Greens step to the right

The Green Party political positioning statement this weekend is a significant move to the right despite attempts to paint it otherwise, and a culmination of long internal party debate. The risk is that they may just be outwitting themselves

The Green Party’s political positioning statement this weekend is significant to any of us who follow left and green politics in this country.

From my point of view it marks the end point in a process that’s been happening since just after Rod Donald’s tragic death in November 2005.

Up to that point Rod had held the line in the Green Party. He stated over and over again, in any internal or external political forum, that he would never countenance the party getting into bed with National.

However, once he was no longer in the picture, all bets were off, and a concerted campaign began to shift the party to a much more open position in terms of its relationships with the two major parties.

In the early days, Green MP Nandor Tanczos lead the charge, writing and speaking of his belief that the Green Party should consider itself ‘neither left nor right, but out in front.’

Russel Norman was also keen on moving right along, bringing Australian academic David McKnight, author of ‘Beyond right and left: new politics and the culture wars’ out as a keynote speaker at a national Green conference.

From early 2006 onwards, the debate raged within the party. Should the Greens move away from the traditional left/right paradigm and into a brave new world where they are open to relationships with any party which will help forward their agenda?

In the 2008 election year, I put my own position and credibility on the line, telling the caucus that if the party decided that it might support National on confidence and supply post election, I would have no option but to resign.

In the end, the party chose the ‘maybe Labour, but definitely not National’ position with which it went into the election.

It was therefore not surprising that the female co-leadership contest between myself and Metiria Turei in 2009 was, in major respects, a continuation of this internal struggle.

I lost, she won, and it was very clear what the outcome would eventually be.

The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has now joined the majority of Green Parties around the world who believe that in the struggle to save the planet Greens should support any party in government with whom they can cut good enough deals.

I accept that this is a democratic decision of party members, just as the co-leadership outcome was, but I cannot help but be saddened by it, and by the loss of the clear, radical social and environmental justice kaupapa for which the party stood when Rod was one of its leaders.

Nowadays, it is common to hear some Greens say things like ‘unions are so out of date, so 70s’. The concept of ‘class’ is unwelcome, and talk around capitalism, if mentioned at all, is more likely to be about greening business to make it more sustainable, than about the necessity of changing employment law so that the playing field between capital and labour is made even slightly more equal.

Green Party support for emissions trading schemes was almost the last straw for those of us who felt that setting up another market for capitalists to play in, while not necessarily achieving any gains for the people and environment who are suffering most from the impacts of climate change, was not something the party should be promoting.

My position within the party became untenable in 2009, not just because of the co-leadership vote, but also because I could see clearly that a majority of members preferred a cleaner, greener capitalism to the ecosocialist agenda which I support.

I refrained from talking about this publicly because it was likely to sound like sour grapes, and because I still harboured hope that perhaps all those good people who remained within the party would see that going down the road of the Irish and German Greens – or the Maori Party – is a recipe for disaster.

At least one commentator has called the new Green Party position ‘Machiavellian’ in its cunning.

That’s one way of looking at it.

The Greens have always delighted in finding ways of putting forward positions that are so complex and convoluted they outwit all comers, and this latest decision is a prize example.

Their hope is that they’ll keep a whole bunch of different groups simultaneously happy with the new position.

Left leaning members and supporters are expected to remain satisfied by the statement that it’s very unlikely the Greens will formally prop up a National Government.

Blue-green members and supporters will be kept happy by the possibility that in some circumstances a support arrangement with the Nats may be possible.

At the same time, the Greens are also trying to maximize their negotiating ability with Labour by holding the threat of going with the Nats over them.

Each of these groups is expected to believe what they’re told, and act accordingly.

It might work, but I think that sometimes there’s a danger that people who think they can outwit everyone else end up outwitting themselves.

For some of the best analysis of what’s been happening with the Greens, I suggest readers take a look at some of Bryce Edwards’ recent blogs.

And fundamentally, the message for those of us who want to get rid of National is that voting Green risks our vote being scooped up by the Nats.