Inside Man? Green Party Co-Leader, James Shaw: For the best part of a decade the Greens have been wrestling with the Outside/Insider dilemma. Tired of being ignored by the insiders “who make the important decisions” they have steadily de-prioritised “their freedom to speak their version of the truth”, and devoted themselves, instead, to proving that they are equal to the task of following the “sacrosanct rule”.
IT’S ABOUT AS CLOSE to a conversation with the Devil as any decent politician should get. Not that the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Larry Summers, hails from the infernal regions – far from it! Nevertheless, the question he put to the then Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, contained the choice with which Lucifer, in whatever guise, eventually confronts every person who enters political life with serious intent.
So, what was the question that Summers put to the system-challenging Greek economist?
“There are two kinds of politicians,’ he began: “insiders and outsiders.
“The outsiders prioritize their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do. Their reward? Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes.
“So, Yanis, which of the two are you?”
Varoufakis chose to go on speaking truth to power – and remains an outsider.
It would be comforting to believe that the Green Party of Aotearoa, when presented with the same choice as Varoufakis, made the same decision. Comforting. Yes. But it would not be true.
For the best part of a decade the Greens have been wrestling with the Outside/Insider dilemma. Tired of being ignored by the insiders “who make the important decisions” they have steadily de-prioritised “their freedom to speak their version of the truth”, and devoted themselves, instead, to proving that they are equal to the task of following the “sacrosanct rule”.
This shift, from Outsider to Insider status, is all-too-evident in the way they present themselves to the public.
The seven Green MPs elected to Parliament in 1999 were a genuinely radical assortment. When asked to pose for the cameras their response was to clasp each other’s hands high above their heads like a team of counter-cultural prize-fighters who had just – to their utter amazement – delivered a painful left-hook to the Establishment.
But, oh, what a transformation 18 years and six general elections have wrought upon the Greens. The May 2017 edition of North & South features an extraordinary cover photo of Green Party MPs and candidates – all of them posed in conscious imitation of Vanity Fair’s annual “Who’s Hot In Hollywood” cover shot.
Nothing counter-cultural here. The Green Co-Leader, James Shaw, impeccably turned-out in a sharp business suit, adopts the posture of an up-and-coming CEO. The Green women, shimmering in designer evening-gowns, smile demurely at the camera. As a full-on application for Insider status, the photograph is a little masterpiece. (This time, Lucifer obviously came disguised as the photographer!)
If New Zealand’s Greens do achieve insider status at this year’s general election, then their political trajectory should not be interpreted as something unusual. When it comes to moving inside, the inventors of the green brand, Germany’s Die Grunen, have already been there and done that.
Born out of the 1980s militant pessimism, Die Grunen’s apocalyptic visions of an industrial civilisation in irreversible decline succumbed relatively quickly to the argument that, in politics, all that really matters is the ability to “influence powerful people and outcomes”. If that meant abandoning the “fundamentalism” of uncompromising planetary defence, for the “realism” of promoting corporate evolution through green technology, then – so be it.
The Right’s fear and loathing of the Greens is, therefore, unwarranted. It is also counter-productive. North & South’s cover, alone, should convince political conservatives that the Greens are now a party they can do business with. Indeed, it is the reflexive hostility of those who never met a tree-feller, river-polluter or climate-change-denier they didn’t like, that makes the Greens’ bid for insider status so difficult to sell to its followers.
Capitalism has never faced a more serious challenge than the militant environmentalism which its relentless ecological devastation continues to inspire. If the increasingly obvious consequences of global warming are not to become eco-socialism’s most effective recruiters, then the smarter sort of capitalist, along with his/her political representatives, needs to enlist the Greens as their allies on the inside – and quickly.
The Greens’ Memorandum of Understanding with Labour expires at midnight on Election Day. How desperately they must be hoping that the electorate delivers enough support to get them safely admitted to the House of Insiders. Those New Zealanders looking for a more uncompromising party of planetary defence will be hoping for a different outcome. Never has there been a greater need for political outsiders committed to prioritising the truth.
What the Devil knows, and ambitious politicians forget, is that once admitted to the House of Insiders, the only “powerful people” to whom they can speak the truth are the ones demanding their silence.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 June 2017.
Your opinion of course Chris.
I've never been able to understand the visceral hatred with which conservatives regard the Green party. Even if they sometimes been eccentric (rather than revolutionary), IMO they've always been middle-class.
I have worked in corporations, the insider outsider analogy is as strong there as in politics. As a natural outsider my observation has been that you cannot as an insider change a thing, that the entrepreneurs who make things happen are all outsiders. Once launched however their boats cannot be allowed to rock, and insiders sit still, so end up staffing and working to the new rules. Observe one of the great modern bureaucracies IBM, who began life with a revolutionary and disruptive device, the typewriter. Goodbye long hand, enter the typing pool. From one stasis to another.
This appears to be a natural part of power systems, bureaucracies whether private or public display the same characteristic hierarchical structures and cohesiveness. They also display a stasis and resistance to change. And it is the same people, that huge majority who consist insiders who operate these environments. They are the Titanics that head toward the iceberg blissfully unaware. If the Titanic had modern radar the radar operator would have had to go through several layers of scrutiny, each with the power to reject the message, and by the time he got somebody to listen the boat would already have struck the iceberg. A good example of this is the failure of the Soviet system, nice theory but flawed. Lots of insider apparatchiks sending outsiders, Cassandras etc to the gulag whilst the whole thing slowly reached the limit of its self defeating lie. The insiders refused to see this coming. Insiders in the "free West" also failed to anticipate, it was outside of their frame of reference.
Outsiders as a consequence tend to either set up new ventures and lead from the top, or whistle Dixie in the wilderness, observing the inevitable, and if verbalising it being labelled Cassandras. All is not however lost to outsiders, they have a power few insiders have. That is to suggest a new idea, a different way. Ideas have a habit of coinciding with circumstance, and become for insiders a "truth". Revolutions validate this.
So to the Greens, they have as Chris notes made the choice to be insiders. In doing so they cannot be proponents of ideas that rock the boat. Much as I despise Douglas and his ilk they understood the power of an idea and how to make it mainstream, the Greens do not appear to have learnt from his success which consists of an outsiders Trojan horse strategy (very Leninist). So consequently what the hell will the Greens actually stand up for?
What a great piece, re your last para, if Labour doesn't make the cut on election night I believe that James Shaw will hitch his pants and Metiria Turei will tuck her skirt and off to National they will skip, they will have be quick as elements in Labour who have the same blue vein may win the fight for control if Labour is around the 25% mark.
The insider versus outsider model applies widely in politics, and as Nick J said also in corporations (and religions, sports clubs, academia and other hunan organisations). This post is a clearer statement of the idea behind the previous post on Labour. Labour being an outsider party that became an insider party in the 1930s and has been struggling with the conflict between its insider members and its outsider members ever since. The Greens will face the same conflict if their insider status brings them into conflict with outsider members. The Maori Party and its coalition with National is another example of insider / outsider conflict (and a conflict which Labour has relentlessly tried to expose and exploit).
National would view this with smugness of the natural party of power.
The venerable Mr Peters is the master at dancing along the line between insider and outsider status. So desperate to be on the inside but only on his terms.
September Song by Billie Holliday. This could be the lament, the threnody of the Greens. Don't be unkind to them wanting to put a stop to the deadly inertia, a mass effect alike to carbon monoxide from the exhaust of too many vehicles and too many rotting politicians.
But, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
And these few precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days are the ones when we have time to make some plans to help people to cope with climate change, to find a way to get a house, some happiness in a simple life without having to scavenge like stray dogs.
Good comment Nick J. The neoliberal juggernaut is indeed controlled by insiders who cannot see aught but TINA and will determinedly direct their ideological craft to it's destruction.As the outsiders like Vaurofakis trying to warn them are vilified.
Just starting "Adults in the room" too Chris ; Sobering to read of the after midnight phone call threatening his partner's 17 yr old son. One wonders how much of that is going on. Is the world run by the Sopranos?
D J S
Chris: If the increasingly obvious consequences of global warming are not to become eco-socialism’s most effective recruiters, then the smarter sort of capitalist, along with his/her political representatives, needs to enlist the Greens as their allies on the inside – and quickly.
Even if the Greens do become insiders, and on the unwritten rules, only be allowed to speak truth to insiders, the Greens will know what is expected of them, actions to satisfy the cognoscenti outside. There isn't time to work through the progression noted by political watchers and scientists. Greens will have pragmatically realised they may be compromised, but will have to lie down with the dogs, and be prepared for the fleas.
Scratching isn't such a bad problem, when compared to the well-backed scenarios for the future and the Greens have to go bravely into the darkness of the Ghost Ride, and face up to the scary apparitions otherwise the hauntings will be real and prolonged. This is full of analogies and sounding overblown, but just compare now to the times before WW2. Then some knew bad things were under way, were ignored or remonstrated with, and the outcome was unbelievable. All these years later I can't imagine how it was able to proceed - such a nightmare. We were brutalised in our minds then, we can't afford to ignore today's signs and portents of further brutalisation with climate change adding its volatile touch paper.
Nick J - I have also experienced the 'insider/outsider' analogy in the bureaucracy.
In the first few months of employment 'insiders' want to take you for coffees & lunch etc to test you in subtle ways to see if you're 'insider material'.
Of course if you fail that test, life can be made hell for you in subtle ways until you leave.
And the 'insiders' have won their little game.
Great to see you back Chris, where have you been?
I joined the Values Party in 1975 and have consistently supported Values and the Greens until the last election.
Although I am now bombarded with begging emails from the Greens, I have long suspected a sell-out. Your post serves to confirm my worst suspicions.
Quite apart from the Green Party cosying up to political parties that seek to sustain and support the neoliberal agenda, I have also been worried by the Greens apparent support for the pretensions of the Maori elite.
My dilemma now, is just who do I vote for in September?
The current protests in Hamburg are symptomatic of a rising trend of opposition to the capitalist agenda.
Funny thing Fastcat the buggers do exactly that. I ended up being a "fireman" where you put out fires and succeed where insiders fail and fear to tread. I employed insiders and gave them steady dull roles of limited autonomy. Can't say I enjoyed it, from my point I was cynically using them based on the premise that they would do little to help me if push came to shove. Sadly that is the truth, at work and socially. Try talking to strangers at a middle class social event where everyone else knows one another.
Well, they're still in my will, despite you persuading me to vote for Internet/Mana last time.
The Green fundraiser who rings me up looking for new donations emphasizes NZ poverty and climate change, my two highest priorities. But Labour teaches us talk is very cheap.
Nick J, typewriters were incredibly revolutionary. I remember visiting my cousin Isabel when she was 100 and me 11. She typed away while all the male secretaries withered her with their glances, mid-quill stroke.
Ian, nicely said re Peters.
I know the insider/outsider thing. It's where your colleagues say things like: "Well said – I agree with everything you say." But if the boss disagrees with you they slag you off to them behind your back. People should beware of thin walls, but then they say people who overhear stuff rarely hear anything complimentary about themselves. :)
I wonder which longly held policies the Greens have rejected? Surely a Party should be judged on what it has achieved and what it wants to achieve.
Any look at the top ranking candidates and you will see that they are still sticking to core values and asking the hard questions.
The Party is not a minor entity any more, it possibly has a similar number of members as Labour and currently raises more money. While Labour went through a number of leadership changes the Greens were considered the only effective opposition. The Greens have also achieved something that many Parties would be envious of a candidate list that is gender balanced and has a breadth of ethnicities that better represents New Zealand. The Party has successfully broadened its appeal and the experience and qualifications of the candidates would make it highly effective in Government.
The other factor you have ignored is that much of the "radical" ideas pushed by the likes of Jeanette and Rod are now considered mainstream. Other parties are just catching up.
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