Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Talented Mr Shaw

Fast Mover: It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of James Shaw’s (above) success. In Parliament for less than 8 months, and already he’s been elected Green Party co-leader on the first ballot. Then, lacking any semblance of an official party mandate, he single-handedly repositions his party: not to the Left; not to the Right; but with the assistance of a truly remarkable keynote address – well out in front.
 
JAMES SHAW, the Greens’ new co-leader, is a very talented man. That’s been obvious from the moment he delivered his maiden speech to Parliament at the end of last year. It’s even more obvious now. His keynote address to the Green Party AGM on Sunday contained some of the most impressive political rhetoric I have encountered in more than 30 years of writing about New Zealand politics.
 
Shaw’s address painted a picture of twenty-first century politics as ideologically inert, politically disconnected, and morally bereft.
 
“I am not a hero of free market capitalism,” Shaw told his audience, “because free market capitalism is dead. It has been dead for seven years ….. The reality of politics in the wake of the global financial crisis is that there is no longer a struggle between capitalism and socialism. What we have now is a hybrid model that takes some of the good but most of the bad elements of both systems.”
 
For more and more voters – especially young voters – Shaw’s vivid description matches exactly the sort of world they believe themselves to be living in.
 
“There is no name for this system”, Shaw continued. “Nobody speaks for it. Nobody voted for it. It happens in the spaces between speeches and elections. It happens behind closed doors or over dinner with lobbyists. We have a political economy of friendly deals and whispers. Of overnight polling and focus groups.”
 
What Shaw’s impressive phrase-making turns so adroitly to the Greens’ advantage is the twenty-first century electorate’s growing impatience with the rigid dichotomies of twentieth century politics. Increasingly, the Left versus Right characterisation of political life is leaving young people cold. Many youngsters would struggle to identify the difference between Left and Right. Many more no longer care.
 
Shaw gets this. “My opposition to our current, deliberately broken economic system is not ideological. It is moral. I oppose it because it is wrong.”
 
Wrong? Moral? Who talks like this? Certainly not Andrew Little’s current crop of speechwriters. Not John Key’s, either. (Although, that’s only because the Prime Minister’s political diction seeks, and in large measure receives, an entirely different emotional response.) But the Greens’ new co-leader does, and in language Barack Obama would be proud to call his own. Shaw’s next big test will be to demonstrate that, as well as the telling phrases and rolling cadences of his set-piece speeches, he can also deliver the short, sharp thrusts and verbal parries of Question Time.
 
But demonstrating his mastery of political rhetoric was not the only show the talented Mr Shaw put on for the Green Party delegates on Sunday morning. From his 7:00am interview with Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand, to his 9:00am appearance on TVNZ’s Q+A, Shaw made it crystal clear that the days of the Greens being marooned, impotently, on Labour’s left flank are over.
 
Putting his policy money where is rhetorical mouth would be in just a few hours more, Shaw announced his intention to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the National Party Government on climate change.
 
“I have been clear on the campaign trail that while I don’t support a formal coalition with National, I am very open to working with National where there is common cause. Let us build common cause on climate change.”
 
This is the cleverest sort of politics: not only does it break the Greens out of their “far-left” ghetto; but it also extends the hand of cooperation to the National-led Government. And here, again, Shaw demonstrates his assured grasp of the public’s rising frustration with politics-as-usual: “We should talk to each other rather than past each other, and agree on an ambitious target that New Zealanders can be proud off. New Zealanders want their politicians to work together, and act on common interest. Let’s find common interest on climate change. That is my challenge to John Key today.”
 
What can the Prime Minister do? If he accepts Shaw’s extended hand on the climate change issue: Shaw wins. If Key declines to accept the Greens’ challenge, then, again: Shaw wins. For National (and for Labour, too) this can only be a lose/lose proposition.
 
It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of Shaw’s success. In Parliament for less than 8 months, and already he’s been elected Green Party co-leader on the first ballot. Then, lacking any semblance of an official party mandate, he single-handedly repositions his party: not to the Left; not to the Right; but with the assistance of a truly remarkable keynote address – well out in front.
 
James Shaw has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about what he wants to achieve, and how to make it happen. Equally clearly, a majority of the Green Party are right behind him.
 
National should look to its laurels, and the Labour Party should watch its back.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 2 June 2015.

28 comments:

peter petterson said...

This leaves a big gap on Labour's left to fill, if the Greens don't want to be on the Right or Left. Who will the Greens represent then? Maybe that "socialist party" will emerge in a couple of years and take half of the Greens vote? And push Labour and NZ First a little to the right?

Anonymous said...

The Greens are in an enviable position in that they had a crowded field of fairly good punters in the race for the co-leaders slot. It will be interesting to see how Shaw does, first signs are very good, but I still can't see how he can really dig the greens out of the ghetto of political obscurity they are mired in to the left of Labour.

A memorandum of understanding on climate change, Key will bat that away, at the end of the day NZ First will not allow the Greens near power and they cant afford to move to the economic center as an environmental only party, it would lose them all the old alliance left voters for whom social justice trumps environmentalism. New face, same challenges.

Anonymous said...

Found your Messiah, Chris?

Anonymous said...

His biggest challenge will be to win supporters from other parties - including the left. He is the Greens' big bet and if he fails we will see that they are just a political party. My guess is that he is still starry eyed youngster who will be frustrated by the usual political red tape and MMP shenanigans.

Its cold out there on your own.

Richard Christie said...

Just how Shaw expects to achieve an understanding with the National Party Government on climate change is anyone's guess.

The National Party essentially deny both the science and the urgency of the issue. They will certainly not bite the bullet in committing to any meaningful action that involves imposing cost to their support base, in particular the agricultural sector.

The only agreement possible will require the Greens to degrade their own principles and ignore the urgency of response that is demanded by consideration of the science. This would cause major disruption to their core support.

I fear this endeavour is little more than a ill-thought-through political feint, a vote grab.


LizR said...

I've been voting Green for years (decades, damn it - time flies!) and with all due respect to the wonderful Russel and Metiria, this guy is a real ray of hope.

Nick J said...

Peter maybe the Greens will move to the "sensible centre"....and Labour will fill in the space on the Left? I for one have never felt any comfort in the concept of an environmentalist party representing the Left.

Anonymous said...

This leaves a big gap on Labour's left to fill,

You would think so on paper, but election results would indicate otherwise: since Labour has semi-repudiated Rogernomics, Leftist voters are content to vote Labour or Green. Poor people either vote Labour, National, or don't vote, and there simply aren't enough activist middle-class sorts to sustain a viable socialist party.

J Bloggs said...

"What can the Prime Minister do? If he accepts Shaw’s extended hand on the climate change issue: Shaw wins. If Key declines to accept the Greens’ challenge, then, again: Shaw wins. For National (and for Labour, too) this can only be a lose/lose proposition."

I disagree - if Key agrees to this he also wins, as it reconfirms his pragmatic, "I'm prepared to work with anyone" persona he established at the outset by allying with the Maori party and with entering into the former MoU with the Green party. It would also be a signal to the Blue-greens within the National party that attention is being paid thier environmental concerns. The real potential loser out of this is Meteria Turei, who could well have the ground cut out from under her leadership, when people start asking what has she actually achieved in 6 years as Green party leader, if Shaw can get traction in weeks. Then, what is the internal Green view going to be if Shaw is labelled as someone the National party "can do business with".

Shaw can't lose either way, but the risk to the Green party is that Key could well use this approach to divide and conquer.


pat said...

"This leaves a big gap on Labour's left to fill, if the Greens don't want to be on the Right or Left. Who will the Greens represent then? Maybe that "socialist party" will emerge in a couple of years and take half of the Greens vote? And push Labour and NZ First a little to the right?"
Me for one, and if the electorate has any sense (not displayed to date) maybe they will lead a NZ government that has the welfare of ALL NZers, current and future, as their goal and show the world that that not only is there another way, but also a better way.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

MMP shenanigans? If it wasn't for MMP he almost certainly wouldn't be there.

Anonymous said...

Shaw locked horns with Key yesterday and was easily mastered by the old master, he even needed Winston as political nursemaid. Im not suggesting he wont mature into a decent politician, but Chris's suggestion of a master stroke - suggesting a cross party consensus was revealed in the house to be bull droppings.

Shaw has a lot of learning, I have to admit I hugely prefer him to Norman, and already his public speaking is cleaner than Little's.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Are you sure the greens haven't hatched a Shining Cuckoo ?
I don't say they have ; and I sure hope he's as good as he sounds, he is eloquent and insightful on the world economy and on the need for the greens to integrate with all the necessary workings of a society, not just a special interest part , but what attracted him to PWC and HSBC? and what did he do there? It would be completely consistent with the neo libs "modus operandi "to plant someone with his abilities into a camp such as the Greens. The "free market capitalism is dead" line makes a good point but all the free market capitalists are still firmly in place. Let's all hope fervently that he's not just too good to be true.
Cheers David J S

Chris Trotter said...

Oh dear, Anonymous@9:42, your comment reveals just how little you know about politics.

What would really have flummoxed Shaw would have been a gracious acceptance by the PM of the Greens' invitation.

By doing exactly what was expected of him, Key has simply reinforced - at National's expense - Shaw's pitch to those longing for more consensus on crucial issues like Climate Change.

That was Shaw's whole point: the Greens are ready to do what's needed - but are any of the other parties?

Not Left, not Right - but out in Front.

Still don't geddit?

Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Shaw does seem a credible and presentable guy, with good experience outside politics - which is a good start.
But lets not get too carried away. "Not Left, not Right - but out in Front" sounds like an overheated campaign slogan.

This is the central problem for the Greens: As an odd alliance of (alleged) ecologists and hard left, that seem to have a natural limit of 10%. (This is in some ways a comfortable place to be - you are almost assured of a place in parliament, but you never have to DO anything).
Many (including me) are deeply suspicious of the Green's attempts to distance themselves from their 'Bongos and Kaftans' roots - how much of this distance is real, and how much window dressing (if that's not a mixed metaphor)? Homeopathy-Ebola lad suggests a lot is still there.
But if Shaw moves to the centre, he will alienate this traditionalist base - would he gain enough support to make up for it?

Though this could be a winning strategy, if he could achieve the Green dream of overtaking Labour - they don't have Labour's crippling history , factionalism and parade of failed and uninspiring leaders.

Bet they still keep Metiria locked in the stationery cupboard most of the time. Russell Norman had the gift of seeming reassuring and credible (even when he was talking bollocks) , but Metiria just irritates anyone who isn't already a Green supporter.

Anonymous said...

"What would really have flummoxed Shaw would have been a gracious acceptance by the PM of the Greens' invitation"

. You and the Black Fish agree on that Chris. I however disagree, I thought Keys calm and rational rejection of the 'invitation' without any sound and fury on the grounds the Greens demands would lead to complete economic ruination was solid, he effectively pigeonholed Shaw as just another articulate nutter from the Greens.

Realistically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels is economic suicide and would decimate the proletariat, unless your going to back the plan up with the necessary radical economic transformation with mass redistributive policies to account for extreme hardship which would follow the decimation of carbon producing industries - which of course is the real plan within the convenient trojan horse of a calm response to climate change.

Having said that there is something likeable about Shaw, he could join David Seymour as a couple of shining young stars in the house, we will have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

Are the Greens a credible political force?
Or are they just a ‘hobby’ party for people who want to (claim to) believe fashionable things, for voters and members?

If they have to actually make hard government decisions they'd quickly shed support from, all the ‘always protect the environment above people’ crowd, homeopathists, “I love dolphins” kiddies, “scrap money” ..individuals , implement my “If I were president list” people, naive teenagers and 20 somethings, anti vaxers, organic produce buyers and other such persons.

Labour don't want to be dragged down by such associations, and the Greens conveniently rule out working with anyone else leaving themselves snug in opposition and without responsibility.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Russell Norman had the gift of seeming reassuring and credible (even when he was talking bollocks) "

Isn't it interesting – so does John Key.

Wayne Mapp said...

Chris,

We are at the early stages of the dance (if it be that).

Today's question by Mr Shaw showed a lot more engagement by the PM. In particular his tone was quite respectful, not something you see every day in respect of the Opposition's questions.

This whole approach by the Greens on their central environmental issue has a lot of risk for National. The Greens say they want to be in govt with Labour. That means they want the National out of power. So for National to be rewarding ones opponents with political gains may simply hasten the day when defeat occurs.

It would far easier for National to engage with the Greens, if the Greens were not so dogmatic about their preference for Labour. However, perhaps Mr Shaw, by immediately focusing on the biggest environmental issue is signalling the Greens may not be so dogmatic on their coalition choices if National and the Greens could reach some sort of accommodation on this issue. In my view National would need to see some evidence of such a shift before they would negotiate seriously with the Greens on climate change.

After all for National having the Greens as a potential option, either as a formal coalition party, or enabling National to form a govt but doing a MOU will lessen National's dependence on NZF, particularly where NZF or the Greens separately held the balance of power. I suspect a MOU which allows National to form a govt may be more palatable for the Greens. Could they have Ministers outside Cabinet if they for instance agreed to abstain on confidence and supply?

For instance consider a 2017 scenario with National on say 42%, the Greens and NZF both on 10%, Labour on 32%, and 6% on the rest. National can be in govt with the help of either NZF or the Greens. Labour could only be in govt with both NZF and the Greens. Real choices for the two 10% parties. Real pressure on National or Labour to make good offers.

Tough for the Greens though, given that so many of their members are hard left wing. But they voted for Mr Shaw knowing full well he would put more effort into working with National than his predecessor or the other leadership aspirants. So they must have a sense of wider possibilities than simply being locked in with Labour.

The next 18 months will be interesting.

I hasten to add these are just my personal views.

peterlepaysan said...

The left right dichotomy became irrelevant at least 20 years go.

Shaw could tap into voter disillusion quite well particilarly with those born int 60's and later.

There are minor probs for the greens, homeothapy for treating ebola being an obvious one. They have their own frantic fringe, like other parties that usually manage to muzzle it.

Patricia said...

I had always hoped that MMP was going to give us a Government of the people and for the people. A government where they all had to get together and make a decision together. Yes and pigs will fly it seems. We still have a three year dictatorship.
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata

Jigsaw said...

peterlepaysan - I'm afraid that this definitely NOT the site to say that the left right dichotomy has become irrelevant. The people on this site (generally) will argue all day about a word, or a term and what they mean. This is partly because they think that that to control the meaning of a word like socialism or neoliberalism or capitalism gives them an edge and partly because they constantly compete to claim ground to the left of their opponents-who are also on the left.

pat said...

I would note that the "lunatic fringe" hasnt made National nor Labour any less electable....muzzled or not, they are dismissed by the voters as exactly that and the same would occur with the Greens, however I do concede both National and Labour will highlight it at every opportunity

Guerilla Surgeon said...

No, actually most of us believe that the statement that the left right dichotomy has ended is generally put out by right-wing people to control and dominate the debate. It's usually only the right who insist that there is no such thing as left and right these days. I think partly because social democratic parties have – one hopes temporarily – shifted quite a way to the right. But it's one of those semantic things the right does all the time. Control the definition of the word, and you control the debate. You see it in the US a little more than you see it here, but the New Zealand right are fast to imitate. But we won't let them control the debate, which annoys them.

Anonymous said...

Rhetoric is defined as a " means of persuasion". Shaw is persuasive. I have also found him witty and charismatic. But sophist persuasion can also be dangerous. The audacious (and naive?) statement that "market capitalism is dead. It has been dead for seven years..there is no longer a struggle between capitalism and socialism" is only one example -on more watered down 3rd way malarkey. Chomsky (and others) settled that argument 25 years ago: "I think terms like "capitalism" and "socialism" have been so evacuated of any substantive meaning that I don't even like to use them. There's nothing remotely like capitalism in existence. To the extent there ever was, it had disappeared by the 1920s or '30s. Every industrial society is one form or another of state capitalism. But we'll use the term "capitalism," since that is more or less its present meaning. I suppose that is what the German's greens meant by being "neither left" nor "right". "Socialism" for them was in fact its worst perversion- Stalinism.

Well, what happened in the last 10-15 years is that capitalism underwent an enormous, murderously destructive catastrophe. There was a serious international crisis around 1980."

Anonymous said...

No argument here that "many youngsters would struggle to identify the difference between Left and Right. Many more no longer care." They however do have some sort of idea what civil rights, pacifism and labour rights are - the three other "Pillars of the Greens" that all Green parties more or less adhere to. Those pillars are what are generally defined as "left". and anyone who reads, and agrees with Naomi Klein would suggest that the fourth pillar, environmentalism, is not compatible with capitalism ..or whatever we call this thing is called "capitalism" in the 21st century.

The lack of political understanding of today's youth (or middle age people for that matter) is due to being dumbed down entertainment media and poor (to no) education in civics. But I guess if "neither left nor right but in front" is the motto here as well as Germany, its fine as long as its "left" in actual policy.

Charles E said...

I think National has more to gain than lose from a more popular Green Party for two reasons. They really could by say 2020 be a feasible support party on supply if they become just pragmatic enough. And secondly, on their journey there they are likely to take two points off Labour for every one from National.
And climate change policy could be a catalyst for this change. The Greens do not support the Emissions Trading System because it is a market device & allows offsets so they think it will do little or nothing to reduce base emissions. National think it just causes us pointless costs which most the world does not share. Labour on the other hand created it so would find it hard to dump. So I could see the Greens and National agree to replace it with a simple tax on fossil fuels with all the revenue raised put into say afforestation, solar power, electric car technology and even some income tax cuts for the middle. That way the really big hurdle in NZ of applying the ETS to agricultural methane emissions is avoided. After all it's fossil fuels and deforestation that are almost entirely the AGW issue, plus we are very very efficient producers of food so even the Greens can see it would be mad to dump on that industry's outputs instead of their fossil fuel inputs.

Victor said...

I'm not sure what the fuss is about. The Greens had two excellent co-leaders, lost one of them, retained the other and have now found a reasonably good successor to the one who's gone. In time, he may prove almost as good as the guy he's replacing.

Nothing else has changed, apart from a few alluring rhetorical flourishes.

Prior to all this, the Greens had two other excellent leaders, one, alas, now deceased and the other apparently still casting a maternal eye on proceedings.

What a great place New Zealand would be if every political party had such talent to draw on and made such good choices, time and time again!

Maybe, just maybe, it's got something to do with organisational culture. If so, what a tremendous job the party's founders did!