Lessons for the Greens from the Mt Albert by-election


There was a low turnout in Mt Albert by-election, mainly because the government parties, National and ACT, didn’t even put up candidates. Sitting in a polling booth as a Green Party scrutineer, I pondered why those that did vote even bothered.

I observed they all seemed happy to vote, grasping the opportunity to have a political impact. But what was the message they were sending?  I thought back to the Northland and Mt Roskill by elections, where NZ First’s Winston Peters and Labour’s Michael Woods won by big margins.  The main message Mt Albert voters were sending (like the Northland and Mt Roskill voters before them) was that they weren’t happy with the National government. And what was the simplest way for them to do this? Bulk up the vote for most prominent anti-government candidate, Labour’s Jacinda Adern.

Assessing whether the Green policies were better than Labour’s was probably a secondary consideration for most voters, and the media downplayed any differences, instead stressing the chumminess between Adern and the Greens’ candidate, Julie Anne Genter.  And then there was the “Jacinda” effect. Julie Ann was up against Labour’s most popular and endearing MP, often touted as a future Labour leader. In this context, the relatively low vote (11.5%) for Julie Ann is understandable.

It will be different in September’s general election, with more scrutiny of party policies, including the differences between the Greens and Labour.  However, the Mt Albert by-election result should prompt the Greens to put more effort into differentiation.

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Now that a Labour/Green coalition is being promoted, top-of-mind should be the fate of all other “minor” parties that have had a governmental relationship with a bigger party.  All of them (United, New Zealand First, the Alliance, ACT and the Maori Party) have subsequently seen a big decline in their party vote as a result of the hook-up. Perhaps the main lesson should be taken from the Alliance experience, where a year out from the 1999 election a Labour/Alliance government was projected. The Alliance vote fell from 10.1% in 1996 to 7.7% in the 1999 election.

In my opinion it is important for the Greens to continue to challenge Labour’s orthodox economic model, where success is measured by GDP growth. This leads to bad Labour policies, including supporting deep sea oil drilling, excessive dairy farm intensification, and trade and investment treaties that serve corporate interests.

Also, in the age of Trump it will be popular to distance ourselves from the American military and intelligence establishment, which unfortunately both National and Labour are wedded to. Such a challenge doesn’t require any new Green policy, only an articulation of what exists. For example, current Green party intelligence policy is to close the Waihopai spy station, withdraw from the Five Eyes intelligence network and abolish the GCSB (while devolving the GCSB’s useful cybersecurity function to a new independent agency.)

Green policy is also for getting rid of the frigates, which are only useful as part of a US-led combat flotilla and waste hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year. The frigates are out of synch with the rest of our navy, which is geared to fisheries patrols, conservation work, and disaster relief in South Pacific and Antarctic waters.

It’s certainly right to project a Labour/Green coalition government.  But the closer the relations between the two parties the more important political differentiation becomes – conducted in a fraternal manner, of course.

Footnote: My fellow blogger Martyn Bradbury repeatedly criticised the Greens for running a candidate in Mt Albert and was worried Julie Ann Genter might beat Jacinda Adern and “destroy Jacinda’s political reputation”. Advocating that a candidate not run because they might win is not something you expect from a democrat.

Martyn Bradbury didn’t think a win for Julie Ann Genter was necessarily the most likely outcome. Oddly for a political pundit he covered the field in his predictions for the by-election, from a win to Julie Ann, a small win for Jacinda, to a big win for Jacinda, to even a victory for the TOP party’s Geoff Simmons.

I was mind-boggled when Martyn predicted, with the entry of Geoff Simmons, that “Labour are suddenly in danger of losing this electorate” and Simmons could be “coming through the middle”. Every other commentator realized that the TOP party could only be a bit player. It ended up with 4.7% of the vote.

Martyn also mistakenly predicted serious friction between the Labour and Green candidates. But as it turned out, the debates between Jacinda and Julie Ann were conducted in an exemplary way, as noted by every other commentator. Martyn had described as “crazy talk bullshit” that there would be “a new age of respectful politics where Julie Ann Genter and Jacinda Adern would skip hand in hand into meetings and in between braiding each others hair and guitar sing alongs, would have a polite debate about the policy issues that show cases blah blah blah.” How wrong could Martyn have been.

After the by-election Martyn writes that “why [the Greens] chose to stand is still not clear at all.” Well, Martyn, it’s very straight forward, and applies to all the parties that stood in the by-election whether they won or lost. The leafleting, door-knocking and political debating that make up an election campaign enables your party to reach voters with their message and win greater support for this and future elections. Parties that don’t run lose that opportunity, as National, NZ First and ACT did in Mt Albert.


    • Yes Keith,

      Also Greens must beef up their Land Transport position and call out labour for being on the back foot with Land transport.

      While National are closing regional rail all over NZ as they are spending all our tax money on roads for trucks, it was Labour that bought the rail back and are not pushing rail to lower to much road freight now causing our roads to become expense to maintain and CO2 levels to dramatically rise opposition parties must now speak out about Nactional agenda to spend only on road transport.

  1. Kudos to you, Keith, for continuing to contribute to ‘the cause’.

    Few ex-MPs are willing to muck in post Parliament and do the hard yards. It’s hard to imagine a certain chap banging on Helensville (or Parnell) doors any time soon. Or sitting out the back folding leaflets, tea-making, or scrutineering up a storm.

    Also enjoy your columns much. Humble yet quietly insistent… much like the man.

    Respect, boyakasha etc.

  2. The Coalition Of The Greens, Maori and Labour has been, in my opinion, hugely boosted by the stupidity of Bill English.

    He has decided that all our creeks and rivers will be poisonous to drink and infectious to wade in for up to another 43 years. The Greens wing of the L/G/Maori Coalition will have huge support in slaughtering English and his advisor Farrar for this monstrous wank on behalf of simpering Corporate and family Farmers.

    Secondly, along with Bill English who was forced to deny any Housing Crisis by the impressive fool John Key, Bill’s weighty Deputy Paula Bennett has been spitting out for months that there is no housing crisis. Including no problem with non-affordable Rents. The whole top echelon of National just lie like weasels. People no longer trust them.

    The L/G/Maori Coalition will soon put signs up on each creek and river “Do not Drink, Swim or Wade in this Poisonous water until 2043”. By Order of no hopers Bill English and David Farrar.

    Within a shorter time than we realise we will be an electric Nation. Labour will not be promoting the sort of intensive poisons mentioned by Keith. All of us are over them. Trucks will morph happily into Trains. Much healthier much safer.

    And Farms? They will be Organic. Healthy for the first time in their miserable lives.

  3. I note that i was the first to like this article. Which makes me wonder what people actually think of predictions. If you haven’t taught people something then its not a good prediction which is just one reason why when people put there card in the ATM at the end of the week it reads as being closer to zero than any false equivalence any here could ever dream up

  4. With regards to the by election and how Greens and Labour worked together, I’d like to see the Greens and Labour doing more deals on electorate voting – i.e. in areas where the Greens and Labour candidate is very close to National or their partners in crime, and they split the vote allowing National through, they ask people to vote for a Labour or Green candidate to get one of them through. Collaboration not competition.

    It all went well this time because National did not run an electorate candidate. Next time two good Labour/Green candidates running might cancel each other out and let some muppet in from the Nats.

    I’d like clear Green/Labour collaboration on electorate voting, and to do that in Auckland central for a start. And all the other locations where vote splitting is a factor.

    The party votes should be the point of difference between Green and Labour.

    It needs to be fair to the Greens though and not just Labour getting benefit of Green collaboration – but Labour also giving the Greens the same opportunities.

    Greens and Labour need to get serious about winning because I’m concerned for the environmental and social health of our Nation if National somehow win again.

    Also agree that we should not be measuring GDP growth as the measure. Economic’s has become non sensical.

    Having the Greens with Labour makes Labour better. Hopefully it also gets Green ministers into parliament, if Labour and Greens collaborate successfully.

  5. “It will be different in September’s general election, with more scrutiny of party policies” Lol, as if the majority of New Zealanders vote on policy 😀 ROFL. C’mon Keith!

    • You better hope they do Max, because if they don’t the Greens are toast. Treating general elections like The Voice for people who can’t sing inevitably benefits the parties with the deepest pockets, ie the corporate-funded ones. If elected government has any potential to help us resist corporate feudalism, getting people to vote on policy is essential to realising it.

  6. Spot on as always Keith. We all want a change of government – although whether Labour can do it is still a moot point. However, without the Greens in coalition, the change may not be particularly progressive.If it is to be successful, such a coalition will be the ultimate test of our Green MPs’ mettle!

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