Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Greens' New Leader

Congratulations to James Shaw on winning the election as the co-leader (male) of the Greens. These could be interesting times. What struck me was the contrast between the comments of continuing co-leader, Metiria Turei, and Shaw. According to this story, the policy area that Turei emphasised in her congratulations speech was child poverty. In contrast, according to this story, Shaw used his first speech to emphasise policies on climate change.

I am reminded of the Yes Prime Minister episode in which the Prime Minister referred to a candidate for a bishopric as wanting to turn the Church of England into some kind of religious movement. Apparently, Shaw wants to turn the Greens into some kind of environmentalist party.

If this is the case, then there is scope for the Greens to reposition themselves. Last year, I suggested that the Greens should seriously consider being a coalition partner for National in a "teal coalition". Many others (e.g. here) have suggested that New Zealand needs a new teal (or blue-green) party for environmentalists who are turned off by the red-green tinge of the Greens.

I see no value for environmentalists in splitting their concerns across two parties, neither of whom would have any influence with the dominant partner in a coalition, due to their having no credible alternative partner. Instead, I still believe that the Greens could have more influence if they became solely a green-green party. While this would run the risk of alienating that part of the current Greens activist base who are strongly anti-business, it would enable them to pick up support elsewhere. What I am suggesting is a party that would guarantee confidence and supply to National or Labour in return for concessions on key environmental issues, and would abstain in parliament on any non-enviornmental issue. Their position, to paraphrase President Lincoln's letter to Horace Greely, would be
If we could save the environment without freeing any market we would do it, and if we could save the environment by freeing all the markets we would do it; and if we could save it by feeing some and leaving others alone we would also do that. 
If Shaw can move the Greens in this direction, politics will become really interesting in New Zealand. Even without that, the interaction between the two co-leaders is going to be facinating to watch.


  1. They were the subject for research is why middle-class left-wingers join the Greens over the Labour Party.

    There is a long history of middle-class environmental radicalism dating back to the 19th century Tory radicals. see http://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2014/05/08/the-greens-are-the-heirs-of-the-19th-century-tory-squires/

  2. A pleasant notion, but it's based on false premises. Environmental policy, not social or economic policy, is the major barrier for the Greens working with National.

    On economic policy, there are more similarities than differences. Both parties support an open, mixed market economy - albeit with disagreements about some issues here and there. On social policy, National's willing to tack left - witness the child poverty initiatives in the Budget. The Greens could encourage that direction and claim it as a policy win.

    Environmental policy is a different matter. It's very difficult to see how National's policies - from ludicrously weak emissions reduction targets to subsidies for dairy farming to expensive road-building programmes to the general hollowing-out of environmental protections - could be supported by any Green Party.

    In other words, if you want the Greens to be able to work with National, you should start by pushing National to adopt better environmental policies.

  3. Peter. This view is shared by many on Twitter. We are talking about what would happen under a hypothetical, so we can't know for sure, but here is why I disagree. First, you are right that the Greens could encourage the Nats to tack left on social policy and claim it as a win (as Turei did in the speech referred to above), but it seems very unlikely, given that the Greens have no bargaining power at all. The threat to National is Labour winning, with the Greens support for Labour guaranteed. Key, who is political rather than ideological, appears to be moving left to cut off labour--the Greens are irrelevant. If, on the other hand, the Greens were to commit to being a green-green party who would work with any party that gave concessions in a few key areas--say clean waterways and pricing water to dairy--then, should the Greens end up with the balance of power, I would be willing to bet that National would suddenly discover their environmental credentials. This is the key. You say, "start by pushing National to adopt better environmental policies". Political clout is the way to do that, not political rhetoric.

    More to the point, with a green-only bottom line and a stated willingness to work with either party, should the Greens hold the balance of power, I would expect the outcome to be a Labour-Green coalition, but with many more concessions to the Greens, than a red-Green party would be able to extract. What did the Greens extract when in coalition with Labour previously other than the ridiculous "Buy kiwi made" policy that Labour wouldn't have done anyway?

  4. or the Nats could just take the environmental high ground and not bother with the Greens

  5. I'd vote Green if I thought that would encourage National to take the environment more seriously. It is the Greens' attitude to working with National that is preventing me from doing so.