Labour leader Phil Goff tossed off another election strip-tease item yesterday; underneath was something green

Something old, something new, something borrowed …  
Goff’s headline-grabbing $5,000 “tax-free zone” in his speech yesterday has been Green party policy since oh, I don’t know, the party entered Parliament probably. Rod Donald used to talk about it. More recently Turei proposed $10,000 tax-free.

Goff talked about “clean tech”, and “owning our own future”, “keeping Kiwi land in Kiwi hands”.

In November, David Cunliffe gave a speech of his own, to the Greens’ economic conference: ‘A Sustainable Economy for New Zealand’. He waxed lyrical about bees and tilth; he hummed the “clean”, “green”, “low carbon”, “clean tech” mantra. Calling them “personal observations” and “personal reflections”, he hinted at a new sustainably-grounded policy:

“The Labour Party now recognises that the neo-liberal economic model cannot provide the basis for navigating the economic, environmental and social challenges of our times.”

And, “We must live within the capacity of the Earth to support us. ... The Earth is not just there for human utility.”

And, “If the situation is as serious as we think, we must do the hard yards to back out of this corner … We have to ask the hard questions; ask what policies are available to get us from a collision course with nature to a future that is both more just and more sustainable.”

He smiled, like a charming gentleman, with sandy-coloured whiskers.

Goff’s conservative instincts will keep Labour safe on home ground for a while yet: it’s the middle, swinging voters he needs, and his labour base.

It’s clear from his speech yesterday, and every other tax policy comment, that Labour is still quite focused on the average-income earners, apologising more for the bracket creep and the black tax policy hole the childless among us fell into, than the inequality. The gap exposed by Working for Families, that didn’t help
beneficiaries -- “the more you needed it, the less you got,” you might almost have said in 2005 -- is still big enough for the Greens.

Goff can dress up as Robin Hood, if it suits him. The Greens will just be greener, more socially conscientious: the pricking conscience of the marriage. That is their political job. This is not new.

They’ve cultivated a habit in their political lifetime: happy, or resigned, to sow the seeds of change (waste minimisation, home insulation, energy efficiency and conservation), and watch somebody else reap the political harvest.

But, with Labour nicking their flagship policies, what defines the Greens? They do have a point of real difference from Labour, a card that, to date, they have failed to play well. It gets obscured by other, shall we say, issues of conscience and conviction.

They are, or ought to be, the party that puts sustainability first, unlike either right or left -- that says consumption-based growth is a failed policy, and we need a new one. By contrast, Cunliffe may be "asking himself the hard questions", but his party’s official policy is still giving the growth-based answers.

Some of the Green MPs, too, speak this language more explicitly and fluently than others -- which may or may not be a point of difference among them, or just a matter of emphasis.

Meanwhile, tom-toms and hearts are a-beating for the McCarten / Bradford / Harawira alliance: a party of the true left. An alliance -- The Alliance redux -- without the Greens, this time, and Jim Anderton of course. I am expecting any minute to hear that Laila Harre has finished building super-Auckland, and has new plans.

Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury, Tumeke blogger, is its most ardent public supporter. I wondered, briefly, if he had stopped to count -- and breathe -- to really analyse the likelihood of this turning out an otherwise sulky non-vote, instead of just shifting votes, from Labour and other allies, Green and Maori.

He says (approximately) that any motley crew of the left is better than the spectre of the second-term ‘mandate’; that come the second term, Key will lose or loose hold of his colleagues.

Other voters, lulled in the smiley relaxed hands of the PM, are more likely to be asking themselves what sort of chemistry experiment this would be. How would some of these combustible figures, who have not managed internal strife, do it around the Cabinet table?

Of course, Bomber can count, better than I can, I daresay: perhaps he just, like punctuation, finds it ... boring.

Might it give the Greens the space they need, to realise a truer vision of the party, and finally get the 'watermelon' monkey off their backs? A party of the environment, for whom social justice is a necessary part, and a fundamental part, but not the eclipsing part, as it has sometimes been, or been perceived.

Perhaps it’s the Greens in the end, not Labour, more comfortable on the swing -- better suited to picking up votes for the environment, and conservation, where not everything must or can be analysed in terms of left and right, and those things matter less than the results. And if it gives Labour, too, room to shift right, Goff at least wouldn’t mind. (Bomber, et al, might.)

Time is short, though, for repositioning. It has taken the Greens five years to transition to two new leaders, and nine fresh faces in Parliament. They must be thinking: not again. Not another election year hijack, this time where you'd least expect it.

It would sorely test Green allegiance, inside and outside of Parliament. They stand to lose members, and votes. The Greens are the ones with most skin in this game; the others have nothing to lose.

Comments (17)

by Judy Martin on January 27, 2011
Judy Martin

Nice challenge to throw out just before the Greens Campaign Conference, Claire : )

by Claire Browning on January 27, 2011
Claire Browning

Delighted it's been noted, Judy.

[PS. Not an easy challenge, though. Fairly thorny dilemma, I'd call it.]

by Steffan Browning on January 27, 2011
Steffan Browning

As Judy said, a nice challenge ahead of the beginning of the Greens Campaign Conference which is also the beginning of the new list selection process. I hope this Browning fares well. Blue Greens and Red Greens are both trying for a populist veneer of environmental concern but for the urgent legislative influence, you have noted well that we need Green Green authenticity. No employment without the environment.

by Claire Browning on January 27, 2011
Claire Browning

I hope this Browning fares well.

That's S Browning -- not C.

As Judy said, a nice challenge ahead of the beginning of the Greens Campaign Conference ...

Such a shame it's in Auckland. I'd give quite a lot, to be a fly on the conference wall, but Auckland is too high a price.

by Petone on January 27, 2011

You're saying Cunliffe is foxy?

I'm no political scientist, but I would have thought that the Green support base is far more about the environment than income distribution.  So I doubt that Goff's policies are likely to eat very far into the Green vote.

In these post-ECan, continue-shitting-in-Ellesmere, lets-subsidise-lignite-mining days, surely there is no chance of voters mistaking the Blue Greens for anything other than the painting crew that they are?
Hopefully the Greens can make a banquet of Teflon John's asset sales.  The hydro lakes are a strategic asset that are required to make use of intermittent generation from wind and, in the future, tide and solar.  Selling them off for private industry to rig the spot market game is lunacy.

by Claire Browning on January 27, 2011
Claire Browning


I prefer the silver kind.

by Save Happy Valley on January 29, 2011
Save Happy Valley

One has to wonder if the green party will make coal and lignite a climate election issue, the issue is right in the heart of national: in Bill English's rural electorate of Southland, and some farmers are holding out and fighting to defend their land from gigantic lignite mines.

Jeanette Fitzsimons is speaking in Wellington and soon in other areas on coal and climate change, and Dr James Hansen is in New Zealand in May.

The question is does labour or national have what it takes to deal with the core issues of the green party like climate change, and if not would a new left party have a stronger stance and plan.

details of Wellington Lignite talk:

Wednesday 16 February
Where: St John's Church Hall, cnr Willis and Dixon Streets, Wellington

Time: 7pm

Speaker: Jeanette Fitzsimons, climate change campaigner, former co-leader of the Green Party


by Save Happy Valley on January 29, 2011
Save Happy Valley

It is also worth noting green mp Gareth Hughes is standing in the same electorate as labour's climate spokesperson, Charles Chauvel - it will be interesting how Charles tries to present his views this campaign year.

by on April 20, 2011

it was always the case that for Green policies to see the light of day a main party would have to adopt them. It's entirely consistent that in the absence of any real vision of their own, that they want the credit - irritating but inevitable - they are probably not fooling anyone.

I guess the dilemma is really, do the Greens want to advance their policy agenda more than they want the "baubles of office"? They  obviously want to be in a position of influence - which arguably they are if Labour is filching their policies - alternatively can they share office with a major party without losing their integrity? Ask the Maori party how that's going.

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Frank Macskasy


Thank you, Claire.

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