Labour Needs A Civil Union With The Greens

Labour's best chance for returning to government is to form a coalition and campaign jointly with the Greens

Much has been written about where Labour needs to go from here. One issue which doesn’t seem to have generated much interest is what do they do with the Greens?

Many months before the election, the Greens offered to create a coalition with Labour and campaign together. Labour rebuffed them. I think that was a mistake, and it would be an even bigger mistake not to do it before the next election.

To govern, Labour needs coalition partners. For the foreseeable future, that means the Greens and/or New Zealand First. The Maori Party and Mana (if they return) might go with Labour, and could make the difference in a tight race, but it’s hard to see them contributing significant numbers. In any case, they’re all fighting for the same pool of voters. For the left bloc to form a government, they have to take votes from National, not each other.

Perhaps Labour is resisting anything formal with the Greens because they fear that it would scare off some voters. Certainly the right-wing parties love to play up the 'crazy Greens' angle.

But how many people who voted Labour in 2014 would refuse to do so if they had a joint campaign? I suspect not many. It was obvious from the start that if Labour were to lead a government the Greens would be part of it. There were never the votes for Labour to rule with NZ First alone. In refusing to acknowledge the obvious, Labour just looked deceptive and disorganised.

They paid a heavy price for attempting to woo NZ First.

And that’s the major issue in my view. A strategy built around NZ First is not sustainable in even the medium term. If it depended solely on its policies and MPs, the vote for NZ First would not reach even 2%. Most of the supporters are voting for Winston Peters, not the party. He is an exceptional politician, but that is a risk as well as an advantage.

There is no clear successor, mostly because Peters does everything himself. Ron Mark seems viable, and is well regarded, but can he carry the party on his back like Peters does? Probably not. I don’t rate the speculation about Shane Jones either, I don’t think he would accept the role of NZ First leader, or succeed at it if he did.

Winston Peters will be 72 at the next election. It might seem like it sometimes, but he can’t go on forever. He will probably contest the 2017 election but, win or lose, will he still be there in 2020? Another term of opposition might be the last straw. A period in government might make a fitting finale for him. Either way, the odds of him contesting the 2020 election don’t look good. And who would argue for NZ First surviving the first election without him?

It seems to me that in 6 years, 9 at the most, Labour will face an election where it’s the Greens and the also-rans for coalition partners. Why not start now finding the best way to make that work?

A formal agreement makes both sides look more like a potential government. They can find some policies to agree on, and some to say will be negotiated later. Labour can quietly move towards the centre and compete for National’s soft support. If they lose some votes on the left, where are they going to go but the Greens?

The Greens appear to have a bedrock support of around 10%. If National’s support sags from its current remarkable level, 12-15% doesn’t seem unreasonable. With the Greens at 12%, Labour only needs to reach 38% (probably lower under MMP) and they’re in government.

What other strategy offers a better chance than that?