worthwhile?

The number of under achieving kids is often referred to but never fully properly analyzed. Once you remove all those children with genuine disabilities the number is reduced substantially and when poverty and socio-economic background is factored in then the amount of difference that teachers can make is limited. The release of national Standards data (despite its "ropiness") just demonstrated that the decile of a school generally determined achievement. Rather than spending money on Charter Schools the government would better spend the money on increasing family incomes, reinstating sacked advisors and boosting our Special Education service and the support staff who have a direct impact on children with high needs.

4. Would successful Charter Schools in NZ be a bad thing?

No successful school could be called bad thing but one shouldn't put children at risk by introducing a system where the possibility of a poor school is more likely than a successful one. The most successful education systems do not use Charter Schools but invest their money to ensure equitable systems and a highly effective teaching profession.

5. Do the teachers unions fear that others may overcome the failures that teachers currently cannot?

It is interesting that children who don't achieve have become the sole responsibility of teachers, surely teachers are only part of the equation. There is no fear, just concern about shocking process and lack of engagement with the profession. As I have said before, one shouldn't exclude doctors from decisions determining health care and one shouldn't exclude the teaching profession when determining educational change.