Cunliffe and Labour are in a (dare I say it) ‘tricky’ situation, when it comes to the Greens. They are stuck in a dynamic where they are undermining their own voter base, but can’t afford to stop. I call this the ‘Cunliffe conundrum’. Yes, I know it started before him, but I’m a sucker for alliteration. The conundrum is as follows:
Labour have to frame the contest with National as ‘Labour/Green vs. National’ in order to seem like a plausible government in waiting. They can’t frame it as ‘Labour vs. National’ because Labour are getting absolutely smashed in the polls. But in doing so, they effectively signal to Labour voters that ‘a vote for the Greens is a vote for Labour’. And of course, some Labour voters oblige and vote Green. Even if Labour suddenly started acting like a capable, functioning opposition, they have to ally with the Greens to form a government.
As more Greens come to parliament, they demonstrate their capability and increasingly mainstream credentials, thus signalling to voters that they can safely vote Green. Any left-wing voter with half a brain quickly realises voting for the Greens is effectively two votes; one for a stronger Green Party, and another for a Labour-led government. This leads to a serious structural erosion of Labour’s regular voter base (but not its activist base).
The issue that NO ONE discusses openly is whether the Greens can eventually replace Labour. I think they can, but it will require a few things.
Firstly, it will require further collapse of the Labour brand. Labour are at a once-in-a-generation low-point but they have the people, the policies, and the ability to go even lower.
Secondly, the Greens need to gain a greater share of the flow of talented, ambitious, young careerists that currently stream into Labour. These kids follow a well-worn path from university politics to Labour party staffer to Labour MP (with maybe a brief stint in the public sector). This river of hacks is Labour’s lifeblood. Some of them, if they’re drunk, will admit they fit better in the Greens, but they want to be Prime Minister. If the Greens can convince the river of hacks that they can further their pursuit of power via the Greens, then the river will begin to divert. This is a tipping point situation, and will likely first require parity between the Greens and Labour.
There are a few other factors at play here, but more on that in another post.