Mouth Wide Shut: James Shaw is hoping that if he and his caucus colleagues are seen as good team-players, then by 2020 the Greens will have earned the voters’ respect and, more importantly, their votes.
THE BEST WAY to characterise the Greens curious policy on parliamentary questions is as a gesture of good will. Not, as some might be thinking, towards the National Party, but to their partners in government – Labour and NZ First.
So long as those one or two questions per sitting day remained, the temptation would always be there for the more radical members of the Green Party caucus to use them. Indeed, Marama Davidson has made it clear to Green Party members that she regards it as her duty to ask the questions they need answers to – no matter how embarrassing.
If elected as their new female co-leader, she sees herself as ideally placed to keep the Greens’ brand sharply and safely differentiated from every other party in Parliament. Unlike her opponent, Julie Anne Genter, she is without ministerial responsibilities. That leaves her free to speak truth to power.
Being “spoken to” by a Green Party co-leader determined to raise aloft Metiria Turei’s tattered banner is not, however, anywhere near the top of either Jacinda Ardern’s or Winston Peters’ to-do lists.
Like all political leaders, they fear even the perception of disunity. As far as they’re concerned, most voters do not draw a distinction between the well-intentioned and principled criticism of a government’s friends and the uncompromising and ill-intentioned opposition of its foes. To raise doubts about the Government’s overall policy direction will only weaken it. In the context of electoral politics, dissent is almost always interpreted as treason.
The Greens’ decision to give up their questions to the National Party (and just how that decision was made, and by whom, remains unclear) suggests that at least some of the party’s MPs also fear the prospect of disunity and are keen to keep dissent on the down-low.
Clearly, they are of the view that only by presenting the voters with an image of industrious and effective teamwork can the Greens hope to elude the historical hoodoo of small parties being destroyed on account of their association with large ones.
Whether it be the fate of NZ First’s, Act’s and the Maori Party’s doomed associations with National, or the Alliance’s messy divorce from Labour (the only known case of the kids deciding who should have custody of the parents!) the precedents are far from encouraging!
Paradoxically, Marama Davidson’s and her fellow fundis’ (fundamentalists) view of this problem is very much the same as James Shaw’s realos (realists). Both factions are convinced that the best way to escape the small party curse is by drawing the voters’ attention to the nature of their party’s relationship with its larger partners.
Shaw hopes that by being good team-players the Greens will earn the voters’ respect and, more importantly, their votes. Davidson believes that it is only by differentiating the Greens from Labour and NZ First, and by reassuring the voters that their MPs have not “sold out” their principles, that they will be returned to Parliament.
Neither of these strategies are likely to prove effective. The first reduces the Greens to docile little lambs; the second makes them look like irritating little bastards. That the voters will, almost certainly, reject both of their survival “solutions” is clear to everyone except the Greens themselves.
What both factions need to grasp is that the Green Party has always been about ideas. Forthrightly addressing the big questions confronting people and planet and offering uncompromising answers. That’s the “special sauce” in the Greens’ recipe for electoral success.
The more clearly Greens describe the challenges confronting humanity, the easier it is made for the voters to accept the radicalism required for their remedy.
Getting back into Parliament is not about keeping your head down and working hard; nor is it about shouting slogans and throwing stones.
The unchanging objective of all Green parties is to make it known to the voters that while they are willing to achieve as much as they can in co-operation with other parties; their focus will remain forever fixed upon the measures required to address the injustices identified by the human conscience and to resolve the problems identified by human science.
The Greens’ message from now until 2020 must be: The steps we are currently taking are in the right direction – but they’re too small. If we’re to travel further, our vote must be bigger.
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, 23 March 2018.