In an ideal world, the Green Party would not need to exist. All parties would be concerned with the planet, and any party that attempted to claim a monopoly on the issue would be tarred and feathered. But we do not live in an ideal world.
Environmental concern is uneven, and parties that stand for the environment need to stand for other issues too. Thus, we have the Greens, a left wing party united by their love of protection (social and environmental), and their fight against exploitation (social and environmental). But lately there have been calls for a new bluegreen party.
Right wing people also care about the planet, and smart parties should respond to this concern. Some on the left might disagree that such concerns exist, but they do. The best source of data at present is the 2011 New Zealand Electoral Survey, which reveals 23.7% of people who are more conservative than the national mean care more about the environment than the economy.
The question is what is to be done with that support? Should a green person support the existence of a bluegreen party, support the ‘greening’ of right wing parties, or try to shoehorn all green-leaning voters into the Greens?
Bluegreen parties have not historically fared well in New Zealand. We’ve had two bluegreen parties; the Progressive Greens and the Outdoor Recreation party. The former split from the Greens in 1995 and got 0.26% in the 1996 election, while the latter got 1.28% in 2002 and later aligned with the United Future party.
National, United Future and the Conservatives all express concerns for the planet, with varying levels of sincerity. National claims to have a faction called the Bluegreens. John Key’s election year biography even gives a nod to the faction, claiming Key “often has to arbitrate on disagreements, particularly between the economic and environmental teams” (p. 157). Whether or not this tension is real is irrelevant. The fact that National feels the need to claim it is real says something. They believe the concern exists, and are responding rationally.
The Conservatives have a definite green streak, although it’s inconsistent. I know this because I posed as the archetypical bluegreen bloke on their ‘Ask Colin’ page (see below), and hammered on the conservative appeal of, well, conserving stuff. United Future have an even stronger green streak.
I’m not convinced that there is space for a bluegreen party in New Zealand. At least 5% of voters need to reliably vote bluegreen for such a party to survive. Many political scientists think green issues are ‘post-materialist’ (or nice-to-have once material concerns are sorted). If this is the case, bluegreen votes may not be solid enough or large enough to reliably elect a bluegreen party when material concerns are of greater concern (like in a recession). Between soft bluegreen support, the Greens’ attempts to get bluegreen support, and National, United Future and Conservatives pitching for the vote, there’s not really the space.
I suspect that as environmental concern becomes more mainstream National and/or the Conservatives will rationally respond to (blue)green values of their voters. Although this sort of ‘greening’ of the centre is hardly radical and is probably too-little-too-late for climate change, it’s a net gain for green politics.
There is a strategic left wing argument for a bluegreen party on the grounds that it could splinter the Right, act as a wedge issue, and promote green issues. But that is more hypothetical than realistic.
In either case, I think the Left can help with the ‘greening’ of the centre by promoting non-left green voices like Gareth Morgan and organisations like Fish and Game New Zealand. They might not vote for us, they can help shift the Right towards greener thinking.