Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Is the Green Party losing its soul?

Greens co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman . Photo / Herald on Sunday
Greens co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman . Photo / Herald on Sunday

The Greens have sold out their principles and policies very easily. That's the message that will be taken away from the decision by co-leader Russel Norman to do a U-turn on quantitative easing (QE; or 'money printing'). The Greens have shown that they are now so pragmatic and power-hungry that they will quickly ditch the policies they believe in if it will help them get into government.

Three of the most senior parliamentary press gallery analysts argued along these lines yesterday. John Armstrong talks about 'a new pragmatism' in the party, and says that the Greens' 'volte-face' is 'one of the strongest indicators yet of their determination to be exercising power as a party in Government after next year's election' - see: About turn shows new pragmatism.

Similarly, Vernon Small clearly thinks the U-turn on QE signals the party now favours popularity over principle: 'it begs several questions. If QE can be dumped because it is not politically feasible, then what about other distinctive Green policy? Is being a credible partner in government now the most important driver? Are six Cabinet posts more important than six purist policies? The answer, for now, is yes' - see: Coalition options a pain for Labour.

Audrey Young seems to agree, but views it in a much more positive way, saying the U-turn represents 'a welcome dose of pragmatism from the so-called party of principle' - see: Greens swallow a dose of reality. Young says that QE was always just 'a vanity policy, allowing Greens co-leader Russel Norman to show he could foot it in the big international debates of the day', and she likens the original policy to when Don Brash called for the de-criminalising of marijuana - an honest but politically stupid announcement.

Other commentators have essentially welcomed the pragmatism of the Greens, and believe the U-turn will serve the party well in the longer term - see, for instance, Colin Espiner's No more printing money for the Greens and Corin Dann's Greens had to drop money-printing.

But Chris Trotter has made a particularly trenchant criticism of Norman's capitulation, saying that the co-leader lacks the 'courage of his convictions' and no longer 'speaks truth to power' but instead folds under pressure. Instead, Trotter says, the left needs 'A politician who not only refuses to abandon controversial policies, but who, by calmly explaining them over and over again, finally convinces the voting public of their worth' - see: He Who Laughs Last, Laughs Loudest: Russel Norman Abandons Quantitative Easing. Furthermore, Trotter argues that the abandonment of the policy means that the Greens have given up on the one policy tool that might have given a future Labour-Greens government the potential to pay for progressive spending: it 'was one of the very few practical and non-inflationary funding options available to an incoming progressive government. By taking it off the table, what Russel is really telling us is that the Greens' and Labour's promises can no longer be paid for'. If Norman is honest, says Trotter, he 'needs to step forward now and admit that, with QE off the agenda, the Greens' promise to give New Zealand a clean, green and innovative economy can no longer by paid for and, therefore, will no longer be included in the Greens' 2014 Manifesto'.

What will also annoy people about the Greens U-turn is the attempt to duplicitously spin and sell the back-down as something else entirely. Instead of just admitting to the capitulation, the Green spin-doctors - of the 'Hey Clint' variety - are vigorously attempting to argue that technically it isn't a U-turn because the policy hadn't yet been finalised. David Farrar covers this well in his blogpost, A u-turn or not?.

It's hard to work out whether the Greens still believe in the policy or not. In the past, if the Green Party believed in a particularly policy it would hold onto it regardless of the winds of popular opinion. That was once part of the charm of the Greens. But this latest move suggests that the party is morphing more into 'just another party' of ambition and populism.

In academic political marketing literature, the Greens would be seen as having shifted from being a 'product-orientated' party to a 'market-orientated' party. The first type is a party that comes up with policies and a manifesto based on what they truly believe is for the best, regardless of what voters might think, while the latter is the type of party that looks to votes to see what policies might win votes and adopts (or abandons) policies on that basis. The Greens have been on a journey from product-orientation to market-orientation for some time now. While such a market-approach to politics might make the party more professional, moderate, and popular with 'middle New Zealand', the party risks losing some of the authentic features that originally made the party stand out from the crowd. Having joined the mainstream, perhaps the Green Party now risks losing its political soul.

The Greens capitulation on QE can also be related to the larger issue of post-election coalition maneuvering. Vernon Small's column on this, Coalition options a pain for Labour, is a must read. It explains the various issues involving what a future Labour-led government might involve, and whether it would include the Greens at all. Such thinking originates in Matthew Hooton column from a few weeks ago, which is also worth reading - see David Shearer's Green-free Plan B. Essentially it seems that the Greens might find themselves jilted once again by Labour and left out of Government.

For a satirical take on the Greens, see the recent parodies by Cameron Slater: New Co-leadership of Opposition announcement leaked, and by The Civilian's Ben Uffindell: Green Party celebrates 60th anniversary of Hillary's ascent by 'getting really high' and Printing counterfeit money probably not the best idea, admits Green Party. And for an interesting take on environmentalism and the politics of the Green Party, see Alasdair Thompson's thoughtful blogpost, What's wrong about being Green?.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

There has been a 'collapse of mass, democratic citizen participation in New Zealand' according to Chris Trotter. He writes about the democratic deficit afflicting politics, and how all the institutions of importance in New Zealand society are fundamentally discredited - see: Out-of-Parliament Experiences: The Rise and Fall of Democratic New Zealand.

Lianne Dalziel's decision to run for the mayoralty in Christchurch has produced quite an argument within the Labour Party about who might replace her in the by-election for Christchurch East. Initially, sitting MP Clayton Cosgrove was lining up for the seat - see Claire Trevett's Cosgrove tipped to contest byelection. But this has produced something of a backlash on the left - see Vernon Small's Cosgrove not flavour of the moment. Various left-wingers are speaking out publicly - see, for example, Emma Hart's An Open Letter to the Labour Party from a People of Christchurch and No Right Turn's Labour and Christchurch East. But is the seat even a safe one for Labour? No, according to the Labour blogger at Rebuilding Christchurch: No such thing as a safe Labour seat. And Cosgrove's track record is examined by Danyl McLauchlan in his blogpost, May I, Monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?. For the humourous view see Ben Uffindell's Lianne Dalziel uncovers evidence of major event in recent Christchurch history.

There's a fascinating (albeit very 'beltway') fight going on amongst journalists at the moment about gender issues, all brought on by the Peter Dunne scandal. Deborah Hill Cone made the first foray into this with, Better to blend in than be tempting target, with strong responses from Jenna Lynch with Disco pants and lipgloss? Not in my newsroom and Katie Bradford-Crozier with Egalitarian NZ's big step backwards. And for more on the general topic, see Pete George's blogpost, What has Andrea Vance said about it?.

Related to the above items, Peter Dunne is back on the job and talking to the media again - see Tracy Watkins' Dunne out to resuscitate political fortunes. Dunne has hit out at the 'innuendo and rumours' and pointed his finger at journalists: 'Some of the bizarre speculation that has now spun off that in terms of commentary by other journalists about the way journalists behave is, I think, at an all-time low'. Dunne is also hitting out at the Electoral Commission - see Claire Trevett's Dunne slams 'rogue elephant' over tough line on party's fate. But Andrew Geddis says that Dunne needs to learn from rugby players and not blame the referee - see: "The ref's a moron!'.

The numbers of abortions being performed is falling. Some interesting comments and analysis on this can be read in David Farrar's Lowest abortion rate since 1995 and the Southland Times' Sad statistic is in decline.

Maori capitalism has huge potential in the agricultural sector, according to Jamie Ball's Spotlight on Maori agribusiness. For a start, 'It's estimated that 40 per cent of fishing quotas are controlled by Maori; 43 per cent of forestry grown in this country is on Maori land, while 25 per cent of our beef and lamb is farmed on Maori land'.

Reader's Digest has published its annual survey results for who New Zealanders trust the most. As usual, politicians do very poorly in these polls - David Farrar has a roundup in NZ's most trusted. For a satirical antidote, see Scott Yorke's The other most-trusted list released today.

What exactly do lobbyists and corporate spin-doctors do? For an insight into their activities, see Adam Bennett's PR spin costs Solid Energy $48k, which reveals how Wellington lobbyists Saunders Unsworth developed media and political advice provided to Solid Energy and Cabinet ministers on how to deal with the difficult questions on the decline of the SOE. TVNZ's article, Solid Energy paid $50k for advice on dealing with politicians also reveals some of the advice on dealing with Labour politicians: 'Unsworth provided personal profiling for the company, stating that MP David Clark is "likeable" and "will be quiet and probably leave fellow MP Clayton Cosgrove to do all the heavy lifting" during the select committee hearing. He also told Solid Energy he would look at strategies to handle the two most problematic MPs - David Cunliffe and Mr Cosgrove'.

The Mana Party has unveiled a radical new housing policy - see Kate Chapman's Mana unveils housing policy. David Farrar hits out, saying that therefore, 'If you have a Maori great great grand parent you can get a no deposit, low-interest loan, but if you don't you are not eligible? Appalling' - see: Race based housing.

The GCSB issue is still being monitored - for the most interesting recent items see No Right Turn's An admission from the GCSB, Gordon Campbell's Spying legislation goes too far and Brian Rudman's Give public voice in game of I Spy.

Finally, with all the bad weather over the country, it's an appropriate time to have a laugh at Trans-Tasman's parody of politicians stances on the weather, (via Kiwiblog): Party leaders on the wintry blast.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

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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