Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Are the Greens really on the extreme left?
The Green Party's place on the left/right political continuum seems to be part of an ongoing media debate and it appears that our choice of male leader will be another indication of our positioning. According to Chris Trotter the moderates within the party have effectively shut out the true left. I have been an active Green Party member for over ten years and yet I have never seriously anguished over where we should be on a political spectrum and have always just focused on our principles and core policies.
If you talked to a range of people regarding their definition of what is meant by the left and right of politics you will get as many different responses as the people you ask. John Key would say that the Greens represent the extreme left and this is really political spin. He is attempting to label the Greens as a political outlier that doesn't support mainstream or proven solutions. This is patently nonsense when his own Government is more likely to disregard the advice from its own departmental advisors and commissioners than the Greens would.
The Greens have challenged National over the weak Alcohol Law Reform Bill and how it ignored many of the recommendations from the Law Commission. We have questioned the Government's idealistic approach to public/private partnerships and not following Treasury's considered advice on these funding models and we have challenged the Government's education policies by using professionally based arguments. The Greens have also supported the findings and recommendations of the Environment Commissioner and Children's Commissioner when they have been rejected or ignored by the Government that appointed them,
The issues that confront this country will not be solved by just applying supposed right-wing or left-wing philosophies, but by looking at the evidence, reviewing solutions, engaging in sound consultation and then making rational decisions that will be sustainable. It is quite possible that solutions could make use of market forces or government intervention, the best answers don't always come from using a left-wing or right-wing lens.
The worrying thing about National is that although they label themselves as centre-right, it actually isn't supported by any historic precedent in the New Zealand context. They are quite a different party from their rural and small business origins. They are now largely pro-corporate and include an element of popularism to maintain voter support (based on their endless opinion polls and large media team). National has only one farmer in the current top twenty of their list and there are only five farmers in the whole 2014 parliament (down from 13 in 1996). Steven Joyce and Todd McClay are the only two ministers who have any real experience in managing a business. Five of National's Ministers are lawyers, three were government servants and two came from local government. There is also a money trader, a woodwork teacher and and a public broadcaster in their top line up. National can no longer claim that it represents heartland New Zealand and conservative politics as it once did.
If the Green Party were to fit the label of extreme left then the backgrounds of their current 14 MPs hardly support that image. Three have managed their own businesses, James Shaw was a business consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Kevin Hague is an experienced CEO. Kennedy Graham is a past UN diplomat, Julie Anne Genter has a Masters in transport planning and Metiria Turei was a commercial lawyer. Jan Logie and Catherine Delahunty have strong social justice and community education experience and Eugenie Sage brings her substantial environmental management and regional councilor experience into the mix.
The green Party understands how the world operates at multiple levels from first hand experience and cannot be dismissed as pot smoking crazies. If we had managed to get our top twenty elected it would have included an NGO CEO, a sheep and beef farmer, a panel chair for the Glenn Inquiry and a high achieving young Maori man who was elected chair of his community board. The Green Party is not a party of dope addled activists operating on the fringe of society but a party of people who are actively involved in leadership roles in communities, in business, international politics and social justice.
Probably the major difference between the parties is the fact that the Greens aren't beholden to a huge number of corporate or business interests that compromise their decisions through their substantial donations. Our highly unregulated property market remains so because a number of National's backers and even National MPs have large property investments; the alcohol industry have a strong influence, hence the lack of action in limiting advertising and introducing sales restrictions; the Problem Gambling Foundation possibly had a funding cut because of National's close relationship with SkyCity; Judith Collins used her position to support her husband's business and still can't see an issue with it; Steven Joyce bailed out his old company with hardly a blink; and their caucus supported a $3 million rescue fund to an elite private school against advice. National clearly has a problem separating governance from their personal interests and keeping their largest backers happy. While some may say that this is just typical of the Right, I think it is more about ethics.
'Left-wing' and 'right-wing' now have so many potential definitions, and such a mixed history, that it almost seems a waste of energy to try and define what it means to most most people and have common agreement. To some the 'left' are all rabid communists and for others the 'right' are corrupt capitalists putting profit before people and the environment. While many voters may be influenced by the political spin and media commentary about where parties fit on a simplistic continuum it would be clear to any outsider that none of our politicians are particularly extreme compared to most other countries. We don't have parties that promote racial segregation or violent demonstrations. Jeanette Fitzsimons was considered a highly competent chair of a Select Committee as it progressed influential local government legislation; Rod Donald was a major influence in implementing and promoting MMP; Russel Norman led a joint party inquiry into New Zealand manufacturing; and Judith Collins agreed to look at Kevin Hague's rehabilitation plan to help sort out the ACC mess that National had created. The Greens have always had a progressive, reforming influence on New Zealand politics, not a destabilizing influence.
Perhaps we should be judging our politicians and parties by totally different measures and looked at things like ethics, vision and the ability to make good decisions based on transparent and sound process...or is that too radical?