The Dim-Post

March 28, 2015

Greens and political positioning

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:57 am

I used to buy into this theory that the Greens should stop being a left-wing party and ‘move to the center’ so they could potentially partner with National and thus hold the balance of power. That was back when National was in opposition though. Seven years into their government it’s now apparent that the incompatibility isn’t because the Greens are too left-wing. National cheerfully passed the Maori Party’s Whanua Ora policy, and their flagship policy during the 2014 campaign was free doctor’s visits for children. They’d pass a bunch of Green Party social justice and inequality policies without blinking an eyelid.

The incompatibility is because the Greens are an environmental party and National are committed to an economic model that is fundamentally hostile to environmentalism. Green bottom lines for any coalition deal would start with limiting conversions to dairying and forcing farmers to pay for the environmental costs of their herds. Pricing carbon. Reducing Greenhouse emissions. Protecting the RMA. Banning offshore oil exploration.

It is really hard to imagine National and the Greens reaching any kind of compromise on these issues. The Greens can ‘move to the center’ all they like – it’s their environmentalism that makes a coalition with National impossible.


  1. National has obviously lost it’s way. It is hard to identify just what it stands for, apart from retaining power at all costs. Time for them to have a “reality check”! paleo martin

    Paleo Martin

    Comment by paleomartin — March 28, 2015 @ 11:01 am

  2. Not sure I agree with that analysis. I think thwy would pull significant numbers of voters from across the spectrum and definitely from National and the balance of power would shift such that National would have to come to the party

    Comment by Arkhad — March 28, 2015 @ 11:12 am

  3. I don’t think it is accurate or useful to describe Greens as an environmental party.

    The difference is that Greens see the economy as existing within the environment, a tool to achieve social and ecological ends.

    Unlike National who ses the environment as subservient to the economy.

    Comment by Andrew R — March 28, 2015 @ 11:19 am

  4. There’s this too, which tends to support the general thesis:

    Interestingly, the Greens commissioned some polling straight after the 2014 election, in part to understand why their election night vote seemed to fall well short of pre-election polling. But it also threw light on where their vote was coming from, and where it could come from in the future.

    It showed that 39 per cent of those who voted Green cited the environment as the most important factor, with 15 per cent citing poverty and smaller numbers for other “inequality”-related issues. But significantly, 19 per cent of those who said they had considered voting Green, but did not, cited “strategic voting” as the reason they went elsewhere. All of those – not most, but all – voted Labour.

    Of course there as many interpretations of data as there are surveys. But the numbers suggest the Greens’ biggest untapped catchment is not National voters waiting for a greater environmental focus, but soft Labour voters. (They also show Labour dodged an even bigger bullet at the election). Of those who considered voting Green, but ended up with National, one of the biggest chunks cited “too much environmental focus”

    That pretty much suggests that the alleged happy hunting ground of Nat leaning voters who ‘actually actually do care about the environment but don’t vote Green because they are too squishy on the poors’, has actually been pretty hunted out

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 28, 2015 @ 11:57 am

  5. oops, link for that is here:

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 28, 2015 @ 11:58 am

  6. There is a semblance of relevance in your point but about environmentalism. Similarly, the humanism of the Greens’ policy compared to the neo-liberalism of the Nats means that a coalition will be difficult. However, I think the more significant difference between the two is that the Greens are principled and the Nats are pragmatic. John Key has shown time and time again that he will do whatever he has to, will say whatever he needs to, and spend however many taxpayer dollars as are required to maintain a hold on the power his office brings him.

    Comment by John — March 28, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

  7. I think you’re on the money here, Danyl. It was an interesting idea at the time, but really it came down to National and Greens coming together far more than either of them is actually willing to. National’s strongest core has always been farmers who are fundamentally at odds with environmentalism, by the very nature of their business taking a massive hit when externalized costs are thrust back upon them. In toning down the leftist economics it just became apparent how little the economics is really what separates them from National. In fact, farmers are big fans of a number of Green economic buzzwords. But they can’t take the basic idea that turning nature into a factory is at odds with Green principles.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 28, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

  8. Surely it’s a moot point as the coalition couldn’t proceed without the support of Green voters, most of whom would be opposed?

    I would have thought a better question was whether the Greens and _Labour_ could enter a coalition. It’s not entirely clear that Labour is up for it


    Comment by Antoine — March 28, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

  9. @Pascal’s bookie – it also says that any Labour resurgence will inevitably cannibalise a big chunk of the soft Green vote. I’ve come to the view that, in the medium term at least, the Greens have peaked and with Labour again looking like it means business the core Green (actually voting) vote is going back to hovering around the threshold. If the Greens were realistic, they would accept that they have a lot to lose and little to gain positioning themselves closer to National.

    Strategically, the MMP Greens can waffle on about positioning forever. If they want long term security of presence and legitimacy, they need to stop turning their noses up at trying to win an electorate seat and instead look to win and make safe at least two electorates. Not only would that provide them with an electoral “lifeboat” if the party drops below 5%, it would also give them an on the ground organisational template which they sorely lack at election time. Typically, if you say that to Greens they’ll have a little whine about how HARD it is win an electorate seat. But I say – look at Winston, he makes looking like winning a safe National seat look easy. So to the Greens – a bit less wailing about “positioning the party” from the comfort of a Wellington office and bit more wearing out shoe leather in an electorate should be that parties medium term aim.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 28, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

  10. i>So to the Greens – a bit less wailing about “positioning the party” from the comfort of a Wellington office and bit more wearing out shoe leather…

    Yeah right, we’ve all forgotten by now about the serious pavement-pounding slog that the Greens put in to gather the signatures for the no asset sales petition. Talk is cheap when, as you’ve expressed elsewhere, you’re too wussy to ride your ebike to your cosy snivel service sinecure in those nippy Auckland winters.

    Comment by Joe W — March 28, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  11. “… Talk is cheap when, as you’ve expressed elsewhere, you’re too wussy to ride your ebike to your cosy snivel service sinecure in those nippy Auckland winters…”

    I never want to be in a room with you without at least two clear avenues of escape.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 28, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

  12. I agree with Danyl. But does the Green Party prefer to be a politically neutered lightning rod for dissent, or does it wish to effect change? As long as it remains ‘too posh to push’, I fear it will will always be the bridesmaid. That’s a lot of analogies but hey, I didn’t name it the ‘Green Party’ which seems a bit analogous in itself.

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 28, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

  13. By the way Sanctuary, it looks like you were right about the Northland election and I was wrong.

    It’s my fault for following that false prophet Danyl. Henceforth I will disregard Danyl’s predictions and follow only Neil (who showed himself to be a better predictor of the future by far on that occasion)


    Comment by Antoine — March 28, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

  14. Sanc, not sure what you mean. Certainly there are strong feelings among some in Labour that cannibalising the Greens vote is just an inevitable thing that will happen. But that data shows there is a fair bunch of people who are voting Labour for strategic regions rather than as ‘best fit’.

    What those reasons are remains unknown, but those voters could well be a fair chunk of the gap between the Greens polling scores and the electoral ones. If the strategic reasons for voting Labour, (whatever they are), decline then those voters are more likely to vote Green.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 28, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

  15. @Antoine – Time will tell on Northland. If Peters wins it’ll be amazing.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 28, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

  16. National cheerfully passed the Maori Party’s Whanua Ora policy
    Whanua Ora is an on-going bribe, a money spigot to special interests, stripped of accountability. But you make it sound as if it’s alien to National Party’s foundational principles.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — March 28, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

  17. @Pascal’s bookie – I guess I trying to work out if the Green/Labour vote is a zero sum game for the Greens – they grow their vote only at the expense of Labour, whereas Labour if it is strong can take votes from both the Greens and National? Generally speaking, I think that the strategically (apart from winning an electorate, which still bestows a legitimacy in the eyes of voters that being a list only party doesn’t) the other reason Labour and the Greens need each other is both their voter bases are disengaging from the democratic process faster than Nationals, so they need to work together (even if the Greens are not formally in government) to turn that around somehow.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 28, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  18. Sanctuary

    The GP policies are not dictated from on high in Wellington, they are seriously committed to democratic processes. As a past member, I sometimes found it frustrating to be stuck in a queue of committees when trying to argue something like; that they should indeed strive to secure an electorate seat (eg Turei in Te Tai Tonga).

    But I also ran through a fair bit of shoe-leather and bike-tyres while leafleting and other campaigning in both local and general elections. Providing Shaw or Tava don’t get the male co-leadership, I’ll probably be volunteering with them again.

    I don’t agree that data (thanks for the link PB) necessarily; “says that any Labour resurgence will inevitably cannibalise a big chunk of the soft Green vote”. If the GP were to tack left with Turei/ Hughes (while Labour go centre-right with Little/ King), they may take many of the; IMP and soft Labour left, while Labour picks up the soft Nat votes who are getting sick of the present shonkeyness.

    Comment by Pasupial — March 28, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

  19. Winning an electorate is much harder for the Greens than for Peters for quite obvious reasons. He is a personality party, after all. He can make up any old shit he likes without having to run it by anyone. There just isn’t any such character around for the Greens. And Peters is essentially a Nat, so taking some conservative electorate doesn’t involve anywhere near the mental conniptions of a voter than it would for them to back a Green candidate to represent their totality. They are, and always have been, an MMP party. To win an electorate, they have to find one in which upwards of 30% of the population are environmentalists before they are anything else. I don’t think there is any such electorate.

    As for the positioning tactics side of things, this is far more useful to Labour than the Greens. They can reposition to take National voters. Even if they shed votes to the Greens in doing so, every vote taken from National is really a double whammy for their electoral chances. They can probably do that without making any real major policy changes, just upping their game on the valence stuff they lose to the Nats over – looking competent, relatable, Prime Ministerial etc. Even if they held their total percentage around 30-35, if they eat Nat voters and shit Green ones, 35% + 16% = Left majority. This is extremely simplistic, though. I think that the way voters move is much more complex than that. The non-voting pool is now the biggest group, and what they do is likely to dominate what happens from now on.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 28, 2015 @ 3:10 pm

  20. Agree Danyl. Any compromise would involve either party selling out its constituency. I would be pissed if Greens went into coalition with National even if it meant progress on social issues – I voted Greens because of the environment, otherwise I’d vote Labour.

    Framing has got to be key. It would be interesting to see how the 2014 election would have gone for the Greens if it had been held a year later. The Paris conference is going to be Copenhagen all over again, huge media attention and subsquently a massive reframing of the narrative around climate change. Climate change is, or could be, for the Greens, what the economy is for National. It is their strong point, their Boult/McCullum to use a topical analogy 🙂

    I’m still wondering why they distanced themselves from climate change. I’m guessing the “climate voter” campaign was indirectly supported/financed by the Greens – they just wanted to distance themselves so they could be seen as a “serious” party. Anyway, it’s obvious it didn’t really pay off.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — March 28, 2015 @ 6:41 pm

  21. Pasupial, re Metiria standing in Te tai Tonga, I understand she hasn’t because she is not Kai Tahu. Sure an electorate seat would be a nice to have, but in a world where climate change and polluted rivers are becoming more and more obvious the Greens are not in danger of going below 5%.

    Comment by Corokia — March 28, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

  22. The Greens exemplify Western notions of superiority, a position that disallows compromise. It gains them votes from people who like to feel good about themselves.

    On climate change it doesn’t do wonders for progress to have one party feel itself so much better than everyone else, that the party refuses to compromise. We’ve had no world progress on climate change for the last quarter of a century.

    Perhaps the Greens should get over themselves and work with anybody for the good of the planet. Why don’t they figure out what the Nats would do that is good for the planet, get to it and do that?

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 28, 2015 @ 11:43 pm

  23. The Nats might be willing to stop propping up Solid Energy or Air New Zealand and let these polluting companies swim or (more likely) sink on their own.

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 29, 2015 @ 12:04 am

  24. “Why don’t they figure out what the Nats would do that is good for the planet”- yeah right.

    Meanwhile today Simon Bridges is at a petroleum summit inviting oil companies to drill for fossil fuels here. So what exactly would National do that is good for the planet? They don’t seem to give a shit. Remember Greenpeace trying to get delegates to the National party conference to comment on climate change? What about last week when they just plain lied about NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    Comment by Corokia — March 29, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

  25. @Ben Wilson

    “…Winning an electorate is much harder for the Greens… … …To win an electorate, they have to find one in which upwards of 30% of the population are environmentalists before they are anything else. I don’t think there is any such electorate…”

    Rubbish! I give you exactly that is Sydney –

    Find an issue, get a good candidate and campaign team on the ground and bloody well win a seat. I find it remarkable that any party the presumes to power actually admits it’ll never be popular enough to win an electorate. The Greens are the ONLY New Zealand political party to not have a current MP who has won or represents an electorate seat. IMHO, having at least two electorates is still vital for political legitimacy in the eyes of the voting public.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 29, 2015 @ 2:13 pm

  26. >Rubbish! I give you exactly that is Sydney

    Big deal, it happened once, in a country that has a completely different electoral system, when the conditions were exactly right. They’ll probably lose it next time.

    What electorate are you suggesting here, in NZ, for this, and what issue? The Greens do stand candidates, and support them. But it’s a shitload harder to win FPP seats than preferential voting ones, when you’re a minor third party. The people who win them here are either defectors from a major party, or they are given a tactical vote wink and nod in, which the Greens don’t need. It would not serve any purpose for Labour to give the Greens a seat when the Greens are not in danger of missing the threshold. And the idea of the Greens engineering a Peter Dunne or Winston Peters from within Labour is just a pipedream.

    This whole thing about electorates giving legitimacy is tosh. The Greens are the third largest party, and look like staying that way. Their legitimacy shits on all the smaller parties. They have a genuine committed base that just happens to be spread around the country. Under our current system that gives them a legitimacy proportional to their party vote and that’s the end of the matter. An electorate might be nice to have, if any such stronghold existed. It just doesn’t, and it’s not a need-to-have.

    In fact, it’s in many ways advantageous NOT to have an electorate, because that electorate’s concerns come to dominate the party’s direction. I don’t think Winston Peters intended to be the Old-Fart party – that was just a side effect of having to constantly win Tauranga.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 30, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

  27. There is some truth in this. National belong to the pillage for profit mentality with no long term appreciation of the outcome….and no interest in gaining any such appreciation. This mindset is antithetical to the the green world view that says we must all be aware of and respect the limits of our resources and use them sustainably. National sneers at such ideas. National is now essentially wilfully negligent with respect to the environment. That anyone votes for them is a testament to widespread lack of awareness of the long term consequences of their policies. That is simply sad. Sad for our kids…and sadder for their kids….and so on.

    Comment by Steve Withers — March 31, 2015 @ 9:53 am

  28. Ben: It’s actually easier for small parties to win FPP seats. FPP at least allows a plurality via a multi-way split of the vote. Preferential is like a safety net for the two main parties (or blocs). Until Green party leader, Bob Brown beat A Labor P after the invasion of Iraq, in a seat they had held since 1956, no 3rd-party had won a single seat in the federal parliament for over 50 years. yes..a handful of non-party independents had held seats from time to time…..but no party other than the ALP or the LibNats faux coalition had. Meanwhile in NZ we had Social Credit and the Alliance and others. That sort of thing never happened in Australia’s lower federal house BECAUSE preferential voting makes it much harder for minor parties to win. If they don’t get over 50% on the first round…they can’t win as they won’t have other preferences to pull through.

    Comment by Steve Withers — March 31, 2015 @ 9:59 am

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