Green anxiety about being locked out of government

Significant tensions between the Greens and NZ First resurfaced in the weekend, signalling that a Labour-led government might be less straightforward than the parties would have New Zealanders believe.

Can the Greens and NZ First work together in a Labour-led government after the election? There were a few signs in the weekend that tensions between the two parties are escalating, and a working relationship is in doubt.

Allegations of racism were thrown by the Greens at their supposed coalition-in-waiting allies. This brought about a sharp response from Winston Peters and his fellow MPs, who strongly hinted that such attacks on New Zealand First could lead to the Greens being locked out of a Labour-NZ First coalition government.

Green accusations of racism against NZ First
The allegations of racism in New Zealand First were made by co-leader Metiria Turei on both TV and at the party’s election campaign launch in Nelson. NZ First MP Tracey Martin (@TraceyMartinMP) responded on Twitter to say, “Six years of trying to work constructively just washed away in around six minutes. What a shame.” And in a tweet directed at Metiria Turei, said: “Tell you what @metiria, keep calling me a racist & you make it very difficult to sit at the table & believe it is mutually respectful.”

And Winston Peters put out a statement saying: "My warning to the Greens is don't call New Zealand First racist – an allegation that is spurious – and think there won't be consequences."

The incident is best covered by Claire Trevett in her article, “Turei said Peters had a ‘very racist approach to immigration’ and in her speech at the Green Party campaign launch yesterday launched into his "divisive" approach, saying a future Government which had only NZ First as a support partner would be ‘disastrous’.”

Peters has also hit back with his own accusations about race, saying the Greens are the real party of racial division, wanting to take New Zealand down “the pathway to racial separatism” – see TVNZ: NZ First hits back at Metiria Turei's comments on immigration approach, puts coalition into question.

Strains in the fledgling Labour-led coalition
Labour will be alarmed at the accusations of racism being thrown around among the parties they want to portray as a coalition-government-in-waiting. As Claire Trevett says in another article – Green Party's Metiria Turei 'racist' call riles NZ First's Winston Peters – this clash “is a break in an apparent entente cordiale between the Green Party and NZ First and will concern Labour.”

According to Trevett, Turei doesn’t level the same racism allegations against Labour for its clampdown on immigration (despite some similarities in Labour’s policies and arguments). Nonetheless, Labour leader Andrew Little is quoted in a way that suggests he wants Turei to lay off such allegations: “It is important that on the issue of immigration, as a country we need to be able to debate it as an issue without getting into allegations of racism and without assuming party's positions are racist positions. If we are going to assert racism, then that has to be explained."

So far, however, Turei has been unrepentant, saying about Peters: “If he continues with what I think is a very racist line then I will keep calling him out. It's my job to do in New Zealand politics." And she went on RNZ Morning Report today giving an interesting defence of her criticisms of NZ First – listen here: Greens co-leader defends her comments about NZ First.

Leftwing blogger and Green voter Martyn Bradbury expressed his despair at the Greens opening up such a fight with a prospective coalition partner: “The Greens today for their campaign launch just opened war with NZ First, which could either be the stupidest or smartest thing they’ve done to date. Attacking a NZ First plus Labour Party government as unacceptable was a strong position to take, but then to openly attack NZ First was so surprising that the actual audience didn’t know whether they should clap because they were in so much shock at this open declaration of war” – see: Ummmmmm, Green Party launch war on NZ First???

Bradbury argues that such “callouts” about racism are simply playing to Green Party activists who are less focused on economics and leftwing politics, and more about elite-style social liberalism: “The Greens are more middle class than ever, and middle-class identity politics have replaced environmental activism within the Greens. NZ First is an anathema to the cosmopolitan elitism that is the Wellington Twitter bubble that the Greens inhabit, so open warfare with NZ First is exactly the kind of dynamism the Greens need to try to inflame to prevent the obviousness of a NZ First-Labour minority government from occurring.” See also Bradbury’s latest post, A brief history of NZ First – Green Party antagonism and evaluating the Green kamikaze strategy against Winston.

In contrast, at The Standard, Anthony Robins calls it all a “minor blip on the electoral radar” and warns anyone from getting “too excited about this friction between possible coalition partners” – see: Peters posturing.

The Greens could threaten to prevent a change of government
At the centre of the tensions is the big question of whether a Labour-led government would lock the Greens out of involvement, at the behest of Winston Peters and his party. And according to Vernon Small, these tensions finally bubbled over yesterday – see his column, Another twist on the Greens' dilemma as Peters, Turei spark up.

Small describes this as the Greens “recurring nightmare: If Labour – as seems certain – needs Peters' NZ First to form a government, it will have every incentive to bow to any demand from Peters to leave them out of the cabinet – as he has before.” Quite simply, Labour’s MOU agreement with the Greens deliberately expires on election day, with Labour making absolutely no commitments to include the Greens in any coalition government with NZ First.

And NZ First has every reason to rule the Greens out. The Greens are essentially hostage to this situation – they have no leverage, given that they are committed to “changing the government” and have ruled out allowing National to govern. Therefore, the Greens have essentially pledged to give their votes to a Labour-led government, even if there are no Green ministers in the cabinet.

But, in Small’s column he also quotes Turei suggesting that the Green Party might yet rebel if they are locked out of government by Winston Peters. She says: “Any government that we support or are part of has to be genuinely progressive. We are not going to accept an inferior deal." And during the weekend, Turei also declared that a Labour-NZ First government without cabinet seats for her party would be “unacceptable."

So, Turei might even want the Greens to withhold their votes in Parliament – threatening to prevent a Labour-NZ First government from being able to govern. According to Small, “Her co-leader James Shaw has been privately musing on similar lines. Are they hinting at a possible abstention if Labour and NZ First deal them out?”

Such a threat would be, in Small’s view, “a high-risk strategy for the Greens but it is also high risk for Labour and NZ First if it gets that far.” And it would also risk the opprobrium of voters wanting a change of government, which they would expect the Greens to support, given the party is campaigning on an overt slogan of “Change the government.”

When asked on Twitter recently if the Greens would give confidence and supply to a Labour-NZ First government, Turei simply said “We wouldn’t know that till after the negotiations. Remember too that our party decides these things, not the caucus.” She wasn’t willing to give further indication of what she thought on the matter.

Toby Manhire also wrote about this issue last week, suggesting the likelihood of the Greens being locked out of government could increase with any continued rise of New Zealand First: “With the MOU expiring on election day, there is an entirely plausible scenario in which Labour and NZ First establish a minority coalition and seek support, with a few sweeteners, from the Greens. What are you going to do. The challenge would be, prop up another National government? Should NZ First gain further in the polls, and sail past the Greens to become third-biggest party, that likelihood only grows” – see: Time for Greens to get a bit crazy.

Much is still made of Andrew Little’s declaration earlier this year that his first post-election phone call about forming a new government would be to the Greens. However, reporting on this back in March, Vernon Small made the point that the phone call might not necessarily bring welcome news: “When that phone call comes and the Green co-leaders put it on speaker phone, there is still the chance it will bring only sorrow. "James, Met, Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news is I called you first. The bad news? Any jobs outside the cabinet I can interest you in?’.” – see: Andrew Little puts Winston Peters, Greens on his dance card - and tries to pair them for a twirl.

Finally, it’s also worth going back a year, to another earlier prediction piece that relates to what might come out of the Labour-NZ First-Greens negotiations – see Tracy Watkins’ Arise Sir Winston, Prime Minister of New Zealand?

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