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Matthew Hooton: Ultra-left seeks Green takeover

COMMENT:

If National is alarmed by last week‘s leaked poll putting it on 29 per cent, the Greens should be horrified by their 5 per cent.

National going under 30 per cent would cost it 20 seats, a worse debacle even than 2002 when it lost 12, but it would survive. The Greens going below 5 per cent would put it out of Parliament altogether, triggering its disintegration.

The party‘s centrists, personified by male co-leader James Shaw, blame the poor polling on its divisions becoming public after former female co-leader Metiria Turei‘s 2017 welfare speech.

In particular, they lament that year‘s rise of GreenLeft – now the party‘s largest and most organised official faction – for propelling Marama Davidson into the female co-leadership over Shaw‘s preferred candidates, veteran environmentalist and now Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and urban planner turned Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter.

They say the party has become overly focused on anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, anti-whiteness and transgenderism. Even iconic 1970s feminists have found themselves unwelcome for doubting whether women with penises should have the same access to female-only spaces as women with vaginas.

Administratively, the rise of Jacinda Ardern attracted not just Green voters to Labour, but also its top staffers, including Andrew Campbell, Holly Donald and Leah Haines.

But Shaw must take his own share of responsibility for the party‘s potential demise.

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Shaw learned his environmentalism at PwC and HSBC. After 12 years in London and only four back in Wellington, he entered Parliament in 2014. Just months later, he became male co-leader. He talked a big game, of the Greens targeting 28 per cent of voters, including by emphasising “our economic credibility, our ability to run the government and leadership”. From the get-go, his focus was on multi-party consensus on climate change.

The party has loyally gone along with his strategy, culminating in last year‘s Zero Carbon Act being backed by National, Labour, NZ First and the Greens, with only Act opposed.

But, in doing so, the Greens have removed their main point of difference, at least for voters primarily motivated by climate change. If National, Labour, NZ First and the Greens all have the same climate-change policy – based around the new Climate Change Commission and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – then why shouldn‘t such voters just take their pick?

Not unreasonably, GreenLeft argues the party needs to offer much more.

GreenLeft‘s values, in fact, align much better with the original movement than Shaw‘s.

The foundational documents of the New Zealand green movement are the Values Party‘s 1972 blueprint and its manifesto in 1975, the year it won 5 per cent of the vote even under First Past the Post.

The Greens going below 5 per cent would put it out of Parliament altogether, triggering its disintegration. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Those documents‘ 1970s language would be insufficiently woke even for today‘s NZ First.

Nevertheless, they clearly and unapologetically outline an anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist agenda, and even worry about gender issues, lamenting that “children are taught concepts of masculinity and femininity which encourage boys to be adventurous, curious and rough [and] girls to be decorative, helpful and clean”.

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Pollution and other environmental concerns, global and domestic inequality, educational failure and crime were not problems per se but symptoms of the wider disease, the “economic machine”.

That machine, Values said, should be replaced by an economic system “based on co-operation and sharing” to promote “non-material needs such as friendship, play, self-expression, a sense of individual identity, social approval, self-esteem, and peace of mind.”

To this end, “population growth, economic growth and use of resources must be restricted”. Prisons and the prevailing drugs laws were condemned.

In retrospect, it is easy to see why some green activists became embarrassed by supporting Mao‘s Cultural Revolution and Pol Pot‘s agrarian socialism before their inevitable implications were revealed.

GreenLeft‘s “kaupapa statement” is the true heir of Values‘ original vision. The primary focus is “an anti-capitalist stance and critique of power”. “Colonial power structures,” it says, need “dismantling”, presumably including the current parliamentary, legal and correctional systems.

Capitalism involves “inherent violence” and is “a base from which systems of oppression, hierarchy and division flow”. Consequently, “sustainable capitalism” makes no sense and market systems such as the ETS will never provide a “genuine solution” to climate change or other environmental problems.

Instead, slowing climate change must involve “the liberation of all people from oppression and coercion, including from economic coercion”. Specifically condemned are “pandering, conservatism, incrementalism [and] arbitrary constraints on the political imaginary”.

The Greens will be made electable, its party‘s biggest faction believes, only by publicly arguing for “a bold and radical left-wing platform”.

To this end, GreenLeft is advising party members not just that Shaw should be dispatched from the party list but also Sage and the allegedly bourgeois Chloe Swarbrick.

Even refugee and disability advocate Golriz Ghahraman would be given an unelectable position.

Top of the list would remain Davidson – GreenLeft‘s patron saint – and newcomers Teanau Tuiono, a UN indigenous rights worker, LGBTQ+ activist Elizabeth Kerekere, Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Ricardo Menéndez March, 18-year-old Manurewa climate striker Lourdes Vano and Oil Free Otago spokesman Jack Brazil.

The political mainstream may ridicule this lot and their “kaupapa statement”, but they would have been much more comfortable at a Values conference in 1975 than the likes of Shaw, who National or Labour would put on their list in an instant.

Moreover, like the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2007 global economic crisis, Covid-19 is seen by the ultra-left as both proof of the failure of capitalism and an opportunity to promote a radical alternative to those who will be affected by it. If only Covid-19 had hit a bit earlier, GreenLeft‘s friends in the UK and US might muse, the Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders projects may have succeeded.

Like Act, the Greens are not a median voter party. The mass unemployment, social breakdown and sheer misery that may be on top of us by September 19 might well offer them a chance to convince the required number of voters that a radical new direction is needed.

It certainly sounds more promising as an electoral strategy than Shaw telling voters how well he did getting Simon Bridges and Winston Peters to sign up to a new climate-change commission.

– Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based PR consultant and lobbyist

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