Spoiler Alert: If the Greens and NZ First fall below the MMP threshold – if only by a sliver of a percentage point – and Labour fails to attract more votes than National, then there is a very good chance that National would find itself with sufficient List seats to govern alone. If the founder of a Blue-Green Party (such as Vernon Tava - pictured above) could demonstrate that his creation had played a crucial role in securing such a satisfactory result for the New Zealand Right, then it would surely not be unreasonable of him to anticipate a very substantial reward.
VERNON TAVA seems content to remain an electoral pawn if, by doing so, he can become a political king-maker. All of the most recent and credible research relating to the study of New Zealand elections suggests that the potential support-base for a “Blue-Green” political party is much too small to carry it into Parliament. The defection of 1 or 2 percent of electors who had formerly voted Green, however, might be just enough to drive an unpopular, ultra-left, “Red-Green” party below the five-percent MMP threshold. And that, in the opinion of many political observers, is the Blue-Green Party’s true electoral objective.
If the Greens and NZ First fall below the MMP threshold – if only by a sliver of a percentage point – and Labour fails to attract more votes than National, then there is a very good chance that National would find itself with sufficient List seats to govern alone. If the founder of a Blue-Green Party could demonstrate that his creation had played a crucial role in securing such a satisfactory result for the New Zealand Right, then it would surely not be unreasonable of him to anticipate a very substantial reward. A high-ranking on the 2023 National Party List, for example? Sometimes, in politics, it pays to play the long game.
It is, therefore, not just National which has a vital interest in Tava’s putative Blue-Green Party; the Greens, themselves, should take his words and deeds very seriously indeed. The party’s uncomfortably close proximity to the all-important five-percent threshold in the latest One News/Colmar-Brunton opinion poll should, of itself, have been enough to provoke some very serious re-thinking about the way it is presenting itself to the electorate.
The Greens leadership needs to decide which of the two dominant perceptions is the more likely to keep it on the right side of the MMP threshold. The perception generated by its Ministers, James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage: one which is, for the most part, of competence, diligence and a somewhat muted commitment to the Greens’ core environmental objectives. Or, the perception reinforced by the party’s co-leader, Marama Davidson, and its foreign affairs spokesperson, Golriz Ghahraman, of a party driven by white-hot radicalism and uncompromisingly “woke” political correctness.
From the hints he has so far thrown out to the news media, Tava’s strategy would appear to be to match the Greens in the “responsible environmentalists” stakes, while highlighting the outlandish and seriously alienating words and deeds of the Greens’ social revolutionaries. The more of the latter he is able to bring to the electorate’s attention, the more likely Tava is to detach at least some of the Greens’ more conservative supporters. The Greens leaders should be aware that there will be no shortage of generous right-wing donors lining-up to resource a Blue-Green Party dedicated to dividing and demoralising the Greens’ electoral base.
Political common-sense suggests that the perception for the Greens to promote is that of competent, diligent and responsible environmentalism. In the interests of presenting Tava with a much smaller target, Davidson and Ghahraman should undertake to turn down the heat and intensify the light. In this regard, their role model should be Chloe Swarbrick who, on the issue of cannabis law reform, has been highly successful at projecting an image of courageous and uncompromising rationality.
Clearly articulated and evidence-based policy is the surest way of countering Tava’s threat. That, and a laser-like focus on the issues around which more and more New Zealanders are demanding urgent action: climate change and the nation’s polluted waterways.
In the words spoken by the US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than 80 years ago in the depths of the Great Depression: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
The fatal weakness of Tava’s plan is that, among the sort of people and organisations to whom he and his party will have to turn for funds and expertise, the very notion of “bold, persistent experimentation” is anathema. For the Right, a Blue-Green Party is not about trying something; it’s about ensuring nothing is tried.
When it comes to saving the planet, there’s justification for only one Green Party.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 February 2019.