Tuesday 13 March 2018

Not Taking Green Principles As Red.

Surely Not! Can it be possible that at least two of the Green Party's core principles - "Social Responsibility" and "Appropriate Decision-making" - could push it out of the Red and into the Blue? The Greens' long-standing opposition to so-called "waka-jumping" legislation aligns them more with National's belief in individualism than it does with Labour's historical commitment to caucus collective responsibility. It's a strange and contradictory position - especially for the party that fought so hard for proportional representation.

IS IT POSSIBLE to reconcile the Green Party’s long-standing opposition to “waka-jumping” legislation, with its constitutional commitment to “appropriate decision-making”? No other political party has a more consistent record of support for proportional representation. It is, therefore, perplexing to hear Greens argue for the right of individual MPs to undermine their own party’s decision-making power in the House. In an electoral system which allocates parliamentary seats according to a party’s share of the popular vote, how can compromising the proportionality principle ever be considered “appropriate”? Surely, under MMP, it must rank as the cardinal political sin?

That the Greens do not consider voting against the wishes of their own party to be a sin leads us back ineluctably to that wonderfully weaselish word “appropriate”. Why does the word even feature in the party’s four core constitutional principles? (Ecological Wisdom. Social Responsibility. Appropriate Decision-making. Nonviolence.) Surely, the party’s third core value should read Democratic decision-making?

The explanatory sentence accompanying the Green’s third core value only makes its meaning murkier. It reads: “For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.”

Now, as I understand the rules of philosophical discourse, it is unacceptable to define a thing simply by referring to the thing itself. As in: a cat is an entity possessing cat-like qualities. Accordingly, it is extremely cheeky of the Greens to define “appropriate decision-making” as, in effect, decision-making which is made appropriately. Officially, this form of rhetorical evasion is known as “tautology”.

What, then, are the Greens seeking to evade by using the word “appropriate”?

Well, for a start, they’re evading the ideological obligations imposed upon the international Green movement by the Global Green Charter. The Global Green Charter lists the core Green values as: Ecological Wisdom. Social Justice. Participatory Democracy. Nonviolence. Sustainability. Respect for Diversity. These core values differ significantly from those listed in the New Zealand Green Party’s charter.

Participatory Democracy, for example, is a concept with a long and illustrious political pedigree extending all the way back to the “Port Huron Statement” issued in 1962 by the radical American youth organisation called Students for a Democratic Society. The substitution of the bland verbal formulation “appropriate decision-making” speaks volumes about the willingness of the New Zealand Greens to put their money where their mouths are. (Their craven substitution of “social responsibility” for “social justice” speaks a whole additional library of volumes!)

That the NZ Greens are unwilling to commit themselves to the principle of participatory democracy is highly significant in relation to at least some of their MPs openly equivocal stance on the Waka-Jumping Bill currently before the House. It signifies what can only be described as an ultra-individualistic approach to the vexed question of when, if ever, it is permissible to step away from decisions arrived-at collectively.

To hear some Greens tell it, the answer appears to be: “Whenever an individual Green MP feels like it.”

Some of these critics have justified their stance by citing the former Green MP, Sue Bradford’s, scathing denunciation of previous waka-jumping legislation. Unfortunately, this merely draws attention to Ms Bradford’s propensity to set a much higher value upon her personal political judgement than upon the collective judgements of her comrades. An old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist might condemn such behaviour as “petit-bourgeois individualism”; the Greens, bless them, are considerably less censorious.

This Green tolerance of dissent may, however, come back to bite them. The present, Labour-led government’s political survival is entirely dependent on the preparedness of the Green Party caucus to remain true to the undertakings given to Jacinda Ardern and her team of negotiators following last year’s general election. Among those undertakings was Green Party leader, James Shaw’s, commitment to facilitate the passage of the waka-jumping legislation demanded by NZ First. The slightest suggestion that Shaw may no longer be in a position to deliver on the deal will arouse serious misgivings not only in NZ First, but also in Labour. The mutual trust upon which the Labour-NZF-Green Government depends will be severely tested.

For the National Party, the Greens apparent willingness to put the rights of the individual ahead of the expectations of the group will be good news indeed. Simon Bridges can draw considerable comfort from the clear evidence that, in spite of the widely held view that they are more socialist than environmentalist, the New Zealand Greens are actually well to the right of their overseas counterparts.

Far from exhorting members to become “Social Justice Warriors”, the Green Party constitution calls upon them to demonstrate “social responsibility”. The New Left doctrine of “participatory democracy” is, likewise, deemed inappropriate. What’s more, in the finest National Party tradition, Green MPs are insisting that if their conscience requires it, then they must have the right to both abandon their party’s waka – and remain in Parliament.

A version of this essay was published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 March 2018.


greywarbler said...

'Appropriate' is a word with a fuzzy meaning that can differ with the thoughts and belief of each person reading a statement. It enfeebles the apparent intention and strength of the Greens statements quoted above. It smacks of a lack of steel and determination to establish robust policies and that they can be weakened by someone's alternative viewpoint and watered down at any time. It's a word I use sometimes but too often it's a b......d word that results in weaselling out of looking directly at some issue. and probably pals up with another word that I hear too often which is 'consensus'.

With 'appropriate' it can lead to the situation where someone finds a fault, pronounces dissatisfaction and that it makes the whole statement unsatisfactory, because it isn't PC or some other hindrance to naming a factor involved.

David Stone said...

An interesting topic.
How much did collective responsibility and towing the party line contribute to the ability of the 1984 labour government to implement the neoliberal agenda? I suspect it was critical. And how evil was Jim Anderton to oppose the party line in his vehement opposition to it? Problematic isn't it!
Perversely ,it was that the existing the existing FPP system allowed this to happen against the wishes of most supporters of both major parties that provided the imputus for MMP to be adopted in the hope that it would restrain future administrations from comprehensive future changes against the wishes and the interests of the vast majority of the population. It has had the effect of greatly compromising societies' ability to reverse neoliberalism.
However MMP is clearly a system with it's list component that provides representatives with their position in parliament overwhelmingly on the merits of the party as a whole rather than on the merits of that individual. So owing their right to vote on legislation to the party they lack the right to vote individually though in my mind not the right to express their own opinion before voting. If it matters a lot their moral responsibility would be to resign and allow the next list candidate to replace them.
But where is the moral responsibility when the parties' present decision is at odds with their own stated position on which they were elected? Is there not as strong a moral justification for upholding a stated principle as for towing the party line? Your damned if you do and damned if you don't.
I think political parties actually destroy democracy . There's not much democracy going on in the USA.

greywarbler said...

How to help and not destroy democracy and give the people the things that are good and what they want, and need. Let's have voting on the policies and then choose from a group of informed, skilled people who we have elected because of their skills, who may be part of some Party or Alliance in their general attitude.

The proposed bills are agreed on and next step to draw them up and have three votes before they get put in place, one to draw criticisms of clauses, one to amend them and include or exclude certain provisions. and one to pass the final Bill. There would be a bunch of financial advisors who would state the cost, the effect short and long term, the alternatives and their cost. We would keep the Reserve Bank. The politicians would be drawn from their farms or businesses and have agreed to go to Wellington and serve for the required period when called on, for a holding fee plus reasonable emolument while serving - not $100 an hour.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. I agree wholeheartedly – but it's toeing not towing. Sorry it's a bugbear of mine. Everyone used to know, but that spelling has been creeping in. It's from athletics, not ships or broken down cars.

Andrew Nichols said...

David Stone

Anderton quit and won the byelection.

That's the right thing to do.

Waka jumpers who stay on are undemocratic

Polly said...

Chris, a good and relevant piece.
These people of the Greens should tarred and feathered.
The Green party is a political party of cowards.

Kiwiwit said...

It is great to see the Greens haven't strayed too far from the classical liberal roots of the liberal left. Your view of participatory democracy is (as you implicitly concede) more Marxist-Leninist than liberal - that submission to the Party trumps individual responsibility morality or judgement. Sure, the Greens' position is at odd with their unqualified support for MMP, but perhaps that means it is MMP that is at odds with their principles, not their position on waka-jumping.

Unknown said...

Someone said "words are like low resolution images". I thought that was a good analogy when I first heard it (now I'm not so sure?).

jh said...

Marama Davidson would not confirm that ecological wisdom is primary. I think that is silly as social justice cannot be achieved where (to use an example) the RC's ban contraception resulting in Filipino maids in Saudi Arabia, prostitutes (poverty).

manfred said...

Haven't trusted the Greens for some time.

They are based on alternative living not on socialist principles. They are too quite different things.

Old Lenin would have called it petty-bourgeois radicalism.

In a highly right-wing way Labour are still based on socialist principles. They still use, to some degree, a scientific and cohesive method. Even if they use that method to administer capitalism, albeit in a fairer way than the nats.

Their origins are in the Second International after all (Only to a degree though... as their predecessors didn't drink the nationalist jingoist kool aid altogether in the first world war).

J Bloggs said...

“appropriate decision-making” as, in effect, decision-making which is made appropriately.

Why do I hear this in the voice of Nigel Hawthorne?

greywarbler said...

You are throwing theories at a problem of procedure and system. Theories are interesting, convoluted points of view with structure. But they are only ideas 'at the end of the day', like economics. And the problem with these powerful, mind-moving ideas is that those adopting them will move heaven and earth to make them seem to work. I'm going off topic here, but will put down what my mind is throwing up. It might be a useful thought,
and help to keep all Parties on lines that will produce their best work for the polity.

What we want and need in the 21st century I think is, knowing and keeping the theories in mind - fully learned in depth, to start from basics with the question 'What is the problem?' followed by wish fulfilment solutions tossed in as a brainstorm.

Then sit down and work out solutions based on present practice, which is then critiqued as to how satisfactory it has been in the past and current examples of disfunction and success. And then look at the brainstorm examples and critique them, picking out what is likely, and what will likely fail because human psychology or resource limitation has not been allowed for.

How many groups making decisions would go through this process? I bet very few, because it would be expensive. But then it would save $millions through better choices, intelligent understanding of likely problems, reasonable time scales, if not accepting the lowest tenders!!

David Stone said...

I did know that if I had thought, but at this stage spelling is not going to come to me. My partner reckons it's because I remember words by the way they sound, while she remembers them from the way they look on the page.
It might by like music. If you have noticed, people who learn to play without written music can always learn how it has been written. But people who learn formally on the piano to read and play accordingly seem unable to learn to play by ear so easily.

Andrew N
I completely agree with what Anderton did. But he opposed his parties' action for over a term in office before he made that move. I was at the NLP launch.