Friday 17 November 2017

What Are The Greens Playing At?

"WTF, James!" The Greens do not appear to understand that the key to improving their party’s position electorally, as well as strengthening its hand politically, lies in conceiving of the Labour-NZ First-Green government as a single entity: one which must either hang together or, most assuredly, it will hang separately! Stealing their comrades’ electoral lunch, in these circumstances, can only damage the Greens every bit as much as it damages (and enrages!) Labour and NZ First.

WHAT DO THE GREENS think they’re playing at? Their response to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has done themselves, and the government they’re ostensibly part of, a huge disservice. Honestly, it’s the sort of reaction one might expect from a clutch of radical student politicians: long on “principle”, short on common-sense. If this is how the Greens plan to conduct themselves over the next three years, then they had better find themselves an electorate they can win (without Labour’s support!) and fast. Because keeping their party above the 5 percent MMP threshold is likely to prove a constant struggle.

Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves that by waving their anti-TPP banners across Twitter and Facebook they will pick up all those “woke” voters who’ve accused Jacinda Ardern and David Parker of “selling out” to global capitalism at Danang. How many might that be? Almost certainly a lot fewer than the very substantial number of generous Labour supporters who gave the Greens their Party Vote on 23 September to make sure they didn’t disappear from Parliament altogether. If the Greens aren’t willing to reciprocate that sort of solidarity, then there’s bugger-all chance of it being repeated!

The Greens do not appear to understand that the key to improving their party’s position electorally, as well as strengthening its hand politically, lies in conceiving of the Labour-NZ First-Green government as a single entity: one which must either hang together or, most assuredly, it will hang separately! Stealing their comrades’ electoral lunch, in these circumstances, can only damage the Greens every bit as much as it damages (and enrages!) Labour and NZ First.

But, then, strategic (or even tactical!) thinking would not appear to be the Greens’ strong suit. Was there no one in their caucus capable of imagining the grim spectre that was bound to be raised by their very public repudiation of the CPTPP? Not one person in their ranks with the wit to realise that by withdrawing their 8 votes from the Government, the Greens would be driving Jacinda straight into the arms of Bill English and the National Party? Did no Green MP pause to consider the “optics” of that? Of how much damage it would inflict on all three of the governing parties?

Even if Labour capitulated at the last moment, and agreed to pull New Zealand out of the CPTPP – would the Greens count that as a “victory”? If so, they’d be wrong. Such a public demonstration of the tail wagging the dog would be catastrophic for Labour and the Greens alike. And if Labour refused to be blackmailed and allowed the National Party to ride to its rescue? What would that say about the viability of the Labour-NZ First-Green government? What would it mean for the relationship between Jacinda and James Shaw? Labour’s wrath would be terrible to behold – but not as terrible as their revenge!

It all could have been handled so differently. All that was required of the Greens’ caucus was some evidence they understood that contributing usefully to the work of a progressive government requires just a little more in the way of political finesse than denying the right of free speech to a handful of National Front tragics in Parliament grounds.

On the CPTPP issue, for example, the Greens could have reached out to their Canadian counterparts for advice on how to build the largest possible political consensus around what should – and should not – be included in a multilateral trade agreement. In this, they would have been doing Labour a huge favour: making the arguments that the Prime Minister and her Trade Minister could not be seen to make, but which would, nevertheless, strengthen their hand in future negotiations.

As it is, by firing off all their “principled” bullets at once (and before their target was even within range!) they have taken themselves out of the game. Even worse, they have demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, that they don’t even know what the game is – or how to play it!

That is not something which can be said of NZ First. Winston Peters has maintained a judicious silence concerning the desirability – or otherwise – of the CPTPP. He will study the problem professionally, from all angles, until he locates exactly the right point to exercise his leverage.

My advice to the Greens? Watch and learn.

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 November 2017.


peteswriteplace said...

Very good advice Chris. Hope they heed it!

Gary Young said...

On point as usual, Chris. I hope you have sent this article to the Green’s leadership with a request for comment or rebuttal. Like you, I would really like to know what they were thinking and just how they justify their stance.

There was a time when I seriously considered paying up and actually joining the Green Party rather than merely being an interested bystander but they do have a distressing habit of missing the larger view and tripping over their own feet. It’s not as if they aren’t intelligent and educated people but they are in the big boys tent now and need to up their game somewhat.

The Bayonet said...

Someone should tell the Greens that everything doesn't have to resemble a university debate on a 'morality' topic.

At some stage, they'll have to get into the real world or risk ending up like the Maori party or a pointless political hack like Peter Dunne.

tauputa said...

The Greens are a support partner for the government and have portfolios outside of cabinet. They have the right to for policies which they agree with and to abstain or oppose policies which they dislike.

Like Mr Trotter they opposed the TPPA when in opposition, unlike Mr Trotter they still oppose it and refuse to compromise they're ideals in the pursuit of power.

Not everyone is a hypocrite or mealy mouthed shill to power, better get used to it mr Trotter.

Cordwainer said...

Tks Chris, your points are well made.

Polly said...

Chris, good comment,
My bet is that they will not accept your or any one else's advice.
Both NZF and the Greens seem to be saying, we DO know that both our parties only got about 8 percent each of the vote but we are the MASTERS of the coalition with Labour and we intend to prove to Labour that they are in Government because of us.

I predict more of these blackmail coalition smellie rorts in the future.

The countries economy and its people will hurt.

Alan said...

Quite agree with Tauputa..

The six percenter Greens can support policies they agree with and oppose those they don't.

In the governing chaos the public will then see, they'll have the company of NZFirst and Labour back in Opposition at the next election, if they survive the attendant fury.

Alan Rhodes

Victor said...

A few questions, Chris:

Firstly, could it not be argued that forming occasional,ad hoc "across the aisle" majorities on specific issues is just as much a logical consequence of proportional representation as are confidence and supply agreements, ministers outside cabinet etc?

And just how bad would the optics be? I would agree that National's support for Labour on the "anti-smacking" legislation provided very bad optics for Labour in 2008. But that was only after the party had been in office for nine years and National had got itself a new and (in the minds of some) exciting leader.

With a new government, a popular prime minister and a slightly stale leader of the opposition, things might not be the same this time around.

Furthermore, might it not be of some advantage to Labour to underline the extent of the gap between the Greens and National, as this might lengthen the odds against the two of them getting together after the 2020 election?

J Bloggs said...

Although I am no fans of the Green Party, I'm going to disagree with you on this one Chris. I think the Green party have played this as best they can.

1) Too many of the Green party membership base are anti-TPPA, so for the Green leadership to capitulate on this would have been political suicide.

2) By voicing thier opposition, the Green Party Leadership has demonstrated they are not just Jacinda's lapdogs, and will stand up for their principles, rather than roll over for teh sake of baubles.

3) The agreement between the Labour and Green parties doesn't require the Green party to agree to support the TPPA.

4) National's support for the TPPA is a foregone conclusion - they could no sooner vote against it, than the Green party could vote for it. For National to do otherwise would be opening themselves up to attack from all sides re: flip-flopping purely to score political points. The harm that would result from not supporting the TPPA definitely outweighs any benefit the National party would gain from such an action.

5) Taking point 4 into account, the Green vote is superfluous to the TPPA agreement passing, and therrfore both the Green party and Labour have nothing to lose by the Green party voting against it.

6) Also taking point 4 into account, it is of benefit to Jacinda Ardern to let the Greens oppose the TPPA and do the deal with National - It allows her to demonstrate that she can work pragmatically with "the enemy" to achieve her policy outcomes. In doing this she is following the lead of John Key in what he did in his first term with the MOU with the Green party and C&S Agreement with the Maori party. Don't underestimate how much credibility that display of pragmatism over ideology brought John Key with the voting public outside of the true-blue National supporter, and I see no reason why this wouldn't also reflect well on Jacinda.

7) I have no doubt at all that Jacinda was fully aware that the Green party would not support the TPPA, and that James Shaw kept her up to date. Given that, with point 4 above, the outcome is a foregone conclusion, she can be magnaminous towards the Green Party, and show that minor disagreements between friends don't need to get in the way of the process of running the country.

Taking all the above together, this issue, for both the Greens and Labour, is one where neither side has to die in the ditches for the sake of unity, and actually it is to the benefit of both for the Green party to have done what they have.

Loz said...

I think the Greens are fumbling on the right path for future survival.

This is the same debate that occurred with the Alliance support for the Labour / Alliance government in 1999. The message from Alliance leadership was that the junior partner should be disciplined in promoting the good works of the government. The problem with that approach was that when the next election rolled around, the discipline of moving lock-step with Labour made it extremely difficult for the junior partner's identity to be preserved.

The left has a real problem with the next election. We've seen that the same percentage of registered electors always turns out for National - the only way the left can win is by increasing turnout. If Labour cannibalises the Greens as it did the Alliance and the junior partner's vote falls to the 5% threshold, Labour and New Zealand First cannot hope to be part of the next government.

Labour, Greens and New Zealand first must preserve distinct identities on positions of principle which can only come by public disagreements over policy.

Anonymous said...

The question here is not about optics, it is about whether or not the tppa is good for NZ. No point to the left being in power if all they do is promote the same failed economic policies. I certainly wouldn't put my energy into a party that betrayed its base on this issue. Let labour go to national when it wants to pass neoliberal policy.

Anonymous said...

They offered confidence and supply only and have no moral obligation to support the TPPA, which they campaigned against.
Where they DO make themselves look amateurish and quite frankly a little shonky is where they seek a national holiday for parihaka as a form of quid pro quo or as many will perceive it - blackmail.

GerryoPonsonby said...

Have they not learnt from history ?
Taking the moral high ground almost cost them being in parliament this time and wiped the Alliance in 2002

Ian said...

I think the number of Green voters who want the TPP and will stop voting Green because the Greens are opposed TPP is small compared with the number of Labour voters who are angry with Labour for going with the TPP. Many of these Labour voters will be looking for somewhere else to cast their vote next time. While many will go to NZF (assuming NZF keeps a distance between themselves and TPP) but some will go Green. I think Greens will make a net gain on this issue (and potentially even more if NZF isn't palatable to Labour voters).

greywarbler said...

This is reality. Faced with that, they might look for other ways to pursue their hostility to TPP and all its forms. It's the difference between having a hui and thrashing out all the problems and aspects together, and finding a way forward that offers most advantage. How do you think Tuhoe managed to keep their negotiations going after they were police raided? Strong, wily, aware of political traps. That paid off in the end for them. Keeping the end result in sight and not undermining each other.

Did you overlook Mr Trotter's comment that forming a discussion group with the Canadian Greens would have been advantageous and perhaps led to a useful alliance and shared policy procedures? And how silly of you to say that Mr Trotter does not oppose the TPP. If you are trying to engage politically, you need to do more homework, thinking and discussion with others interested in forming solid policy that enables us to be flexible, just enough so as not to provoke direct confrontation to gain advantage.
Face to face, we are puny so we have to practice a bit of confusion, not let our hand be seen till we have to play it.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree Chris.

Can't believe that the Greens did that. James Shaw needs to pull troops into line, although I read something on Stuff that he was normalizing this "horse trading"...

Politically clumsy and naive.

David Stone said...

I think everyone should re read Jane Kelsey's article on the Daily Blog on Nov. 12.
This is her profession and her area of expertise. To disagree with her on this , and be taken seriously anyone needs to have established comparable credentials and applied comparable study.
Looks like the Greens accept her assessment.

I remember when social credit got over 20% of popular vote under FPP on the strength of their opposition to the Clyde High Dam empowering bill that was infuriating the electorate at the time.
They got 2 MPs elected who immediately went and visited the construction site and came back agreeing to support it after all because some construction workers would loose their temporary jobs if they didn't. Social Credit forthwith sank without trace never to appear above the waves again.
The Green's principled consistency strengthens Labour's hand in further negotiations along the lines that Jane Kelsey says must take place. It doesn't weaken it.
If we are to have an effective democracy the voters must start supporting policies they believe in irrespective of who is promoting, them rather than supporting some party or other blindly through traditional habit whatever they do.

pat said...

With the beyond tribal nature of political support and an establishment media working overtime to negatively frame any and all stories (and many non stories) my suspicion is the current Government must ignore the noise (and optics) and get on with repairing the country....they have 3 years (hopefully more) to achieve as much as possible.

Then let the voters decide.