Greens 2014: What went wrong?

Over the next few posts I’ll look closely at the Greens’ election result, questions about the party’s relatively poor performance, and calls for the Greens to shift to the centre (or that there should be a blue-green party).

One of the big surprises of the election was the fall in Green votes. Despite polling strongly prior to the election, the Greens received only 10.02%.  Of course, Labour’s abysmal failure stole the limelight, but the decrease itself is interesting.

There has been a bit of speculation about the drop, but until there is better data available there is no way of knowing the reason for sure. While speculation is interesting, it is not that illuminating. As Nate Silver famously stated, ‘punditry is fundamentally useless’. Of course, if being fundamentally useless stopped bloggers, we wouldn’t have Bomber Bradbury. So prepare for punditry.

My view is that some of the following factors may have been at play:

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A weaker campaign from the Greens
‘Love New Zealand’ was a muddled message with average billboards. The concept was too clever by half. At a glance (which is all most voters pay), the message was contradictory. The billboards didn’t obviously link the image to the message to the imperative to vote Green. The kids’ lunch box image in particular was confusing. The eye is drawn to the bright apple and shoes, when it is supposed to notice the lack of shoes and lunch. It’s hard to draw people’s attention to the lack of something, especially when the absence is hidden behind white letters. In contrast 2011’s Jobs, Rivers, Kids was a superb valence issue-based campaign.

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No Rena on the reef
Environmental tragedy aside, the Rena was manna from heaven for the Greens in 2011. That’s a pretty craven assessment, I know, but it’s true. It provided a great opportunity for Russel and Metiria to don white overalls for photo ops, which provided a nice contrast to the bumbling Phil Goff.

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Phil Goff called a spade a spade, after extensive focus group polling.Screenshot 2014-09-30 22.26.12

Blue-greens didn’t feel safe voting Green this time
The perception that the election would be close meant National voters concerned with the environment did not flirt with a Green vote. As I’ve previously shown, there is a pool of thousands of socially conservative voters who are concerned with the environment. They might lean green when the Nats are safe, but in tough times they flock home.

Dirty politics sucked up all the oxygen
As Russel has himself noted, this campaign focused a lot on Dirty Politics. It was hard to promote your policies when the coverage was dominated by a political proxy war between Nicky Hager and Whaleoil, with a cameo from Eminem.

Fear of Cunliffe and/or Dotcom
The stench from these two may have spooked the horses, pure and simple.

Lost protest votes
Conversely, Internet-Mana may have stolen some of the protest vote.

Noted leftist feminist Kim Dotcom

Noted leftist feminist Kim Dotcom

In the next post I’ll discuss Gareth Morgan’s call for a new blue-green party and Duncan Garner’s claim the Greens should be willing to offer confidence and supply to National.

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The Labour circus is back in town

Like a lot of people, I had hoped for a careful, considered post-mortem of Labour’s loss, followed by a smooth change of direction from a united party. Instead, Labour will have its second leadership primary in 13 months. So far it’s Grant Robertson vs David Cunliffe, and hopefully it stays that way. And I hope Cunliffe does just as well in the leadership selection as he did in the general election.

But what about David Shearer? I think Shearer’s analysis of Labour’s problem is correct, and I (mostly) agree with his solution (turn blue votes into red). But I don’t think he is the answer. The personal issues that cost him the leadership remain. No one doubts that he is a good man, but he is basically a bumbler. I’m not sure New Zealand would elect a good-hearted stutterer.

I’m not a fan of careerists in general, or Grant specifically, but I hope he destroys Cunliffe. As I’ve previously argued, I believe that Grant can go to the centre without infuriating the party’s vocal left. Under Grant, fighting for the centre would mean fighting for New Zealand’s first openly gay Prime Minister. Such an historic achievement would likely focus the Labour left and allow them to swallow their quota of dead rats.

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Sadly, Grant can’t escape questions about whether New Zealand is ready for a gay Prime Minister. One of the common arguments is ‘if Obama can win in the United States, then Robertson can win in New Zealand’. However there are important differences between Robertson’s situation and Obama’s.

Firstly, Grant is no Obama. Obama is a gifted orator and, while Grant does well in the house, his recent appearances on The Nation and Q & A were pretty average. Secondly, New Zealand is not post-Bush America. Obama ran against a deeply unpopular Republican party. Robertson has to run against John Key.

That being said, with the exception of a shrinking pool of homophobes, I think (hope?) most New Zealanders will shrug and look past Grant’s sexuality. For the good of the Left, I hope Grant destroys David Cunliffe.

Unfortunately, all votes are equal

A fat chunk of the Left fails to grasp a single basic fact. Rightly or wrongly, a right wing vote is worth the same as a socially righteous vote. A queer vote is worth the same as a homophobic vote, and a trans woman’s vote is equal to a skinhead’s. Like it or not, it doesn’t matter how correct we are, our vote is only worth one vote. The Labour left in particular does not seem to grasp this, and it is part of why we lost.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- there is a place for staunch progressive politics in New Zealand, but it isn’t in the Labour party. Whether we like it or not, to win elections Labour needs to appeal to people who think differently to us. Like David Shearer said, it’s not rocket science- Labour needs to turn blue votes into red. Someone is going to have to do the dirty work of compromising. We cannot distil the Left down to a few ‘pure’ voters and still win.

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Left politics- we want to fight the oppression of the majority, but we also want them to vote for us. It seems that some of us simply do not understand the difference between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. Ugly truth is still true. We need the votes of people whose views we find offensive.

Which brings us to question of who should lead the party. A lot of emphasis is being placed on who will lead the party in the wake of a historic failure. Whoever they are, I hope they read the recent Dim-Post.  I would be very interested to hear where Danyl places leadership. I doubt it’s at the base.

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Mclauchlan’s Hierarchy of Political Needs (2014)

Just as it is unfair to blame the loss solely on Cunliffe, it is unfair to blame the loss solely on Labour’s gender policies and Labour Women. The ‘man ban’ and The Apology are being singled out as reasons for the loss, because… well… probably patriarchy. It’s very convenient that all of a sudden the loss is women’s fault.

I don’t doubt that Labour lost some votes from Cunliffe’s apology (is versus ought), but that was far from the only thing Labour did wrong. Their bizarre run of micro-policies (remember the No Trucks in the Fast Lane policy?), their constant factional knife-fights, and the loss of Shane Jones (and resulting glee) all contributed to Labour’s demise. The very structure of the party is in disarray.

Most mainstream pundits are saying Labour needs to return to the centre and turn blue votes into red. I agree. But I disagree that the Left needs to tone down progressive politics in general, and feminism specifically. The world needs progressive thinking as much as ever. The problem is that it’s a poor fit with Labour.

Implementation of progressive ideas is easier from a centre-left government than it is from a far-left opposition. So please, let’s allow Labour to do what it does best- being left wing sell-outs. From rogernomics to the foreshore and seabed, Labour sells out. But Labour needs a stable left partner that can be a powerful force for progressive change.

That party is the Greens. Form an orderly queue.

Post mortems take time

I will have a lot to say about Labour’s result, but it will take a long time to say it (I blame having a job). Luckily, the healing process will take a long time. Or at least it SHOULD, if it is reasonable, considered, and honest. Hopefully it’s not a knee-jerk change of leader followed by more squabbling.

In the meantime, listen to David Shearer and ignore stories about ‘Shearer refuses to rule out leadership bid’. The man knows how to build consensus and reconciliation in post-conflict settings. Resolving Labour’s problems will take time. Changing leaders without addressing Labour’s structural problems won’t resolve anything.

If you’re interested, I’ve written extensively about Labour’s problems earlier this year. The events are dated, but I think the analysis is solid (although the tone is too harsh). In rough order of relevance: The Left needs the division of Labour, Progressives vs workers 1, Progressives vs workers 2, Labour’s Tea Party, Young Labour needs to move on, and Only Robertson can go to the centre. Apologies for the verbose writing, I had just finished postgrad study.

Basically, I think the far left of Labour should go join the Greens. There is a place for strong progressive politics, but it’s not in Labour. Labour needs to turn blue votes into red.

I repeat, listen to David Shearer.

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Screw Dotcom. We’re under surveillance!

It’s been a few hours since Dotcom’s Moment of Truth extravaganza, and narratives are already taking shape. One of the big unanswered questions is when John Key knew about Kim Dotcom. This is an issue partly because Dotcom led the media on.

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But to be honest, I don’t care if Dotcom failed to provide the knock-out blow. For me, the real story is that we are all subject to mass surveillance. Am I missing something? I don’t care about who-knew-what-and-when. I want my privacy back!

Journalists were caught a little flat-footed by the surveillance revelations, so I can understand why they continued to ask about this afternoon’s email. They probably had articles half-written and expected the finishing touches this evening. But the chronology of Key and Kim is not the biggest issue here. Sure, it matters for the soap opera that is the election, but it pales in comparison to the terror of mass surveillance.

Many of us may not be surprised by Snowden’s revelations. That does not, however, make them less important.

Edward Snowden is not a party hack. Apparently he was a Ron Paul supporter, so if anything he may be libertarian. He gave up the life he knew to blow the whistle on state surveillance, and he has not been proven wrong yet (to the best of my knowledge). He is an honest man.

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Action is desperately needed. All of us need to volunteer time with ANY party that is committed to changing the government. We need to support turnout efforts. We need to put aside our bickering about who is the most bestest leftist and work as a collective. We need to call our apolitical friends who might lean to National, and tell them they are being spied on.

If this scandal doesn’t cost National the election, then apathy has won. And if apathy wins, people will give up on the ballot box and start thinking the masses cannot be trusted with their own liberation. And that rarely ends well.

Call your friends and family. Volunteer with Labour, the Greens, or Internet Mana this week. We need to fight like our democracy depends on it… because it does.

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The left wing case for voting against Grant Robertson

Most left-wing people I’ve spoken to in Wellington Central are voting for Grant Robertson and the Greens. Some are voting two ticks Green, some two ticks Labour, but generally it’s taken as gospel that voting for Grant is the strategic thing to do. However, I have a different take on the scenario. Here are the facts:

  • Grant is number 3 on the Labour Party list. He is almost certainly getting into parliament, regardless of whether or not he wins his seat. Essentially, a vote for him is wasted.
  • Green candidate James Shaw is number twelve on his party’s list. He might get in, he might not. The Greens tend to get less on election day than polls indicate. Essentially, it isn’t certain that James would get in.
  • Maximising the number of left-wing representatives for Wellington Central is a good thing. We can act strategically to do this.

It logically follows that lefties in Wellington Central should give their electorate vote to James Shaw to maximise left-wing representation. If we all voted for James, we’d get Grant AND James.

I know what you’re thinking: voting for James might cause a spoiler affect and give the seat to National candidate Paul Foster-Bell. But is that really the case? Let’s look at the numbers from 2011.

2011 Wellington Central electorate result

2011 Wellington Central electorate result

If half of Grant’s votes (many of which were from Green supporters) had gone to James he would have had 14,673 votes and won the seat.

Of course, people probably won’t listen to me and vote for James. But here are a few other reasons to vote for him over Grant.

  • Grant is almost certainly going to win this seat. So if you’re Green, you can safely votes James.
  • Better electorate vote counts for Green candidates build the party’s long term strength. New Zealand needs a stronger Left.
  • After the election Grant will be very busy either running for Leader, or working as a Minister in a Labour-led government. James will be a more accessible electorate MP.
  • Grant is hardly a perfect candidate. He supports the use of filibustering in New Zealand politics. Filibustering is throwing a wrench into our democratic system.
  • The worst case scenario is that Paul Foster-Bell wins. Wellington could do a lot worse. Paul is actually a nice guy. And if he wins, it won’t mean an additional MP for National, it will mean one less National list MP

So go ahead, my fellow lefties! Vote for James Shaw.

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Red leaves falling, Green buds flowering

Russel Norman’s recent comments on One News have set off debate on social media about the Greens replacing Labour as the main party of the Left. Barring something miraculous, Labour will have another election loss and another messy leadership primary, where candidates are likely to lurch left to win over members, then flip flop back to the centre afterwards. Labour’s competitive primaries incentivise hardened factions and disunity. In contrast, the Greens have a well-established internal democracy that strives for, and delivers, consensus.

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Labour have had three leaders in three years and, unless they can turn this campaign around, will likely have a fourth before Christmas. Labour’s reputation is so damaged that they couldn’t even get a poll bump from Dirty Politics. The polls suggest that people have made up their mind about the party. This is particularly the case for men, more than 4 out of 5 of whom recently said that they would not vote Labour.

However, Labour’s failings are the Greens’ gains. Labour’s long running shambles contrasts sharply with the Greens’ unity, healthy internal democracy, and campaigning prowess. These strengths set the party up as the believable alternative to Labour, and in doing so they start the process of reducing Labour to a medium sized centrist party.

Only Whaleoil could be against a cute kid by a river.

Only Whaleoil could be against a cute kid by a river.

But aren’t the Greens too far left to get over 20%? Well, so far they have managed to reach out to the centre without giving away their core values or alienating their base. While the Greens are an unapologetically progressive environmentalist party, they know that it’s best to promote valence issues when communicating with the general public. Everyone in New Zealand loves the beach, and the Greens know how to channel that basic love into political support.

In contrast, Labour seems to have an identity crisis over identity politics. Are they a progressive party, or a party of the poor, or a party of the aspirational middle class? They simply haven’t decided. When the progressive wing pushes for things like gender quotas, or the leader apologises for being a man, it’s red meat for the activists, but cold sick for more socially conservative workers and poor.

But regardless of what Labour claim to stand for, you can always rely on the party to sell out. The last two Labour governments gave us Rogernomics (thanks Phil Goff), and the Foreshore and Seabed legislation. Since then, they have worked hard for genuine progressive issues that better the lives of minorities, but are of little concern to Mr and Ms Smith on Struggle Street. It would be better for the Left if the Greens represent the views and values of urban liberals, and Labour represented the views of workers and the poor.

This means that if you are genuine progressive, you should support an unapologetically progressive party, a party that will have greater say in the formation of the next Left government. Over the next few blogs I’m going to investigate the Red/Green tension, and how some ideas around Green overpowering Red. Not destroying it, necessarily, rather making it an equal or smaller partner.

In the next blog I’ll discuss electoral seats and outline why Labour and Green supporters should vote for James Shaw instead of Grant Robertson in Wellington Central.

Both are Left, but only one is right

Both are Left, but only one is right