The Greens can take blue votes without going blue

Once in a blue moon people talk about the blue-greens.

Since the election there have been a couple of noteworthy pieces by Duncan Garner and Gareth Morgan, both (sort of) arguing for the importance of blue-greens. Garner argues the Greens should be willing to offer confidence and supply to National, while Morgan argues for a new blue-green party. In this post I’ll discuss whether the Greens should shift to the centre, in the next post I’ll discuss whether a blue-green party is needed.

Both Garner and Morgan hint at the tension at the heart of green politics: should green parties primarily be left-wing or primarily green? In New Zealand the Greens have basically decided they are left, and that’s probably best for them. If they were more purely green (i.e., less red) they would be getting near single-issue party territory.

Single-issue parties generally have less appeal than broad-based parties, even if that issue is THE issue of a generation. Also, no one knows for sure how green blue-green voters actually are, or how reliably green. In contrast, the Greens consistently capture >5% of the vote by being left-wing.

There are also political realities to consider. Garner thinks the Greens should be more green and less red, and should be open to dealing with National. If only it were that simple. However, as @KaroriBee explained recently, the Greens are an extremely democratic party. The leadership can’t just decide to go into coalition with National; the membership could vote them out in under 12 months.

Blue and Green- a natural fit. Green doesn't have to go blue.

Blue and Green- a natural fit. Green doesn’t have to go blue.

Garner is correct to say that being on the left dooms the Greens to working with Labour, which in turn reduces their bargaining power in coalition negotiations. But how long will this last? Our current political climate is characterised by a greening of the centre, and a relative centring of the Greens. These tendencies, combined with Labour’s structural morass, could lead to a greater Green vote in the long term and thus more bargaining power over Labour. Further, the Greens have Labour over a barrel in what I call ‘The Cunliffe Conundrum’. Although the Greens ultimately need Labour to not be shit if they want to be in government.

As I’ve previously argued, I don’t think the Greens need to abandon progressive politics to pick up blue-green votes. Instead, they need to prioritise valence-issue messages when communicating with the centre, particularly issues that are specifically local (blue-greens care more about their local river/lake than climate refugees). If they combine this with embracing the conservative streak in green thought (change is bad, vote Green to protect our heritage), and using progressive dog-whistles to their base, the party can open the door to the centre without having to walk through it.

In my next post I’ll discuss Gareth Morgan’s claim that New Zealand needs a new blue-green party.


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