Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell On The Greens Leadership Change

May 31st, 2009

Talk about the bleedingly obvious. In the aftermath of the last election, the Green Party moved a few floors upwards into more spacious digs in Bowen House. One area was reserved for three MPs whose offices were adjacent and whose names appeared together on the same small plaque by the lifts : Jeannette Fitzsimons, Russel Norman, and Metiria Turei. It was a sign of things to come. On the weekend, Turei was elected as the Greens’ new female co-leader to replace Fitzsimons, who is due to retire from Parliament at the next election. Spatially and ideologically, Turei always did have the inside running.

Turei at 38, is younger than Sue Bradford ( the other contender for the job ) and is seen to be a less polarising public figure. As happened when Russel Norman defeated Nandor Tanczos three years ago for the male co-leaders’ position, the contest has gone to the less wellknown candidate. The choice of Turei is a significant one for the Greens. Turei’s selection and Bradford’s rejection are an endorsement of the government-friendly drift towards the centre by the Greens, and this leaves Labour firmly in isolation at the leftward end of the political spectrum.

There was, you might say, a certain inevitability to the vote. Given that the venerated Fitzsimons had been all over the media touting her Budget home insulation deal with National less than 48 hours before the ballots were cast, it would have taken a herculean effort by Bradford to convince the party rank and file to openly rebuff Fitzsimons, and vote against the candidate who had clearly supported the policy of engagement with National.

As I mentioned the other day, the Greens’ leadership seems confident that there will no ‘halo effect’ from the memo of understanding that it signed earlier this year with the Key government. The Greens believe they can team up with Key to make progress on their pet policies – and lend the Key administration social and environmental credibility in the process – without undermining the credibility of their criticisms of the government on other fronts. Time will tell whether that confidence is well founded. Regularly under MMP, votes have been scarce on the centre ground – and the Greens don’t have the ballast of an electorate seat.

Going forwards, what it means is that the Greens have voluntarily put themselves at odds with the only party – Labour – with which they can realistically expect to form an alternative government. If he had planned it himself, Key could have hardly have wished for a better pattern of disarray among his opponents. Key is, in fact, in the happy position of being able to outsource his credibility on some environmental issues to the Green Party, just as he has done on Treaty issues to the Maori Party. Currently, the Greens are busily promoting their Green New Deal. In practice, they seem to be just as positioning themselves as a sustainable version of Peter Dunne. They’re green centrists, up for dealing with almost anyone.

This is a pretty interesting emphasis for the Greens, at this time. Fitzsimons tends to depict the situation in wide–eyed ‘why not?’ terms. Why not make progress on good policies and engage with the government where you can ? The trouble is, the strategy smacks as much of opportunism, as of principle. For obvious reasons, it risks eroding the moral currency of stands taken against the same government with whom the Greens have signed a public memorandum of understanding, and with whom they continue to conduct back-room communication. You want an example from Budget day ? The Greens spent a lot of media time holding hands with Gerry Brownlee over their joint home insulation deal. This overshadowed the time the Greens spent on attacking the government for slashing the funds budgeted for conservation, one of Turia’s former prime areas of concern,

In any other party, such flexibility might be taken to represent realpolitik and political maturity. That’s a hard line to promote though for a party whose brand is based on virtue, and on not playing the games that others do. It was quite OK during an election campaign for Norman to play the centrist card and depict the two major parties as being as indistinguishable as Coke and Pepsi. Yes, they have similar positions on roading. But do the Greens now really believe that Labour and National governments are indistinguishable from one another ? Surely, the last six months might suggest otherwise, and with more to come.

What will Bradford do now ? The outcome of the ballot on Saturday will pose a few headaches for her, beyond the initial hurt of rejection. Arguably, the Greens have traded quite a lot, for a significant but narrowly focussed gain. True, the Greens may be able to make occasional gains from National, but solely on the environment front. There is no common ground on social policy. One can be reasonably certain that Bradford and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will never be seen throwing a cheery joint press conference to mark their co-operative achievements, in the same way that Fitzsimons and Brownlee did last week.

There is in fact, absolutely nothing for Bradford ( or for that wing of the Greens constituency that is motivated by social justice concerns ) in this current engagement with National. In July, there will be only the prospect of the Greens playing cutely again with the government over the question of a “ Yes” vote on the S59 citizens initiated referendum. Primarily, the exercise will give Key a chance to look like Mr Consensus Guy on this divisive issue, all over again.

Turei now has the job in front of her. Some in the media have expressed concern that Norman and Turei are both relatively new chums, who may be somewhat wanting in experience. That concern is misplaced. The party will not be lacking in experience at the helm. Turei after all, is in her third term as an MP, and Fitzsimons will still be around, for the immediate future at least. From day to day, the leadership will continue in all likelihood to function more like a triumvirate than a duopoly.

Can Labour and the Greens mend fences in future ? Labour will need to renounce its tendency to patronize and control its allies. Without Clark and Heather Simpson on the scene, such a change may come easier. Therein lies the irony in the current name-calling by Norman about Labour’s alleged right wing leadership – which he continued in an interview in the May 26th issue of the Auckland university magazine Craccum. Eg :

Norman: ‘ ….The thing about the modern Labour Party, the current Labour Party we have, is that obviously it’s taken a bit of a turn to the right with the change in leadership. David [Shearer] is the candidate chosen by the right machine of the Labour Party, and I think that speaks volumes for the kind of candidate he is, and the kind of politics he represents.’

The wider reality is almost the reverse. Labour is now free of the real and imagined centrist constraints of being in government – where in any case on defence and security intelligence issues, Clark could hardly have been more right wing if she tried. The choice for Bradford and colleagues such as Catherine Delahunty is whether they now seek to build links with some of the more progressive Labour backbenchers, and try to ensure that any Labour resurgence and eventual co-government with the Greens does not repeat the mistakes of the past.

That will be tough sledding. For now, a basic recognition that Labour and the Greens are allies – if the centre-left is ever to govern again – seems lacking. Rebuilding will be a long and faintly forlorn exercise, and it is one for which the current Green leadership looks like a distinct non-starter.


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    1. 13 Responses to “Gordon Campbell On The Greens Leadership Change”

    2. By stuart munro on Jun 1, 2009 | Reply

      Gordon, your concern for Labour is touching but misplaced. Like all significant electoral losers, Labour has proven to be even less important to the NZ political dialogue (such as it is) than their right-wing critics supposed.
      The many Green overtures to Labour were abused and exploited, and while it is true that a genuine Green/National government is unlikely, that is scarcely a reason to be propping up the festering corpse of Labour. It might be better buried where it’s nutrients can do some good.
      Peter Dunne doesn’t have policy as such – he’s essentially a slicker version of Winston Peters.But the superior policy and personal character of the Greens will show to advantage as the comprehensive failure of Key’s economic policies become more apparent. Labour meantime will have nothing to show but the inane braying of Trevor Mallard. Not something to allying with. They need to clean their Augean stables before the Greens go courting them.

    3. By George on Jun 1, 2009 | Reply

      An interesting characterisation of Turei. In my dealings with her I’ve come to quite different conclusions than you have. I think she’s well to the left of where Fitzsimons is, and is politically about where Tanzcos and Donald were (as self-described ‘anarchists’, with radical critiques of both the state and capitalism).

      I do think that Bradford and Turei would have different relationships with the National and Labour parties, but in terms of policy I don’t see it.

      Stuart captures it in his comment above – Labour has not sought to change the political landscape sufficiently, and has not done so. I can’t see any shift to the left at all since 2008. Could you point it out to me? In any case, Goff is from the centre-right and won’t take the party off that course. The Greens are muscling in on Labour, and could do so if they campaign properly (unlike the previous two elections, which were hardly successful).

      You’re right that Bradford could not get anything from this Government, but that’s a given. Why not try to get what they can? As you say, the danger is if it gives credibility to other parts of the Government’s agenda, and they need to be careful about this. Time will tell.

    4. By Tom Semmens on Jun 2, 2009 | Reply

      Reading the comments of stuart munro, all I can say is that for a party that struggles to get over the 5% barrier and has no electorate seat the Greens sure do think a lot of themselves.

    5. By stuart munro on Jun 2, 2009 | Reply

      “the Greens sure do think a lot of themselves” So does every party. If any New Zealand party were coldly analysed on their performance alone, they would not shine. But the Greens are as good as any, and better than most.
      Without Labour collusion in failing to prosecute the New Brethren’s illegal leafleting campaign, the Greens might have already established themselves firmly as the third major party.
      And that of course is why Labour did it. There is no growth in an intellectually bankrupt policy position like Labour’s, only a slow and hopeless war of attrition.

    6. By Tom Semmens on Jun 2, 2009 | Reply

      stuart – is your post concious irony?

    7. By VCD on Jun 2, 2009 | Reply

      Turei was positioned to make the claim that we will see transparency!(because as we all know it starts and ends with yet another committee!?!) & she was also needed following the Auckland super-lack-of- representation.

      People tend to trust the Green Party and its now for Key about ‘building trust’ after breaking every pre erection promise.

      Turei is just a knee jerk reaction(a quick fix) for the current unstable political climate.

    8. By Tom Semmens on Jun 3, 2009 | Reply

      The big problem is Turei and Norman represent a lurch to the right for the Greens. That is dangerous, because dancing with the National Party devil like they are could easily see core Green voters staying at home next time. And if they drop just 25,000 or so voters, they are out of parliament and out of mind. That is why I keep banging on about the hubris of Russel Norman. he behaves as if he is leading a party with a solid mandate and a solid hold in parliament, not one clinging precariously to the edge of the MMP cliff. I hate to say it, but ACT have a far, far better understanding of their political bread and butter. They have a constituency and an electoral seat and they make surte they play to both at every opportunity.

    9. By VCD on Jun 3, 2009 | Reply

      I think you are missing the point Tom.

      Act are obviously still being moved into a position where Nats want them.

      Act are very much in line( ruthless ass
      munchers) with National policies.

      Tom when will Fonterra’s cows be GM’ed for the increasing milk production?
      And will Act be holding the hypodermic.

      Loosing Fitzsimons Sucked.
      Even after the decapitation- Act will never pick up the Green vote .
      Sadly Turei can clearly be of use .

    10. By stuart munro on Jun 3, 2009 | Reply

      One of the many points that Tom struggles to grasp is that in terms of left or right-wingedness, there is nothing to choose between Labour and National.
      But National are legitimate representatives of the right demographic, while Labour wants the votes of the left to pursue policies directly detrimental to left interests.

    11. By Go figure on Jun 5, 2009 | Reply

      Talk about bleedin’ ridiculous. How about a few facts:

      1) Turei was located on the same floor as the co-leaders because she was the party whip.

      2) Both Bradford and Turei support the MoU with National and for the same reason – it is party policy to work with any party on issues where there is common ground. Both have said this repeatedly. There was no candidate standing the party could have voted for that would have amounted to a rejection of the MoU.

      3) The Greens consistently vote more leftward than Labour, who are positively right-wing when it comes to things like economics and security matters, as you have written about so ably. Why pretend otherwise?

      I could go on as your article is just riddled with inaccuracies. Mr Campbell, you used to work for the Greens, so you know them well. How is it you missed such simple facts? Maybe you should have asked for comment on your speculations? Or have you an axe to grind?

    12. By bliss on Jun 6, 2009 | Reply

      Why only consider the Green Party as an adjunct of the Labour Party?

      The Greens are not some appendage to be relied on to lend “green” credibility to Labour. They are an independent party that will choose for itself where it lends its credibility.

      I am sorry that Gordon is aggrieved that the Greens are no longer willing to be Labour’s poodle, and as such give no quarter to the Nats. But this is the 21st century and the Greens time has come, on their own terms.

      The MoU with National was done for the Green’s own reasons, that are fully transparent. It astounds me that someone with the intellectual grunt of Gordon interprets that only as lending “green credibility” to the Nats.

      It is demonstrating to Green voters that their Green vote is a worthwhile vote that will be used to advance the Green agenda no matter which of the grey parties wins more seats.

      For Labour supporters, many of whom have toyed with the Greens, this is dismaying. But if the Greens only take votes from Labour supporters then a vote for the Greens would be a vote for National! But the Greens are attracting votes from all over. Left, right and (previously) disinterested.

      That is why Metiria won. Because she realises (and campaigned on) that the times have changed. The Green ideas are not new (they have been around NZ politics since Values, about 35 years) but as a viable independent force in NZ politics they are new. They are “now”.

      For the old left this is a tragedy. Tough. The old left has as little to offer as the old right. Left and right are such stupid out dated 20th. century concepts anyway.

      For now, a basic recognition that Labour and the Greens are allies – if the centre-left is ever to govern again – seems lacking

      Really? That demonstrates *no* acknowledgement of recent history. Labour may be slightly better in some respects than National, but as a movement and a culture they are just as moribund, just as stupid, just as corrupted by the thirst for power, just as corrupted by money, just as colonised by neo-liberalism, just as blind to the ecological realities and constraints facing the modern world, that it is hard to slip a zig-zag between them!

      There happen to be personalities in Labour that I find more attractive than personalities in National, but *not* among the leadership.

      This particular bunch of rat bags that came into power with National could just have easily come into power with Labour. Look at Labour’s front bench. It is full of serious rat bags. Why are Labour scoundrels preferable to National scoundrels?

      Gordon. You worked for the Greens. You went to Green conferences. You worked with Sue B and with Metiria. You have been around NZ politics for a long time, yet still you write nonsense like this. Shame on you!


    13. By Martha Mitchell on Jun 7, 2009 | Reply

      Not naive or idealistic.

      The Greens had good size chunk of the vote last ‘well fixed’ ”election”, and as more people get dis- enfranchised by the Business round table ( or option2 the same wolves dressed up as a Faux socialist party) the Voter share for Greens is set to increase possibly even with the interference, muck slinging and decapitation?.
      Lets Gordon Brown Key and see.

    14. By Anton Craig on Sep 1, 2009 | Reply

      “Going forwards”, Gordon? Bleedin’ heck!!! Didn’t think you had it in you!!!

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