Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A teal coalition?

The big winner so far this election campaign have been the Greens, who have consistently been polling around 10%. We'll have to wait and see whether they actually do that well on the day (historically, the Greens have always underperformed their polling), but in the meantime, its led to some speculation on their holding the balance of power and their coalition preferences. John Key seems to think they're pretty clear: a vote for the Greens would put Labour in power. But Otago academic (and former Alliance flack) Bryce Edwards thinks its not clear at all, and accuses the Greens of "running a fundamentally dishonest campaign line" and being "slippery" over the coalition question. So who's right? Is there any real prospect of the Greens supporting National to form a teal coalition?

On this, I think I'll defer to the Greens themselves, who said at their AGM earlier in the year that it was "highly unlikely". Being a party of policy rather than tribalism, they're not willing to rule it out entirely. But being a party of policy, any assessment is going to be based on the merits, and the degree of compatibility between National and Green positions. And any honest assessment would show that the two parties are deeply incompatible.

The Greens support clean rivers. National wants farmers to dirty them for greater profits. The Greens want action on climate change. National is still a party of deniers, who wants to subsidise polluters. The Greens want an end to offshore drilling. National's plans for economic growth are predicated on it. The Greens want to reduce inequality. National wants to increase it. Unless National changes its position on most of these issues, then there is no hope of the Greens putting National into government. And if people think that the Green leadership will be seduced by the baubles of office, remember that its the wider membership who will have the final say on any arrangement. I think its "highly unlikely" that they would support any arrangement which saw the Greens providing confidence and supply to the current National Party. But if they do, well, they'll get what they vote for. Coalition with a friendly party with a high degree of policy compatibility is fraught enough. Coalition with a party fundamentally opposed to your values seems to be a slow and unpleasant form of suicide.

(Fate could yet conspire to deal us a Parliament where that is the only credible option. I think we all have to cross our fingers and hope that doesn't happen).

Overall, I think the problem here isn't that the Greens have been unclear or "slippery" about their coalition conditions: they haven't been (and unlike most parties, they've sought a mandate and published it on the web for all to see). The problem is the tribalism of people like Edwards, who have a Manichean worldview in which "you are either with us, or against us", and anything less than total, unqualified support puts you on the other side. But parties of policy like the Greens don't operate like that. Their goal is to advance their policies rather than support a side. And that means that the prospect of cooperation must always be open, however unlikely.