Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Greens’ end game this week

November 21st, 2011

tim denee illustration, greens, green party, election, coalition, support, confidence, labour, national
Illustration by Tim Denee – www.timdenee.com

Into the home stretch, and National is moving the campaign focus from one diversion (the Epsom tape) to the big kahuna of political distractions, Winston Peters. National is plainly worried that some of its own supporters who object to asset sales may be about to hive off to Peters, rather than to Labour or the Greens – and that’s very possible, now that Peters is within striking distance of the 5% threshold.

Thus, the frighteners are being put on centre right voters to regard a vote for Peters as a vote for political anarchy and the breakdown of social order. Forget about tea parties. In future, no Devonshire scone in the country will be safe from packs of Peters’ pissed off supporters.

Over on the centre left, the Greens will be the other prime focus of attention this week. They’re entering the final week of the election campaign in the exciting – but anxiety inducing – position of being the current hot date of a centre-left deeply disenchanted with Labour, and its chances.

An unknown number of voters remain unsure about their commitment to this new relationship, even if they’ve been happy to confide their interest in the Greens to the pollsters. Come crunch time next Saturday, how many former Labour voters will really be able to break away from old habits, go into the polling booth and start a new life with the Greens?

The Greens have been left at the altar before. Not merely in 2005 by Helen Clark, who chose Winston Peters and Peter Dunne instead. In 2008, the Greens were scoring close to a heady 10% in the polls right into the home stretch, before fading to 6.7%. This time, the Greens need to have kept something in reserve. Because they will need to actively manage the soft segment of their current support so that it doesn’t quietly melt away between Thursday and Saturday.

I have no idea how they intend to proceed, but some thought must be being given to the problem. The key message has to be that a vote for the Greens is neither an act born of despair nor a protest vote against Labour’s current leadership – but is the best means now remaining to advance the centre left agenda. (Labour can’t stop asset sales, because they’re too far behind.)

In short, the Greens have to explain in the closing days of the campaign just how they would go about the difficult task of constructive engagement with a National-led government.

I’m assuming that even if National wins an absolute majority, it will want to appear to be an inclusive government. As in 2002, this election is likely to be the high water mark of a popular government at the end of its first term – and from here, it can only get harder for National. Inclusiveness has to be the first act of its third term strategy. What can the Greens bring to such a situation?

The Greens’ main instrument of engagement with a National leadership has to be an extended memo of understanding (MOU) of the type that it already has in place with National, and which has been the cornerstone for the gains it has made on home insulation and (less substantively) on cycleways.

In the coming days, the Greens may decide to specify (and if not, it should definitely be asked) what it plans to add to its current MOU agenda, and what it reasonably expects National can be induced to give away in order to get the Greens into the negotiating frame. For their part, the Greens don’t have to concede anything beyond abstaining on confidence and supply votes in future.

So… what the Greens can say in the lead-up to Saturday is that they will be the standard bearer – the only feasible standard bearer – of centre left values and priorities in the likely event of a centre right victory. The risks of being damaged by being fobbed off with token gains are obvious. Yet even so, the Greens do not have to risk looking like a fellow traveller, a la the Maori Party. They won’t be a formal part of the new government and won’t be voting for it on confidence and supply

Obviously, there are risks involved in any strategy of engagement. The Greens could easily look like chancers, willing to sell out the centre left for a few environmental gains. It has to argue that it alone can be a brake on National’s second term agenda, and needs to approach that task with its arm strengthened. To that end, it should be asking its supporters over the next few days to tell them what priorities they’d like the Greens to fight for in any constructive engagement with the new government.

That, really, is the only message that a third party like the Greens should be seeking to promote: that just as National has failed in government, Labour has failed in opposition. The Greens pitch to wavering voters is that only their support will enable the Greens to engage with John Key, Stephen Joyce and their minions from a position of strength.

And there’s nothing wrong with underlining that Labour is a doomed cause this time, under its current management. This realpolitik message would be a stronger one to take into the last half of this week than the old “vote with your hearts this time because Labour is toast” approach.

***

Petrobras Wrong Target, This Time

As pockets of Rena oil keep being discovered on nearby beaches, it is fair enough that the spill dangers from oil exploration keep on being underlined. The Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is the multinational poised to conduct oil exploration in the Raukumara Basin off East Cape – but a press release on Saturday by the Greens unfairly potted them for a recent oil spill off Rio de Janeiro. Here’s how a Green Party press release on Saturday began:

Petrobras who is planning to drill off the east coast of New Zealand has been involved in another deep sea oil spill. This is happening at the same time as John Key has been secretly meeting with oil executives to discuss drilling here…..Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, are part owners of an oil field northeast of Rio de Janeiro where a leak has developed. The company has a history of accidents…

In fact, it was Petrobras who blew the whistle on the oil leak, alerted Chevron (the party more immediately involved) and provided some of the means of sealing the leak successfully.

Earlier today, Chevron took full responsibility for the spill, which it explained in this fashion:

The spill was the result of an underestimate of pressure in the offshore oil reservoir that was the target of their drilling and an overestimate of the strength of undersea rock. As a result, high pressure oil was able to leak into the well bore hole. While the well was immediately shut off, the pressure from the so-called “kick” caused the bore-hole wall to crack and oil to seep through crevices and porous rock to the seafloor and then up into the ocean.

The lesson from this incident isn’t that Petrobras is a villain and chronic source of accidents as the Greens press release tried to suggest. Something more disturbing was involved. The Rio incident shows that industry best practice in deep drilling situations is still prone to miscalculations that cause leaks with catastrophic environmental consequences, and where the likes of Chevron don’t possess on site the means to immediately staunch the mishaps that result from their activities.

The relevant news about Petrobras is that its share price continues to plunge, as this extensive Business Week analysis of the company revealed last Friday.

Plainly, the company is gambling on a global recovery and domestic expansion in Brazil that will make its risky, long term investment in oil deposits around the world pay off. ( Especially given that its competitors are seeking oil in countries where the legal and contractual conditions are far more difficult.) Hidden within the analysis is this gem, which should be of interest to local campaigners:

Brazil requires Petrobras to buy as much as 70 percent of its equipment from local providers as part of an effort to strengthen its economic expansion and create jobs.

Is the Key government willing to make a similar quota part of the price for allowing Petrobras to proceed with its activities off East Cape – so as to ensure that exploration provides some employment benefits to the local communities who are being put at risk? Such a demand shouldn’t be too burdensome to Petrobras, given that’s how it operates in home waters.

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    1. 6 Responses to “On the Greens’ end game this week”

    2. By Jenny Wheeler on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      Gordy love your turn of phrase… I’ve been following your election columns with great interest and find you haven’t lost any of your inimitable “voice”!!!! All power!!! Jenny

    3. By Laura on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      Really interesting post. I have some advice for any disenchanted labour voters who are still weighing up their decision, you should check out http://www.electwho.org.nz. It reviews the stance of politicians and parties on the number on problem that will affect our future. An awesome resource!

    4. By Peter on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      I agree with you – I think! – that a bigger association between the Greens and National would be a good thing. I may be wrong – but I still get the impression that Key, more than any PM in my recollection, is prepared to work with other parties when he doesn’t have to – even when their policies are somewhat different. e.g. even though Honi dished the Maori Party for supporting National on a number of issues – they actually got concessions that probably would not have come from any other avenue and some of these were not popular with National supporters. There will still be no go areas between the Greens and National (deep sea Oil drilling for one) but I think there are other areas of positive benefit to NZ that just would not happen under any other scenario. The notion of left, centre middle and right is just not as strong or as clear cut as it used to be. New Zealand in the end has to succeed in a business sense for it to have the wealth to move the whole country forward – to be sure there is some scope for wealth sharing but that alone will not solve all the problems – the pot needs to get bigger – a lot bigger. The Greens focus on green technology given perhaps the support of the Nationals relationship with business for example – could well be a win-win situation for the country. To do that both National and the Greens would have to compromise on some issues. I know it’s out of the box thinking and they normally won’t work together – but just maybe there are some things worth considering – very little else seems to work at the moment. We are in a world economy perhaps without precedent at the moment – purest theory will not (in my opinion) solve the problems.

    5. By Elyse on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      Thanks, Laura, for that link. Very interesting to hear the candidates interviewed on very important issues, to see their body language and take an educated guess on who is sincere and who is lying. No prizes for guessing the latter.

      Seems that an “arrangement” with the Greens would make National look good and make Nat voters (who know in their hearts that we should be taking the Greens seriously) feel good about themselves. They need help with that.
      Interesting to see them all lovey dovey about the new “centrist’ greens. Like there’s something suspect about someone who eats lentils?
      The Greens should not compromise and it would be a sad day to watch them accepting crumbs from under National’s table.

    6. By Leon Henderson on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      You are absolutely correct, Elyse: if the National Party try and “play” the NZ Green Party, and if the NZ Green Party respond by trying to “play” the National Party (this is, of course on the condition that National gets enough numbers to, God help us, get back onto the Treasury Benches again) then Russell and Mateiria had better be damned careful and remember intently the old proverb: “If you are going to sup with the Devil then you’d better use a VERY long spoon”.

    7. By Leon Henderson on Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

      P.S. Gordon seems to be practically resigned to the idea that Key, Joyce, English, and their unsavoury gang of sly, venal crypto-fascists might get back into power almost by default because of the abysmally wretched Labour Party’s pathetic “showing”, – but this is by no means necessarily a fait accompli at all. The NZ Green Party are consistently getting their best poll-ratings ever (and by a substantial margin too) and they could be looking at fifteen seats or even more from the Party Vote.

      Meanwhile The Hone Harawera Mana Party are shaping up to get at least several Electorate Seats (there could be quite a Mana presence in Parliament after Saturday, and a very truncated or even non-existent Maori Party one!!!).

      Then there is Winston Peters: if he can get back in (and it is looking very likely that he will – so much so that John Key is actually panicking!!!) then things are going to be VERY interesting indeed.

      The National Party and it’s hangers-on could be in for a horrible surprise on Saturday, and here’s hoping they get one!!! A real nasty one!!!

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