Writes Finn Jackson.
Too many times, the death knell has been rung for the Greens. When we joined the Alliance, when we left the Alliance. When Rod Donald passed away, and when Jeanette Fitzsimmons retired as co-leader. Now the same old “highway to hell” chant has come up again with Russel Norman’s retirement as co-leader. Each time the knell has sounded, other left-wing parties have tried to move in and take over what they think is now empty political ground. Each time, they have been thrown back. Now, those of us who pay attention to history can see the same thing happening once again.
Labour thinks that with the departure of Russel Norman as Greens co-leader, the head has been cut off the Green snake, and they can now step on us without being bitten. How wrong they are. The Greens are not a personality cult like United Future, nor are we a fig leaf only to be used when Labour needs a few votes to cover up a hole in their trousers of support.
Over the past few weeks, commentators have lauded the rise of Little and the fall of the Greens. Yes, our polling so far this year has been rather lower than it was last year. Two polls showing our support on 9%, one shows us on 11%. But if you average that out, the result is still 10%, the same amount we received on election day. That doesn’t look like a fall to me. It looks like a slightly more accurate representation of where we’re at right now, actually.
I’m one of the first people to agree that for the left to win in 2017, we’re going to need a strong Labour party to form the core of our government. But frankly, at the moment Labour is looking Centrist at best. With Mana now out of parliament, and little prospect of returning, the most realistic option for government in 2017 looks like a Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government. Why did I put New Zealand First before the Greens? Because, right now, the Greens are hostages to the Labour party. If an election was held right now and New Zealand First was the kingmaker, I suspect the Labour Caucus would be perfectly happy to leave the Greens in the cold again in confidence and supply, and have New Zealand First in a snug and cozy Coalition government. I haven’t got much against New Zealand First, in fact I see it as my de facto second political home after the Greens. But if New Zealand wants any hope of adapting to the effects of climate change successfully (and it will be adapt, despite what the media try and tell you, at the moment there is very little chance of warming staying below 2°), we’ll need a party with comprehensive climate policy in government. The only party who have one just now are the Greens.
So how can we avoid this potential strafing by Labour? Well, as I said in my last article, It ain’t easy being Green: Idealism versus Compromise?, we have two choices: Idealism and Compromise. Now, I want to clarify which position I believe the Greens should take: compromise. Or at least, pretend to compromise. Make sure Labour get the idea that we’re not as green as the grass, if Labour wants to play hardball with potential allies, then it’s time for them to realize that the problem with hardball is that it can rebound, and the impact will be painful.
Who would be the best Green MP to co-lead this new-image, hardball Green party? In my opinion, James Shaw. The new MP from Wellington Central who has already demonstrated that he has the streak of “mongrel” to be an effective co-leader. He has shown he isn’t afraid to fight fire with fire, using the Neolib icon Margaret Thatcher as an example of a pro-market leader who recognized the threat of climate change. And that was just in his maiden speech to parliament (you can watch his speech here). He is someone who can show both sides of politics that the Greens are a force to be reckoned with, who will not lie down and shield Labour from embarrassment when needed. Kevin Hague, though a truly excellent MP who would make a highly effective leader under different circumstances, has already said that he thinks Labour is the Green’s natural coalition party. This diminishes his ability to employ a hardball attitude against Labour snubbing, or his attitude towards this approach could even be a complete no-no. James Shaw, in the event you read this, please consider running. The Greens need you.
To sum up my thoughts: Should we hug or hurt Labour? Neither. I think they need some tough love, soft hate, and a hefty dose of hardball.