David could improve the Labour/Green relationship



My congratulations to Labour’s new leader, David Cunliffe.

He has a lot of things to get on with, but one of his priorities should be improving the relationship between Labour and the Greens. This would benefit both parties, and make the Labour/Green alternative more appealing to the voters.

A disappointing aspect of Labour’s leadership race was the willingness of all three contenders to dish on the Greens in a particularly un-MPP fashion. When asked if they would allow Green co-leader Russel Norman to be finance minister in a Labour/Green government, they all said no. I felt they were trying to reassure that business establishment that although some of their talk in the leadership race was quite radical, Labour’s economic policies would still be pretty orthodox.

In reality, saying Russel Norman would not be finance minister was not a promise they could keep. After an MMP election all cards are on the table between potential coalition partners. No ministerial portfolio is decided in advance, particularly when two major players are involved (in this case, Labour and the Greens). The power relationship between Labour and Greens after the 2014 election will be much different to what it was during the 1999-2008 Labour-led governments. On current polling 30% of MPs in a Labour/Green coalition government could be Green. Of course, the bigger party in a coalition has a better chance of getting the finance portfolio, but it doesn’t have to be the case.

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Much of the success of a Labour/Green government will depend on how well the policies of the two parties are merged post-election, hopefully taking in the best of each. On some matters the coalition policy will be easy to determine. As both parties support a capital gains tax, there will be a capital gains tax. On other issues, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Labour supports and the Greens oppose, it will be more difficult. Because of this it would be stupid for Labour to promise now, in areas where the Greens and Labour have a different policy, that a Labour/Green government will adopt the Labour policy. That is something to be worked out post-election, so a little bit of MMP caution is required from parties before the election.

David Cunliffe could also help the public better understand the nature of MMP by rejecting the mantle of “Leader of the Opposition”, which is offensive to our multi-party system, where parties vote for and against legislation in different alignments. David Cunliffe is the leader of the Labour Party, and only the Labour Party.

Finally, if he wants to be Prime Minister, David should not worry too much about Labour losing votes to the Greens. Sure, it hurts any political party to lose a percentage of their party vote to another contender. But it actually benefits David’s chances of leading a government if the Greens get some momentum prior to the election. The Greens on a roll draw votes not only from Labour, but from all other parties – and from non-voters – making it easier for Labour/Greens to beat National.


  1. Kia ora Kieth, I have a few issues with your post.

    Since the Green Party put a lot of effort into opportunistically crawling up to the previous climate change ignoring incumbent at the head of the Labour Party. Even tailoring Green Party policy to do so.

    And the Green Party refused to stand on principle to endorse the only person in contention for the Labour leadership who openly came out for doing something about climate change.

    After this cravenly opportunist behaviour I think it is a bit churlish, to start criticising the new Labour leader who is much further to the left than the last one. It is a bit rich to be criticising Labour now.

    So you came out on the wrong side of history.

    What were you afraid of?

    Were you afraid that Labour would steal your policies?

    Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

    Instead of worrying about Labour votes that came over to the Greens going back to Labour because Labour is taking up more left stance, Kieth you should be celebrating this.

    Who cares who it is who takes on the fight to protect the climate. On behalf of humanity, we can’t wait until the Green Party are the government. By then it will be all over for the climate. So Keith, take a leaf from Rod Donald and do what he did and drop the narrow sectarian approach, and openly try and get the Labour Party to become even more activist on the matters that count.

    (Rod Donald at one point even abandoned the Values Party to Join Labour Party to forward the anti-nuclear issue)

    However, saying that, one thing the Green Party should not be doing, is demanding that Russel Norman become finance minister. Taking on that particular posioned chalice will be the death of the Green Party. The role of Finance Minister in a capitalist administration is so constrained by the iron rules of capitalist economy, that to be put in that position is to guarantee failure. Yes there are exceptions*, but if Russell Norman takes on the role of Finance Minister when the financiers are still in ascendency then he will be dragged under the wheels of Treasury and the financiers and spat out the other side. To become completely discredited.

    Apart from that, what will the Green Party have to bargain away to get the Finance portfolio?

    Both Russel Norman and Meteria Turei have said that to get cabinet positions, “There are no bottom lines.” What does this mean? Will the Green Party give up their opposition to coal mining on the Deniston Plateau for cabinet positions? Will they have to give their parliamentary support to deep sea oil drilling?

    *(The exceptions to this rule, usually occur under conditions of huge social turmoil bordering on insurrection where the financiers are so under threat and discredited that they willingly surrender some of their power to direct the economy. Under such conditions an elected administrator, can put in place reforms,that under normal conditions would be impossible. That situation does not exist in this country at this moment.)

    On the TPPA, to say that the Green Party oppose it while the Labour Party support it, is being simplistic. All three contenders for the Labour leadership when asked if they would make the TPPA negotiations transparent, expressed some serious misgivings about the TPPA. Like the MAI on which the TPPA is based, when the details were openly revealed and the public saw what it would mean for our sovereignty and our democratic rights, it effectively finished the MAI off. The sterilizing effect of sunlight falling on the sordid inner details of the MAI effectively killed it, and so it will for the TPPA. The contenders for Labour leadership were challenged on Red Alert to release the details. Now that he is in a position to do so, David Cunliffe with out actually having to come out in opposition to the TPPA should be lobbied to do just that. Take steps to release all the documents and inner workings relating to the TPPA that are in parliament’s hands to the public. And demand in the house that there be no more closed sessions.

    • Thanks for the full response Jenny, even if in some cases you are putting words into my mouth. For example, I have always welcomed other parties stealing Green Party policies. The more policy they steal the better it is because it pulls the whole political spectrum towards the Green left.

      I certainly don’t think the Green Party should now be demanding the finance portfolio, and after the election the Greens might well determine it to be more of a trap than an opportunity, for reasons similar to those you outline. My point is that in an MMP political system no significant party should be declaring that they will have a particular portfolio before an election and before we know how many seats each party has in the new Parliament, and before negotiations over a coalition structure, and coalition policy, have begun.

      • How about addressing the climate change issues Jenny raised, surely this must be one of the most serious issues we face today?

        Anyone who holds the finance portfolio is in for a tough ride as we can’t have endless economical growth on a planet with finite resources. This simple statement of fact seems to continue to allude most politicians.

        • Here,here! The simple equation is ; exploding world population +rapidly diminishing resourses (mostly due to misutilisation and pure greed of the controlling eletes!)= anhilation of most, if not all, of planet earth’s species. Aotearoa/nz could be a shining example and beacon of hope to the rest of the world if we but realised it! the Greens have lost me with this p.c bs which includes having a boy and a girl as co-leaders just like back in school days! Not much different from the dykes inside labour calling for 50/50 gender representation! Whatever happened to representation being earned on merit folks? Do you people really believe most kiwis give a toss about gender in politics anymore? Its a non-issue but your insecurities still cling to the need to enforce gender balance and in the process you lose credibility with a large percentage of the intelligent voting public!

      • Thanks Keith for your considered reply. I am sorry if I put words in your mouth. For that I apologise. (It is to your credit that you don’t take my criticisms personally). I have heard other Green Party people say this, and it is to more to them that I am addressing my remarks. On the question of seeking cabinet positions; I think that this would be a terrible mistake, because the Green MPs in cabinet would at this stage, be in the minority and would always be voted down. But worse than that would be bound by collective cabinet responsibility. Better to just agree to give Confidence and Supply and remain free to lobby all MPs on important issues of principle dear to the Green Party, as they come up. If the Green Party do decide to go into cabinet. There must be bottom lines to that agreement. In my opinion agreement around NO OFF DEEP SEA OIL should be minimum condition before being agreeing to enter cabinet and be bound by cabinet collective responsibility. The other must be NO NEW COAL MINES, which is a Green Party official policy position. Not getting agreement with Labour on at least these two minimum conditions before taking up cabinet positions will be in my opinion a major sell out.

        I am heartened Keith when you say “I have always welcomed other parties stealing Green Party policies”, with this new Labour leader we can hope that he will “steal” many Green Party policies. And we should encourage him in this.

        In my opinion the role of smaller parties is not to compromise to the bigger parties, but to keep to keep their independence and keep fighting for the issues that matter. Something that Rod Donald was a genius at. Fortunately under MMP we don’t have to go as far as he did in actually having to join the Labour Party to win the campaigns that he fought for. From a minority position he spearheaded campaigns for MMP and Nuclear Free and oversaw their victories.

        Just on a personal note Kieth. Have you met with David Cunliffe and talked to him? I have, and was impressed. In my opinion he is not one of the usual run of the mill politicians. (And I have met a few). I found him to be thoughtful and considerate and who actually listened to what I had to say and took it in. My impression is, he is this way with everyone he meets and talks to. As well as this I sensed a personal humilty and warmth, important qualities, in a leader. I personally witnessed none of the haughtiness and arrogance that his detractors have accused him of. David Cunliffe has the potential to be a great leader. My hope is that the Greens can be his closest allies in parliament against the forces of conservatism within and outside his party.

        I expect great things from David Cunliffe but I am also prepared to be disappointed if need be. The important thing is that the Green Party must keep their independence and be prepared for any eventuality, and not be subsumed in coalition as many smaller parties often are and remain able to address the Labour caucus as an equal not a supplicant.

        You are aware, no doubt, of David Cunliffe’s famous ‘Dolphin and Dole Queue” speech made just before he was unceremoniously tipped from the Labour front bench by the Labour party conservatives in caucus.

        (let us hope that, that experience did not temper or blunten David Cunliffe’s views on the economy, and climate change, and the importance our mutual fight to protect our world for his and our children from the ravages of the growth at all costs fossil fuel lobby)


  2. Come on Keith, get real. Labour on the Treasury benches are never going to give Finance to another party. Finance is where all of the policy deliverables are based, no government is going to compromise its delivery by taking the engine out of the car and entrusting it to somebody else’s mechanic.

  3. I agree %100 with this blog and in particular picking up of the Non Voters my stance as a Green Party member is all about representing an option to the people who have lost there way. How many of them have even looked at the Green Party as a vehicle to the way they are feeling especially about Democracy. The TPPA is coming and what Non voters need to realise is that their lack of participation in the political system that is only going to make their situation worse. 2014 elections will mark it self in history as the make or break election for the less fortunate and standing up for yourselves has never been more important. I issue a challenge to anyone reading this talk to you children, friends & neighbours about voting and yes i am going to say the words, Tell them who they should be voting for. The gloves of common decency have been removed by this current Government and thats why we are seeing a shift to the Green Party. “Those bloody hippies were right” we need to care about the environment because the constant need for profit has eroded democracy and our ability to fight for the environment. I see the Green Party as the brakes on a run away car that will crash being driven by profit, how fast it is going will be up to the people and their vote, its your choice.

  4. “Key unfazed by new Labour leader (from TVNZ).”

    This is why our nation is in a mess, Mr Key is never fazed, and has no solutions.

  5. “On other issues, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Labour supports and the Greens oppose”

    There’s the heart of the matter, for Labour but not the Greens. How can one call oneself an “alternative” to the present direction that this present government is taking things in, when Labour is planning to still support TPP. What hope can one place in a Labour Party that is still for TPP? TPP is part of the chain that includes the spying legislation, deep sea oil drilling and virtually the whole caboodle of horrors that this government is pressing for. To quote Pete Seeger ” Which side are you on boys?”

  6. Indeed Labour and Greens have too much in common to ignore each other, and must cooperate as well as possible. A fair competition based purely on policy and for available votes is the way to go, and to otherwise join forces where it has been done, and where it can be done.

    As much as Keith may wish to have the finance portfolio to be left open for Russell Norman, should a coalition government or support arrangement between Labour and Greens be achieved, I think that it is highly unlikely that Labour will agree to this.

    But while all three leadership contenders ruled out that Russell Norman would be Finance Minister, there could still be a scenario, where negotiations and the achievement of prospective common goals, may justify a reversal of Cunliffe’s position.

    Cunliffe is the one between the three contenders, who is actually closest and the most friendly towards the Greens.

    The Greens will have to be realistic, that Labour will not have the same resolute position on mining and oil drilling, and some other policies, as the Greens do. So anything that will be discussed in detail on this and other subjects will naturally be on the top of the agenda after the coming election.

    I have the impression though that Cunliffe favours environmentally friendlier policies, the development of alternative energy use, more investment in public transport and much more that the Greens also want.

    Things would have looked different should Shane Jones have become leader, but that was never to happen, despite of media speculation and favouratism towards him.

    My personal concerns with Labour remain, and that includes for sure the social policies they will stand for, even under David Cunliffe and his leadership. ALL three contenders in the now finished race dodged any questions on social security and social development. That does not generate any trust in me, as I have been disappointed by Labour in this area before.

    There is little coming from Ardern, who now seems to be more “career focused” than topic focused. I demand a reversal of the hideous new welfare “reforms” that were forced upon us, and to be replaced with fairer, more reasonable, and constructive improvements.

    Sadly the now well known “Arbeit macht Frei” promoter in the form of Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt (for WINZ) was hired by MSD under the last Labour government. While we have heard a lot about “change” before from even Phil Goff, then David Shearer (known for his “benefit roof painter” speech), I want to see this being proved by Labour, and for time being continue to vote Greens or for another party.

  7. Labour and the Greens may fish partly in the same voter pool, but it would be a mistake (and has been a mistake) to demonize each other. Like the recent leadership contenders, each party must do its best and trust the membership to evaluate them fairly. Labour membership seemed to parse the issues reasonably well, and without being unduly punitive.

    Labour and the Greens have much in common, but they also have specialised expertise, and sometimes complementary interests. It seems premature to go picking fights when the parties of organised greed and crudely concealed criminality are wrecking our well ordered society.

  8. Keith I get it that you’re trying to be informative, interesting and provocative but surely you understand that the proposition of a (former?) communist being the next minister in charge of finance would have the potential of scaring enough voters into ticking ‘National’ at the next election. Yes, Russel Norman isn’t a communist today but voters act on what they believe and not facts. So whether you like it not, Russel Norman for (too many) voting New Zealanders is still that ‘commie guy with a PHD’. In saying no to Norman, the 3 Amigos were not only articulating a probably non-negotiable position but quelling rising alarm that could bolt swing-voters back into the arms of National at the next election. I admire the clarity of the Green party’s policies. Unlike David Shearer (to his detriment) the Greens clearly understand the importance of clear communication and eloquence. Unfortunately, this doesn’t negate the nonsense that Norman spieled on ‘The Nation’ TV programme , sometime ago when he talked about the Green party’s financial policies. To the Green Party I would suggest the following. Avoid internal squabbles that do nothing but cost you valuable capital and provide ammo for the Opposition. Be smart, think strategically and understand how some of your polices though right may spook certain voters that you’re trying to bring on board. Concentrate on negotiating, at least for the time being, on other points and issues that are ‘more winnable’ . Also, what kind of small compromises can you make now to win valuable concessions in the future? That Keith, is the start to proper building of relationships with Labour. I’d love to see a Labour and Greens coalition win at the next election.

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