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.
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.
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.