PERHAPS THE GREATEST SERVICE Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald rendered the Greens was making New Zealanders believe they were democrats. Their engaging personalities and considerable political skills masked the fact that Green politics has never been (and likely never will be) democratic. The whole ethos of the Green movement, here and overseas, is minoritarian. By concealing that fact, Jeanette and Rod made the Greens electorally viable.
What happened to James Shaw on Saturday, 23 July 2022, however, has exposed the Greens’ minoritarian political culture for all to see. Once voters grasp the enormity of 30 percent of Green delegates to the Green AGM being constitutionally empowered to overrule the wishes of the 70 percent of delegates backing Shaw – an overwhelming majority – the party faces electoral death.
But, why minoritarianism? Partly, the Greens loathing of majorities is attributable to the social milieu out of which the green movement arose, but mostly it is based on their unshakeable conviction that their view of the world is the only correct view, and that, unfortunately, most of the human species are simply too stupid to recognise the fact. Greens are elitists – and proud of it.
If challenged on this point, the Greens will point out that they were the ones who first recognised the existential threat posed by climate change – and that was long before the mainstream parties were even willing to fully acknowledge its reality. They will remind us that it was the Greens who first recognised how seriously corporate mendacity had compromised the fruits of genetic engineering. Who, they will demand, were the first to elect co-leaders and make their party te Tiriti centric? The list goes on and on. As Rod Donald was fond of reminding New Zealanders: The Greens are not on the Left, the Greens are not on the Right. The Greens are out in front.”
All very well and good – until the seers and prophets responsible for this farsighted vanguardism are presented with the practical difficulties of running a political party aspiring to electoral viability. At that point it becomes necessary to find a way to prevent the purity of the party’s principles and policies from being forced to endure the lowest-common-denominator arbitration inherent in the crude majoritarianism of democratic decision-making.
The Greens’ solution to this problem was the adoption of “consensus-based” decision-making. Superficially, this sounded super-democratic. Rather than allow 51 percent of the party to dominate the remaining 49 percent, the Greens would do all within their power to ensure that their principles and policies enjoyed the broadest possible agreement.
Few voters, however, bothered to follow the logic of the Greens’ argument right through. If they had, it would very soon have become obvious that “consensus-based” decision-making allows the faction composed of the party leadership and its hangers-on to exercise a veto over the party’s ultimate direction. Unwilling to embarrass or challenge the people in charge, party delegates could be prevailed upon to delay, postpone, or simply compromise out of all recognition, proposals supported by a clear majority of the membership.
Should the veto-wielding minority prove intransigent, however, constitutional provision was made for the blocking of consensus to be over-ridden by a supermajority vote of 75 percent + 1. Turn that around, of course, and you have conferred veto powers on 25 percent + 1 of the members and their delegates.
This is hardly a recipe for genuine consensus, more a guarantee of simmering resentments and ceaseless factional manoeuvring. It is also, presumably, the reason why the constitutional provision which laid James Shaw’s hopes low on Saturday was approved. If a minority leadership clique could exercise its veto over the wishes of the rank-and-file majority, then it was only fair that a rank-and-file minority of just 25 percent + 1 could negate the unopposed candidacy of an incumbent co-leader with upwards of 70 percent membership support.
That a constitution permitting such antics was entirely unsuited to a political party seeking genuine political influence – up to and including Cabinet positions – does not appear to have occurred to either the people who drafted it, or the members who voted for it.
What it does point to, however, is a party unwilling to embrace the brute realities of parliamentary politics. There is absolutely no point in making its MPs available for Cabinet posts, if a quarter of a party’s members are resolutely opposed to its MPs engaging in the delicate business of building cross-party support, accepting the compromises inherent in coalition politics, negotiating in good faith with those interest groups most directly affected by proposed policy changes, and otherwise engaging in the “art of the possible” that is democratic politics.
It is simply astonishing that James Shaw, who has demonstrated considerable political skill in securing the support of four out of the five parliamentary parties for the Government’s climate change legislation, could be treated so appallingly by an intransigent minority of the Greens’ membership for doing precisely what 70 percent of the party asked him to do.
Nor is it just the abusive conduct directed against Shaw personally that is astonishing. Even worse is the message sent by the 30 percent of delegates who voted to re-open his nomination. Clearly, they are not in the least bit concerned what the rest of the country makes of their actions. The single most important lesson of party politics: that disunity is death; has failed to sink in.
With most of Shaw’s opponents supposedly located in the “Youth Wing” of the Greens, it must be assumed that the example of the Alliance is too far in the past to offer these children any guide as to what happens to a small political party which very publicly attacks its leader and then proceeds to tear itself apart.
And it simply will not do to explain away the self-destructive character of their decision by referencing the anger and despair of the generations destined to endure the worst effects of global warming. If the urgency of the climate crisis has already passed beyond the capacity of parliamentary politics-as-usual, then come out honestly and say so. Let the Greens’ Youth Wing put it to their party membership that there must be no more coalitions, no more compromises, no more democracy. Let them ask the electorate instead for the equivalent of wartime powers to fight the greatest threat to human survival since the last Ice Age.
They should be prepared, however, for considerably more of the Greens’ membership than 25 percent to reject such a policy. More importantly, they should be prepared for something pretty close to 75 percent of the New Zealand electorate to signal their willingness to stand up and fight for democracy.
If the only reason “the Greens are out in front” is because nobody else is willing to go anywhere near them, then Rod Donald’s bold assertion is no longer a boast – it’s an epitaph.
This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday 25 July 2022.
I have always had my doubts about the Greens. I have occasionally cast votes in their direction, and may do again, but have detected what I consider to be a certain flakiness - rather as this article indicates, too much the self-righteous, holier than thou, intransigence that will suffer no compromise.
Of course, one might argue that in crisis situations, compromises might become luxuries we can not afford. But it might not have been a bad idea to be willing to compromise before a matter reaches such a state of crisis. The climate change issue seems well on course for a situation in which drastic decisions will have to made - and in fact will be forced upon governments, who will probably consider themselves force to assume dictatorial powers to make those decisions.
I can't see the Greens being any better placed to lead the country though such a crisis than any of the other political parties. Mind you I can't see that the major parties, Labour or National, have significantly greater capacity. What, then, can we make of the capacity of our political leaders collectively - in say, some kind of agreed 'crisis coalition'? I am not optimistic.
Ion A. Dowman
Shaw's defenestration is another expression of the Greens' nihilism. It is appropriate for a party that worships at the inane and delusional temple of Climate Catastrophism.
Deep breath Chris. 25% can trigger a selection process, but not win one.
Didn't we see only a few weeks ago that only 54 Tory MPs - out of over 300 (less than 25%) - are required to submit a letter to the 1922 Committee to trigger a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson? The process itself is therefore not without precedents elsewhere and so is unlikely to be grounded in some peculiar characteristics of the Green Party. Unless you want to extend your dubious hypothesis and suggest that the NZ Greens are minoritarian elitists in much the same manner as the UK Tories - at which point you are sounding risible.
Shaw of course is the complete opposite of Johnson - a decent and intellectually honest politician - and so doesn't deserve to face re-selection. But all political parties struggle with the swivel-eyed loons (so-called) who make up their activist base. It's a predictable thing. You are developing a tendency to announce an apocalypse of some sort every week. Maybe calm down a bit.
Sweeping and insightful Chris. My short experience of working with people with green leanings was that they lean all which way and are not kind, nor co-operative or overly practical, except when they decide so. They know so much and have absorbed superiority through every pore, and survey everything from the POV of what will best serve their own particular desires and purpose.
If it means diverting from previous plans that others have committed to, well theirs is the best plan and one is just being a Python Black Knight to persist in opposition and stand in their way. I actually felt I was going to be at least slapped across the face at the last meeting about one plan that had to be abandoned as it proved unworkable, too costly and being promoted by a group with alternative ideas far from the original vision.
hi Chris from across the ditch - the Greens here hold the balance of power in the upper house here and are rightly pushing climate change. the farce on your side is like the old farts clubs refusing female members, or closer to point, the drones in the US senate - including democrats - who insist on the filibuster, delay help to Ukraine, stop Biden's tepid repair programme. the self entitled myopia is the same. it's worse in nz though, because the events you describe mean that greens cannot be in cabinet, or hold the balance of power or guarantee confidence and supply - because the "dictatorship of the myopicariat" (a new phrase invented by me) means that the minister, holder of supply etc can be rolled/vetoed by i democratic minorities
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