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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