Doing Green or Being Green

Hon. Peter Neilson - a man who did things.

I few months ago I met a very nice man by the name of Peter Neilson, who was, for a while, a cabinet minister in the Lange-Douglas Labour government. He told shared his theory that any politician had to make a basic choice, between Doing or Being.

Somebody who was content to merely Be a politician (or a Prime Minister) could expect a long and comfortable parliamentary career.  But somebody who sought to Do something with their parliamentary career would soon make sufficient enemies that they would not last long.

You can think of Hon Fran Walsh introducing homosexual law reform, or Hon. Sue Bradford and the "anti-smacking" law as examples of politicians who did things but didn't last long.  And the Rt. Hon. Sir John Key as one who didn't do all that much, but lasted for three terms.

And so to the Greens.

If you haven't been a member of the Green Party you might not know there is a significant proportion of the party membership that values being green over doing anything green in parliament.

I recall an AGM session some years ago at which the party was presented with the results of an internal poll. This said that about 50% of the members thought the Greens should always be "the conscience of government" rather than striving to be in government.

The poll also showed that about 50% (one suspects roughly the same 50%) thought the party should position itself to "the left of Labour", while the other half thought that it should be "neither left nor right but ahead".

Now this might have changed over the past 5 years or so. And I hope, for New Zealand's sake, that it has.

The Greens have an opportunity, following these election results, to be part of either a Labour-NZ First-Green coalition government or to be part of a National-Green coalition government.  They have an opportunity to actually Do something.

I hope that the party membership has changed, and that many more people have joined who think that being in a political party means more than just expressing your commitment to the green cause and living a green lifestyle.

Because just being Green is not enough. The issues that face New Zealand are urgent and too important to leave in the hands of the establishment parties, who have led us to where we are now.

I want the Greens to get into government, and to do some things that matter. For a change.

The National-Green Coalition Fantasy

I understand why some people want a National-Green coalition government.  But it's pure fantasy.

Various commentators and pundits want the National Party to govern - but without Winston Peters and New Zealand First.  The most recent example, as I write this, is an editorial for  echoing Rachel Smalley in the New Zealand Herald.

They look at the Greens as National's only other possible coalition partner, and put forward reasons why the Greens would benefit from such an arrangement.

But these reasons are unrealistic at the most profound and basic level. For the benefit of pundits and commentators who don't understand this, here's a Politics 101 lecture on the differences between the Greens and National.

First, the Greens:

The Greens' political beliefs are expressed in their charter, which recognises that their are Limits to Growth and that a fair and safe future for humanity will rely on social justice, democratic decision-making and non-violence.

The Limits to Growth thesis is well-known amongst those who pay attention to what's going on in the world.  It predicts that industrial civilisation as we know it will collapse during the course of the 21st century if we don't make some dramatic changes. Soon.

That thesis is based on a systems dynamics model, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the mid-1970's, which explains how the human species has overshot the ability of Earth's ecosystem to support our population size and our level of economic development, and what the consequences could be.  Unfortunately, the model is proving accurate so far.

At their very core, the Greens understand the self-destructive trajectory of modern industrial civilisation. They are fearful that human beings, under pressure, are likely to resort to totalitarian government, warfare and/or civil war, and even genocide, in pursuit of survival and self-interest.  And history has too often proven them right.

The Greens want to avoid the worst possible outcomes predicted by the Limits to Growth model, and create a sustainable, democratic and peaceful future. Not just for New Zealand, but for humanity as a whole.

The parts of the Green Party charter that refer to social justice, appropriate decision-making and non-violence are all about avoiding a dystopian future, as people all over the world inevitably struggle to adapt to resource shortages, climate change, and shrinking economic output.

But not everybody gets this, including many members of the Green party itself.  There is a solid faction within the Greens of people who see Social Justice in the Greens charter and think "Socialism!" and support the party to advance the cause of 20th century left-wing politics.

Some of these left the Labour Party to join New Labour in the late 1980's, which then morphed into the Alliance Party. Then, when the Alliance collapsed, they joined the Greens. Some are more recent arrivals.

The take-home lesson here is that the Greens are not merely tree-hugging environmentalists, concerned with saving a few dolphins, who want to enjoy swimming in unpolluted rivers.  They are revolutionaries who see economic system as dangerously dysfunctional and in need of urgent and profound transformation.

Then, National:

The National Party and its members either don't understand the Limits to Growth model, or don't want to.

That's not because they are stupid. Far from it - the National Party membership tends to be well-educated and capable - but they are instinctively cornucopian, and motivated by self-interest.

Some National Party members are environmentalists because they are conservative, or astute business managers: the environment is a treasured heirloom that should be kept in the family, or an asset that needs to be maintained and developed to ensure its future productive capacity.

But others believe fundamentally in their right to freely use the earth's resources - as much as possible and as quickly as possible - to enrich themselves (or all of "us" as New Zealanders).

They are all conservatives, in the sense that the world they inhabit is the world as they have known it, and as they want it to continue in the future.  They support the status quo because the current state of affairs has served them well and they are, or want to be, life's "winners".

For National Party people, politics is about looking after yourselves, your friends, and people of your own kind.  They favour nationalism and the interests of their "tribe".  If people struggle in life, it is most likely because of their own flaws and shortcomings.

Other peoples' problems are their responsibility, not ours - so if New Zealand's contribution to global warming is insignificant compared to the contributions of other nations, we have little or no obligation to support international efforts to reduce it.

A Coalition. Really?

So here's the problem: these two parties are profoundly divided by values, world view and ideology.  

There is only one pathway by which the National Party could entice the Greens into coalition. It would have to be so grimly determined to hang on to power that it would sell its very soul to the Greens: putting the interests of the world and future generations before the interests of themselves, their supporters, their members and the current crop of MPs.

They would have to offer the Greens a bulletproof coalition agreement which delivered some of the transformational social, economic and environmental changes sought by the Greens - along with seats at the Cabinet table for Green party ministers to drive those changes through.

And that is unthinkable. Pure fantasy.  It will never happen.

But if it did happen, it wouldn't look like the picture at the top of this post. It would look like this:

Housing indifference and inequality

New Zealand's housing market represents economic and social mismanagement on a grand scale. Neither of the establishment parties has effective policies to address the problem.
I say "a plague on both your houses".

Can Labour be trusted?

Why the NZ Labour Party fails to punctuate my equilibrium in 2017.

The problem with the Labour Party is fabianism, and its belief that it can be a "natural party of government" in New Zealand.

Consider New Zealand politics for most of the 20th Century: we had long periods of National Party government, doing what conservative governments do - very little, other than looking after their own interests and dealing with what comes along.

The need for change would build up over time, then we would elect a Labour government to shake things up.  Which it would.  And then we would settle down to the self-serving somnolescence of another National Party government for a few more terms.

And so on. It was a pattern we could rely on, until Helen Clark's government came into power. She was determined to show that the Labour Party could also provide stable, trustworthy, long-term government and thereby render the National Party irrelevant.

And for three terms in power, that approach almost succeeded.  But it upset our understanding of the Labour Party's role and our expectation that the Labour Party could, and would, lead economic and social change when change was needed.

We approach the election in 2017 needing, and wanting, to see dramatic changes. Including:
  • Taking serious steps to address climate change and reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 - as we have committed to under the Paris Accord.
  • Transforming New Zealand's relationship with property investment, ownership and tenant's rights to ensure the property sector meets people's fundamental need for safe, secure, healthy  accommodation.
  • Shifting domestic and foreign investment away from property speculation and into productive enterprise that lifts productivity, adds value to our export products, and creates new jobs.
  • Addressing fundamental flaws in our democratic system, including the lack of a written constitution, proper recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, and some significant flaws in our electoral system.

There's a list of such issues, and the policies needed to address them, on The Opportunities Party website.

The Labour Party has plenty of published policy. But it's not transformational.  It lacks depth.  It's not going to deliver the changes New Zealand needs at this juncture in its development.

Punctuated equilibrium is a term derived from evolutionary biology. In the 1970's biologists observed that species tended to appear and disappear quite abuptly.  The fossil record shows that evolution consists of long periods of stability, "punctuated" by periods of relatively rapid change. Before that they had thought of it as a smooth, continuous, process.

Fabianism belongs to a school of marxist historicist thought which predicts that capitalism will eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions and the emergence of a socialist paradise is inevitable. You just have to wait long enough. Hence the wee tortoise that illustrates this post, beautifully symbolising the pathos and impotence of fabian government.

Like the traditional approach to evolutionary biology, fabianism is an outdated and insufficient concept. It's not how society in New Zealand has progressed, and more fabianism is not what New Zealand wants, or needs, from a Labour government in 2017.

With the ascendance of Jacinda Arden to the leadership of the Labour Party we have a fresh new face, with great popular appeal, and the ability to sell Labour's policies to the electorate.  

We know she is Helen Clark's protege. But does that mean is she another fabian, in Clark's mould? Or is she willing, and able, to lead Labour party in taking the bold steps forward that will punctuate New Zealand's current, stagnant, equilibrium?

I am not convinced she can, or that the Labour Party will.  

I think New Zealand needs The Opportunities Party to partner the Labour Party in government and push it into being the party of change New Zealand so desperately needs in 2017.

Gareth Morgan's has described Jacinda Adern as "lipstick on a pig".  There is a time and place for such colourful and pithy metaphors, if they are well chosen. Perhaps this was not the time and place, nor the right choice.

But I do agree, wholeheartedly, with the point he was trying to make.  New Zealand needs more, much more, than a popular "feel good" government in 2017.  

We need a government that we can trust to take bold steps, and bring about real change, so we will make real progress. And in 2017 I don't trust that the Labour Party, governing alone, can do that.