Having never been a fan of the Greens, Shane Te Pou now thinks the party could bring a sorely needed jolt of radicalism to what threatens to be another term of cautious incrementalism
For as long as they’ve existed as a political party, the Greens have annoyed me. Before MMP, they were spoilers who split the left vote, aiding and abetting the Tories in the process. Since 1999, they have luxuriated in minor party status, allowing Labour to do the heavy lifting while never missing a chance to showcase their superior virtue.
I’m an inner-suburban bungalow-dweller these days, but my politics were forged in brown working class communities and the trade union movement. From that perspective, the Greens can come across as insufferably sanctimonious – and so out of touch that, whenever they talked about saving the planet, I often found myself wondering what planet they were talking about or, for that matter, on.
Given this deeply ingrained history, my gut reaction was to applaud recent polling that showed the Greens at risk of failing to meet the 5 percent threshold. “Good riddance,” I thought. I was pumped about the prospect of a Labour-only Government.
I scoffed at talk of an Epsom-style deal to save the Greens by rallying behind Chole Swarbrick in Auckland Central. I even experienced a wee bit of schadenfreude over the Taranaki Green School debacle.
If we’re going to make meaningful progress on climate change, we can’t ask people to choose between the environment and the economy.
But I’ve kind of, sort of, changed my mind about the Green Party during the course of the campaign. I may not vote for them, but I’m now of the view they should form part of the next Government.
Given the timidity of Labour’s “slowly, slowly” policy agenda, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the next Government could benefit from coalescing with the Greens.
They could bring a sorely needed jolt of radicalism to what threatens to be another term of cautious incrementalism.
These unprecedented times demand boldness from our leaders, and I’m not seeing as much evidence of it from Labour in this campaign as I would like.
Take their tax plan, which meekly proposes an income tax hike so tiny it would barely generate enough revenue to cover the cost of delivering pay parity to early education, let alone meet the yawning demand for boosted social services and infrastructure investment.
Frankly, the Greens’ proposed wealth tax is a much better idea, although not perfect it is both serious and sensible.
In fact, I was a little disappointed when James Shaw said the policy won’t be a “bottom line” in post-election talks. It should be.
While most upper middle-class Green Party activists have the luxury of rejecting the very concept of economic growth, poor communities don’t.
Speaking of Shaw, I ended up being impressed by his handling of the Green School issue.
He delivered one of the most fulsome mea culpas I’ve seen from a New Zealand politician, and it’s gratifying that polls seem to suggest it’s reversed the party’s slide. I hope politicians across the board take note: when you stuff up, try ditching the weasel words and front it honestly. Voters will forgive you. They much prefer it to watching you defend the indefensible.
To be fair, Shaw has been a consistently strong performer over the term of the Coalition Government. The fact he has emerged as one of the more respected ministers within the business community is testament to his competence, pragmatism and broad appeal – three attributes not typically associated with the Greens.
It’s actually, and ironically, on their cherished territories of climate change and transport where I find myself most at odds with the Greens.
It’s not that I deny or dispute the climate crisis – my kids wouldn’t let me get away with that. My problem is with the fatalistic framing they adopt on the issue.
Their focus on demonising private vehicles and blocking roading infrastructure are cases in point. If we’re going to make meaningful progress on climate change, we can’t ask people to choose between the environment and the economy. While most upper middle-class Green Party activists have the luxury of rejecting the very concept of economic growth, poor communities don’t. They still need jobs. They still need to get to work, and get the kids to sport on the weekends.
Telling them they’re destroying Planet Earth by driving a car just repels these voters. It actually makes them hostile to climate action. In this way, the finger-wagging approach from Green ideologues can be counterproductive.
But there’s a lot to like in other parts of the Green manifesto. Their health, education and justice policies are more ambitious than Labour’s at a time when ambition is called for.
If they can use their leverage over the next term to drive greater policy boldness, they can ensure the next term is more consequential than the last.
Without NZ First acting as a counterweight, their influence will naturally be greater. And if the Greens use their influence to force their senior partner’s hand on much-needed reforms they might otherwise resist out of an abundance of caution, the next government could do more to advance Labour values than a standalone Labour government would.