There are few things more boring than being snookered. I was writing this blog when the Guardian published a column on the same subject and with a similar conclusion.
Columnist Morgan Godfery, is a progressive political and labor activist currently employed as an academic at the University of Otago. Cooperation agreement with Toxic Labor for the Greens
I respect Godfery but I still continued to write because our analyzes are not quite the same. He compares the Greens now with when the events that led to the resignation of former co-leader Metiria Turei (along with James Shaw) happened over four years ago.
In my opinion, he over-glorifies Turei’s role at the time, does not consider the biggest loss of support suffered by the Greens in the polls immediately after the first good result he refers to, and does not recognize the leadership of uphill battle the Greens caught Shaw impressively provided in the ensuing 2017 general election.
But I agree with Godfery’s overall assessment of the current position of the Greens and its link to the co-operation agreement with Labour. It’s toxic to them.
The cooperation agreement
Following the October 2020 general election, although he was able to form a majority government in the 53rd Parliament, Labor has negotiated a cooperation agreement with the Greens. It was done quickly and without acrimony.
The deal provided for the two Green co-leaders Shaw and Marama Davidson (Turei’s successor) to become ministers outside the Cabinet. Shaw continued as Minister of Climate Change and also became Associate Minister of Environment (Biodiversity). Davidson became Minister of Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Associate Minister of Housing.
Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson
The main areas of cooperation between the two parties are climate, environment and child and community welfare issues. The Greens have pledged to support Labor on procedural motions in Parliament, including select committees, and not to oppose it on confidence and supply issues.
The deal appears to have received strong endorsement from Greens members in 2020, but earlier this month strong signs of internal dissent emerged over how it was affecting their party’s effectiveness.
The most recent point of contention was the Labor Party’s decision in late December to postpone publication of the emissions reduction plan until May, when it was originally scheduled for the end of 2021.
Shaw and Davidson both staunchly defended the deal during a Writing interview. Co-leaders defend Labor deal
Currently, polls more or less have Labor leading the National by around 8-9% and the right-wing ACT slightly ahead of the Greens (both around 10-11%). Until last September, the Labor Party was well ahead. But since his misstep in lowering Auckland’s Covid-19 alert lockdown levels too soon and his subsequent poorly communicated U-turn on his previously successful strategy of eliminating community transmission.
This Labor hemorrhage accelerated with National’s replacement of its unpopular leader Judith Collins with Christopher Luxon in December. In summary, Labor is down although perhaps stabilizing, National is largely up at the expense of the down ACT, and Greens are up slowly at Labour’s expense.
If an election were based on these polls, we would have a Labor-Green coalition with a comfortable but not overwhelming majority and a strong right-wing opposition. This suggests that Godfery’s assessment of the co-op deal as toxic to the Greens is premature.
Loss of green voice
But is Godfery premature to make this call? I do not think so. It wasn’t just the Labor vote that bled from a very high peak. The gap between the two main potential coalitions has also narrowed slowly but steadily, especially since last September to stand at around 6-7%. If this downward trend continues, Labor and the Greens have every reason to sweat.
A big problem with the co-op deal is that it failed to deliver tangible, visible gains for the Greens that would make a difference to people’s lives. But the problem had a worse effect; the silence of the political voice of the Greens.
Their co-leaders are mute and this has trickled down to its deputies. They have several capable MPs with impressive track records, particularly in the area of environment and social justice. But they are keeping too low a profile.
On climate change, it’s hard to tell the Greens from Labor despite Jacinda Ardern’s promise during the 2017 election campaign to be transformational, especially on this vital issue. His government has simply not been transformational, undermining the credibility of the Greens.
The Greens have less political presence than the ACT which they need to redress. They are taken for granted by the Labor leadership. Godfery’s Guardian column was stimulated by the growing internal dissatisfaction of the members.
Unless the Greens regain their voice, this discontent will corrode like rust, driving a downward spiral of confidence like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
New green shoots
Withdrawing from a cooperation agreement does not mean withdrawing from a cooperative relationship on specific issues. The Greens have done this in the past with the Labor government of Helen Clark and, to a lesser extent, in the early National Government.
But giving up the two ministerial portfolios would free up the Greens, including their co-leaders, to give much more public voice in areas such as climate change, conservation, housing, incomes and social justice where they are. more progressive than Labour. Nor should the Greens be locked into the procedural conduct of Labor in Parliament, including select committees.
If the Greens were to take this approach (dropping the deal and regaining their voice), they would become much more effective and publicly credible on these and other issues.
Voice is more effective and transformational than silence. It’s time for some green voices to grow.
Ian Powell was executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the professional union representing senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand, for over 30 years until December 2019. He is now a health systems commentator , labor market and political living in the small river estuary community of Otaihanga (the place by the tide). First published on Political Bytes