Do the Greens need a new political strategist?



Reflecting on the fall out between the Greens and their tantrum at Labour deciding on Labour led Government as opposed to Labour-Green Government language, some questions about the Greens tactical abilities start arising.

Who leaked this failed deal to the media and why on earth did the Green tacticians think that Labour would agree to a strategy that impinged upon Labour’s ability to include NZ First and MANA into any equation to defeat John Key?

First let me state that I am a massive Green Party supporter, I have voted for them most of my adult life and honestly believe they have some of the only economic policy that confronts the climate change realities in front of us. I also think that the Greens provide us with some of the best MPs we have in Parliament. Russel, Met, Gareth, Kevin Hague, Kennedy Graham, Catherine Delahunty and Julie-Anne Genter are all some of the best politicians we have. The possibility of Marama Davidson in power is also exciting. Where I disagree with them however is in their tactics, strategy and their inability to reign in their Green Party Wellington staffers.

The Green mates in the mainstream media have referred to the refusal by Labour with all the clarity of scorned lovers, and the Emerald Stormtroopers, those Green Party staffers who love to cyber bully on social media, are itching to start a schism of religious proportions.

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But is that anger well directed or misplaced? How on earth did the Green strategists get this deal with Labour so wrong? Why pitch an idea that Labour would never have adopted? If the Greens are serious about replacing Key, they need to acknowledge that NZ First may be part of that equation. Does the idea of working with Winston make any of us happy? No, no it doesn’t, but do we want to kick Key out of office or not? If the cost is a legacy project for Winston in the form of compulsory super that buys back NZs assets, would that be a such a terrible deal to make?

The Green tacticians got this spectacularly wrong, they misread Labour, they misread Cunliffe’s desire to beat Key and they misread the strategic need to keep doors open to other political parties. The Greens desperately need some new tacticians and strategists or they are going to manage to snooker themselves just like they did in 2005.

So let’s go through this deal line by line and see how badly the Green tacticians got it wrong…

(a) to campaign together
Absolutely doable and there needs to be strategic wisdom in some of the places they do decide to campaign together on.

(b) to brand themselves as a future Labour/Greens government.
That was never going to happen and suggests that the Green tacticians are either naive in the extreme or they are manufacturing a backlash for them to play the betrayed lover routine.

(c) sought agreement that Cabinet posts would proportionately reflect the number of seats won by each of the partners.
This is another blunder by Greens because the Greens, if they play their cards right, could actually argue for, and get, a far larger representation in Cabinet than mere proportional representation.

(d) sought a common strategy on how to work together with New Zealand First
No. The Greens need to work through their personal grudges with Winston, that is the crux of the problem in the relationship. Greens hate NZ First for 2005, Winston hates Russel for twisting the knife over the Owen Glenn issue and the relationships have never been repaired. Labour don’t want to get into the middle of that (unless they are open for Matt McCarten invoicing them for relationship counselling), it’s a damaged relationship the Greens need to fix.

The Greens sound desperately like a Party that needs some strategic thinking that comes from outside the beltway because this entire fiasco has been a shambles.


  1. Martyn,

    I really am not getting where you are coming from over this issue. You continue to assert there is a tantrum-like response being conducted by the Greens, yet I really see no sign of this.

    The proof of the ‘tantrum’ that you link to in this article merely sites the OneNews voiceover saying relations between the party are in ‘severe strain’. I’m sorry but this is simply not enough proof of anger or a tantrum or anything like it by the Greens. Russel looked disappointed but he was providing a pretty level-headed response.

    Perhaps in the circles that you are privy to, there are some tantrums going on – yet this really is not apparent at all for an ordinary person and your continuing to assert that there is a ‘tantrum’ or any form of uncontrolled angry response going on without pointing to it really is making absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    Secondly, by doing this, are you aware that you are spreading a divisive meme and potentially creating division where there would be none if you weren’t writing these things? – this appears to be the type of scenario that you appear at pains to be trying to discourage.

    With all due respect to you, Martyn, truly I enjoy and appreciate your writing (and outspoken manner) alot, yet am really utterly not getting where you are coming from with this one at all.

  2. … the Greens and their tantrum at Labour deciding on Labour led Government …

    Please supply the supporting quotes from the Greens leadership of the tantrum.

    So far we’ve seen …
    1. Greens approach Labour to present a united front and some joint policy release.
    2. Labour says no. Seems they’d rather let Peters have them over a barrel come September.
    3. Someone leaks the conversation.
    4. Questions are asked;
    – Labour indicates that they want a repeat of 2005 – Vote for National Lite and we’ll publicly kick the Greens in the teeth again. ‘Cause that’ll endear them to a few folks who wouldn’t vote for Labour anyway.
    – Greens state they are happy with the cross benches.

    Not seen any toys being thrown yet – Just quiet incredulity at Labour’s mismanagement of the leak and allowing National to frame it as a Greens / Labour bare knuckle fight.

    But if you know more, please enlighten us.

  3. “Do the Greens need a new political strategist?”

    I think they do. What’s the point of teaming up with Labour? Swing voters these days are as likely to go from National to Greens, as they are to go from National to Labour.
    If I was the Greens I’d distance myself from Labour and just keep chasing the many many voters who reluctantly vote National. Unfortunately Labour’s policies don’t distinguish them enough from National, and this is a strategic blunder considering the macro-economic good news coming from our paid for media.
    National will possibly have more of a conservative coalition than a liberal coalition next time, and the voters know this, so the voters will most likely stick with National unless Labour offers a change from their Shearer & Goff eras.
    If we consider the level of inequality in our society, the level of poverty, and the housing problems, we should then ask why is Labour struggling to even come close to National? Labour should be around 40-45% and the Greens 15-20%. If I was in the Labour Party, then I’d quit for the sake of NZ. The Labour Party are a burden on the Left, not an asset. Key and his mates laugh at the Left and say we are too fractured…this is bullshit – we are not fractured enough! Only once we fracture and dismantle Labour, will the Left have a future. The Left has no place Mallard, King and Goff. There is no future in a broad church – neoliberalism is the broad church and it’s time to burn it down. Neoliberalism has become the opiate of the Left and we have too many junkies – not only are the junkies on ‘our’ side, but we’ve had them leading ‘our’ parties.
    Cunliffe needs to radicalise in the eyes of the media. He should put his foot down and if that means a split, then that’s half the problem solved.
    If the Greens need a strategist, it’s because they tried to tie themselves to Labour. The Greens shouldn’t have to fix their relationship with NZ First. Labour need to fix their relationship with their past

  4. As Naturesong and Blue Leopard have stated, I see no evidence of a “temper tantrum” from the Greens either. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the media beating this non-story into a Big-Issue-To-Sell-Advertising-Space, 99% of us wouldn’t have known what was going down.

    Having said that, perhaps it would have been a wiser course to discuss this matter in private, behind closed doors. That way, if Labour declined the Green’s approach, there would have been no media feeding-frenzy nor various right-wing propagandists masterbating in delight at a perceived “falling out” within the Left…

    Lesson learnt by all, hopefully.

    On a related issue, I noted this statement;

    “If the cost is a legacy project for Winston in the form of compulsory super that buys back NZs assets, would that be a such a terrible deal to make? “

    I’m old enough to recall, with a fair degree of anger and sense of betrayal, that Peters promised precisely the same thing in 1996; to buy back the forestry cutting-rights asset that National had privatised that very year.

    When Peters became a coalition partner with Jim Bolger’s National, on 11 December 1996 (a day of infamy that I will recall forever), a lengthy coalition document (which I possess a copy of) was drawn up.

    There was no agreement to buy back the forests.

    Peters never pursued that committment.

    It never happened.

    Instead, as Treasurer, Peters and Bolger cut taxes on 1 July 1998. That was money that could have been used to buy back the forests and instead was frittered away.

    I blogged on this issue on 16 March;

    So will Peters make the buy-back of the powercos a “bottom line” of any coalition deal?

    I don’t know.

    He’s made that promise in the past and even though he was in a position to follow through – broke his word.

    So why should I trust him a second time? Why should I believe that this time he will follow through?

    I can’t think of a single damned reason.

    [Disclaimer: I’m a Green Party supporter as well. (Though Mana is looking more and more inviting these days…)]

    • After spending the last few days furious with Labour over their response to the Green’s proposal (and no, Martyn, I am not a committed Green voter – this tantrum was from an undecided left voter) it has finally dawned on me [the possibly obvious point] that this whole coalition agreement and rejection probably hasn’t been a mistake from any party strategist’s side at all.

      Aren’t all the leftwing parties meeting on a regular basis since McCarten took over that role in Labour?

      Here is what I think has occurred; this was a not-so-subtle announcement that what we have now on the Left is Labour to appeal to centrist/lefts, Greens to appeal to environmental lefts who are probably further left than Labour, and Mana to appeal to a stronger leftwing message and those who want better conditions for Maori and the poor. Additionally, we have a Labour party leader that seems like he would be pretty supportive of the parties further left.

      It is now up to us to vote for the ‘flavour’ of leftwing government that we want. If lots of people party vote Greens or Mana – Labour has a message to go further left when they get into government. This was the case anyway but this announcement has made it clearer and perhaps allowed more chance of ‘floaty, swingy’ types more voting for Labour.

      [Winston may or may not be in the mix – I would also be unclear whether he could be trusted. I think he genuinely disapproves of Key’s National, yet this new formula for Labour (going more centrist) would give more chance of him not being in the mix anyway.]

      • I am as furious like you about Labour, and they show a degree of arrogance, none else. We will prove they do not deserve more than 30 to 35 percent of the vote. Vote Green, and I say, do NOT vote Mana, as that option is to me close to madness now.

    • “[Disclaimer: I’m a Green Party supporter as well. (Though Mana is looking more and more inviting these days…)]”

      I agree Frank. I voted Greens in 2005 & 2008, but now I prefer MANA (I still have respect for the Greens though and I do suggest voting Green to many of my friends who are centrist and even right wing).
      MANA have been delivering the goods for a while now and my respect for Hone just gets stronger all the time. Did you see him on The Nation this weekend?
      I don’t think I could ask much more from a politician in today’s political climate…

      “Why are people so scared to think of taxing the rich? There’s so much unearned wealth in this country that comes from financial speculation and not one cent of it is taxed. Why are people so scared to tax unearned wealth?”

    • The discussion/proposal was in private until someone leaked it.

      Why does Martyn assert a Green was the leaker. Why not one of the neo-liberal Labour mps?

      • Why not someone from National, ACT or fucking Crosby-Textor? Although having just finished watching the UK tv series House of Cards, with Ian Richardson at the brilliantly reptilian Chief Whip Francis Urqhart, Andrew R’s suggestion seems just as plausible.

  5. The only tantrum I’ve seen is from Bomber, having a tantrum about a tantrum that nobody else has noticed. Did he offer to be a paid political advisor for the Greens and get turned down?

  6. Tantrum by Greens, wrong strategy by Labour, or some clever dick testing of the water, I wonder? Since this “story” was “leaked”, I haven’t come across a single Green supporter who has switched their allegiance to Labour because of this…whatever it is.

    I have, however, come across several traditional Labour supporters who are pissed off and wary enough about this that they are now 99% likely to give their party vote to the Greens.

    Remind me again which party needs a new strategist, Martyn.

  7. Regardless of your views of the political strategy or advisors, it is unfair to attack advisors. It is the politicians who make the final decisions and should be held accountable for them. Advisors have no ability to defend themselves publicly.

    It is also very undemocratic and anti-worker.

  8. I’m in total agreement with your other correspondents; I have not witnessed a tantrum from Norman or other elected GP members. My response to Cunliffe’s announcement certainly approached one although incredulity and disappointment were present in much larger quantities than was uncontrolled rage.

    I believe the Green Party’s strategy on this is absolutely right, Martyn, not only because it treats voters with more respect but also because it preserves the integrity of both parties to be honest with their supporters and the public generally in their dealings with each other on coalition and supply and confidence agreements.

    Yes, many of us want to rid the Treasury seats of National but Labour both pre-Cunliffe and as it presents itself now doesn’t satisfy most of my expectations for enthusiasm or support; where’s the evidence of smart thinking to take the country boldly and safely into the future; the unequivocal rejection of the TPP agreement as an instrument pure and simple of corporatism; etc, etc, etc.

    Just as Peters has repeatedly proved himself lax in honour but fastidious in self-cherishing actions, so too has Labour proved itself as yet incapable of abandoning socially corrosive neo-liberal nonsense; if you’re looking for places where strategy sorely needs attention, start here.

  9. You’ve lost it Bomber – this all reads like post hoc rationalisation of a f**k up. Any half decent progressive social democratic party worth the name would be moving the debate to the left, not distancing itself from the Greens and cosying up to Winston. You, and Labour, need to think again.

  10. I agree it was a tactical mistake by the Greens to put Labour on the spot when they would inevitably reject the offer and then give the impression to the public of a non-unifited opposition. Another example is trying to pin a “conflict of interest” to Peter Dunne for his involvement with a Christmas Parade just the other day.

    The Greens have excellent policies and MPs but sometimes they display a lack of street smarts and political nous which embarrasses me as a Green Party supporter. I’m inclined to think Metiria Turei is particularly vulnerable in this regard. The attack on her outfit was a pre-meditated piece of baiting, to remind the public of the aspects of the Left they most dislike, and she rose to it without the slightest awareness of how she was being played.

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