WATCHING THE GREENS’ campaign reset unfold, I couldn’t help but regret the demise of the pre-Dotcom Mana Party. Because sure as eggs-is-eggs, the Greens have put poverty behind them. Not rhetorically, of course, as James Shaw, now the party’s sole leader, made clear to the assembled journalists: “[W]e will continue to talk about poverty. That conversation makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m comfortable with that.” Except, of course, he isn’t. Not in the least. Not on your Nelly.
The Greens have no intention of avenging Metiria Turei. In fact, Metiria is in the process of being air-brushed out of the Green Party’s political history in a way that would have made Joe Stalin proud.
As for the issue of poverty: well, the proof of the Greens’ commitment to keep this issue front and centre politically is, surely, to be found in the content of the party’s re-edited campaign advertisement. And it is – but only in the sense that poverty isn’t there. The very first promise we hear in the Greens’ re-edited 30-second spot is NOT that they will make poverty history, but that, under the Greens: “Aotearoa New Zealand can be a place where businesses are booming in a thriving green economy.” In the whole 30 seconds, the word “poverty” is never spoken.
Shaw did take the opportunity to announce Marama Davidson’s new role as the party’s spokesperson on Poverty, but I’d be very surprised if she harbours any illusions about the way she is – and is not – expected to advance Metiria’s adoption of “the preferential option for the poor.” *
The careful stage-management of the campaign re-set: from Shaw’s heroic entry, surrounded by his top 20 candidates; to the “up-cycling” of the Greens’ 2014 campaign slogan “Love New Zealand”; was intended to – and did – convey a single message. That the feverish political distempers of the past month, which threw the Green Party into such unaccustomed disorder, are now at an end.
Or, as Shaw put it: “Our slogan for this campaign was ‘Great Together’. But, to be frank, over the last couple of weeks we haven’t been all that together and it hasn’t been all that great.” For this lamentable lapse in political discipline, Shaw offered Green Party supporters an apology: “I didn’t come to Parliament to act like other political parties. But this week that’s where we ended up. We have not been our best selves, and for that I am sorry.”
Sorry for what, though? Toby Manhire may have voiced the question, but he was by no means the only journalist present who was wondering. Sorry for interrupting our relentless advance from the kooky margins to the sensible centre of parliamentary politics? Sorry for upsetting our core electoral base in the nation’s leafy suburbs? Sorry for not perceiving the acute political dangers associated with Metiria’s radical turn towards the poor?
Shaw didn’t say. But, then, he didn’t really have to. The empty space where Metiria used to stand was saying it for him.
* This central tenet of the Catholic Church’s social teachings became a focus of the World Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971, which reaffirmed that: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”