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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Will the gutted Greens go blue?

Bryce Edwards
Sat, 04 Oct 2014
The Greens are quietly grieving at the moment over their hugely disappointing election result [UPDATE: the Greens picked up a seat on specials]. There are also suggestions that their setback could push the Greens to reconsider their ideological positioning, perhaps with the idea of adding a more bluesh tint to their supposedly red-green hue. Plenty of unsolicited advice is being provided to the party, in an apparent attempt to help with their post-election soul searching. Much of it is suggesting that the future lies with a shift towards the centre of the political spectrum. Today the New Zealand Herald devoted its editorial to advocating that the party become truly ‘independent’ – see: Greens need to reposition if they are going to thrive.
Duncan Garner makes an even stronger pitch in his blog post, Time for the Greens to go both ways. He points out the contradiction at the heart of the party’s voter base: ‘The Greens talk poverty and social justice, but the poor aren’t listening – and they’re certainly not voting for them. Look at these telling statistics from the poorest electorates in the country:  In Manurewa, in the crucial party vote, just 868 people voted for the Greens; in Manukau East it was just 744; in Mangere, it was just 865.  Now look at the two most wealthy suburbs in NZ:  In Epsom, the Greens got 3415 votes; in Wellington Central, they got 8627 party votes, more than Labour’s 7351; in Auckland Central the Greens got 4584 votes, compared to Labour’s 4758’. Garner advocates that ‘the Greens need to evolve and be open to formally supporting a National Government’.
In terms of detailing and examining the Greens’ 2014 electoral performance, the single best account is David Farrar’s Challenges for the Greens this term. After showing which electorates the Greens did best in – urban middle-income ones – Farrar discusses how the party might break out of perpetual opposition: ‘If National gets a fourth term, then that is 21 years in opposition. And because Labour knows they can’t ever not support Labour, Labour might lock them out in future again, if a party like NZ First demands it… The Greens need to find a way to credibly say under some circumstances they could abstain on a National-led Government, so that Labour can’t take them for granted. The challenge is to do it in a way which won’t send their own supporters fleeing’.
For other reports on Green voter support, see Isaac Davison’s Universities vote for change and the ODT’s Soul-searching for the Greens
What went wrong with the 2014 campaign?
Most commentary on the Greens’ performance in the election gives the party credit for running a very professional and smooth campaign. Even Mike Hosking has some praise: ‘The Greens I feel dreadful for, they ran a good campaign. Russel Norman didn't talk about printing money once. They seemed organised and on-message and the polling had them higher than ever.  They must be gutted’ – see: The secret to John Key's success
But according to one blogger, Fundamentally Useless, the campaign was weaker than usual, and the messages were muddled – especially the ‘Love New Zealand billboards – see: Greens 2014: What went wrong? Many others have criticised the ‘Love New Zealand’ branding.
Was the Green advertising too vacuous? Leftwing blogger Scott Hamilton certainly thinks so. He put forward a scathing critique during the campaign: ‘the Green Party is once again filling billboards and newspapers and facebook messages with soft focus images of kids and flowers and fluffy doggies and hard-hitting slogans like 'For a New Zealand to be proud of'.  I find the Greens' deliberate inoffensiveness considerably more offensive than the campaigning of the nasty right’ – see: Cute kids, and other enemies of democracy. Hamilton argued that the warm fuzzies of the Greens obscured a more conservative reality of the party.
Certainly the Greens have been presenting a more economically centrist and orthodox programme to voters lately. The party has cut back on its more radical policies and stressed its moderate economic programme. Co-leader Russel Norman even came out stressing that the Greens were more pro-market than National – see Hamish Rutherford's Greens pro-market: Russel Norman. Fiscal conservatism and tax cuts had Gordon Campbell wondering what had happened to the Greens – and he published an excellent in-depth interview with Russel Norman about some the Greens’ repositioning – see: Into the mainstream.
Are the Greens too ambiguous?
The Greens’ orientation towards National continues to be fraught and ambiguous. The party appears to have a deliberately vague policy on whether they could work in a National-led government. Officially the position is that such an outcome is ‘very unlikely’ – this is a message that aims to satisfy both those on the left that wouldn’t want such a coalition, but also leaves hopes for those that might want a teal-coloured coalition. 
Certainly the Greens muddied the water even more in the last two weeks of the campaign, giving confusing signals about whether the party was getting ready to work more closely with National. This was obviously designed to increase Green support amongst more centrist voters, but probably had the effect of losing votes. Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan – who’s married to the Greens’ chief spin-doctor – has argued this damaged the party, saying that they ‘sent out confusing messages about their relationship with National during the final weeks of the campaign (My wife insists these messages were misreported.)’ – see: Inevitable Labour pontification post. Mclauchlan elaborates with anedoctoral evidence: ‘I was dropping my daughter off at creche and a very upset teacher ran up to me and demanded to know why the Greens were supporting National. Multiply her out thousands of times across the country and you’re looking at serious damage’.
Nonetheless, the Greens have got a new MP – James Shaw – and he appears to be not only a potential future co-leader, but likely to push the party in a more centrist diection – see Derek Cheng’s Suit turns to activism
Could the blues go green?
The response of many on the left has been stridently against the idea of the Greens becoming bluer. The mantra seems to be a repeat of the fashion advice: ‘Blue and green should never been seen’. See, for example, No Right Turn’s Fundamental incomprehension II
If the Green Party isn’t keen on a future teal-coloured coalition, could the party of blue become greener? Certainly it seems that National is now giving more attention to environmental issues. But its reform of the Resource Management Act will be the real test.
But could a brand new environmental party emerge to act as a more centrist or even ‘blue’ Green Party? Gareth Morgan has thrown the cat amongst the (native) pigeons suggesting that it’s Time for a Bluegreen Party. Here’s his main point: ‘the most frustrating aspect of the election result is the entrenched inability of the Green Party to grasp that the environmental message is something that appeals to middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just Lefties.  Sadly the Green Party’s policies for environmental sustainability have always come with a nasty fishhook – the out-dated edict that social justice can only be achieved by rehashed socialism. This has rendered the Green Party a real melon to mainstream New Zealand – a watermelon to be precise, far too red on the inside for middle New Zealand to stomach’.
For more discussion of these arguments, see William Taylor’s Blue Green party: background reading and Fundamentally useless’ The Greens can take blue votes without going blue. And for a discussion of why so few Chinese New Zealanders support the Greens, see Bevan Chuang’s Migrant Chinese and New Zealand Politics
Finally, for a visual survey of how the Greens campaigned and were perceived in 2014, see my aggregation of various Green photos, advertising and cartoons in Images of the Greens in 2014
Bryce Edwards
Labour leadership
Toby Manhire (Herald): Roll up for NZ's maddest show
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Nash may yet go for leadership
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): Just shut up
Jono Natusch (Occassionally Erudite): Labour being damaged by uncertainty - O'Connor
Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): Ardern coy on deputy rumours
Isaac Davison (Herald): Former MP Judith Tizard backs Price
Claire Trevett (Herald): Rules tighten for Labour's run-off
Slightly Left of Centre: New Zealand needs a gay Prime Minister
Steve Braunias (Stuff): Stumbling through defeat
Cameron Chalmers (Stuff): Labour needs to look to non-voters
Karl du Fresne (Stuff): Left rendered irrelevant?
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Challenges for the Greens this term
Nevil Gibson (NBR): Editor's Insight: Is the Green vote up for grabs? (paywalled)
Slightly left of centre: A New Zealand teal party
National Party
Brent Edwards (Radio NZ): National keeping to the Centre
Keith Rankin (Daily Blog): National Party Spice Boys
Greg Presland (The Standard): New Zealand’s brighter future
Slightly Left of Centre: MEANWHILE IN THE REAL WORLD…
Auckland transport
No Right Turn: A panopticon in Auckland
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Volunteers sought for Kiwiblog
Susan Wood (Newstalk ZB): Some questions to end the week
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Abortion rights around the world
Guyon Espiner (Listener): Losing the voice (paywalled)
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Criticised diplomat back on party duty
Audrey Young (Herald): All-out effort to put NZ at top table
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Herald on ISIS
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Press on offence
Liz Banas (Radio NZ): Changing the Resource Management Act
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Advice for new MPs
Bryce Edwards
Sat, 04 Oct 2014
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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Will the gutted Greens go blue?