True Colours? The transgressive, system-challenging Green Party that marched into Parliament in 1999 has gone. In its place we find a slick, professionalised operation that has stood down the uncompromising passions of Rod Donald in favour of the sleek corporate reassurances of James Shaw.
IT’S THE LIES we allow ourselves to believe that cause the most harm. If the year just past has taught us anything at all, then surely it has taught us that. Never has the ability to separate objective facts from unabashed appeals to our emotions been more important. The alternative is to embrace “post-truth” (the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 international word of the year) as the norm – and that way lies madness.
This ability to separate truth from falsehood is much more important to those on the left of politics than it is to those on the right. Preserving and strengthening the status quo has always been the right’s prime objective. And since recognising things as they are is a lot easier than imagining things that could be, the right’s political road is the easier to travel.
The left’s considerably more daunting challenge is persuading people to embrace change. This requires creativity, organisation and raw political courage on a scale the right is only rarely called upon to provide. The first priority for left-wing voters, therefore, is to correctly distinguish political parties committed to defending the status quo from parties committed to its demise.
Accordingly, the critical question for left-wing voters in 2017 is a simple one: “Are Labour and the Greens parties of change, or parties of the status quo?”
The answer, sadly, is that both parties are committed to very few policies that involve more than marginal changes to the status quo. And even these minimal reforms are best characterised as policies designed to repair and strengthen New Zealand’s existing economic and social institutions – not replace them.
The Housing Crisis, for example, is resolvable only by a massive shift of resources in the residential construction sector from private to public. The scale of state intervention required to meet the needs of those currently denied access to safe and affordable accommodation would, however, have far-reaching effects on the wealth and status of middle-class New Zealanders. A private construction sector starved of resources would produce swift and serious knock-on effects for speculators, developers, landlords and, ultimately, home-owners.
Given the level of both the Labour Party’s and the Greens’ electoral dependence on important groups within the middle class (salaried professionals, small and medium-sized enterprises) and acknowledging the enormous difficulties associated with mobilising the marginalised communities most likely to benefit from a state-led solution to the housing crisis, the modest (and wholly inadequate) housing policies of both “left-wing” parties make perfect sense.
This same, class-based, reticence is evident across the whole of Labour and Green policy-making. In the case of the former, it is observable in the party’s labour relations policies. The reconstitution of working-class power by restoring universal union membership is simply off the agenda. Similarly, the tax increases required to substantially increase the level of government support for working families, beneficiaries and tertiary students forms no part of Labour’s fiscal policy.
Such policy initiatives as have been announced, the Future of Work exercise particularly, present an “adapt or perish” approach to the demands of twenty-first century capitalism. John Harris, writing in The Guardian, illustrates the cultural gap between contemporary Labour’s professionalised politicians and its increasingly marginalised core voters with the following, chilling, quotation from Tony Blair adviser, Charles Leadbeater:
“Strong communities can be pockets of intolerance and prejudice […] Settled, stable communities are the enemies of innovation, talent, creativity, diversity and experimentation. They are often hostile to outsiders, dissenters, young upstarts and immigrants. Community can too quickly become a rallying cry for nostalgia; that kind of community is the enemy of knowledge creation, which is the wellspring of economic growth.”
How long will it be before the Greens in New Zealand begin nodding their heads in agreement with such paeans to entrepreneurship and innovation?
Not long. Because the transgressive, system-challenging Green Party that marched into Parliament in 1999 has gone. In its place we find a slick, professionalised operation that has stood down the uncompromising passions of Rod Donald in favour of the sleek corporate reassurances of James Shaw. Worried about the looming apocalypse of runaway climate change? Then worry no more. The Greens will ride to our rescue with the mother of all technical fixes!
The status quo is under no threat in 2017 – not with New Zealand’s three largest political parties committed to its continuing renovation and repair.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 January 2017.