Labour leader Phil Goff tossed off another election strip-tease item yesterday; underneath was something green
Something old, something new, something borrowed …
Goff’s headline-grabbing $5,000 “tax-free zone” in his speech yesterday has been Green party policy since oh, I don’t know, the party entered Parliament probably. Rod Donald used to talk about it. More recently Turei proposed $10,000 tax-free.
Goff talked about “clean tech”, and “owning our own future”, “keeping Kiwi land in Kiwi hands”.
In November, David Cunliffe gave a speech of his own, to the Greens’ economic conference: ‘A Sustainable Economy for New Zealand’. He waxed lyrical about bees and tilth; he hummed the “clean”, “green”, “low carbon”, “clean tech” mantra. Calling them “personal observations” and “personal reflections”, he hinted at a new sustainably-grounded policy:
“The Labour Party now recognises that the neo-liberal economic model cannot provide the basis for navigating the economic, environmental and social challenges of our times.”
And, “We must live within the capacity of the Earth to support us. ... The Earth is not just there for human utility.”
And, “If the situation is as serious as we think, we must do the hard yards to back out of this corner … We have to ask the hard questions; ask what policies are available to get us from a collision course with nature to a future that is both more just and more sustainable.”
He smiled, like a charming gentleman, with sandy-coloured whiskers.
Goff’s conservative instincts will keep Labour safe on home ground for a while yet: it’s the middle, swinging voters he needs, and his labour base.
It’s clear from his speech yesterday, and every other tax policy comment, that Labour is still quite focused on the average-income earners, apologising more for the bracket creep and the black tax policy hole the childless among us fell into, than the inequality. The gap exposed by Working for Families, that didn’t help
beneficiaries -- “the more you needed it, the less you got,” you might almost have said in 2005 -- is still big enough for the Greens.
Goff can dress up as Robin Hood, if it suits him. The Greens will just be greener, more socially conscientious: the pricking conscience of the marriage. That is their political job. This is not new.
They’ve cultivated a habit in their political lifetime: happy, or resigned, to sow the seeds of change (waste minimisation, home insulation, energy efficiency and conservation), and watch somebody else reap the political harvest.
But, with Labour nicking their flagship policies, what defines the Greens? They do have a point of real difference from Labour, a card that, to date, they have failed to play well. It gets obscured by other, shall we say, issues of conscience and conviction.
They are, or ought to be, the party that puts sustainability first, unlike either right or left -- that says consumption-based growth is a failed policy, and we need a new one. By contrast, Cunliffe may be "asking himself the hard questions", but his party’s official policy is still giving the growth-based answers.
Some of the Green MPs, too, speak this language more explicitly and fluently than others -- which may or may not be a point of difference among them, or just a matter of emphasis.
Meanwhile, tom-toms and hearts are a-beating for the McCarten / Bradford / Harawira alliance: a party of the true left. An alliance -- The Alliance redux -- without the Greens, this time, and Jim Anderton of course. I am expecting any minute to hear that Laila Harre has finished building super-Auckland, and has new plans.
Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury, Tumeke blogger, is its most ardent public supporter. I wondered, briefly, if he had stopped to count -- and breathe -- to really analyse the likelihood of this turning out an otherwise sulky non-vote, instead of just shifting votes, from Labour and other allies, Green and Maori.
He says (approximately) that any motley crew of the left is better than the spectre of the second-term ‘mandate’; that come the second term, Key will lose or loose hold of his colleagues.
Other voters, lulled in the smiley relaxed hands of the PM, are more likely to be asking themselves what sort of chemistry experiment this would be. How would some of these combustible figures, who have not managed internal strife, do it around the Cabinet table?
Of course, Bomber can count, better than I can, I daresay: perhaps he just, like punctuation, finds it ... boring.
Might it give the Greens the space they need, to realise a truer vision of the party, and finally get the 'watermelon' monkey off their backs? A party of the environment, for whom social justice is a necessary part, and a fundamental part, but not the eclipsing part, as it has sometimes been, or been perceived.
Perhaps it’s the Greens in the end, not Labour, more comfortable on the swing -- better suited to picking up votes for the environment, and conservation, where not everything must or can be analysed in terms of left and right, and those things matter less than the results. And if it gives Labour, too, room to shift right, Goff at least wouldn’t mind. (Bomber, et al, might.)
Time is short, though, for repositioning. It has taken the Greens five years to transition to two new leaders, and nine fresh faces in Parliament. They must be thinking: not again. Not another election year hijack, this time where you'd least expect it.
It would sorely test Green allegiance, inside and outside of Parliament. They stand to lose members, and votes. The Greens are the ones with most skin in this game; the others have nothing to lose.