Winston Peters won't mind the Greens showing a bit of fight. Rather, Metiria Turei's attack on his "racist" politics is more likely to rattle the cage of another party and send a 'pragmatic' message to voters.. 

Well, you can't say the Greens haven't had plenty of time to mull it over. And it looks like they've decided they're not going to die wondering. Metiria Turei's crack at New Zealand First's "racist, divisise politics" looked like a calculated attack at a time the cameras would be on her, and it sent a message to more than just Winston Peters.

At the party's (early) campaign launch in Nelson on Sunday, Turei took a swing at New Zealand First, saying she doesn't like the way the party does politics or its "worst excess" when it comes to playing the race card. She said it on TVNZ's Q+A, she said it at the conference and she said it a few more times on RNZ's Morning Report this morning. 

It certainly got the headlines she was after, as journalists laid out the political importance of such an outburst in the MMP environment. The 'change of government' stance the Greens espouse, relies almost certainly on a three-way arrangement between them, Labour, and New Zealand First. Not necessarily in that order. So while on one hand the Greens leaders have gone out of their way to display to voters a relationship with Labour of peace and order, they've just kicked their hindlegs at their other potential stablemate. 

Why would you do that? Why suggest unstable government on the left? It looks like a mixture of calculation and desperation. 

The point of the Memorandum of Understanding with Labour was to look like a government-in-waiting. Whereas the centre-right vote in New Zealand has zeroed in on National under John Key, on the left it is splintered across at least those two parties, and seemingly irreversably so. For now, at least. Voters are clearly wary of a disunified government and so this was a pitch to earn trust, promote stability and get voters thinking of them as a 'two-for-one' deal.

That way there would be no surprises, no panic and a serious mandate if they were able to cobble together a majority and, for the first time under MMP, have the biggest party left out of government.

While there are plenty who question the logic of this thinking (including my co-host Mr Espiner on the fabulous new RNZ politics podcast Caucus), I get the appeal.

Problem is, it hasn't worked. Less than three months from election day and voters have hardly warmed to the red-green combo. Pundit's poll of polls has them combined at 42 percent, still behind National. RNZ's more recently updated poll of polls (which also includes some different polls) has them further back at 39 percent. Those are not winning positions. They would need every inch of New Zealand First to win. And if they look weak, New Zealand First will be far from eager to champion the duo.

For all Peter's warning after Turei's attack, that there could be "consequences" (as in, being left out of government) a few harsh words won't make or break that trio. Peters has called the current National government every name under the sun. Just a few weeks back he was labelling Bill English and liar and demanding he resign.

Sticks and stones. It's not as if Turei hasn't thrown this punch before. Back in 2013. And even just a couple of months ago.

It's not new and numbers will out. It's telling that upon his re-emergence from his ambassadorial slumber, Shane Jones – who once talked about the Greens as "mollyhawks" and worse – played down that division as ancient history.

New Zealand First doesn't want Labour or the Greens to be too weak, least of all because it could leave the party with little leverage over National. Worst of all, it may render them irrelevant again, as it did three years ago. No, Winston wants some muscle on his left, so may quietly welcome Turei's shot.

But the Greens aren't showing their guns to give Peters more negotiating power. They're having a swing because they are determined not to be bystanders this time. Critics say they should court the right-wing vote by not ruling out National, but that really isn't up for discussion any more. They see the supposed bunch of blue-green voters out there just waiting to be wooed as modern day mirages. Mythology. 

But they're not giving up. So they're sending a message that they won't be cowered. While it may tarnish their holier than thou image a little, I suspect they can live with that. By attacking Winston as racist they show they're up for a fight, even if it makes Labour uncomfortable.

They are saying to centre-left voters, while Labour is busy accommodating Peters and tweaking policy to fit alongside his, they're prepared to stand up to the big meanie. They are also saying that they're not naive. Indeed, they can be pragmatic and stand tough. They can attack a party one day and sit down and deal with them a few weeks later. They can play by the Peters playbook just like him. Heck, it might even earn some wry respect.

That's an interesting message to be sending voters, because it's saying the Greens won't accept being third wheel in this deal. Not without a fight anyway. It's a message that demands to be taken seriously and, as Turei kept saying like a stuck record on Report (she really has to mix up her language a bit), it's an appeal for a kinder, more progressive change of government.

So sod Winston. Those who may be the most perturbed by those comments are the poor blighers in Labour. They did the MOU so they didn't have to worry too much about the party's left flank. [Losing buzzer noise].

Its failure to win support means the Greens now know they're going to have to chance their arm themselves. If Labour can't win National voters away, then perhaps it can win a few. Equally, if Labour can turn it around – or if its New Zealand First starts to cut into the National vote and bring them down a few points – and a change of government begins to loom large, it wants to be big enough to fight its corner.

So more than any election in New Zealand's history, this is looking like a four-way fight for voters. National is well ahead of any rival, but with no friends of substance the battle for swing voters over the next 10 weeks will be fierce between all four parties.

No-one is going to take a backward step.

Comments (13)

by Alan Johnstone on July 11, 2017
Alan Johnstone

It's a decent enough strategy for the greens, go hard and try and drive up turnout, whilst Winston attacks Nationals rural base.

I'm struggling to see what the Labour strategy is though. They are caught in the middle of these two but appear to have a core vote of 25% based on historical brand.

English is a poor, robotic campaigner, a bit Tressa May.

I'm increasingly convinced a Peter's premiership is now a realistic prospect with deputy Jacinda. Surprisingly I'm ok with it

by Dennis Frank on July 11, 2017
Dennis Frank

She was just expressing her personal antipathy.  To misread it as an official green political position is a mistake.  Anyone who is paying attention knows that a change of government is only feasible currently if swing-voters continue to shift away from National, and since the left have failed to invest the MoU with sufficient substance to prove decisive, the election outcome now depends on the zeitgeist.

The cultural trend in recent years to misuse the term racist is only evident amongst activists in younger generations, plus a few media professionals.  Assuming she can get political traction by playing to such a small gallery is just silly.  I realise most cultural commentators nowadays think its cool to apply racist as a perjorative label to anything you don't like and assume such idiocy is contagious.  Too lazy to consult the dictionary - but anyone can google it to get the real meaning anytime.  Reality will prevail over such leftist delusions.  Winston has spent twenty years carefully eliminating any real racism from his commentary on immigration.  Either Metiria has not yet noticed this or she sees merit in waving an old straw-man. 

To make a politically effective point, one must demonstrate its current relevance.  Name-calling doesn't work when most of the electorate see it as unwarranted.  The left just doesn't get this - hence calling Trump anti-immigrant when he's the son of immigrants and the husband of other immigrants.  It just makes the critique seem banal, and it makes the name-caller seem puerile.

by Tim Watkin on July 13, 2017
Tim Watkin

Dennis, I take your point about the (mis)use of the word racism, but I'm guessing you're not the folk Turei is aiming her comment at. She's not going to pull anyone off Peters and few off National with this approach, hence my point that it hits Labour more than anyone.

This sort of comment is about maximising the Greens vote on the centre-left. Obviously I simply disagree that she was just expressing a personal view. A statement like that on the day of her party's election year conference? Of course it was a strategic play. I am in no doubt it was a co-ordinated play; politicians just don't work that way these days.

by Dennis Frank on July 13, 2017
Dennis Frank

Fair enough, Tim.  Given the fact that Barry Coates has subsequently tossed fuel onto her fire, it could indeed be a strategic move by the leftist greenies - perhaps initiating the final phase of their twenty-year hegemony within the Greens leadership group. 

The bomber describes obvious consequences:

Having been green since '68, my concern is always that the parliamentary operation represents the entire green movement appropriately.  The leftist greenies are captive to a sectarian mind-set.  Unable to see the big picture, they keep trying to persuade sensible folk to become just like them.  Politics doesn't work on that basis.  You have to respect others, tolerate the differences, be inclusive.

If they are trying to force Labour into acceptance that they must be part of a change of government, doesn't that mean they have failed to obtain Labour's agreement already?  The time to build that foundation of consensus was last year.  If so, as you say, "It looks like a mixture of calculation and desperation."  It also illustrates what leftists have been showing everyone since the '70s:  the dichotomy between claiming to work together for progress while fighting each other and making no progress.

by Charlie on July 14, 2017

Dennis, you make a good point. The political party of the Greens isn't really green and hasn't been in the last two decades.

Their list includes anti-flouride, anti-vaxx an anti-Roundup, and BDS crazies. Not a real environmentalist among them!

They are destined to hover around the 10% forever, supported by angry anti-establishment types, the permanently bewildered and inmates of the Mason Clinic.



by Moz on July 17, 2017

Dennis, I have to start by saying that if you're reduced to arguing dictionary definitions you've lost. That's not how language works, dictionaries follow popular usage not the other way round.

I was with Charlie right up until he called BDS crazies. It's not a huge thing for me, but at the same time I was around when aprtheid in South Africa was contentious ("5000 policemen in 1981, built walls around the rugby union's pride") and have seen a whole range of other "crazy ideas" have slowly become mainstream - like Australian Aborigines counted as people, whodathunkit?

For all that Stefan makes the veins on my forehead bulge, the reason I support The Greens is because the other 90% of what they stand for is positive. You just can't say the same about the other parties.

I mean National... "war criminals good, human rights bad"... really, you'd vote for that? Labour "we're not sure about the war criminals thing, but human rights can be really inconvenient for governments, you know?" (that's kind of the point of human rights, as far as I know). I fear my retinas would detach if I read anything by the blogger you linked to, and isn't he pretty much in the same position as disgraced former MP Hohn Banks when it comes to credibility? "all the lies I'm paid to print" is his motto.

by Moz on July 17, 2017

Personally I'm a bit over the whole "be nice to arseholes, they might vote for us" approach to politics. Stand up, say what you believe, in, lets the voters decide what they want.

I took The Greens statement(s) on this as being encouraging the base, and making it clear to the voters that there is a choice, and it's stark. There are likely voters for whom the major parties are out of the question, and Labour is probably still a major party for a lot of them. For disaffected voters the choice is to some extent between the old rebel of Winston First, or the traditional protest party of The Greens.

I think the gamble that they might lose a few (likely older) voters who think of observations about racism the same way Dennis does is worth it because they'll pick up more of the "call it what you like, it's racism and it's bad" types who are sick of Labour prevaricating and haven't forgotten the foreshore and seabed missteps.

Realistically the greens already have the votes from anyone who thinks climate change is a serious problem locked up, the question is whether they can get anyone else on board. This has to be worth a try.

by Dennis Frank on July 17, 2017
Dennis Frank

You're right, Moz, re the evolution of language.  I was already aware that my argument was weak in that regard.  But don't discount folks who believe in telling the truth.  This calling a spade a spade has always had a primary influence in our culture.  Anyone who believes Peters is racist and enters public debate by saying so ought to feel a moral obligation to prove their point by providing the evidence.

Since a racist is someone who believes one race is superior to the others, any such evidence will have to prove that Peters has that belief.  The normal standard of prove requires a quote from what the alleged racist has said or written.  I've never seen any such evidence published.  I've never voted NZF, just prefer the truth.

The fun part of this is speculating on whether Peters thinks the Maori race is superior, or the white race.  Not only Metiria, but everyone else misapplying the term racist to Peters, has failed to address this point.  Their collective failure is the elephant in the room.  They should get their act together:  politics ought to be fun!


by Charlie on July 17, 2017

Moz, equating Apartheid South Africa to Israel is completely missing the point. Israel has no Apartheid and has over a million Muslim, Arab citizen voters complete with members elected to the Knesset. It's the Arabs/Ex Jordanians who want the separation not the Israelis.

And hey, the end of Apartheid in SA is working out SO well over there! ;-) Just like all the other basket-case African states...

by Moz on July 18, 2017

Thing is, Dennis, when you quite deliberately use a racial slur in your argument and keep hammering on "I get to define what you mean by racism" it looks bad. I don't accept your definition of racism. I'm trying to be charitable here, but there's a common pattern of boundary-pushing from a certain section of the community and you're using the same techniques.

Charlie, that is true. Sadly, there are another 5 million or so Muslim, Arab people living under Israeli control who can't vote for the Knesset. And even those who do, elected member who have never been party of a government. Within Israel proper there's a significant problem with discrimination against arab jews (and black jews who are almost by definition outside Israel), as well as huge problems for non-white, non-jewish Israelis. At the same time, Israel is illegally occupying Palestine and regularly commits war crimes during its horrific attacks on their captive population of Palestinians. That's a formal system of racial discrimination, or apartheid. They've even turned Palestine into a collection of bantustans.

Like the song says, there's two sides out there and only one of them is playing cricket.

by Dennis Frank on July 18, 2017
Dennis Frank
Bullshit, Moz. I was quoting the traditional definition of racism, not my personal opinion. Doesn't matter that you're too lazy to consult a dictionary to verify that you're wrong - any reader can see that by googling racism: "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior." Get real.
by Tim Watkin on July 21, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie and Dennis, the NZ Greens have never been an entirely environmental movement. I'm not sure why people keep being amazed or enraged by this. No-one's captive to anything, it's just that as a movement it has always been based on multiple ideas. It's like being surprised vegemite tastes like vegemite. Like it or not, but it's always been thus. 

And saying they should dispense with the social justice and stick to the trees, is like saying Team NZ should choose between designing boats and sailing them. To them, it's all part of the same picture.

And I'd love to know, who on the Greens list is anti-vaxx or anti-fluouride? Keen to hear.


by Dennis Frank on July 21, 2017
Dennis Frank

I made my comment about the captivity of the leftist greenies to a sectarian mind-set based on my experience as a leading office-holder in the Green Party for several years in the early nineties.  That captivity is precisely what differentiates them from the real greens, and it is the most politically-influential component of the common ground they share with Labour.  In fact, when you converse with them, it rapidly becomes apparent that there's no real difference between Labourites and leftist greenies.  That's why they tend to be viewed as refugees from Labour.  The toxicity of the culture in the Labour Party has been driving people away since the eighties.

The split currently in the party between the real greens and the leftists is 2:1 - this was revealed in a conference straw poll a couple of years ago organised by Russel Norman (when leader).  He did his doctoral thesis on the evolution of our Green Party so was presumably aware that the Values Party was destroyed by the schism between those who were neither left nor right and the lefties who tried to hijack the green cause.  Read Christine Dann's history of green politics in Aotearoa for that, and also for the non-environmental political elements of the green movement.  I helped develop those:  I wrote the first draft of our international relations policy as convenor of the working group, and led the development of the justice policy for several years too as convenor of that working group.  I was also an active contributor to our economic policy development in that working group.  All while getting the standing orders and constitution through the consensus process (as convenor of the SOC and constitution working group).

As regards vaccination & fluoride, I've always done both but disapprove media coverage of those issues (too prejudicial).  Having graduated BSc in physics, I have long seen the flaws in both scientism and green fundamentalism.

Getting back to your essay, Tim, the two obvious flaws in Metiria's political strategy are as follows.  Insulting a potential coalition partner is a dumb way to build a positive working relationship (particularly as we saw her telling a television interviewer earlier this year that she gets on well with Winston).  Blatantly pitching to steal part of Labour's support base, even if it works, fails to build support for a change of government.  It helps the Nats.  To change the government she ought to try shifting more centrist swing-voters instead.  She hasn't got her eye on the ball.


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