Tuesday 12 September 2017

Let's Elect A Progressive Government With The Politics Of Addition - Not Subtraction.

The Politics Of Addition: The objective of all intelligent and compassionate citizens entering the polling-booths between now and 7:00pm on 23 September cannot be as narrow and sectarian as “dragging the neoliberal Labour Party” leftwards. The most important task, at this crucial moment in our country’s history, is for progressives of every ideological persuasion to provide both Labour and the Greens with the votes they need to take New Zealand forwards.

THE BIG QUESTION confronting progressive voters in this election is: how do they elect a genuine centre-left government? Is this best achieved by abandoning the Greens and delivering the entire progressive vote to Labour? Or, should at least some progressive voters step off the Jacinda Train and re-board the Greens – thereby delivering Labour a reliable and ideologically compatible coalition partner? Neither of these options are as politically straightforward as they seem. Predicting the behaviour of our friends can be every bit as difficult as anticipating the actions of our foes.

Perhaps the most reliable barometer of voter intentions is RNZ’s “Poll of Polls” (PoP). The most recent of these puts the Greens on 5.4 percent – perilously close to the 5 percent MMP threshold. Even if all of this support flowed to Labour, currently at 41.8 percent in the PoP, however, the result (47.2 percent) would be insufficient to land it on the Treasury Benches. And, of course, not every last Green voter would abandon their party for Labour, making it even less likely that Labour could form a centre-left government on its own.

The veteran left-wing activist, John Minto, is very clear about how progressive voters should resolve this problem:

“In the current political situation only the Green Party has a realistic chance of dragging the neo-liberal Labour Party significantly to the left in a post-election government. Without the Greens, Labour will tinker here and tinker there, while leaving the free market to run a country bitterly divided by poverty and inequality.”

Putting to one side, John’s bald characterisation of Labour as a “neoliberal” party, his clear preference is for progressive voters to get over their Jacinda-inspired “rush of blood to the head”, and march back into Green Party territory. The problem with this position is that it assumes the voters deciding between Labour and the Greens are engaged in a simple, zero-sum game. Walk back from Labour’s camp to the Greens’ and the level of their voter support will rise in inverse proportion to Labour’s.

But, as we have seen, this will not be enough. Simply churning the Labour/Green vote gets neither party over the line and into government. The brutal truth, which John refuses to face, is that the current “progressive vote” – if it remains static – is not quite big enough to secure a “pure” centre-left government. Once accepted, that admittedly lamentable state of affairs leaves Jacinda with only one choice. If the Left can’t get her over the line, she will have to look to the Right.

In this respect, her predicament is no different to that of Helen Clark’s in both 2002 and 2005. Once again, John’s political judgement is very clear:

“On past evidence, Labour will choose to go with New Zealand First ahead of the Greens. In their three terms from 1999 to 2008 that was the pattern.”

Except, that wasn’t the pattern at all.

In 1999, Labour was committed to forming a centre-left coalition with the Alliance. On election night, it seemed as though the Greens had (just) failed to secure any parliamentary representation at all, prompting Labour and the Alliance to fulfil their promise to the voters by announcing the formation of a clearly-signalled, centre-left government. When the Special Vote Count put the Green Party (just) over the 5 percent threshold, and deposited seven Green MPs in Parliament, they happily agreed to support the new Labour-Alliance Government on all matters of confidence and supply.

In 2002, Labour, Jim Anderton’s Progressives and the Green Party, with 63 seats between them, could very easily have formed a centre-left government. Why this didn’t happen can be explained in just two words: Genetic Engineering. The Greens had made a moratorium on the release of genetically-engineered organisms a bottom-line of any coalition agreement with Labour. But, badly stung electorally by the so-called “Corngate Scandal”, Labour was in no mood to trust the Greens on this issue. Both sides refused to compromise and the negotiations fell through. Clark turned to the “common sense” United Future Party and a deal was Dunne.

In 2005 the numbers were even tighter. The Labour/Progressive/Green seat tally came to just 57 – not enough to form a majority government. With the addition of NZ First’s and United Future’s seats, however, Clark had a comfortable working majority. Had it been up to her, the Greens would have been given at least a couple of seats in a broad coalition Cabinet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to her. Both Winston Peters and Peter Dunne had made the Greens’ exclusion from the Executive a non-negotiable condition of their support. Had the Greens won 10 seats in 2005, Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons would have become Ministers. That they were able to win only 6 seats, kept them out of the Cabinet Room and, almost literally, broke Rod’s heart.

That’s the history – and the lesson to be drawn from it couldn’t be clearer. The election of a centre-left government only becomes possible when the number of voters prepared to vote for progressive policies grows – as it did in 1999, when, between them, Labour, the Alliance and the Greens accounted for 51.64 percent of the Party Vote.

Jacinda’s ability to form a genuine centre-left government after election day will not be enhanced by swapping votes between Labour and the Greens, but by growing the vote of both parties. John’s imprecations notwithstanding, it should not be a matter of progressives already committed to voting switching their allegiance, but of their encouraging as many good-hearted New Zealanders as possible out of the Non-Vote and into the electoral fray. The objective of all intelligent and compassionate citizens entering the polling-booths between now and 7:00pm on 23 September cannot be as narrow and sectarian as “dragging the neoliberal Labour Party” leftwards. The most important task, at this crucial moment in our country’s history, is for progressives of every ideological persuasion to provide both Labour and the Greens with the votes they need to take New Zealand forwards.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 September 2017.


peteswriteplace said...

44% Labour and 8% Greens and its all on without NZF and the Maori party.

greywarbler said...

We want New Maths - addition 10 out of 10 for a good government that knows how to really work and not skulk in the back rows surreptitiously passing some grog round and not listening to the learning material. Tom Lehrer shows you New Math and after listening I feel that I have heard Bill English or John Key telling us how we have never had it so good with their stable economics. It makes me want to give a horse laugh!

Watch how an enthusiastic audience would look if we got a really good government with top marks in addition. Copenhagen shows intelligent Danish people who appreciate what's good, in this case, political satire, even in a foreign language! We have got a long way to go before we become sophisticated, modern thinking.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We really need to do something about all those people – many young – who don't vote. I'm pretty sure conservatives don't give a shit about this, but left-leaning people definitely should. (Unfortunately, I'm not at all good at figuring out exactly what to do, just at knowing that something needs to be done.) :) Because apparently they found out that if kids vote in their first election, then they tend to keep voting for the rest of their lives. And young people are idealistic, so that might just shove Labour over to the left a bit.

Bushbaptist said...

Wise words.

Watch the face of the man in the white shirt!


thesorrowandthepity said...

mmm... you do somewhat have the habit sometimes Chris of getting emotively swept up at times, & then your predictions get very shall we say... hopeful.
One poll that somewhat smells of being cooked up by some Labour/Jacinda 'true believers' & you seem to be opening the champagne for someone whose intentions & plans seem to run from the pragmatically political of doing nothing; to the outwardly opaque & vague. Sorry but weren't you in the exact same state of euphoria back in 1984?! But of course I'm sure all of the converts to Jacinda will tell themselves the exact same thing.
Perhaps a bit more realism would be a better way to go. Prediction, Labour gets around 40% (death duties & capital gains tax pushing baby boomers to decide blue, in spite of not being Nat fans in any way shape or form), Greens getting back to parliament if they can stop haemorrhaging 50/50; so IF they return that's 44-46%.... which means they have to summon a whistle blowing populist out of his coffin like Nosferatu to cross the line who in reality they always were going to need (whose sole policy seems to be to build a time machine to return the entire country to 1976).
End of the day if the best that the left can come up with are 'progressive tax policies' (which in the UK have made how much of an impact on inequality?) then wait till they're dealing with rapid automation in a decades time.
Politics truely is a vacuum & as neither of the main parties seem to want to pull themselves out of that vacuum & have 0 vision then it would seem that this election is a bit irrelevant as the future of New Zealand will be decided elsewhere. Once the euphoria dies down from this circus Chris, & the hangover kicks in a little from the Champagne, buy yourself a Kurzweil book, or perhaps have a flick through part 3 of Yuval Harari's new read, make your predictions based on the future... not dreams of the past

Shirley .Knuckey said...

Isn't it a bit cheapskate to keep using the 'neo-liberal' tag still on Labour? And it is not fair. The world economy runs a market trajectory and opting out of that is not feasible even if it was doable. Do we want to resurrect Rob Muldoon?

Creating a Labour based and led Government takes a whole lot of skills of which sticking to a rigid doctrine is a losing strategy. John knows about gthe "dead rats" syndrome from last time I'm sure! And stating the bleedin' obvious, no good changes will happen unless the winning of hearts and minds for their plentiful votes puts the Left into those House winner seats!

jh said...

Here is what you cannot say on the Standard [Thanks to Labour/Green apparatchiks]

“Our story of bus drivers reveals the existence of the proverbial elephant in the room. It shows that the living standards of the huge majority of people in rich countries critically depend on the existence of the most draconian control over their labour markets – immigration control. Despite this, immigration control is invisible to many and deliberately ignored by others, when they talk about the virtues of the free market.”
― Ha-Joon Chang, Twenty-Three Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism

sumsuch said...

Thesorrowandthepity, 10,000 years of cultural history, and the biological back beyond, are the main things we can go on for the future.

Now look at how dusty, dismembered, disheveled, torn apart, the yertles the turtles are at the bottom. More importantly in a democracy, how very many of them there are.

jh said...

There are some interesting youtube videos of Robert Putnam and Charles Murray on the plight of the working classes in the US (black and white). Putnam sees solo parenting as an issue but he also sees it as income related. My theory is that Western societies have economically hit the bonk. The Roghan report has Jordan Peterson with an evolutionary psychologist whose theorising traverses beyond the social constructionists.