Political Marriage? Green, Red, Brown, Black and Blue



Last week’s memorandum of understanding between the Labour and Green Parties will prove to be a wise move if it helps the combined Labour-Green vote to reach 48% or more. It seems a hard ask though, even in the event that the economy tanks next year.

In 1931, after the economy tanked big-time late in 1930, a conservative government nevertheless was returned; it took five years of the Great Depression for voters to dislodge the conservatives (who had been in power for 23 years from 1912 to 1935). Even in 1935, it was disunity on the right that handed victory to Labour, with the new right-wing Democrat Party splintering the vote as a protest against Finance Minister Gordon Coates’ centrist pragmatism.

There is a tendency – in both New Zealand and in the United Kingdom – for voters to turn against parties which allegedly “prop-up” bigger parties. In New Zealand the Maori Party – which has never propped-up National – has suffered nevertheless because of the prop-up taint. (The Maori Party has always joined a government to make a difference, to make that government a better government than it otherwise would have been; it has never played a clinching role in the formation of a government. It has never been the median party, despite having been close in 2008, 2011 and 2014.) Pity the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom, who had no real choice in 2010 but to form a government with the Conservatives. As a result, Lib‑Dem voters turned on their party, directly causing their worst nightmare, the coalition government to be replaced by a Tory-only government. They just didn’t get the maths.

In New Zealand in 2011-14 and from 2015 (after Northland), puny United-Future has been the median (“king-maker”) party. In 2017 the odds are that, under the present configuration of parties, either New Zealand First or the Maori Party will be the median Party. The politics of 2017 will become very interesting if Green-Labour-Maori have enough seats to put together a government. (Indeed the most effective possible electoral accommodation Labour could do might be to campaign for the party vote only in the Maori electorates.)

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Unlike the Greens, the Maori Party have a strategy of being a part of government, whether centre-left or centre-right. At risk of being misunderstood, they are a party of Government, not a party of Opposition. (Indeed I voted Maori last time with the very specific aim of helping to elect a Maori Party list MP; I take my share of the credit for bringing Marama Fox into Parliament.) I would rate it about a 25 percent chance that we get a Green-Red-Brown government next year.

If the Green-Labour bloc cannot get a majority in Parliament with the help of the Maori Party, then Green-Labour will need the Black party; Winston Peters’ New Zealand First. The issue becomes what Winston will ask for, and what Green-Labour is willing to concede. In 2005 Labour conceded to Winston by sidelining the Greens who had positioned themselves into a position of strategic weakness, agreeing unconditionally to support Labour on confidence and supply.

A repeat of 2005 seems a very likely possibility in 2017. And, if Green-Labour does not make sufficient concessions to Winston, then a repeat of 1996 becomes the next most likely outcome. Either way, Winston Peters will probably press very hard to become Treasurer or Prime Minister. (Actually, when he was Treasurer, he was for the most part a very good Treasurer.)

If the election makes New Zealand First the median party regardless of whether the Maori Party positions itself to the left or to the right of New Zealand First, then there will be only one way to break a 1996-style impasse (I am assuming that Red-Brown-Black could not make it to 50%). It would be for Green to reposition itself into the median position; to redefine itself as a strategic centre Party. It could be quite a messy divorce from Labour, and with the risk of a 2020 anti-Green backlash (like the anti-Lib-Dem backlash in the United Kingdom).The possible outcome would be a Green-Blue government, which many people – including National Party people – may prefer over a Black-Blue government.

I want to see the Green Party spelling out what it would do in the event that the party vote split is similar to that of 1996; quite a likely possibility. The Greens should make it clear that, if at all possible, they will form a governing partnership with Labour (and hopefully, Maori) after the 2017 election. That would be Plan A. They should make it equally clear that, if such a government is not possible, then they will commit to contesting the centre ground, meaning that a Green-National government becomes a possibility. If the Greens explain this ‘Plan B’ properly, they will minimise the ‘messy-divorce’ version of Plan B; facilitating a strategic amical divorce instead.

While unconditional love may underpin a good marriage, it makes for weak politics.


  1. Excellent points Keith. The (admittedly very early) polling post the MoU will concern the Greens greatly if it becomes a trend, not just because they have bled support to Labour, but also Nationals support was boosted. I suspect the Greens may well rue the day they became this ‘cosy’ with Labour.

  2. “In New Zealand the Maori Party – which has never propped-up National – has suffered nevertheless because of the prop-up taint”

    I’d completely disagree with this. For me, propping up a government isn’t so much about numbers, it’s more about perception. John Key’s image, and therefore his power, has been propped up by the Maori Party. Key’s success is a result of his image as a centrist – and the Maori Party have been invaluable to Key. Key has used them and thrown them some crumbs…meanwhile Maori have suffered.

    Maori voters know what their day-to-day living is like. They know they National led government has not been good to them. Maori know neoliberalism cannot be divorced from the ethnic inequalities that exist outside of economics.

    Now that Mana have all but been extinguished, I’d vote for the Maori Party if they promised not to prop up Key’s image. I might vote Green, but they need to promise the same. Key and the Tories are salivating at the thought of a blue-green government. I don’t think I can vote for Labour until they give up on perpetuating Thatcher’s ideas (TINA). Winnie is a no go.

    It sucks to be a leftist in NZ – we have MMP and it’s still near impossible to vote against neoliberalism without throwing your vote away. I’m not talking about radical policies, just some mild social democracy.
    I hate this shithole of a country

    • Yes,… yes it is difficult to decide.

      And I think there are many people thinking the same thing.

      The declaration of the MOU by the Labour / Greens is a positive , however that one time the idea was kicked around about the Greens ‘ being able to work with National ‘ created a bad taste in the mouth for many… Im not so sure it was ever a serious proposition, though.

      We do not need anymore party’s who will not draw a line in the sand and declare outright their opposition to neo liberalism.

      We have more than enough who are willing to flirt with the option – if only briefly. But when people say they want to ‘change the govt’?… what do they mean?… change the govt for yet more of the same , – perhaps in creating a more ‘modified’ softer version?

      Well, we’ve all had enough of that as well.

      Helen Clark might have been a breather for many but even her govt didn’t really do anything to kill the sacred cows of neo liberalist ideology. Which set the stage for Brash and then Key.

      We can tinker around with speculating till the cows come home who might side with who else ,.. but the fact is … until there comes a group that decisively declares war against neo liberalism ,- we are stuck with compromises and a sense of two face-edness at every turn.

      We have a Maori party who has already declared their hand by bolstering up a now steadily growing unpopular govt for 8 years …

      We have a NZ First party who give no indication at all of who they will support yet seem to hold neo liberalism in contempt ,…

      We have a Green party who seemed at one stage to toy with the idea of footing it with the enemy camp to use as a lever against Labour …

      We have a Labour party who seem on one hand to endorse many of the things this govt has done to diminish our civil liberty’s aka the SIS and GSCB and STILL harbour’s known neo liberals who have divided that party for so long…

      When does it all end?!!?

      And its just not good enough to say ” well that’s politics for ya”…

      Whats wrong with these people? … do they lack guts?, … balls?… what is it?

      People are bloody sick of all the mind games and the parlour antics.

      So many of them act like little children who cant share their toys – certainly not like bold, dynamic and resolute individuals who actually give a damn about the people they were ELECTED by and PAID to serve.

      NZ deserves so , so much more better than this.

      • The Green Party has never come close to considering working with National on anything beyond individual policies. If you’re referring to the MoU with National, it basically agreed that both parties liked insulating houses and would look for other similar policies they could co-operate on. The Greens do that all the time with parties they disagree with. Some in the media tried to chalk it up to more, and it created a LOT of disinformation that sent the Green campaign onto the defensive.

        • Exactly right.

          Unlike the other parties the Green party runs on democratic consensus decision making.

          The membership will never support National.

          National’s business as usual, no matter what the cost for people and the environment, will never be compatible with the Greens.

        • Exactly right.

          Unlike the other parties the Green party runs on democratic consensus decision making.

          The membership will never support National.

          National’s business as usual, no matter what the cost for people and the environment, will never be compatible with the Greens.

  3. Everyone turned on the LibDems because – Clegg broke his word. Shirley Williams certainly didn’t stand on the side of the disabled and poor. The Rose Garden event led to more thorns than petals for the UK with the LibDems in coalition.

    And – the UK is still wedded to the winners/losers model for elections which is probably why the LibDems electoral reforms sank with few bubbles.

    The Greens are welcome to the ‘centre ground’. They can teeter queasily, just like UnitedFuture. A foot in both camps. Perhaps not the smartest move.

  4. What planet are you on? All your talk about the Maori party being a party of government is playing with words. I know lots of people who think the Maori MP’s were just looking after themselves & if anybody else got a benefit that was a bonus.

  5. The Green Party can’t 100% spell out what it will do as that is determined by a vote after the election. It would be against the Party constitution to decide for sure in advance. It can, however take declaratory votes beforehand as an indicator though- hence when the Green Party ruled out working with National they said it was “highly unlikely” they would support National, because the same people voted to indicate that was their intention after the election.

    That’s basically what they’ve said again when they’ve committed to changing the Government. They haven’t ruled in specifically who they’d work with, but they’ve made clear they want to continue a positive relationship with NZF, so that’s a pretty good indicator that if there are any issues there, it’s from the NZF side.

    Labour has also made things pretty clear that if they’re forming a Government they will be looking to include every party they can- so likely some permutation of a Labour, Green, NZF, Maori, and possibly UF government, depending on other parties’ attitudes.

    • “The Green Party can’t 100% spell out what it will do as that is determined by a vote after the election. It would be against the Party constitution to decide for sure in advance.”

      Thanks Matthew, this makes sense. I’m not sure why I hadn’t picked up on this earlier.

  6. I’m a little late to the party but my concern is that if Labour & Co were to take power if the economy tanked we would be no better off because Labour is still imbued with neoliberal thinking. It’s not just a few known neoliberals dividing the Party as Wild Katipo suggests, it’s the problem that after a generation, neoliberalism is the hegemonic ideology that is so imbedded that it shapes the very way we think and act. Thus, mainstream politics finds it difficult to break this mental straight jacket. Consequently, Labour’s economic and financial thinking still reflects monetarist (neoliberal) ideology.

  7. The real point is that National rests on a house of cards, that could collapse at any time and its only coalition mates are Seymour and Dunne and the remnants of the Maori Party. The National Cabinet has only a few competent Ministers and most are lazy and useless. National Party has maintained power by the classic left wing strategy pioneered by Brown, Blair, Obama and Helen Clark of initially showing considerable real and pretend deference to right wing interests such as the Military, Police, Intelligence services and the IMF (Chrsitine Lagarde) but gradually just becoming a government maintaining power by a mix of buying votes and surrender to the National Front talkback rabble ( calling them Nazis or Fascists would be an insult to both ideologies). National has maintained power by a mix of constitutional outrage ( the coup against CRC) and electoral bribes the disability support salaries, the irresponsible funding of the diary conversions and finance companies, Auckland property values, low rent immigration etc. like Muldoon in 1983 Natioanal have already trashed every value they ever stood for, and as far as its possible to establish their ideological and social positioning it appears well to the left of Labour and the Greens in that the Nats and English do not operate within any intellectual ideological construct other than a sort of barstadised catholic conservatism of about the same position as Edward Frei in Chile in 1971

  8. The reply two minutes ago was by High Tory blogging out of the Nat Lib in Molesworth st. Who censored the first reply, the Daily Blog or GCSB.

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