Surely Not! Can it be possible that at least two of the Green Party's core principles - "Social Responsibility" and "Appropriate Decision-making" - could push it out of the Red and into the Blue? The Greens' long-standing opposition to so-called "waka-jumping" legislation aligns them more with National's belief in individualism than it does with Labour's historical commitment to caucus collective responsibility. It's a strange and contradictory position - especially for the party that fought so hard for proportional representation.
IS IT POSSIBLE to reconcile the Green Party’s long-standing opposition to “waka-jumping” legislation, with its constitutional commitment to “appropriate decision-making”? No other political party has a more consistent record of support for proportional representation. It is, therefore, perplexing to hear Greens argue for the right of individual MPs to undermine their own party’s decision-making power in the House. In an electoral system which allocates parliamentary seats according to a party’s share of the popular vote, how can compromising the proportionality principle ever be considered “appropriate”? Surely, under MMP, it must rank as the cardinal political sin?
That the Greens do not consider voting against the wishes of their own party to be a sin leads us back ineluctably to that wonderfully weaselish word “appropriate”. Why does the word even feature in the party’s four core constitutional principles? (Ecological Wisdom. Social Responsibility. Appropriate Decision-making. Nonviolence.) Surely, the party’s third core value should read Democratic decision-making?
The explanatory sentence accompanying the Green’s third core value only makes its meaning murkier. It reads: “For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.”
Now, as I understand the rules of philosophical discourse, it is unacceptable to define a thing simply by referring to the thing itself. As in: a cat is an entity possessing cat-like qualities. Accordingly, it is extremely cheeky of the Greens to define “appropriate decision-making” as, in effect, decision-making which is made appropriately. Officially, this form of rhetorical evasion is known as “tautology”.
What, then, are the Greens seeking to evade by using the word “appropriate”?
Well, for a start, they’re evading the ideological obligations imposed upon the international Green movement by the Global Green Charter. The Global Green Charter lists the core Green values as: Ecological Wisdom. Social Justice. Participatory Democracy. Nonviolence. Sustainability. Respect for Diversity. These core values differ significantly from those listed in the New Zealand Green Party’s charter.
Participatory Democracy, for example, is a concept with a long and illustrious political pedigree extending all the way back to the “Port Huron Statement” issued in 1962 by the radical American youth organisation called Students for a Democratic Society. The substitution of the bland verbal formulation “appropriate decision-making” speaks volumes about the willingness of the New Zealand Greens to put their money where their mouths are. (Their craven substitution of “social responsibility” for “social justice” speaks a whole additional library of volumes!)
That the NZ Greens are unwilling to commit themselves to the principle of participatory democracy is highly significant in relation to at least some of their MPs openly equivocal stance on the Waka-Jumping Bill currently before the House. It signifies what can only be described as an ultra-individualistic approach to the vexed question of when, if ever, it is permissible to step away from decisions arrived-at collectively.
To hear some Greens tell it, the answer appears to be: “Whenever an individual Green MP feels like it.”
Some of these critics have justified their stance by citing the former Green MP, Sue Bradford’s, scathing denunciation of previous waka-jumping legislation. Unfortunately, this merely draws attention to Ms Bradford’s propensity to set a much higher value upon her personal political judgement than upon the collective judgements of her comrades. An old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist might condemn such behaviour as “petit-bourgeois individualism”; the Greens, bless them, are considerably less censorious.
This Green tolerance of dissent may, however, come back to bite them. The present, Labour-led government’s political survival is entirely dependent on the preparedness of the Green Party caucus to remain true to the undertakings given to Jacinda Ardern and her team of negotiators following last year’s general election. Among those undertakings was Green Party leader, James Shaw’s, commitment to facilitate the passage of the waka-jumping legislation demanded by NZ First. The slightest suggestion that Shaw may no longer be in a position to deliver on the deal will arouse serious misgivings not only in NZ First, but also in Labour. The mutual trust upon which the Labour-NZF-Green Government depends will be severely tested.
For the National Party, the Greens apparent willingness to put the rights of the individual ahead of the expectations of the group will be good news indeed. Simon Bridges can draw considerable comfort from the clear evidence that, in spite of the widely held view that they are more socialist than environmentalist, the New Zealand Greens are actually well to the right of their overseas counterparts.
Far from exhorting members to become “Social Justice Warriors”, the Green Party constitution calls upon them to demonstrate “social responsibility”. The New Left doctrine of “participatory democracy” is, likewise, deemed inappropriate. What’s more, in the finest National Party tradition, Green MPs are insisting that if their conscience requires it, then they must have the right to both abandon their party’s waka – and remain in Parliament.
A version of this essay was published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 March 2018.