John Armstrong: Hello spirits ... woops, goodbye National

Add a comment

What next? Exorcisms, seances and delegates examining chicken entrails? The jiggery-pokery which started the Greens' annual conference on Saturday morning effectively confirmed in advance what the subsequent two days of debate and discussion more obliquely indicated - the Greens and National are never going to be a serious item.

Any party which begins its conference by lighting a candle so it can be guided by the "symbolic gesture of a flame" while "calling in the spirits" of Rod Donald, the Treaty, the sun, and just about everything else bar the kitchen sink would seem to be in fruitcake territory, as in nutty as.

The Greens aren't quite in that category, but observing them invoke "the eternal golden thread" which apparently links past and present would have been enough to have National running in the opposite direction.

Its willingness to get spiritual stretches about as far as listing the local Sunday morning church services in its conference programme.

The "guiding spirits" stayed away, judging from the time it took the conference to reach consensus on the major agenda item - how to handle post-election negotiations.

The upshot of that is the Greens will assess Labour and National's policies before the election and announce during the latter stages of the formal campaign which party they are willing to negotiate with afterwards.

If negotiations prove fruitful, the final decision on a coalition deal or the Greens' participation in some other governing arrangement will be made by the party's executive after consultation with the wider membership.

None of this sounds unusual. But it is far cry from 2005 when Rod Donald declared months before election that the Greens would be backing Labour full-stop.

After sitting on the sidelines since its separation from the Alliance in the 1990s, the Greens are hungry for power.

While their current arrangement with Labour does give them a say on some issues, that falls a long way short of the power that can be exercised by sitting at the Cabinet table, especially when it comes to writing the Budget.

However, while the party hierarchy is giving no clues as to which way it might lean, the content of the speeches by the party's two co-leaders, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Russel Norman, suggests the Greens and National will have extreme difficulty in striking any deal which extends beyond co-operating on issues where they share a mutual interest.

The conference was marked by some jibes at Labour - particularly from Norman, whose impassioned speech on water quality was also designed to assure the party he is adopting a strong environmental focus even though he comes from the "social justice" wing of the party.

But the jibes were more about underlining the Greens' independence from Labour than an indication of which way they will jump.

Norman's speech drew rapturous applause - a clear sign of the party's annoyance with the absent Mike Ward whose refusal to allow Norman to become an MP has left the co-leader in limbo this side of the election.

Fitzsimons, meanwhile, opened a fresh front on "food affordability" by calling for a Commerce Commission inquiry into the pricing behaviour of the country's two dominant supermarket chains and challenging Fonterra to cut domestic milk prices.

It is clever politics, as it shows the Greens allying themselves with the consumer by advocating direct action to ease stretched household budgets.

Too often the Greens' messages to voters have been too complicated, too unfocused and too diffuse - to borrow the words of Nandor Tanczos in his farewell speech as an MP.

The overwhelming impression from the conference is that the Greens are getting their act together, even though the mysticism might suggest otherwise.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 24 Oct 2014 23:45:10 Processing Time: 1042ms