Friday 11 August 2017

You Can’t Turn A Green Party Red Overnight.

Red Or Green? Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of her “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
THE GREENS as a political party, a social movement, and an electoral block, constitute three very different groups. Metiria Turei, by failing to balance the respective claims of each group, has plunged all three into a potentially terminal political crisis – destroying her own parliamentary career in the process.
The Green Party defectors’ (David Clendon and Kennedy Graham) grasp of the moral expectations of actual Green voters has proved to be considerably stronger than their co-leader’s.
As numerous political scientists and journalists have pointed out over the 28 years of the Green Party’s existence, its electoral base is overwhelmingly middle-class. “The wives of doctors, lawyers and architects from Wadestown and Mt Eden”, as one Press Gallery pundit put it.
Putting to one side the sexist over-simplification, the raw electoral data shows him to be more right than wrong. Nandor Tanczos, Sue Bradford and Keith Locke – the so-called “Red Greens” – may have captured the headlines when the Green Party first squeaked into Parliament back in 1999. But, the MP who most resembled the typical Green voter was the very middle-class Sue Kedgely. Close behind her was the irrepressible Rod Donald. As the former manager of a small business, he, too, represented a good-sized chunk of the Greens’ electoral base.
If one listened only to the rhetorical sallies of Sue Bradford, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Green party was chock-full of eco-socialists. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. For the voters concerned about dangerous food additives, genetic engineering and climate change, the Greens were neither Left, nor Right – the Greens were in front!
Metiria Turei’s sudden and dramatic elevation of issues relating to the poor and marginalised shocked and surprised many of the Greens’ middle-class voters. Their astonishment turned to alarm as the political implications of her defiance of WINZ acquired greater clarity. The Greens’ co-leader obviously regarded the laws surrounding the administration of social welfare as unjust manifestations of one class’s determination to limit the life chances of another. That their own social class was being cast as the villains of this “I, Daniel Blake” drama did not make the acceptance of Ms Turei’s radical welfare policies any easier.
Given that this sort of class war rhetoric had not been deployed in mainstream New Zealand politics for many decades, the public’s (including 51 percent of Green Party voters’) largely negative reaction to Ms Turei’s intervention was hardly surprising.
That Labour voters had celebrated enthusiastically their early leaders’ run-ins with the law reflected the extent to which class-based political ideologies had seized the imagination of the New Zealand working-class. Labour’s formation in 1916 came barely three years after the Great Strike of 1913 – generally accepted by historians as the closest this country has ever come to open class warfare. As late as 1932, it was still possible for unemployed rioters to wield the Auckland Methodist Mission’s picket fence against the Police – and receive absolution.
“If what happened last night makes authority act to help desperate people obtain the justice they deserve,” said Colin Scrimgeour, in his guise as the broadcaster “Uncle Scrim”, “the pickets torn off the fence of the Methodist Mission in Airedale Street will have caused this church to give the people the most outstanding service of the church’s hundred years of history.”
By 1935, however, Labour’s new leader, the avuncular Mickey Savage, was dampening-down the fiery class rhetoric of his party. To extend the appeal of Labour beyond the militant trade union movement from which it sprang, Savage required his comrades to master a more inviting and inclusive political language.
Herein lay Ms Turei’s error. To ask a political party to embrace the uncompromising goals of a social movement, in defiance of the moral expectations of at least half of that party’s electoral base, and without the lengthy preparations necessary to modify those expectations, can only be described as the purest political folly. It is all very well to present yourself as the reincarnation of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, but only after a majority of your fellow New Zealanders have been made familiar with the plot – and only if your own and Jean Valjean’s poverty are genuinely comparable!
The tragedy is not only that Ms Turei’s unapologetic radicalism has terminated her political career, but that the Greens did so little to prepare their supporters for its sudden arrival.
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, 11 August 2017.


Nick J said...

I have a friend who describes the Greens as the inheritors of Values, the place where the idealistic and disaffected middle class and counter culturists went in the 70s and 80s. For workers the wage gap and imminent unemployment has always been the visceral divide. That is Labour territory, you dont get "architects wives" associating with the lower decks.

It would appear to me that the socially concerned spectrum within the Greens are really core Labour material, that might be illustrative of Labours failure to be regarded by these people as the "peoples party".

Anonymous said...

Turei's main error was being dishonest about her actual domestic circumstances when she was getting a benefit, wrt to presence of the father, and her mother.
And being foolish enough to think no one would check.
And complaining that the pressure on her family was too much, when she instigated the whole thing.
And refusing to admit any mistakes, esp wrt her handling of the revelations..
This, for her opponents, confirms their opinions of the Greens as entitled with other peoples money, and politically incompetent.

It wasn't about beneficiarys at all. It was about Turei's , and the Greens, honesty and competence.

And the fault Greens at large, for letting this happen.
And mistaking social media echo chamber for public support, despite making that error last election.
Shaw is fatally weakened, for blindly backing such a obviously terrible and unmanaged strategy.

Worst of all, their treatment of the two MPs who resigned, after clearly struggling to reconcile loyalty with honesty, and choosing the later. Years of hard work count for nothing, for these 'old white men'. Amusing how so many 'progressives' instantly reach for race, gender and age as terms of abuse.
So much for the Greens claims of 'not being like other parties'

As for 'classism and racism', ask John Banks (who was later exonerated) or Aaron Gilmour (who deserved everything he got).
When people try to move the discussion from facts to alleged motivations of opponents, it's a sure admission of guilt.

Really, it shows the dishonesty at the heart of the Greens - they are not really an environmental party, that is now little more than PR. They are a hard left party.

Pinger said...

Anonymous @ 9.46

When you talk about 'as entitled with other peoples money', just remember, friend, when you are in the cancer ward, it's a portion of my taxes that pays for the chemo solution draining into your veins.

I hope the treatment works and you make a full recovery.

Tiger Mountain said...

the Greens “Mending the safety net” policy is great and hopefully will still get through if there is a new government, dealing with the 70 cents in the dollar abatement rates (poverty trap), and reducing the humiliation and harassment when dealing with WINZ/MSD can only be a good thing for the “underclass” and the country

the Greens bungled fatally by not presenting a bullet proof case study, and not repaying any debt established before going public, anecdotes based on real cases may have been a better way to go, Ms Turei will have regrets over this now, not the least of which was meeting MSD without a skilled beneficiary advocate from AAAP or some such, always hard to advocate your own case well

was Metiria going to be “outed”? no one seems to have come forward in that respect yet, though it is likely our bloated security agencies turned up some of the info used against her, the NZ Police too hold grudges, like the raid they did on the Auckland Peoples Centre in the 90s that resulted in some nasty injuries for Turei’s then protest mates, the cops resented being ticked off by the judge in that one for their fabrications that they were caught out on

re what the Green members think–Sue Bradford found that out when she stood for co leader–this affair looks like classic mismanagement of a good issue and engagement with potentially thousands of alienated non voters unless evidence surfaces to the contrary

ps.–housekeeping matter:time to reset the traps?…anonymice have reappeared at Bowalley Rd

peteswriteplace said...

Some of the Greens go back to the old Values Party, but many are former Labour supporters; some have come back home!

David said...

It's a defining moment for the future of the Green Party but not the end of it. No other party offers real solutions to the coming storm so they will inevitably fail to deliver on their promises.

David Stone said...

Nick J
Certainly the Greens had their origins in the Values party, esp. with Jannette Fitsymons. They were (she particularly) very genuine environmental advocates. I agree the Greens have morphed into more of a socialist movement with Metiria being a prime mover in this.
To a degree this was a consequence of their recognition that to present as a possible government they had to adopt a full spectrum of policies, and some of these took over. Ironic as the environmental issues facing us today are far more urgent than they were in the Values era ,while the party has prioritised social and identity issues. But having assumed the role MT had , in respect of social inequality ,she was doing OK with it and it is a legitimate issue. As a purely environmentalist movement they had as much appeal to the right as the left, and indeed the right has more freedom to prioritise this issue in their thinking. As is reflected in the their support base still.
So, and this to Anon as well, the target audience of MT's fateful speech was somewhat different from that traditional base and as such it was bound to cost some votes in the hope of gaining more from another source. Initially it seemed to work and you will recall our host wrote most enthusiastically about her move at the time. I still think it would have enhanced their support overall , gaining more from one direction than it lost from the other, but the Jacinda effect has buried the answer in the short term, and her resignation means that we will never know how it would have panned out.
Watching the John Campbell interview ,which seems to have been the moment of her decision, it seems that it was family considerations that were critical to her decision rather than the media pressure, just as it was family (her child) that moved her to transgress in the first place. Blood is thicker than water. Particularly Maori blood.(meant as a compliment if anyone doubts)
Some in the green movement will see this as an opportunity for the party to re-prioritise toward the ever more pressing environmental issues. It won't matter how we share things up when we have destroyed the planet . It is the most important issue facing humanity, not gender equality, not gay rights , not gender choice, but it still is not going to get as much attention. So a return to pure environment defence still won't cut the mustard politicly.
Cheers D J

Old Compost said...

peter petterson said...

The Values Party's message was that economic growth wasn't everything, yet the Greens have gone ape in the other direction, as anyone can tell you in Aotearoa our growth economic growth is based on population growth and the Greens have been part of a pro-migration consensus.

charles e said...

Anon says it all perfectly and Pingu epitomises exactly those who fail to see the point at all with their fallacious arguments. And plain nasty, like a Corbynister.

The Greens were way off track trying to take over Labour land as amateurs.
Back to the environment alone, and science based for a change and I will vote for them. But they will need a name change to purge them of the stink M & the rest have left.

Victor said...


I'm not sure this is just a simple left-right issue.

Quite a few people (myself included) are of the view that the Greens had some good and humane benefit policies but that Metiria's revelations were bound to suck the oxygen out of substantive discussion relating thereto.

What's extraordinary is that the overwhelming majority of her caucus colleagues thought this was a sensible strategy and didn't understand the consequences of ignoring democracy's iron law of trivialisation.

What did they expect to happen? How could so many of them have spent so many years in parliament and acquired so little understanding of how the system operates? Why did they think that self-righteous fury and intolerance were appropriate responses to the consequences of their folly?

At the very least, their naivety and ignorance speaks poorly for their competence.

Then there are issues of integrity. For brevity's sake, let's leave aside the huge question marks over Metiria's eligibility for the benefits she claimed. Instead, let's just concentrate on her admission that she wasn't living at an address where she was registered for electoral purposes. Crucially, she's also said that her name was on the list in that electorate so that she could add her vote to the tally of a particular candidate, thus deliberately undermining due democratic process.

To object to this is not to be left-wing or right-wing. It is to care for the integrity of our democratic system. And, no, it's not really comparable to John Key registering an address in his own electorate whilst his Remuera home was on the market and his Parnell home as yet un-built. He wasn't apparently seeking to game the system. Metiria(by her own admission)was.

Then there are issues of responsibility, both hers and her party's. It would be inappropriate to conjecture overmuch over the tensions Metiria's "confessions" have created within her family and that of her daughter. But I wouldn't be surprised to discover that there's at least one justifiably outraged grandparent.

Yet all this palls into insignificance compared to the irresponsibility of encouraging WINZ beneficiaries to come forward and share their stories. What do the Greens imagine will now happen to these victims of bureaucratic abuse? The answer, in case they haven't worked it out, will be more abuse and hence even more desperate poverty. For that too is how the system operates.

I've voted Green in four out of the last five general elections. And I've voted thus at least as much because of the Green's social policies as because of their environmental stance. Moreover, I've long respected and like Metiria and regarded her as the party's heart and soul. My fear, up till recently, was that she was being "white-anted" by those who wanted to take the party in a more right-wing "Blue Green" direction. Obviously, I misread the situation.

I hope the time will come when I can again vote Green. But, first, the party will have to brush up its act with respect to competence, integrity and responsibility. A bit more tolerance and a little less self-righteousness would also be a good idea.

britbunkley said...

Two things here. Only a week or so after the Greens actually rose from 11 to 15% (remember that?) on the back of her admission, a new poll came out that she was down after intense bullying by the media, of the likes I've rarely seen in any nation. (NZ is second in the OECD in bullying.) Single polls (with - + 3% error) should not be taken as sacrosanct!

Second, the Greens who absorbed the left leaning Alliance, remain the only party in NZ that has some resistance to neoliberalism (albeit embarrassingly little...but better than the namby pamby bulk of the ship of neo lib fools that make up the rest of viable NZ political parties.) The Four Pillars of the Green Party are a foundational statement of Green politics and form the basis of many worldwide Green parties. The Four Pillars are: "Ecological wisdom, Social (economic|) justice, Grassroots democracy, and Nonviolence". Of course the lame center right NZ media and the one or two token faux "left" pundits (Edwards, etc..) are trying to force them onto the safe green route while biffing the hard stuff like economic justice. and

Bonzo said...

@John B

I think those polls reflect the rise of Jacinda rather than the utter clusterfuck that has become of the Greens.

The polls to come will measure the full extent of Metiria's triumph.