Monday, July 25, 2022

The Greens, the media, and democracy

The big news over the weekend was that Green party delegates at their AGM voted to re-open nominations for James Shaw's co-leadership position, effectively toppling him as co-leader. I'm not a member of the Greens, so its not really my place to have an opinion on who should lead them - it is a decision for their membership, not for rubbernecking bystanders like me. But something I can have an opinion of is the reaction of Aotearoa's political journalists, who have variously characterised this as "disruptive", "destabilising", an "existential crisis", a "self-implo[sion]". Which paints a fairly unappealing picture of a journalist class which prefers autocracy over democracy, and for our party leaders to be unaccountable to their members. Which seems to be somewhat at odds with the values they present to the public for their self-proclaimed "fourth estate"...

Part of the problem seems to be that its an Outside Context Problem for the media. They're basicly courtiers, who primarily deal with and report on other courtiers. For them, leadership issues are resolved by cabals and conspiracies, BBQs and fish n' chip clubs, secret deals made by "Great Men" and "Great Women" - all of which have self-serving insiders who will give them the gossip to fulfil their own agendas. They're also used to an environment of cynicism, in which policies are just something you espouse to get power, rather than the other way round. Parties which actually stand for something, and which hold their leaders to account for their delivery, are therefore something of a challenge (which they usually dismiss by labelling such parties "naive", promoting cynicism as normal and desirable). And when the peasants just rise up like this, they just can't process it, other than to recognise it as different, and therefore Bad. Which again is a pretty suspicious attitude to take towards democracy and accountability, especially from people who purport to be its champions. And its a pretty suspicious attitude to take towards the idea of member-controlled political parties, which is apparent the moment you ask the question: if parties don't serve their members, who should they serve?

The problem here isn't that the Greens have "too much" democracy - its that other parties have too little. And our courtier journalists are institutionalised into thinking that this is normal and desirable.

As for claims that this will be electorally bad for the Greens, I doubt it. Its not as if any core Green voters are going to turned off by their party being democratic and its leaders accountable. As for non-core voters, they've been driven to the Greens by issues like climate change, inequality, water and housing, which the Greens focus on and the status quo parties are trying to ignore. Sadly, it seems unlikely that those issues are going to get any less pressing, or that the status quo parties are going to be any more convincing (and if they are, then it'll be by adopting green solutions, which most Greens would regard as a victory). Which leaves nebulous attitudes of "trust". But that goes right back to journalists viewing and presenting democracy as bad and untrustworthy...

The Greens will solve their leadership issue democratically, as they always do. Whoever emerges as co-leader will have the endorsement of the membership, as they should. This is a normal process for a democratic party. The voices portraying it as weird or bad are telling us far more about their own anti-democratic attitudes than they are about the Greens.