Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Greens vs Labour

Yesterday's Dominion-Post had an interesting editorial about how the Greens are "eating Labour's lunch":

While Labour's leader and senior spokespeople um and ah about what they would do differently from the Government, its putative ally, the Green Party, is eating its lunch.

Having shed itself of the nutty Sue Bradford, now helping the Mana Party plumb public opinion poll depths, its 14 MPs are bringing a previously unseen focus to environmental issues.

There will be many who shudder at the prospect of the introduction of a carbon tax, and the other tax changes proposed by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman in a pre-Budget article in last week's Dominion Post. The party's philosophical objections to major roading projects and its feel-good plans for state-owned power companies are equally alarming.

However, there is no disputing that the Greens know their stuff and are arguing from a position of principle. The contrast with Labour could not be starker. It is apparent every day – in Parliament during question time, and on the airwaves.

The Greens are sharper and more intellectually rigorous. Labour's MPs give the impression they are waiting to be told by their researchers what the public thinks about an issue before taking a position. The Greens, on the other hand, are setting out to change public opinion.

There are a few problems with this - most notably that the Greens are not just focusing on environmental issues, but have been going to town on the government on inequality, fiscal responsibility, and overall economic policy as well. Which shows up Labour's haplessness even more. But the final point is spot on. Labour's internal culture is one of helplessness and passivity. They really do think they are "logs floating down a river" with no ability to shape the political conversation. Which invites the question: if all Labour is going to do is echo what its polling and focus groups tell it, why not cut out the middle man?

This passivity has led Labour to abdicate any pretence of leadership - and therefore any pretence that they are a government in waiting. Not to mention any pretence of fighting for office. They're just logs, waiting for the river to bend so they can float on over to the government benches. Until then, they'll just keep floating along (and collect their fat apparatchik salaries while doing so).

Meanwhile, nature abhors a vacuum, and the Greens are filling the "credible opposition" niche Labour has vacated, and reaping the benefits of doing so. And Labour has no-one but themselves to blame for that.