“National and the Greens should work together” sentiment seems to have reached an all-time high. This is not because the two parties have moved closer together in policy or philosophy. It’s because after the election, this is the only way—short of a Nat-Lab grand coalition—to lock Winston Peters out of any role in government.1
I can’t be bothered to list examples because I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard people calling for a blue-green government arrangement (or “teal deal” if you will). Perhaps you’ve even suggested it yourself.2
What I want to talk about is the suggestion that usually comes after “National and the Greens should work together”. This is how former National PM Jim Bolger puts it:
“the Greens might be quietly reflecting on whether they, unique in the world of Green parties, should only link themselves to left-wing politics, whereas the environment is neither left wing or right wing, frankly. The environment is the environment; it’s Mother Earth we’re talking about.”
The idea is that the Greens would be more effective in pushing environmental policy if they stuck to that, and got rid of their insistence on left-wing socio-economic policy. This way, it is suggested, they would have a better chance of being able to find room for compromise and cooperation with National. Other Green parties in countries like Germany have been willing to form coalition governments with right-wing parties.
The Greens’ usual response is to give reasons why environmental justice and socio-economic justice (or environmental sustainability and socio-economic sustainability) are inextricably linked. Ever since they were the Values Party they’ve pushed both, and they don’t intend to stop now.
Another response could be to say that New Zealand is not Germany. Germany has a democratic socialist party called The Left which pushes left-wing policy even if the centre-left parties (the Greens and the SDP) don’t—even if they form grand coalitions with the centre-right. In New Zealand, the Alliance and Mana have disappeared as left voices in Parliament. Moreover, Labour kickstarted neo-liberalism and haven’t really repented from it. Until Labour make a significant change from Clark/Blair-esque compromise to Corbyn-esque social democracy, the Greens are the only party significantly trying to push New Zealand in a leftward direction.
However, both of these responses to the challenge accept the terms of the challenge (like Labour accepted the terms of National’s “dead cat” “fiscal hole” challenge). These responses accept the assumption that it’s the Greens’ left-wing socio-economic stance that blocks them from working with National, and that they’d be able to find common ground on the environment.
However, I don’t think this is correct. Certainly the Greens’ socio-economic stances—making welfare more of a livable UBI and less of a punitive control mechanism; raising tax on the rich and introducing it for property investors; returning the minimum wage to 2/3 of the average wage; reducing imprisonment—are all basically the opposite of what the Key-English government have done. However, I think Bill English is actually more likely to accept these policies than to accept Greens’ environmental policies. If Bill could be convinced these socio-economic policies are good “social investment”, he could get behind them. Of course, he won’t. (This is largely because National’s vision of “social investment” is so limited by a pathologically individualist mindset, and so tantamount to Minority Report in its instinct to control the risk factors rather than healing the determinants.) But it’s not outside the realms of possibility.
The Greens’ environmental policies, on the other hand, would require National to actually seriously challenge farm owners, drilling/mining companies, and other capitalists. Currently the costs of these capitalists’ activities are largely falling on the environment, and therefore on the present and future public. The Greens want to stop these business activities destroying our shared home by preventing and internalising these external costs. They’ll ban some unjustifiably polluting business activities, such as drilling or mining or exploring for more fossil fuels at a time when even burning the fossil fuels already dug up will make the Paris target impossible. They’ll tax other business activities for their pollution—making those who produce the costs pay the costs, instead of externalising them. And they’ll use the tax revenue to clean up the damage and to subsidise farmers and other businesses moving to more sustainable ways of doing business.
Do you really see National doing that? The party whose base is farm owners and other capitalists? The party that think climate change is only an issue for “elites”, and that it’s not a “pressing concern”, and that we should adapt to climate change rather than mitigating it? The party who scaremongered on a small water tax for some big farms that are currently destroying the quality of Aotearoa’s awa and wai?3
So how should the Greens respond to this “helpful suggestion” to the Greens—and this implicit congratulation of National for their supposed hypothetical willingness to “green up”?
Well, I wonder if they should make an offer to National this election: If you let us have our way with the environment, we’ll give you confidence and supply to do everything else you want to do as the Government for the next three years. We’d pass a zero carbon act and introduce the Greens’ policies for actually getting to zero carbon. We’d follow the Greens’ ideas to clean up our rivers instead of pretending National and the “hard-working farmers“4 already have the issue under control. We’d build sustainable transport instead of roads, roads, and more roads.
National would refuse this offer. And then maybe people would stop trying to make the teal deal happen. Or at least realise it’s not Green stubbornness stopping it happening. It’s National’s near-total lack of concern for the environment.
- Special votes are extremely unlikely to change the basic possibilities. ↑
- Someone who can always be bothered finding, listing and summarising examples is my hero Bryce Edwards who has subsequently done one of his legendary political round-ups on the teal deal. ↑
- These points I’m making are not new—here‘s basically the same point made three years ago on the No Right Turn blog. ↑
- It was shrewd of National to portray criticism of National’s record on rivers as criticism of farmers who are working hard to clean up rivers, because it’s deeply ingrained in the NZ psyche to pretend we’re really farmers at heart. We all lie about being the rural type. ↑
Election results: disappointment and anger
After the last election I wrote a blog entitled I was wrong. This time I was right, but I’m not happy about that, because what I was right about was basically that the polls would be pretty accurate.
I’m expecting special votes will be slightly favourable to the Greens and/or Labour at the expense of National, but it won’t be enough to change the basic configurations and possibilities.
So the result is about what we could have expected from recent polls and past polling accuracy. But of course this is a big disappointment for me and everyone who leans to the left, especially because slightly-less-recent polls were more positive for Labour vs. National. Those polls got our hopes up that we would have government change.
The main thing I’m devastated about is the Māori party being driven out of government, and I mainly blame Labour for that. Two kaupapa Māori parties have been driven out of Parliament in the last two elections. Of course, this is partly because of their decisions to sit at tables with rich white men. But it’s also partly because they’ve been taken out by their political opponents. I know that’s politics (and Te Ururoa himself helped defeat Hone last election), but it’s sad. The Māori party were an effective voice for Māori and for justice, and they held the major parties to account on Te Tiriti, which needs to happen. They were the best part of the National-led government and they would have been a good part of a Labour-led government.
Once again I’m angry at the undemocraticness of the 5% threshold for representation. The thousands of party votes TOP and Māori received mean those parties deserve a few seats between them: those party votes should be worth as much as party votes for the big parties. But the threshold (and their failure to qualify for the local-seat exemption) blocks those parties from getting those seats, because of the Electoral Commission’s undemocratic fear of a “proliferation of small parties” with extremist views. And yet ACT survives again because they & National use the local vote to their advantage.
The incoming government: hopes and fears
We don’t know yet what the government will look like, except that it will be some combination of just the four big parties (National has already cast David Seymour aside). While a Labour-NZ First-Green govt is technically possible, it would be a bit of a poisoned chalice for Labour and the Greens: firstly because a lot of people would (rightly or wrongly) consider this government illegitimate, and secondly because they’d have to work with Winston Peters. A National-Green government is also technically possible, but National would have to give some pretty enormous concessions for the Greens to decide the situation has changed and they’re now willing to risk electoral suicide by working with National.
On the whole, I’d be extremely surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be National-NZ First.1 We’ll have to wait and see what a National-NZ First government will look like. We’ll get some clues with coalition negotiations, and find out the rest over the next three long years.
They’re both terrible parties, so their government could be doubly terrible. But my hope is that since they’re terrible in different ways, they could somewhat cancel out each other’s terribleness. E.g. National are too committed to globalisation (for the sake of capitalism) to go too far in appeasing Winnie’s anti-immigrant sentiments. And NZ First are far more economically left-leaning than National,2 so they could hopefully stop National from going too far on neoliberalism. A bunch of things that were passed over the last nine years by National, ACT and Peter Dunne were opposed by NZ First. There is precedent for NZ First holding National to account on its extreme capitalism, such as in the 90s when the minimum wage was not increased during the whole term of the Bolger government until NZ First forced them to increase it in 1997. So I think there is some hope that this government will be not as bad as the government over the last three terms has been.
Secondly, there’s some hope that private members’ bills from the left will be taken over the line by NZ First. For example, it’s possible that a zero carbon by 2050 law could be passed this term.
Thirdly, there’s hope in the way the Overton window has shifted slightly leftward during this election campaign. Earlier on, it looked like it was shifting in a worrying immigrant-scapegoating direction, but the Greens repented of their immigration stance, Labour toned theirs down, National didn’t join in,3 and NZ First somewhat fizzled. The political conversation became more about issues that matter: poverty, homelessness, housing unaffordability, and river water quality (sadly, climate change not enough).
And I think there is some hope that this government will do at least something on these issues. Under Key, National’s line on these issues was basically “there’s no issue”, but under English it’s more like “there is an issue and we’ve got it under control”—not a dramatic difference but an important one. And there are some signs National are starting to actually act on some of these issues. For example, they’ve done some encouraging Housing First experiments in Hamilton and Auckland and it would be great if they made this nationwide.4 And in Paddy Gower’s debate, English famously committed to lifting 100,000 kids out of poverty (even if they have been conveniently vague on what poverty measure he’s using). If this happens, great. If not, it’s something to hold them to account for.5
My biggest fear is that NZ First will push National to revive its policy to abolish the Māori seats. It’s still their policy to do to this eventually, but it’s on hold because “now is not the right time” (translation: we have a government arrangement with the Māori party). Bill English has already said this won’t happen, and I don’t want to believe that he’d do it. He’s seemed quite different to Don Brash on te Tiriti and te ao Māori (and on basic human decency), but Bill English has disappointed me quite a bit over the last few months.
Last but not least, I also have hope that there will be a strong Labour-Green government in three years time. Hopefully Labour has got its act together more by then and is more Corbynite than it is now.
- Though Winnie will milk his technical queenmaker powers to gain maximum concessions out of National. ↑
- I see NZ First as roughly 2/3 Trump and 1/3 Sanders. ↑
- Not out of concern for immigrants so much as concern for immigrants’ low-wage employers, in my opinion. ↑
- Housing First is quite a radical reversal of the currently dominant mindset of having a bunch of conditions and sanctions in exchange for any welfare support. It gives an unconditional roof over the head first. Any state involvement in trying to change people’s lives comes after this, and isn’t a condition for having a roof over the head. And it works – it basically eliminates rough sleeping. ↑
- However, a third option is probably more likely: they’ll find a measure that allows them to say that they’ve met their target, even though the opposition and pretty much everyone else will say it hasn’t happened. They’ll continue to insist they’re right next election, as they did with the 11 billion dollar hole this time. ↑