Tuesday 10 April 2018

Will Marama Davidson Grow, Or Shrink, The Green Party Vote?

From The Left: For the first time in their history, the Greens have used a leadership election to shift their party to the left, not the right. Marama Davidson’s defeat of Julie Anne Genter by 110 votes to 34 would have delivered an important message to the electorate even if the Greens were still in opposition. Sent at a time when the Greens are in government, the signal to voters is potentially catastrophic.

“THIS IS WHAT you get when the Greens are in government.” In the mouth of the Greens’ male co-leader, James Shaw, it had the unmistakable ring of a campaign slogan. A good campaign slogan, which would have fitted Julie Anne Genter like a glove. Whether it can be worn by the Greens’ new female co-leader, Marama Davidson, remains to be seen.

For the first time in their history, the Greens have used a leadership election to shift their party to the left, not the right. Davidson’s defeat of Genter by 110 votes to 34 would have delivered an important message to the electorate even if the Greens were still in opposition. Sent at a time when the Greens are in government, the signal to voters is potentially catastrophic.

That the Green Party was returned to Parliament at all in 2017 was in no small measure due to those New Zealanders who would otherwise have voted Labour casting their Party Vote for the Greens – just to keep them in Parliament. In this rescue effort, the steady, back-to-basics leadership style of James Shaw was crucial.

Implicit in Shaw’s moderation was the clear acknowledgement that Metiria Turei’s radicalism had hurt the Greens much more than it had helped them. Without that acknowledgement and unaided by the Centre-Left’s strategic voting, the party would have struggled to clear MMP’s 5 percent threshold.

The decisive margin of Davidson’s victory over Genter indicates a rank-and-file membership that is either unable or unwilling to accept that turning their party sharply to the left is an extremely risky electoral gesture.

In 2017, the parties of the left fell well short of a parliamentary majority. They are only in government because NZ First’s conservative nationalists were unwilling to entrust the fulfilment of their populist agenda to Bill English’s National Party. The political significance of Peters’ decision to exclude the Greens from the Labour-NZF coalition appears to have eluded Davidson’s supporters entirely.

The coalition partners will now be watching anxiously as the full implications of Davidson’s decisive victory begin to manifest themselves in the Greens’ parliamentary caucus. Its two young firebrands, Golriz Ghahraman and Chloe Swarbrick will draw considerable satisfaction from the result. With Davidson’s election as co-leader offering incontrovertible evidence of the party’s radical aspirations, they will feel emboldened to (in the words of Davidson’s acceptance speech) “go even further, be even bolder”. Neither Peters nor Prime Minister Ardern will be looking forward to discovering exactly how far, or how bold.

That the Green Party’s 144 delegates chose to cast their votes the way they did reflects the “mood” of the Left both locally and internationally.

At the heart of that mood lies a deep-seated antagonism towards power-structures seemingly resistant to all but the most intense political pressure. Be it Harvey Weinstein in the US, or Russell-McVeagh in New Zealand, the effort required to sensitise powerful individuals and institutions to public outrage is enormous.

Right alongside this antagonism towards the elites, however, is a growing sense of alienation from the restraints of democracy itself. Young activists in particular find it less and less acceptable that numerical majorities have the power to over-ride and/or set-aside their demands. Why should old people, white people, straight people and male people be permitted to thwart progressive change? Why should a majority so egregiously in the wrong be able to defeat a minority so manifestly in the right? If that is all that democracy has to offer, then what, practically-speaking, is its political value?

Isolate these sentiments in their own self-reinforcing social-media bubble and the result is often a ferocious up-tick in self-righteous intolerance. Far from being perceived as virtuous, the democratic politician’s admonition that ‘we must take the people with us’ is derided as proof of political weakness and moral cowardice.

It would be interesting to discover how many of the Young Greens who threatened to quit the party if Davidson was not elected female co-leader would respond to Senator Barry Goldwater’s in/famous assertion that: “Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”, by clicking “Like”.

Few, if any, however, would object to the passage in Davidson’s acceptance speech enjoining her parliamentary colleagues to rise as one and “turn our faces to the streets”. Not, presumably, the streets of the leafy suburbs where the Greens get most of their votes, but the mean streets of Manukau East and Mangere – where they attract the least.

Those Green voters from the leafy suburbs would likely have responded positively to Julie Anne Genter when she pointed to her own and her party’s ministerial achievements and told them: “This is what you get when the Greens are in government”.

Whether Marama Davidson’s “green shoots of hope” grow into a bumper harvest of new voters in 2020 is considerably less certain.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 10 April 2018.


Unknown said...

Without a left leaning Green party, people like me would have no one to vote for. Labour is staring down the barrel of it's third strike right now. If it doesn't change course during this term it'll be dog tucker.

Kat said...

Its time the Greens won a seat. Could Mararma Davidson win a seat in South Auckland.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus wept Chris, one minute you're saying the Labour Party should move left, (and there is reasonable evidence to show that it could be successful), and the next minute you're worried about the Greens being too far left. Sometimes I think you should make up your mind. :) On the whole though, I think it will lose them middle-class votes – and most of the Greens'voters are middle-class it seems to me. What they then have to do is try to sell themselves to the working class, which they're not doing a great job of at the moment.

Sam said...

I think it will shrink. Marama's Twitter account is still unverified with no tick and her nan doe dosnt say co-leader yet. Small problems I know but multiply that by time = potential

greywarbler said...

Ian Roberts
I agree wholeheartedly about the left's spirits residing in the Greens, and being an endangered species perhaps with a sad end possible, expressed succinctly in NZese as - 'dog tucker'.

Query is - Are the left spirits just hanging round in haunting mode or hovering kindly, anxiously waiting for leftie mediums to summon them up at Labour seances or, as they hold hands supportively and communally, at Green group meetings?

Charles E said...

The more important question is wider & bigger for Labour: How to prevent any loss from labour to Green. L have G just where they suit: propping them up but no more. Weak but helpful. And it should shut up the older white man hater. She has done the gov no good at all.

I don't know anything about the new group think person the Gs have elected but she is bound to be more attractive than the one she replaces. So the net effect may well be a tick up for them.

Sam said...

This idea that Labour is not left just needs to die a horrible political death like Bill English leading an election campaign. At 17 MP's Māori are now larger than any other right wing faction with in Labour. Those who claim labour is not left really are delusional.

greywarbler said...

The Greens have undoubtedly thought about the years of people needing help and not getting, of needing intelligent moves to provide training for the unemployed, to have skills in advance of jobs, not after. The unmet need for housing valued fairly with a reasonable rent regime. And they have looked at each other and said 'If not now, when? If not us, who will do this?'

And they have been prepared to put a crack in the Green cohesion. Some will straddle this division, but their pervasive middle class meme of care of the environment and its creatures may not include smelly humans.

GJE said...

The left should stop deluding themselves....the nz first tail is very clearly wagging this labour /green dog. This will not end well for any of them...

Polly said...

Marama Davidson will sink the Green Party vote, Julie Ann Genter would have sunk it more.
The Greens are not precise in policy direction.
Both National and Labour will/ are adopting green objectives.
The Greens are living but becoming more fossilised has time ages them.

jh said...

Traditionally, Māori and Pasifika families are larger, with more children and multi-generational needs. Home ownership is on the decline and private rental housing is often out of reach for these communities. At the same time, the supply of social housing for those with extended families or many children, is in short supply.

Larger state houses or personal responsibility? Sweep that under the mat (Green) Marama

Kiwiwit said...

You are at your finest when you offer considered political analysis, like here; less so when you serve up overripe dogma.

sumsuch said...

Two sides of Trotter, and here the brain over the heart. You describe it well greywarbler. I couldn't vote for Labour. Won't go into the left guy on RNZ National's 'Left v. Right' Monday morning section. Except, no heart : that we would prefer Clinton to Sanders?! And heart, unlike the Right, is vital to the people.

Geoff Fischer said...

I presume that Davidson was elected to leadership of the Green Party by a democratic process. We who are not members of the Green Party should therefore respect that, and the wider democratic process should allow the Green Party members and supporters to have a voice in the legislature which is proportionate to their numbers. It won't happen like that of course, so the problem is not that the Greens made a "bad" choice, but that the system of political representation in New Zealand (even given MMP) is seriously defective.
I don't know whether Chris Trotter's claim that Labour supporters cast tactical votes for the Greens is correct or not. There may be anecdotal evidence to that effect, but it would be hard if not impossible to prove that it was a significant factor. In any case the issue of tactical voting points to a flaw of the electoral system. Tactical voting, with its risks and uncertainties, should not be necessary. There should be no place for it in a truly democratic system.
"Right alongside this antagonism towards the elites, however, is a growing sense of alienation from the restraints of democracy itself. Young activists in particular find it less and less acceptable that numerical majorities have the power to over-ride and/or set-aside their demands..."
Absolutely, and the "young activists" are largely justified in that respect. Is it acceptable for the democratic process to be like a glorified Lotto draw in which a party or parties with the right numbers on the night win absolute power, and those with "wrong" combination are deprived of all influence? It is not a question of right or left, old or young, liberal or conservative. The system itself is flawed. The culture of "We wcn, you lost, eat that" (in the inimitable words of Sir Michael Cullen) must be changed if we are to have a genuinely representative government "of the people, by the people, for the people", and if we had that the Green's choice of leader would have no unintended electoral consequences, and from that point of view would be unremarkable.

peteswriteplace said...

Labour is the major group in the coalition, not the Greens. And forget the social housing label - its still state housing. National is still self imploding. Gods knows what they will look like when they may get back into power in 20 odd years?

Andrew Nichols said...

Chris? You're complaining about the Greens going left? You are a progressive ...arent you?

sumsuch said...

Dinna kin this post. Who have you voted for?! Labour is the victory of hope over reality. Or, mebbe, realpolitik?! However a demo-cratist's heart is central to them unlike the other ones.

Geoff Fischer, democracy is the best of a bad lot (Churchill (well known hypocrite)), like the time Massey played the Catholic card for another 3 years. Everything is worse. And aren't we and 'they' stupid as it comes.

Geoff Fischer said...

sumsuch: Democracy is a constantly evolving system of government, which takes different forms in different nations and eras, and we are right to question whether the forms of democracy that exist in modern industrial societies are a good fit to their technological and social circumstances. Technology has put intermediaries between the people and their putative representatives and seen an end to mass political parties, and thereby weakened the foundations of democracy. However it has also opened up possibilities for a genuine, responsive, responsible, participatory and relatively harmonious form of democracy. So why have we failed to make take advantage of those possibilities? Apathy? Inertia? Fear of change? Or perhaps because there is a perversity in human nature which makes us complain about the state of politics while failing to take the simple, obvious and fair steps which would remove most of our political grievances?