Just Politicians? The Green Party Caucus 2018: Jan Logie (Realo) Chloe Swarbrick (Fundi) Gareth Hughes (Fundi) James Shaw (Realo) Marama Davidson (Fundi) Julie Anne Genter (Realo) Eugenie Sage (Realo) Golriz Ghahraman (Fundi). The term fundi indicates a fundmental and uncompromising attachment to Green Party principles. Realos argue for a more realistic and instrumental approach to the questions of political power and how it should be used.
IF THE GREENS were a party like any other party, would they have given away their “patsy questions” to National? If we were able to put aside our admiration for the Greens’ proud record of being out “in front” of New Zealand politics-as-usual, how would we analyse their surprising decision? If we were willing to say: “They’re all just politicians: neither better nor worse than their counterparts in Labour, National and NZ First.” How would we call it?
We are tempted to answer that first question by saying: “Of course not! No political party with three Ministers Outside Cabinet would ever voluntarily strengthen the hand of their allies’ enemies. Not while those allies and the government they lead remain utterly reliant on their continuing and steadfast parliamentary support.”
It’s easy to imagine both Labour and NZ First struggling to make any kind of sense out of the Greens’ announcement. If, as they insist, the Greens regard their patsy questions as a waste of parliamentary time, then the simple and most politically defensible solution would surely be – not to ask them. Rather than rising to their feet, the Green MPs could spend the whole of Question Time sitting on their arses – as silent and mysterious as eight little sphinxes.
That they have chosen, instead, to give their questions to the National Party must have all the other Members of Parliament racking their brains for an explanation that doesn’t leave the Greens looking like a bunch of impossibly naïve muppets.
“What’s the catch?”, would have been Simon Bridges’ most likely response. “What do you expect from us in return?”
“Who’s the target?”, would have been the response of Jacinda Ardern’s back-room boys: David Parker, Grant Robertson and Phil Twyford.
NZ First would merely have concluded that the entire Green caucus had been taking Ecstasy. “I warned Jacinda,” would be Winston Peters’ world-weary response. “I told her they couldn’t be trusted.”
But, hold on a minute. Is it really impossible that the Greens’ decision was motivated by genuine political values? Why shouldn’t their assurances that the party’s sole intention is to make the government more accountable be accepted? Why can’t it be a case of, as Rod Donald used to say, the Greens not being on the Left, or the Right, but out in front?
The answer is brutally simple. If the Greens really were determined to subject the Labour-NZ First Coalition to the scrutiny of the most informed, articulate and progressive members of the House of Representatives, then they would hardly have given away the chance to do exactly that to Parliaments most ill-informed, inarticulate and reactionary elements.
Progressive Kiwis have only to ask themselves: “Who would we rather held this Government to account: Chloe Swarbrick or Mark Mitchell? Golriz Ghahraman or Judith Collins?” – to realise that the justification advanced to them by Green Party co-leader, James Shaw, is pure, unadulterated, bullshit.
The Greens as a whole are not out in front on this issue. But the Greens realo (realist) faction is, almost certainly, behind it.
Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that at this point in the race for the Green Party’s female co-leadership, the fundi (fundamentalist) Marama Davidson is out in front.
One of the more substantial planks in Marama’s election platform has been her argument that as a Green MP without ministerial responsibilities, she will be well-placed to raise the issues, and voice the concerns, that are exercising the Green Party membership.
How would that be done? Well, she could ask questions of the Labour-NZ First Coalition Government: questions relating to the CPTPP, oil-drilling and climate-change. She could hold Jacinda and Winston (and James?) to account on their commitment to end child poverty and homelessness. It’s a promise with clear appeal to those members of the Green Party already heartily suspicious of the pig they’re being asked to support – and the poke it came in.
But, just how effective could Marama be if there were no questions to ask?
The idea of putting a muzzle on the Greens’ fundi faction would have enormous appeal to those realo members of the party determined not to blow this long-awaited opportunity to demonstrate that Green Ministers can make a real difference.
It would also be received with profound relief by the apprehensive leaders of Labour and NZ First.
Giving away the Greens patsy questions to National has drawn a line in the sand for the members of the Green Party’s electoral college. “Cross that line by electing Marama,” they are being told, “and all you will be signalling to Labour and NZ First is your fundamental untrustworthiness. Why? Because stripped of the right to ask questions in the House, Marama will be left with no choice but to keep her party honest by other means – and that can only result in a destabilised government.”
By declining to cross the line which Shaw and his allies have drawn in the sand, the representatives of the Green Party branches will be demonstrating their commitment to effecting real change from within the system – and inside the government.
Progressive New Zealand’s loyalty to the Labour-NZ First-Green Government will only be enhanced by the gift of additional questions to the National Party Opposition. In politics, as in war, it is always preferable to have your enemies’ fire coming at you from the front, not from behind – or even to one side.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 March 2018.