Dr Kennedy Graham, Green Party spokesman on foreign affairs, recently had an op-ed published in the Auckland Herald: ‘Why Green isn’t just a shade of red?’ Basically, he argues that the NZ voter is wrong to place the Greens as being left of Labour on the political spectrum. His gist is that sustainability and environmental preservation are (or rather should and could be) concerns of everyone, no matter what their political orientation. His argument is that in some way, Green policy lies outside the standard spectrum of the political rainbow and could equally well be inserted between any of its coloured layers.
He then goes on to point out that the NZ Green Party has four principles in its charter: ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision-making, and non-violence. To date, the Green Party’s argument has been that its four principles are indivisible – that all have to be supported for its key tenet of ecological responsibility to be maintained.
As a general rule, the New Zealand electorate is middle-of-the-road, pragmatic, peace-loving, appreciative of the natural environment, willing to give everyone in society a fair go and not unduly given to political philosophising. On the extreme right, you will always find those who are unduly eager to participate in wars, whose instinctive desire is to accrue all political power to the centre and who care for little other than their personal gain, whether or not it be achieved at the expense of their fellow citizens or of future generations. Were this group ever to achieve political power it would conduct itself with a disregard for the wishes of the majority in much the same way as would those on the extreme left, whose policies represent the mirror opposite of these of the extreme right.
The problem for the Greens is that, whereas the vast majority of New Zealanders would vote in support of ‘ecological responsibility,’ the interpretations of ‘social responsibility,’ ‘appropriate decision-making’ and ‘non-violence’ leave too many open questions. If, as Dr Graham argues, the environment is a concern of such overwhelming importance that it stands outside the dust-storm of routine political debate, then its advocacy is more likely to be successful if it is unhampered by any other political baggage. In fact, environmental concern has not yet reached the unique status of concern in the average voter’s mind that it occupies in that of Green voters – but it will surely do so in the near future.
So where to from here? At the moment, we have a surfeit of political parties each offering a florist shop’s package of policies bundled together to attract the voter’s eye. Finally, after a couple of decades of MMP, New Zealand’s democracy has come to the sorry point where just one party has successfully seized the middle ground and can exercise political power unrestrained by a coherent opposition. Political debate is no longer in Parliament but is confined to a cabal of cabinet ministers, in which whoever proves to be primus inter pares can rule according to personal whim. The most recent general election has within it the potential for a significant wrong-turn.
Urgently, the country needs to rebuild a parliamentary opposition. In the day of modern mass communication and pop-star politics, this should not be based around policies, but around air-brushable personalities. The two central parties of National and Labour should strive to outdo each other in uncontroversial middle-of-the-road, steady as she goes, policies that appeal to the vast majority of New Zealand voters. Their policies should be virtually indistinguishable. It is to these attractive personalities that the constituency votes should be given.
In contrast, the party vote should go to a multitude of single issue parties of which the Green’s issue of environmental concern should be one. No other baggage need be attached. Then, the central parties, whether they be in or out of power, can decide for themselves which minor party flower they wish to pick and add to the bouquet of policies they are offering to the electorate.
Not many elections away, as climate change encroaches on the global economy, whichever of the major parties is in power, will be falling over itself to add the Green’s environmental expertise and reputation to its policy package.