KEITH LOCKE has mounted a robust defence of the Greens’ decision to field a candidate in the Mt Albert by-election. His argument divides neatly into three parts. His first contention is that, by standing, Julie Anne Genter will be able to demonstrate practically the merits of the Labour-Green Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). His second is that a rogue result in Mt Albert would not significantly alter the relationship between Labour and the Greens. And his third contention is that The Daily Blog Editor’s misgivings concerning Mt Albert arise out of a profound misunderstanding of the way the Green Party works.
But what if all three of Keith’s contentions are wrong?
Keith is by no means alone in arguing that the by-election constitutes a welcome opportunity to display the merits of the MoU. He sums up the case succinctly in just two sentences:
“The MOU was between ‘two separate parties’, able to run their own campaigns, but who would ‘articulate [their] differences in a respectful and collegial manner’. This was in a context where ‘many of our policies are compatible’ and the two parties would be ‘working cooperatively’ to achieve a ‘progressive alternative government’.”
In the best of all possible worlds this would be true. In a political environment driven more and more by sensationalism, conflict and “fake news”, however, how realistic is the hope that what takes place on the hustings in Mt Albert will be represented in the news media as “respectful and collegial”?
Is it not far more likely that “respectful and collegial” will be dismissed by news editors as “boring”, and that reporters will be told to expose and highlight the differences between the Labour and Green candidates? Are Keith and his party comrades really unable to imagine just how quickly an impression of conflict can be manufactured by political journalists under orders to make the contest more exciting?
Generals talk about the “fog of war” rendering the best-laid plans of the best military brains inoperative after just a few seconds of actual fighting. Political campaigning is no different. Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter may go into the contest determined to remain “respectful and collegial”, but the chances of them emerging from the smoke and fire of electoral combat unblackened and unburned are, sadly, remote.
This inability to control the evolution of battle leads us to Keith’s second contention: that a rogue result in Mt Albert would leave the Labour-Green relationship undamaged. This delusion is easily dispelled. Let’s consider just two possible scenarios.
The first involves the National Party letting it be known that if its supporters are interested in inflicting the maximum damage on Labour, then they should hold their noses and vote for Julie Anne Genter.
As a strategy for inflicting maximum political disruption this has much to commend it. After all, the National Party won the Party Vote in Mt Albert at the last general election with 14,359 votes. Combine these with the Greens’ 8,005 votes and David Shearer’s Electorate Vote tally of 20,970 begins to look a lot less unassailable. Given the prospect of inflicting a serious wound on Labour, how realistic is it to expect National voters to simply sit this by-election out?
And what about TOP – The Opportunities Party? The Daily Blog Editor, Martyn Bradbury, is quite right to raise the possibility of TOP’s founder, Gareth Morgan, seizing the Mt Albert by-election as a heaven-sent opportunity to field-test the voter appeal of his party’s core policies.
Morgan’s aggressive style would blow the Ardern-Genter sororal seminar that Labour and Green strategists are attempting to organise clean out of the water. “Respectful and collegial” fall well short as accurate descriptions of TOP’s top-dog. Worse still, Morgan possesses the financial and communications heft to ensure TOP’s policy aggression becomes the defining element of the entire by-election campaign.
Either one of these scenarios is capable of producing a rogue result. Assuming the normal by-election turnout of around 40 percent, Genter could defeat Ardern with as few as 7,500 votes. In a spirited three-way contest, Morgan could take the seat with just 5,000 votes.
Keith argues that Martyn “does a disservice to Labour in portraying the party as vindictive if it didn’t do well in a democratic contest. All the evidence so far is that Labour figures, from Andrew Little down, are relaxed about the Greens running in Mt Albert.”
If Keith truly believes this, then Keith doesn’t know the Labour Party at all.
After Michael Wood’s runaway victory in Mt Roskill, anything other than a straightforward walkover in Mt Albert will be very bad news for Labour. Were Labour to lose, the party would be crucified in the news media and Andrew Little would come under renewed pressure to step aside. Labour’s caucus and the party membership would be beside themselves with fury at the Greens for costing them not only the Mt Albert seat, but in all probability the general election as well.
Keith’s ignorance of the Labour Party’s true feelings towards the Greens raises doubts about the accuracy of his third contention that: “The decision to run a Green candidate was made through the party’s normal democratic processes, with members like myself advocating for it. To portray it as the brainchild of some staffer in Wellington, as Martyn does, shows a lack of understanding of the internal workings of the Green Party.”
Or, does it?
The Greens make a fetish of their ultra-democratic credentials, but appearances can be deceptive. As is the case with all political parties, the Greens are actually governed by a self-selecting and self-replicating oligarchy. The party’s rules make it extremely difficult to over-rule this oligarchy. Partly this is due to the Greens’ consensus-based decision-making process – a system which allows a handful of hidden manipulators to thwart the will of the majority. The oligarchy’s ability to weed-out candidates whose green credentials are deemed to be inadequate before formal selection is also important.
About the only time a genuine majority of the Green Party membership gets to call the shots is when they are asked to choose a new co-leader. The last occasion for such a demonstration was when the party was required to replace Russel Norman. The congenial and highly-qualified Kevin Hague was expected to be elected Male Co-Leader, but to the audible surprise of many of the voting delegates present, the post went to James Shaw.
The election of Shaw spoke volumes about the direction in which a majority of the Greens would like their party to go. Keith ends his post by detailing the lack of support for the politically ecumenical Vernon Tava. What he neglected to say, however, was that by opting decisively for Shaw, the membership had no need of Tava.
Labour’s strategists should have had little difficulty in decoding the message delivered by the Green Party membership when it chose Shaw over Hague. Decoding the message wrapped up in Genter’s candidacy is equally straightforward. “Respectful and collegial” though the Greens’ pursuit of power may be, power is what they seek.
They are in the electoral game to win. With Labour, if possible. Without them, if necessary.