Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Political roundup: Catching up with the Greens

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At the beginning of a new political year, New Zealand’s third largest political party stands at a strategic crossroads. Does the Green Party strengthen and perhaps formalise its relationship with Labour, or will it choose to be more independent?
Co-leader of the Green Party Metiria Turei and former co-leader Russel Norman. Photo / Getty Images
Co-leader of the Green Party Metiria Turei and former co-leader Russel Norman. Photo / Getty Images

Metiria Turei's State of the Nation speech on Tuesday embodied the tension often found in a party that simultaneously wishes to challenge orthodox thinking but has a strong desire to find acceptance and legitimacy within the political orthodoxy. This ambivalence about whether to be radical or not might well come to characterise 2016 for the Greens - a theme often raised in the following 17 items about the Greens from the summer period.

1) The Greens are attempting to move the political goalposts at the same time as they advocate for a policy initiative designed to demonstrate how conventionally responsible they are - see Isaac Davison's coverage of Metiria Turei's state of the nation speech: National the radical party not the Green Party, says Metiria Turei.

2) Isaac Davison also writes about the Greens' advocacy of a Policy Costings Unit to evaluate political party policies, saying Metiria Turei chooses perfect issue to kick off the year.

He notes that "The party specifically invited business leaders, bankers and PR representatives to hear her address, reinforcing the Greens' attempts to appear more orthodox". He argues that the Political Costings Unit proposal "gives the Green Party an opportunity to preach to other parties about their lack of standards and the need for responsibility in making election promises. It also shows that they want to be constructive and credible about their own policies."

Davison also picked up on Turei's reference to former Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, saying that by "stealing one of the Labour Party's poster children...She was making it clear that the Greens still see a strong role for themselves on welfare and poverty, and will not simply focus on the environment as Labour wants them to."

3) The Policy Costings Unit idea has received widespread praise. Today's Dominion Post editorial says the proposal "is a good one, and the Government should take it up" - see: Independent policy-costing agency an idea with merit. It explains that "it is surely one more part of the Greens' drive to ditch their Morris-dancing image and appear economically credible."

4) Green-friendly blogger No Right Turn explains Turei's defence of "the Greens' nature as a radical party, while also trying to claim they're Not very radical". He thinks their proposed Policy Costings Unit is a good idea, but that locating it within Treasury is not: "While they'd firewall it against Ministerial interference, I don't think such firewalls could be trusted, and in addition Treasury is a deeply politicised department and cannot possibly be considered 'independent'. It would be far better if such analysis was done by a truly independent agency - and the best way to get that would if the unit was an Office of Parliament."

5) National Party blogger David Farrar believes it is An excellent initiative from the Greens, and he says he is "staggered National has rejected this proposal." Farrar also disagrees with having the unit within Treasury. But for him it's because it "may open the Treasury up to (even more) partisan attacks if a party doesn't like the costing."

6) National's opposition to the Greens' policy is not surprising for Stacey Kirk, who notes that "For them to do so would be to give up a significant advantage, which seems unlikely." Her item Greens throw out reasonable policy in speech to rebut 'radical' claims is a closer examination of the Policy Costings Unit proposal, looking at current provisions and international precedents. Kirk is in favour of the idea though she believes it is something that will fly under the radar of most voters.

7) Not everyone shares the enthusiasm for the proposal. Leftwing blogger Stephanie Rodgers has voiced some doubts about it in her post, Metiria Turei's state of the nation. She says, "I worry about the framing. Does this mean accepting that cost and 'fiscal responsibility' are the most important measures of policy?"

8) For the NBR's Rob Hosking, the Greens' advocacy of Treasury as the source of policy umpiring is very deliberate - see his paywalled column, Politics: the Greens get cheeky, Winston takes another ride on his Ghost Train of horrors. He argues that Treasury was chosen "because the party wants to send the message it is ready for government. How better than to say the Treasury are good guys and the Greens want to work with them?" He also reports that "It has already upset a few left-wing activists who feel the Green Party is edging toward some sort of blue-green central ground in politics. This group was not keen on James Shaw becoming co-leader, which is no doubt why Ms Turei, more in tune with the party's left wing, rather than Mr Shaw who delivered the speech."

9) Will 2016 be the year that the Greens formalise their relationship with Labour? Yes, according to three experts making their predictions for 2016 in The Spinoff Jury of 24 Experts Pick Next Year's Big Issue. Toby Manhire foresees "A Labour-Green deal" this year. For Claire Robinson "They have to form a coalition by mid next year if they are to get into power in 2017. Irrespective of new policies, it is the one thing they could both do that will guarantee their return to government." And Chris Trotter predicts "The formal announcement, at Labour's centenary annual conference, of a firm commitment by Labour and the Greens to campaign together for the 2017 General Election as a coalition-government-in-waiting."

10) Chris Trotter expands on a Labour-Greens deal in his column Third Term Temptations. He wonders whether Andrew Little's hand will be forced by the threat of National repeating its "ship of fools" characterisation of the sometimes fractious relationship between Labour and the Greens: "does he really have any other option except to follow Clark's 1998 example and announce Labour's readiness to form a coalition government with the Greens in 2017?"

11) In December, Rodney Hide had an interesting opinion piece that argued James Shaw's orientation to the Paris climate change talks was extremely revealing - see his paywalled NBR column, Sure, James Shaw, is man of the future. Reflecting on Shaw's positivity about the Paris declaration, Hide says: "He is a different Green leader from those we have been used to. He's content with fluff, never mind the substance. The politics of perception works for him. He's been trained to this. Before politics he worked as a 'management consultant' developing 'sustainable business practices". The stuff and nonsense of Paris would be nothing new to him. The important thing is not to do good but to appear to do good." Hide concludes that all of this makes Shaw "a man John Key can do business with".

12) So rather than on being on the cusp of a formal deal with Labour, is new leader James Shaw in fact taking the Greens ever closer to a position where they could work with National? Deliberate or not, the flexibility of Shaw's approach is a strategy endorsed by communications specialist Pete Burdon in his blog post, James Shaw media communicator of 2015. He says Shaw is very strict in commentating only on environmental issues, and because of that he "comes across as more of a centrist and credible politician who would favour any party that had the most compatible environmental policies."

13) A shift away from Labour is also predicted by Stacey Kirk in her column, Introspective Greens smiling at each other, frowning at Winston. She says "Turei and Shaw will look to set their party a fraction further apart from Labour than it was at the last election" and "while the two parties' policies dovetailed so neatly ahead of last year's election, the Greens are likely to take a half a step away from Labour".

14) Could Metiria Turei step down as Green co-leader? Towards the end of the 2015 reports started to mention speculation over whether Turei would remain as co-leader. In his paywalled NBR column, Change, consensus, and identity: the conservative tilt to politics Rob Hosking wrote: "One of the more intriguing questions for next year is whether Ms Turei, whose approach is still bound up with the preoccupations of student politics, stays or whether a co-leader more focused on other issues - finance spokeswoman Julie Ann Genter or, as an intriguing outsider, fiery newcomer Marama Davidson, takes over." Tracy Watkins also refers to such rumours, and suggests that as a result, Turei has become a bit more "bolshie" - see: Politicians in search of goodwill to end the year.

15) Rodney Hide has recently taken to poking fun at James Shaw. In his paywalled NBR column, Cheap oil compounds Greens' conundrum he takes Shaw to task for using the current low cost of oil to argue for its abandonment: "He is the best of fun but, sadly, too often his best gems disappear into the internet unreported. I fear you missed his delightful 14 January press release headed, 'Cheap oil gives the opportunity to start exiting from it.' That's right. Oil's cheap. So now's the time to swap it for more expensive alternatives. Genius. That's the power of corporate green speak. Complete bollocks can be headlined by a political leader and go completely unremarked."

16) But Hide isn't entirely negative about Shaw, and says that the "election of Shaw will prove a tipping point but one we never noticed", because due to him, the "next government will be a National-Green one with Peters sidelined and furious" - see: Things will change...but stay the same. He says: "Under Shaw's leadership, the Greens are quietly repositioning. They joined National in hailing the climate change agreement concluded in Paris. In that one moment they were no longer outsiders throwing rocks at those inside. They were responsible, stately and showing an ability to compromise and work with others. It makes sense. The Greens need leverage to achieve policy. They have none if their only option is Labour. They need to sidle quietly up to National. And they are."

17) Finally, are the Greens having further problems with their homeopathy-friendly MP Steffan Browning? One scientist is complaining that Browning has pushed the party to adopt a policy and campaign against glyphosate based herbicides, which may not be based on a scientific approach - see Grant Jacobs' blog post, NZ Green Party pesticide policy not evidence based but one-sided opinion piece.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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