Friday, February 26, 2016
Damn the poll, the real future is Green!
When I first became a member of the Green Party I was very sensitive to dropping polls and negative media. Within a year of joining Rod Donald died and the party had slumped to just over 5% in the 2005 election (losing 3 MPs). Political pundits were predicting a dire future for the party without Rod's charismatic leadership and the members were feeling a little battered and fragile.
Over ten years later the party is far more resilient. The predictions of doom and gloom did not eventuate and Rod's replacement, Russel Norman, while lacking in Rod's personable style forged his own legacy by giving the Greens greater economic credibility and helped to refine the Party's image and messaging. The Green Party became a serious political player and was even referred to as the "real opposition" when Labour struggled through a series of leadership changes.
Over the past three elections the Green party has more than doubled its votes (increasing numbers every time), brought in 13 new MPs (currently 14 in total) and has had three leadership changes without any loss of support. Immediately after the 2014 election one poll had us on 17.5% and we have been averaging over 10% across all polls for the last 6 years.
The Green Party now has a solid party machine, we have steadily growing membership numbers and employ more people outside parliament than ever before. We even raised more money than Labour for the last election campaign (more than double what we had raised for 2011).
Already this year the Green Party has received wide support for Metiria's suggestion in her first speech that Treasury should independently cost the election policies put forward by the main parties for the 2017 election. Gareth Hughes' reply to the Prime Minister's speech was one of the last (to a largely empty House) and yet it has gone viral on Facebook and You Tube. The speech is currently approaching 40,000 views, making it the most popular parliamentary speech this year by a wide margin. The Roy Morgan poll for the first half of February had the Green Party at 14.5%, the highest of any poll for over a year.
Immediately following the strong Roy Morgan poll was a One News Colmar Brunton result that had us on 8%. As has happened in the past with the Green Party, the pundits have leapt to some incredible conclusions while ignoring the margin of error and all the other indicators of the Party's health.
Chris Trotter suggested the possible demise of the Party and predicted a shift of Green voters to Labour. He ignores the fact that when Labour and the Greens had their best joint results leading into the 2014 election, both parties did well. It is quite clear that over the past 6 years the Greens have forged a strong 9-10% base of loyal supporters that are unlikely to desert the party so readily when there has been no obvious catalyst for this to occur. When both parties are performing strongly they don't steal votes from each other, they come from dissatisfied National supporters.
What the voters didn't get in 2014 was a viable alternative to National. No matter how bad National was (as revealed in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics), voters were concerned at Labour's many leadership changes and its stubborn refusal to work with the Greens.
New Zealand First is seen by some as a more centrist and safer coalition partner for Labour, but this view is highly flawed. New Zealand First is a personality based party and when Winston grabs headlines with his rollicking style of populist politics, it polls well (although generally half that of the Greens). New Zealand First hasn't got a strong volunteer base and is unpredictable. Ron Mark's deposing of Tracey Martin as deputy leader pushed aside one of New Zealand First's more credible performers and he himself is seen as a loose cannon. If anything happens to Winston, what is left?
The Green MPs form a disciplined and experienced team with sensible, independently costed policies and is supported by strong volunteer numbers and effective organisation (the Greens led the signature gathering for the asset sale referendum). If Labour wants success in 2017 it needs to accept that most of the media and the polls refer to the Labour/Greens as the Government in waiting and it is that combination the majority of existing members and potential supporters prefer. The grass root membership of both parties are already working together on local campaigns as we are doing in Invercargill with our efforts to stop the sale of our state houses.
Labour has to treat the Greens with more respect than it has done before, it is no longer a minor party and any future coalition will not be similar to National's coalition relationship with Act and the Maori Party. It is quite likely that we will never have another "Labour led" government as in the Helen Clark years, the MMP configurations and voter loyalties have shifted substantially since then. The next progressive government that will be faced with repairing another National Government's mess will need to feature a stronger Green influence and a more cooperative coalition.
The necessary shift to a more sustainable, and kinder economy and addressing our environmental and social crises are what the Greens have been campaigning on since our formation and where we have already developed evidence based solutions. Both Labour and our country need the Green Party.