Last week I joined the Green Party.
Sure, we’d been friends for a long time, but this wasn’t a courtship. The last time anyone actually asked me to join was just after the 2005 election. It was Rod Donald and we were at the CTU Conference as the Greens were being side-lined from Helen Clark’s third Government. Rod thought it was time for me to come out of mourning for the Alliance. I took another eight years to get there.
Ever since I was presented with a smorgasbord of political parties and tendencies as a 15 year old activist (I chose Labour), party joining has been a serious matter for me. Voting, leafleting, making donations – that kind of stuff is easy (which isn’t to say it’s easy to get people to do it). The Party’s grateful, it’s not an exclusive deal and you can hang onto your independence. But joining? That’s going all the way. And for a practical person like me that kind of leap requires a balance of conviction and trust.
Let’s start with the conviction.
A week ago Julie Anne Genter, Green MP and transport spokesperson, kicked off a speaking tour on the case for the Auckland City Rail Link. It’s not as if the Greens have the monopoly on this patently obvious addition to Auckland’s transport network. Len Brown campaigned on it in 2010. Labour says it will fund it if elected in 2014. A business lobby is about to get behind it in a big way. The Greens do, however, have a monopoly on coherence. The rail link doesn’t just make sense on the transport economics front. It makes sense as part of our contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense in democratising access to transport infrastructure and it makes sense for the development of a city of neighbourhoods.
Last night more than 60 West Aucklanders came to hear Green Co-Leader Meteria Turei and housing spokesperson Holly Walker talk about the Green’s “Home for Life” proposal. One time Green candidate and housing issues expert, Alan Johnson, who joined them on the platform, didn’t shy away from the conundrum that Auckland’s housing shortage, twinned with excessive investment in Auckland property, represents. With 4000 fewer houses being built each year than can accommodate our population growth it is going to take more than the unitary plan to stand between a liveable city and the Government’s appetite for easy greenfields development.
Housing and transport are among the big systems issues of our time. How they are resolved will define the kind of lives our grandchildren live. And big systems need political champions. There’s no question that the right have able champions for their big systems – epitomised by Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee with their extractive industry crusade and roads of national significance, window dressed by Judith Collin’s human rights appointments, John Banks’s charter schools and Paula Bennett’s periodic plucking of the welfare state’s eyebrows.
The Greens provide different sorts of champion, not just because of any particular technical policy solution but more fundamentally because the kind of systems thinking this stuff needs is a natural fit with greenie-ness. Greens like getting on trains and bikes and putting out our recycling bins. We’d rather be on a surfboard than a jet ski. We dream of community gardens even when we haven’t got the time or local connections to make them happen. Most of us use far more resources than we could claim to replace, but we’d accept significantly greater limits on that in the interests of social justice and a healthy planet.
But this sense of an identity shared with other greens needed a booster to get my broken political heart over the line to join another political party. While the part of me that smiles when I put my peelings in the compost bin on the bench or hands over my keeper cup to the barista like a secret green handshake could have a happy picnic with the Green Party, it takes more than that to get into the political trench with folk. It takes trust.
Russel Norman has taken down a big hurdle there. I wish the party had a dollar for everyone whose first response when I say I work for the Greens is a positive comment on Russel’s grip of his economic portfolios. Given a pretty good chance of having Greens in government next year, that matters.
So with two of my identities intact – the greenie one and the social democratic one – I’m ready to get involved in the machinations of a party again. Not enough of us do and there is a lot of work to be done. Naturally enough I’m keen to be involved in policy work in my old patch of industrial relations, where it’s time to address the deficiencies of the Employment Relations Act, and I’ll be putting my oar in for free tertiary education and universal student allowances. I’d like to see the Greens navigate the battle lines of welfare and work without getting their heads shot off (or shooting off each others). This is one of the toughest policy challenges of our time.
I’m looking forward to having my say in the list selection but I’ll be steering clear of anything that requires tortuous consensus decision-making around the minutiae of Party rules. That’s when you’ll find me peeling the spuds.