Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Ten Years Ago This Week: Fattening Tigger

The face/s of the Green Party 1999-2005: Rod Donald & Jeanette Fitzsimons.

WHAT SHALL WE DO about poor little Tigger? If he never eats nothing he’ll never get bigger. So sings Winnie the Pooh as he attempts to rustle-up some breakfast for his new playmate. The Left is asking the same question about those Tiggers of New Zealand politics – the Greens. For if Jeanette Fitzsimons is not given a clear run at the Coromandel seat in the forthcoming election, the Greens chances of ever growing big enough to climb over the five percent MMP threshold look very slim indeed.

The key to unlocking Coromandel for the Greens is in Labour’s hands. At the last election Ms Fitzsimons received 9,561 votes, just 2,450 less than National’s Murray McLean. If the 4,255 people who voted for Labour in 1996 could be persuaded to come in behind the Greens in 1999, then there is every chance of Ms Fitzsimons winning the seat. A Green victory is even more likely when one considers the likely voting behaviour of the 7,932 people who, in 1996, supported NZ First.

According to the rules of MMP, a party which wins an electorate seat is automatically entitled to the number of seats represented by its overall share of the valid Party Vote – even if that share amounts to less than five percent. In the Taranaki-King Country by-election the Greens won approximately 2.5 percent of the vote, and most commentators believe they will achieve at least that level of support simply by having their name on the ballot paper. With 2-3 percent of the Party Vote - plus Coromandel – the Greens could expect to see at least two - and possibly as many as four - MPs in the House of Representatives. And seats in the House are what Tiggers like best!

The question for Labour to answer, as the election draws near, is this: "What reasons can they sensibly offer for NOT throwing their support behind the Greens in Coromandel?" As the undisputed leader of the Left – at least in electoral terms – shouldn’t Labour be committed to seating the broadest and most accurate representation of progressive New Zealand which is possible? And, if it is acceptable for the Labour Party to align itself formally with the Socialist Left, in the form of the Alliance, why not Ecological Left with the Greens?

Broadening the base of a future Left Coalition also makes excellent electoral sense. Historically, the Green Party has drawn its support not only from red-green radicals, but also from blue-green conservatives. A brief glance at the electorates in which the Greens won strong support in 1990 (the last time they stood in their own right) shows that a Green Party with momentum is as likely to take votes from National as Labour. In other words, by backing the Greens Labour can actually grow the total Centre Left vote. That has to be a better prospect than simply redistributing the same amount of support between themselves and the Alliance.

To achieve that momentum, however, Labour needs to signal its support for Ms Fitzsimons sooner rather than later. If the voters can be persuaded that, come what may, the Greens are certain to be represented in Parliament, then they can tick their box on the ballot paper with a clear conscience. Without Labour’s (and then almost certainly the Alliance’s) agreement to stand aside in Coromandel, people considering casting a Party Vote for the Greens may reluctantly come to the conclusion that they would be throwing it away.

And that would be a pity. The Greens, like A.A. Milne’s Tigger, may be bouncy and prone to mischief (especially with genetically engineered potato crops!), but they also represent our last, best hope for a sustainable future.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion of 11 June 1999.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris.You probably dont remember but we shared a stage back in 1999.I was giving a corporate audience my thoughts on who of the new National and Labour intake were future stars.
I listed those i rated but then was humiliated as the media stars,yourself and Colin James jumped on me for not including Richard Worth on my list.He was top notch,a man going places i was told.Well i like to think one of the 3 of us got it right ! Cheers Mark

Chris Trotter said...

Oh, but Mark, how can you suggest that Richard Worth has not proved to be one of Parliament's most sagacious, most courageous, and most active of members?

Have you ever ridden a camel?

I thought not.

Well, I have, and I can tell you it requires a great deal of sagacity, courage and activity (assuming you don't want to fall off).

Shame on you! ;-)

Anonymous said...

1982 in the desert on the border of Morocco and Algeria.I remember it well as one of the local arabs wanted to buy the largest of the women on our Top-Deck bus trip.Offered 5 goats.She was from the West Coast but we still didnt think the offer was high enough.Anyway I remember just as well reading said Members website back in 1999 and thinking-this guy is not going to handle Parliament at all.Keep up the good work by the way.I even agree with you from time to time and always find your commentary interesting.Cheers Mark

Anonymous said...

the tigger article brings back memories of the 1999 coromandel campaign which i was involved in chris...i enjoyed every bit of it..i enjoy your writing too..take care..