Friday 25 September 2009

Sue Bradford Resigns

Former (as of 30th October 2009) Green Party MP, Sue Bradford.

THE SHOCK ANNOUNCEMENT of Sue Bradford’s resignation from Parliament raises a number of troubling questions about the political trajectory of the Green Party under its new leadership.

Referring to her failure to defeat Metiria Turei for the Greens’ co-leadership position, Bradford declared: "The Party made a clear and democratic decision, but of course it was personally disappointing and I’m ready for a change."

Clearly, there was a lot more to Bradford’s defeat than the party hierarchy was willing to admit at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the struggle for the female co-leadership role was merely a reflection of a much wider internal struggle over the Greens' long-term ideological direction.

During the 2008 election campaign, Bradford had spiked a major push by the then female co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, and male co-leader, Russel Norman, to reposition the Greens as a fundamentally non-ideological political movement, capable of working with either of the major parties.

Bradford’s hard-line stance against entering into any kind of deal with National can now be seen for what it was: the last stand of the Green Left. Turei’s May 2009 victory was the Green Party rank-and-file’s emphatic response. The days of uncompromising eco-socialism are over.

Bradford’s defeat leaves the remaining representatives of the eco-socialist tradition, Keith Locke and Catherine Delahunty, in a dangerously exposed position.

Looking back at the Greens’ 2008 Party List in the light of Bradford's resignation, it is now possible to see how far the rank-and-file have moved away from the heady mixture of peace, pot and planetary justice that the Green Party of Rod Donald, Nandor Tanczos and Sue Bradford so colourfully represented in 1999. Of the Class of 2008, Kennedy Graham and Kevin Hague both have links to the National Party. Only Delahunty bears the slightest resemblance to the MPs of the Greens' glory days.

With the tragic death of Donald in 2006, and the burning-off of Tanczos, and now Bradford, the transformation of the New Zealand Greens (once hailed as the most radical Green Party in the world) into a thoroughly middle-class and politically moderate political movement, will gather speed.

Bradford’s Party List replacement, Dave Clendon, fits the new paradigm perfectly. As "a sustainable business advisor who is of Ngapuhi/Te Roroa and Pakeha heritage", he presents a very different ideological profile to Bradford’s hard-edged, class-based, street-level activism.

According to a Green Party media statement: "Bradford had the unique distinction of seeing three Members’ Bills passed into law in the last Parliament. Respectively, they lifted the youth minimum wage to adult rates, extended the length of time some mothers in prison can keep their babies with them, and amended s59 of the Crimes Act so that children receive the same legal protection from assault as adults".

That the party was willing to lose such an effective legislator, and so accomplished a parliamentarian, speaks volumes about how far the new-look Green Party wants to distance itself from Bradford's radical/revolutionary persona.

It will be very interesting, now, to watch the response of the New Zealand electorate. Will the next round of polls register a rise, or a fall, in the Greens' popularity? Will the departure of the politician who introduced the "anti-smacking bill" make "Middle New Zealand" look more - or less - favourably upon the Green MPs who remain?

If it's more, Locke and Delahunty should watch their backs.


Robert Winter said...

A sad day, and you are right about the Greens. Their re-positioning around the Mt Albert re-election was palpable, and Dr Norman's preference to attack the Labour Party was on full display. There will be disillusionment caused in some parts of the Greens about this resignation,and I imagine that Labour will benefit. That said, it did Labour no harm to have a leftist Green critique to deal with (as opposed to the now dominant centrist mush).

Joe Hendren said...


The perception of Tanczos as a 'radical' had far more to do with image than substance. I don't know if you ever saw the interview of Tanczos in Salient before the 1999 election, but it made it very clear that behind the dreds was a moderate (some would say conservative) political being.

It is an irony that despite losing the leadership election to Russel Norman, the events of today show Tanczos won the political argument that was at the heart of that contest. For the wider interests of the left I think this is unfortunate. While there might be sections of the middle class who would be more comfortable with a 'less radical' looking Greens, I very much doubt this will translate into more votes.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Mr Trotter, I agree with you. I have thought for some time now that if Labour is not very very careful it will see the Greens step up as the real opposition party while Labour struggles unsuccessfully to get it's aging rolling stock back on the rails after the great train wreck of 2008.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I too see Ms Turei's victory as a sign of the Greens heading centre-wards, the fact remains that she is a very capable person and will make for a good party leader. This should help keep the Green's support steady whilst allowing Labour to return to its one-time (but long-abandoned) role as the acknowledged party of the democratic Left.


Anonymous said...

One can only hope....

Anonymous said...

Surprise surprise, parties which accept the capitalist system inevitably drift rightwards. Their acceptance of our society's social relations translates into an acceptance of the injustices and attacks on the working class that go with those relations.

Frankly I think we've seen more than enough hope placed in social-democratic parties. The time's well and truly past that we got stuck into organising something more radical - a party that advocates and concretely fights for workers control over every aspect of our society from the workplace to the school, the waterfront to the halls of parliament. A party that opposes New Zealand imperialism wherever it goes and despite whatever lies it uses to disguise it's intentions, calling for troops and police out of Afghanistan, East Timor, the Solomans and everywhere. A party that advocates the unrestricted right to strike, opposes all cutbacks and advocates a fundamentally different and fundamentally better world.

The Labour Party never did this, the Alliance never really did either, and the Greens certainly haven't. I look forward to the day when there's a party in parliament, and more importantly a party on the streets, in the workplace and in the community that does.

Alastair Reith

Go figure said...

Chris, you're inventing things again. Speculation is one thing, but don't offer it up as fact please.

First, is it a shock announcement? People have been wondering since the leadership election what Sue would do and she has chosen. It is a shame, but don't discount the personal when playing up the politics. Sue said she most wanted to be a Minister and has realised that is unlikely to happen. She tried for co-leader and that didn't happen. After 10 years, wouldn't anyone think about a change?

"Clearly, there was a lot more to Bradford's defeat than the party hierarchy was willing to admit at the time."

Clearly? How do you know that Chris? Hindsight? You are just making it up arent't you.

"reposition the Greens as a fundamentally non-ideological political movement"

Are you kidding? Only true ignorance of Green Party process could lead anyone to even speculate like this. But I don't think you're ignorant, I think you just enjoy stirring.

"Bradford's hard-line stance against entering into any kind of deal with National can now be seen for what it was: last stand of the Green left"

Pure hyperbole. Sue wasn't against "any kind of relationship" with the Nats. She fully supports the current MoU. What she was against was changing the 2005 stance which said the Greens would not even discuss supporting a Nat government. Many of us think Greens should be open to talking to anyone as a matter of principle, however unlikely it is that an acceptable deal would result. The political wisdom of this is of course debatable. Sue feels even talking to the Nats (after stating a clear pref for Labour) would loose votes, dispite the very high barrier that the Party membership has to sign off on any actual proposal to form a govt. Sue won that debate. It may still change in future, but it is hardly a realignment of Green Party politics and policy.

Keith and Catherine in a "dangerously exposed position"? You really just don't know what you're talking about Chris and shouldn't act like you do. By the way, Kennedy's brother was a Nat of course, so that connection is clear, but what is Kevin's connection that so taints him?

If your speculation is correct, you will see Green policy start to change to fit the assumed new moderate position the Greens are supposedly lurching into. Remember, the leadership cannot act against Party policy that is set by the membership. It is plenty radical now. It won't change noticeably in the next few years, Chris.

Anonymous said...

North Korea called. They want their Alistair back.

Unrestricted right to strike? Yeah, not working is going to make us all better off.

There is a place for your proposed party. 0.01%.

Chris Trotter said...

To "Go Figure":

First, I'd like to thank-you for taking the time to compose this response to my posting. As a Swiss comrade of mine puts it: "Democracy IS the discussion."

I am not, however, persuaded by your arguments.

Certainly, Green Party politics is very different from National or Labour Party politics - being considerably more coercive (an inevitable consequence, I suspect, of its undemocratic system of consensus-based decision-making). But, like all human institutions, it does have a distinct style of politics that is all its own.

Sue, herself, admitted as much to RNZ's Kathryn Ryan when she stated that the leadership contest was a brutal experience, and that very real political differences sharply delineated the choice between herself and Metiria.

These differences, and the emotionally scarring nature of the contest, were glossed over by the Greens' leaders at the May Conference - as I observed.

As for your attempt to deny the Greens' long history of attempting to paint themselves as non-ideological, I would simply remind you of the slogan Rod Donald was fond of quoting: "The Greens aren't of the Left, or the Right - the Greens are out in front."

At the heart of the Green ideology is a conviction that natural science is devoid of political content, and so all the Greens are about, as a party, is attempting to implement the sort of policies which a proper understanding of ecology dictates.

This is actually an extremely dangerous political ideology. When people become convinced that they are "above" politics, and that they are "simply" implementing "scientific" principles, dissent comes to be seen not simply as a statement of someone's opposing ideas, but as a real impediment to achieving rational outcomes.

It is this bias towards absolutism, manifested in the party's decision-making processes (which are engineered to achieve unanimity) that makes the Greens' intra-politics so poisonous.

All the passive-aggressive simpering and smiling, and all the peace, love and random hugging that goes on at Green Party conferences merely serves to mask the same ruthless jockeying for power and control that goes on in all political parties.

But it is precisely this desire to conceal the power-plays at work (as when Jeanette refused to allow Green Party members from the South island to become candidates because they had the wrong ideas about the Treaty of Waitangi) rather that allow political differences to openly play themselves out, that imposes such enormous emotional stress on Green Party politicians.

Either you don't know the way your party works (perhaps because you have only ever seen the smiling and hugging) or you do, but are anxious to preserve the myth that the Greens are all just one big happy family, where no one disagrees with anybody else, all decisions are unanimous, and nobody ever gets hurt.

Well, as the events of the past 48 hours have proved: they're not; they don't; they aren't; and they do.

I stand by my posting.

To Anonymous:

Not too many strikes in North Korea!

Andrew said...

National positions are elected by delegates sent to the party conference, who are in turn elected by the Greens in the electorate. Delegates can also be instructed by the electorate-level as to who to vote for, and I expect most branches would have instructed their delegates on something as important as a co-leader.

Every Green party member is entitled to attend their electorate-level meeting, and has equal say. So it is not the party ‘hierarchy’ making the decision, it is the party. And the decision is not any smear against Sue Bradford or part of any great right-wing conspiracy from caucus; it just means that members of the Green Party thought Metiria Turei would make a better leader for the party than Sue would.

However, given that most political parties are designed to concentrate power at the top, I guess something as radical as true democracy is too hard for some people to understand.

BTW Metiria is not right-wing or centrist. It is simply that some people are good at polarising, and others take the persuasive approach where they put their views forward, but let others make up their minds at their own pace. Sue is good at the former, Metiria is good at the latter. An effective party needs both types of skill.

In the Green Party, caucus doesn't set policy... the party does that. So changes in caucus can't possibly be expected to change policy direction.

Chris Trotter said...

Well, Andrew, that must make your conferences really straightforward affairs. On any given issue, the delegates just stand up and announce the position of their electorate organisation, someone tallies up the "Fors" and "Againsts", declares the policy accepted or rejected, and the conference moves on to the next issue. Crikey, the whole thing should be over in an hour or two!

What's that you say? Green conferences don't work like that. Really? I'm stunned.

Go figure said...

Chris, thanks. I agree the debate is so important. A little information is a dangerous thing as they say, and you have just enough to get yourself in trouble. I don't think anything I or anyone says will make you change your mind. I write lest your readers think your gross speculation is somehow well informed.

Our decision making process is designed to be *more* democratic by seeking positions that the maximum number of people can support, rather than a simple majority. That you consider it less democratic when members in the old parties are not even invited to partake in the most important decisions, I find very interesting, but perhaps a conversation for another time.

I did not claim internal Green politics was at all easy. No politics is easy and there were clear choices to consider between Sue and Meyt. But this is against a backdrop of Party policy, which any leader is bound to uphold and pursue the implementation of. Of course, differences in style, specific policy interests and preferred political tactics exist, but no leader can take the Party in a radically new direction without first convincing members.

The main point - and this is important Chris - is that the leftist policies of the Greens are not in any way threatened because Metiria was chosen over Sue. Your talk about Keith and Catherine needing to watch their backs is simply ridiculous.

One of the differences between Sue and Metiria is in tactics. As described earlier, Sue thinks even talking to National after an election about formation of a govt is in principle wrong, while I believe Metiria thinks principle actually demands that the door is always open to talk. This, in itself, does not mean one is less left than the other surely.

Your reference to Rod's quote about left, right, and out in front is very telling. You know perhaps, that Rod was one of the champions of the Greens political position at the 2005 election, where we said publically we wouldn't even talk to National after the election, but would only work with Labour. How does that fit with your comments? Could it be that Rod's phrase about "out in front" means something else? In fact, it refers to there being more than one political dimension, that left/right isn't enough, that there needs to be a sustainability dimension that both left and right continue to ignore, or at best play lip service to.

"At the heart of the Green ideology is a conviction that natural science is devoid of political content..."

This is ridiculous of course. Where on earth did you get it? I've been in the Greens over a decade and have NEVER heard anything like it. I can assure you no one in the leadership thinks this is remotely true, yet it is the basis for a big hunk of your analysis and conclusions.

I don't know to what event you refer re Jeanette and South Island members, but you have enough other things wrong to make me wonder at the veracity of the comment. As for a party wanting to put its best face on for the media after difficult events, is that surprising, particularly when the media so downplays substance and frenzy feeds on conflict? A party would have to be suicidal to do otherwise. You're one of the more reasonable commentators and yet look at where your present conjecture has led you. New Caucus members watching their backs indeed! I can only wonder what new heights of discontent you'd claim if half the things you guess at were true.

PS To be clear, it's not that speculation upsets me, it's that you continually dress it up as certainty when you don't really have a clue. Our media commentators affect public opinion and should not be so cavalier.

PPS That this blog doesn't allow easy quoting of other's comments really sucks.

Nandor Tanczos said...

Hi Chris

Provocative and interesting commentary. First of all, I think your comments on consensus decision-making are quite insightful. I wouldn't be as categorical as you about it concentrating power. I think that in finding an initial position it can be a very powerful way of drawing in all views and developing a synthesis that majoritarianism generally fails to do, but that once a position is established, consensus makes it very difficult to change. It locks in the status quo, and therefor ultimately locks in conservatism. Hence Sue managing to “spike” a major push to reposition the Green – one that actually was initially driven by a groundswell among party members and massively backed by an extensive internal consultation process.

Where I totally disagree is with your portrayal of this as an attempt at being 'beyond ideology'. In contrast I see it as an attempt to establish a Green ideology and politics, as opposed to a Labour or National one. You, like so many, seem to fail to appreciate that there is more than one dimension to politics. Green politics is 'beyond' left and right in my opinion in that it shares elements of both and attempts a synthesis in order to address a more fundamental problem that is extrinsic to both – the degradation of the natural life support systems that both workers and capitalists depend on to exist.

I agree that there is a real danger that the Greens will move towards centrism and moderation, which is not what I think the membership indicated it wanted when eg choosing Metiria. What I think the membership wanted was a Green identified, as opposed to Red identified, leadership. What it may get, if the party doesn't keep its eye on the big picture, is a drift to the middle. That, IMO, would be a major error in these dangerous days, and I hope it doesn't happen. But as I say in my blog loosing Sue will not make the party less radical because Sue's politics are not particularly radical, in the sense of addressing the roots of our problems. That is not to say her concerns are unimportant.

Last thing: I know your views on how 'identity politics' has affected the left, but this is something else. In my view, the left has attempted to claim ownership of a growing autonomous green political movement in an attempt to rejuvenate a movement that has destroyed itself from the inside. The problem of the left, IMO, is that after the depredations and imperialism of communist Russia and China the vision of a socialist utopia has been sullied irrevocably. All that remains for the Left, in the West at least,is tuning the (safety) valves of capitalism. Meanwhile, we are still driving full-speed at a cliff...

Skyler said...

As a Green party member I am disappointed in the direction the party is going. Of course to me environmental issues are important but what attracted me to the party, beyond that, was their position on social justice issues and that they were the most left political party in parliament (hopefully keeping Labour honest!).

With Sue Bradford leaving the Greens I am worried that the party will just become a Green party looking after the interests of eco-business. And will be a wishy washy centrist party.

The left in NZ appears to be weak and fractured - what can we do about it?