Andrea Vance’s latest column starts with the Greens’ Rugby World Cup licensing fiasco:
Consoling beersies for the Greens, who spent much of the week as party poopers after initially opposing Seymour’s bill. They ended it as flakes, flip-flopping on their principles.
The whole episode points to a wider identity crisis in politics. In a blind taste test could you differentiate between parties?
Seymour stayed true to ACT’s roots as a voice for business. That does mark a departure from recent predecessor who put National’s interests ahead of all else, including their base support. With his bill, Seymour called out deficiencies in the Government’s alcohol reforms.
For some time, the Greens have positioned themselves as Parliament’s social conscience. Like death’s head at the feast, they made all kinds of rational objections to Seymour’s proposal. But you couldn’t really hear them over the howls of “buzz kill.”
Perhaps tiring of their perennial Cassandra predicament, the Greens recognised this stance made them deeply unpopular. Quicker than you could say “Seymour is a populist” – they surrendered their principles.
I don’t think the Greens were acting ‘out of principle’. I’m sure they thought they were because they like to think everything they do is principled but I tried hard to figure out what, exactly, their principle was behind their opposition. They didn’t want ‘boozed up’ people spilling out onto the streets when schools were opening – which, c’mon, really? – only now they’re supporting a modified bill that allows exactly that, and congratulating themselves that the last week of toxic news coverage was a ‘win’ because Seymour might modify his bill.
The real reason for opposing the bill was that ACT was doing something populist, and ACT is the enemy and it’s generally a good idea to prevent your enemy from becoming more popular. But you can’t just say that out loud so you have to have an ostensible reason that the media and public will believe. The Greens didn’t so their opponents got to project their own motivations onto the decision. ‘The Greens are killjoys. They hate beer and rugby etc.’ Instead of blocking ACT’s popularity they enhanced it and made themselves deeply unpopular for no gain.
A core problem we have on the left, I think, is that very few of our MPs actually understand politics. Of course it depends on how you define the term – if you expand it to include policy and ideology and political history and hating neoliberalism then yes, sure, they know about that stuff. But on the actual core challenge of influencing the public to achieve power they are mostly demonstrably clueless. Worse, they’re blind to their cluelessness. ‘Bad at politics?’ They would snort. ‘Aren’t they MPs? Haven’t they risen to that height through their own political genius? Doesn’t that, by definition, make them awesome at politics?’
Are New Zealand First backbenchers ‘awesome at politics’? They are not. The leader of their party is and he needs people to fill out the rest of his caucus and his backbenchers are really just a bunch of nobodies who’ve lucked into that slot. And an awful lot of Labour and Green MPs have done pretty much the same thing. They’ve used parties founded by or led by people with political acumen as vehicles for entry into Parliament, stayed there, some of them for decades, while evidently learning nothing. How many left-wing MPs have won a seat off National recently? How many have taken down a Minister? Won cross-party support for a bill? How many have even increased the party vote in their own electorate?
Very few. National expects success from their MPs. If they don’t perform they ditch them. But both of our left-wing parties have contrived to build MMP parties that protect mediocrity and fail to incentivise electoral success. It’s a huge problem. We desperately need party structures that discourage MPs from making ridiculous unforced errors. MPs should be worried about what the 50,000 voters in their electorate will think of their decisions, not their friends in whatever faction empowers them, or the couple dozen activists who engage with them on twitter and support whatever they do.
The most successful opposition MP at the moment is Kelvin Davis. He’s also one of the newest MPs and his background is teaching. And he got in by winning a tough electoral race. That’s telling us something, I think, about the value of all those honors degrees in political science or backgrounds as political staffers or decades of parliamentary experience that his fellow, ineffectual opposition safe-seat or list MPs possess.