Monday, April 24, 2006

"Labour's dog"

Despite being on the left and interested in Green issues, I'm not that concerned with the Green Party co-leadership election. Either of the two leading candidates Nandor Tanczos and Russell Norman would be perfectly good at the job, and despite Nandor's publication of a paper on the subject of "why the Greens are not a left-wing party" (which I would dearly love to see a copy of, BTW - email here), he's been a reliable voice for social justice as well as on environmental issues. As Vernon Small noted in The Dominion-Post last week, the differences between the candidates aren't really that great, despite the difference in rhetoric, and so it will really be a question of tone and leadership style more than anything else.

What does interest me is Nandor's comment that the Greens should stop being "Labour's dog" - by which, he presumably means stop automatically supporting Labour in order to get some actual leverage rather than being continually sidelined. I'm sure this sounds good to people like David Farrar (who continually bemoans the "fact" that they are not a "genuine Green party" - i.e. they refuse to remain myopically fixed on giant snails and instead look at the big picture of what is driving their destruction) - but I don't think it stacks up very well in practice. One "problem" is that the Greens are fundamentally a constructive party rather than an oppositionist one, and will vote for imperfect progress now (while pointing out that it is imperfect and demanding better) rather than refusing anything short of their desired policy. Currently Labour is the chief beneficiary of this - but I also think National will benefit from it next time they're in government, to the extent that they put forward legislation the Greens see as "progressive". And while this leads to the Greens being taken for granted legislatively (to the extent that they can be blackmailed into voting for frankly regressive legislation in order to prevent it from being worse), the constructive approach is deeply rooted, and one of the things I most admire in the party.

The elephant in the room, though - and the reason why the constructive approach seems to be a "problem" - is that Labour and the Greens simply have too much in common to be anything other than natural allies. Yes, they're neither left enough nor green enough, and so unsatisfactory no matter what the balance between the two ideals - but they do at least show some commitment to both. By contrast, National fails on the green axis alone. While in the past they have advanced environmental goals, at present they are a party committed to gutting the RMA, burning coal in order to provide environmentally subsidised "cheap" electricity, allowing mining in conservation areas, ignoring the problem of global warming, and generally allowing business to run rampant and ignore the full cost of their activities. Providing confidence and supply to such a party would seem to be a gross betrayal of Green ideals.

In conclusion, the Greens can't help but be "Labour's dog", and absent a significant change of direction from National, they seem likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Update: A thoughtful person has helpfully emailed me a copy of Nandor's paper.


I'm with Nador. While they are likely to remain natural allies, Labour seems to've outsourced it's entire conscience to the Greens. The Greens wrest the occassional conscienscous act from Labour, but by and large Labour get to almost completely pragmatically ie amorally. So we get Phil Goff spending time with Donald Rumsfeld and using it to play down the nuclear 'difference', rather than calling Don on his torture sessions. While Helen makes no secret of her deep respect for BLiar..
The kicker was Greens and Labour sharing a campaigning platform only for Labour to put the boot in as soon as it got difficult.
The Greens are learning that they can't use their internal party system for dealings with external parties. If you deal in good faith with a psychopath (a more extreme term than I mean, but meaning someone amoral), you'll always end up being shat on.
Personally I'd love to see Greens take off the 'nice' gloves and press home every advantage they can manage at the next election, when Labour will certainly be in disarray. They can still be allies, but the balance of power needs to shift significantly. Bring on utu..

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 01:12:00 PM

I just think that Nandor is the best person to be co-leader. I believe that the people who are likely to be put off by his profile are never going to vote Green anyway, whilst he is the right person to bring new, younger voters to the Party.

I commented a while back on how winning 20% of first-time voters equates to a 1% overall gain - might not sound much, but over three elections that would take the party to 10%.

Posted by Rich : 4/24/2006 03:07:00 PM

BTW, I think political parties should operate in public - are you going to post Nandor's paper?

Posted by Rich : 4/24/2006 03:13:00 PM

Rich: my source has requested that I don't pass it on, and I intend to respect their wishes.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/24/2006 04:57:00 PM

I think a really interesting part of Vernon Small's article was the assertion that Nandor's supporters thought that it was inevitable that a left-of-labour social-democratic/socialist party would appear and steal the Green Party support.

Given that the only likely succesful attempt to do this would be from the Workers Charter, which has no internal agreement that I'm aware of on the usefulness of a such a move.

The grouping within the Workers Charter that would like a party, appears to have irreconcilable differences with the Alliance Party. The only way it would seem these differences could be overcome is if Matt was not involved - which would also arguably hamper the development of a party.

It seems the social democratic/socialist left of labour is completely hamstrung for the foreseeable future.

So where is the worry coming from, is it simply scaremongering the membership or do they read the entrails differently?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 05:07:00 PM

The problem wouldn't be so great for the Greens if National actually had some policies more in line with the Green focus on environmental and social freedom issues... unless they were able to work constructively and form a solid alliance with another small party to leverage disproportionate gains (and get accused of wagging the dog) they really do need Labour more than it needs them.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 05:48:00 PM

Part of the problem with kicking Labour is that you could easily end up like the greens in Tasmania, where the very few enivironmentally minded people left in Labour have no say, and The Greens are not going to get support from Labour because it's made up of bitter abandoned centrists and the right-wing assh0les who always opposed the tree-huggers. There's a bit of that in Labour in NZ already, and to some extent we should try to stop it going any further by focussing on the non-Labour greenies on both the left and right. The people who either haven't ever joined/voted, and the ones who are so pissed off that they're ineffectual where they are. Of course, doing that without acquiring a bunch of disruptive assh0les is a challenge. Personally I find labour in both countries hard to deal with, and regularly have ideas rejected by the Greens as too extreme... I think I'm in the right party.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 08:48:00 PM

John: they're thinking long term. Sure, there's nothing in the pipeline in the immediate future, but eventually that niche will be filled - if not by a new party or a reborn Alliance then by Labour itself.

George: we can but hope. And yes, a National Party which cared about the environment and actively bid against Labour on the issue (as we're seeing in the UK ATM) would be a triumph for the Greens in the same way that the bidding wars on immigration or the Treaty have been triumphs for NZ First and ACT.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/24/2006 09:41:00 PM

There is no way that the Greens could ever work in any meaningful way with a party (National) that is led by a climate change denier. Until that state of affairs changes, being taken for granted by Labour is by far the lesser of two evils.

Posted by Ranald C. : 4/24/2006 10:25:00 PM


I don't think most Alliance people would demand that Matt was not involved in any future left wing party, althought it would be fair to say that many would have concerns about Matt being in a front line leadership role, given the poor fashion in which he treated his comrades who did not share his point of view that the Maori party was necessarily going to be a left wing working class movement that would subsume the ideals of the Alliance. At the time there was precious little evidence this was going to be the case.

I don't think anyone now is in the mood for saying 'we were right and Matt et al. were wrong', but it would be nice if those who made some of the more outlandish and unsubstaintiated claims against their comrades in the Alliance would now admit that those who questioned the political direction of the Maori party prior to the last election may have had a point. There is a big difference between supporting forms of Maori self determination and supporting a new party that claims to support those ideals. The Maori party lacks detailed policy, even now.

Personally I am disappointed about how the Maori party has turned out, but sadly I am not surprised.

I have been impressed by Hone Harawira, but he has been the honourable exception while his colleagues have 'act-ed' up.

IMHO a new movement to the left would probably do better to have less partisan leadership in any case - John Minto would be good, but I don't think he would be interested in leading any party. The Alliance invited John Minto to talk about the workers charter at their last annual conference.

Posted by Joe Hendren : 4/24/2006 11:37:00 PM


Confirming the comment by I/S, while the left might be currently in disarray, my view is that it is inevitable that the vaccuum left by the effective loss of the Alliance will sooner or later be filled either by an independent left party or by Labour seeking to woo back its core support. The Greens have a good track record in the area but I don't think we will ever fill that space and when a genuine left wing party arises we will lose significant support to it - as happened with the Maori Party. So in the medium term, I think we make a mistake in trying to. I think we are better to carve out a specifically Green constituency, which includes people who don't identify as either left or right, in order to develop ourselves as a powerful ally to the left, and to the Maori Party. I also think that a strategic alliance of Greens, Maori and the left is essential if we are ever going to challenge Labour and National's domination of Parliament. That is what it will take to make real progress beyond 'mitigation' of a fundamentally exploitative and destructive economic framework which both are wedded to. Again, this is a mid to long term view, but we need to think about beyond the next election.


Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 11:42:00 PM

"my source has requested that I don't pass it on, and I intend to respect their wishes."

Not that I particularly care, but you could ask for someone else to send it to you who didn't mind :-)

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 4/25/2006 12:10:00 PM

Given the recent events in the Unite! union, I think Matt McCarten has probably made a large number more "lefties" aware of his tactics and damaging persona.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/26/2006 03:52:00 AM