Let’s elect ourselves a progressive government with the politics of addition – not subtraction

By   /   September 12, 2017  /   39 Comments

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THE BIG QUESTION confronting progressive voters in this election is: how do they elect a genuine centre-left government? Is this best achieved by abandoning the Greens and delivering the entire progressive vote to Labour? Or, should at least some progressive voters step off the Jacinda Train and re-board the Greens – thereby delivering Labour a reliable and ideologically compatible coalition partner?

THE BIG QUESTION confronting progressive voters in this election is: how do they elect a genuine centre-left government? Is this best achieved by abandoning the Greens and delivering the entire progressive vote to Labour? Or, should at least some progressive voters step off the Jacinda Train and re-board the Greens – thereby delivering Labour a reliable and ideologically compatible coalition partner? Neither of these options are as politically straightforward as they seem. Predicting the behaviour of our friends can be every bit as difficult as anticipating the actions of our foes.

Perhaps the most reliable barometer of voter intentions is RNZ’s “Poll of Polls” (PoP). The most recent of these puts the Greens on 5.4 percent – perilously close to the 5 percent MMP threshold. Even if all of this support flowed to Labour, currently at 41.8 percent in the PoP, however, the result (47.2 percent) would be insufficient to land it on the Treasury Benches. And, of course, not every last Green voter would abandon their party for Labour, making it even less likely that Labour could form a centre-left government on its own.

The veteran left-wing activist, John Minto, is very clear about how progressive voters should resolve this problem:

“In the current political situation only the Green Party has a realistic chance of dragging the neo-liberal Labour Party significantly to the left in a post-election government. Without the Greens, Labour will tinker here and tinker there, while leaving the free market to run a country bitterly divided by poverty and inequality.”

Putting to one side, John’s bald characterisation of Labour as a “neoliberal” party, his clear preference is for progressive voters to get over their Jacinda-inspired “rush of blood to the head”, and march back into Green Party territory. The problem with this position is that it assumes the voters deciding between Labour and the Greens are engaged in a simple, zero-sum game. Walk back from Labour’s camp to the Greens’ and the level of their voter support will rise in inverse proportion to Labour’s.

But, as we have seen, this will not be enough. Simply churning the Labour/Green vote gets neither party over the line and into government. The brutal truth, which John refuses to face, is that the current “progressive vote” – if it remains static – is not quite big enough to secure a “pure” centre-left government. Once accepted, that admittedly lamentable state of affairs leaves Jacinda with only one choice. If the Left can’t get her over the line, she will have to look to the Right.

In this respect, her predicament is no different to that of Helen Clark’s in both 2002 and 2005. Once again, John’s political judgement is very clear:

“On past evidence, Labour will choose to go with New Zealand First ahead of the Greens. In their three terms from 1999 to 2008 that was the pattern.”

Except, that wasn’t the pattern at all.

In 1999, Labour was committed to forming a centre-left coalition with the Alliance. On election night, it seemed as though the Greens had (just) failed to secure any parliamentary representation at all, prompting Labour and the Alliance to fulfil their promise to the voters by announcing the formation of a clearly-signalled, centre-left government. When the Special Vote Count put the Green Party (just) over the 5 percent threshold, and deposited seven Green MPs in Parliament, they happily agreed to support the new Labour-Alliance Government on all matters of confidence and supply.

In 2002, Labour, Jim Anderton’s Progressives and the Green Party, with 63 seats between them, could very easily have formed a centre-left government. Why this didn’t happen can be explained in just two words: Genetic Engineering. The Greens had made a moratorium on the release of genetically-engineered organisms a bottom-line of any coalition agreement with Labour. But, badly stung electorally by the so-called “Corngate Scandal”, Labour was in no mood to trust the Greens on this issue. Both sides refused to compromise and the negotiations fell through. Clark turned to Peter Dunne and his “common sense” United Future Party and a deal was done.

In 2005 the numbers were even tighter. The Labour/Progressive/Green seat tally came to just 57 – not enough to form a majority government. With the addition of NZ First’s and United Future’s seats, however, Clark had a comfortable working majority. Had it been up to her, the Greens would have been given at least a couple of seats in a broad coalition Cabinet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to her. Both Winston Peters and Peter Dunne had made the Greens’ exclusion from the Executive a non-negotiable condition of their support. Had the Greens won 10 seats in 2005, Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons would have become Ministers. That they were able to win only 6 seats, kept them out of the Cabinet Room and, almost literally, broke Rod’s heart.

That’s the history – and the lesson to be drawn from it couldn’t be clearer. The election of a centre-left government only becomes possible when the number of voters prepared to vote for progressive policies grows – as it did in 1999, when, between them, Labour, the Alliance and the Greens accounted for 51.64 percent of the Party Vote.

Jacinda’s ability to form a genuine centre-left government after election day will not be enhanced by swapping votes between Labour and the Greens, but by growing the vote of both parties. John’s imprecations notwithstanding, it should not be a matter of progressives already committed to voting switching their allegiance, but of their encouraging as many good-hearted New Zealanders as possible out of the Non-Vote and into the electoral fray. The objective of all intelligent and compassionate citizens entering the polling-booths between now and 7:00pm on 23 September cannot be as narrow and sectarian as “dragging the neoliberal Labour Party” leftwards. The most important task, at this crucial moment in our country’s history, is for progressives of every ideological persuasion to provide both Labour and the Greens with the votes they need to take New Zealand forwards.

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39 Comments

  1. David Stone says:

    It would be interesting to see poling if the electorate were convinced that a genuinely progressive government was on offer. Which I suspect most of the non vote seriously doubt. I am sure that is where the progressive vote is lurking, if they could be persuaded to vote at all that is what they would vote for, they just don’t believe it. I wonder why.
    D J S

    • Marc says:

      Chris Trotter is right on this topic, a new poll has Nats back at 47 percent, and only a slim chance for a true change of government:
      https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2017/09/12/47406/election-2017-live-ardern-rules-out-inheritance-tax-challenged-on-trade

      Those that celebrated may have celebrated too soon, there is NO time for complacency!

      The neoliberals and their fan base are back on the attack, watch that tax discussion to continue, and other stuff that will be thrown at Jacinda and Labour and also Greens.

      Decades of mind corrupting and bribing with consumerism and shortsighted selfish thinking have not gone by without some traces and consequences, I must say.

      It is me, me and me first for many, not collective and fair things for a better society, the battle has just started.

      • CLEANGREEN says:

        100% and that policy leads only to a revolution.

        • Marc says:

          Saw this on TV 3 tonight, a MUST watch, if you can get hold of it, as it should hopefully be available via On Demand or on You Tube soon:

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/homed/houses/96724526/who-owns-new-zealand-now-new-doco-tackles-our-housing-crisis

          This is what must be shown to as many people as possible, it shows us that we cannot continue with the housing Ponzi scheme the Nats have allowed to develop. Action is overdue and for this a change of government is absolutely essential.

          Only Labour and a strong enough Green Party will ensure necessary reforms, perhaps also NZ First. But the latter may be unreliable and even go with the Nats.

          We need to talk to people out there, especially non voters or reluctant voters, to tell them what is at stake for this country NOW.

  2. Pat O'Dea says:

    Since the introduction of MMP there has never been a government that has ruled without the support of a coalition partner/partners.

    This is the nature of MMP.

    On current polling the Labour Green bloc, need one more coalition partner to beat the National New Zealand First bloc.

    (If you think that NZF are not going to go with National, you have not been paying attention).

    That other support party can only be the Maori Party.

    That is, if Labour are not successful in their stated campaign to drive the Maori Party out of parliament.

    Putting all their Maori electorate MPs off the Labour list, provides them the added prod to carry this sectarian strategy to its ultimately self destructive conclusion.

    Note to Labour:

    The enemy is the National Party.

    The enemy is not the Maori Party.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WboggjN_G-4

  3. Geoff W says:

    Spot on. This strategy should have been obvious well before now. Early voting has already started and very few of the voters that will make a difference read the Daily Blog or any other left blog for that matter.

    • countryboy says:

      @ GEOFF W . Equally ‘spot on’. Why the Hell TDB, in this instance, doesn’t advertise itself mystifies me. Perhaps it comes down to cost? I talk to people when I can about politics and ask “ You heard of TDB? “ If I had a dollar for every ‘ No’ I’ve heard? Why, I could buy 500g of butter.

      • Michal says:

        Of course itcomes down to dosh you must have seen Martyn trying to get people to send in dosh to keep it viable.

      • Danyl Strype says:

        How could TDB be advertised? Perhaps those of us who can’t afford to put in cash towards TDB’s crowdfunding drives could put a bit of time into this? When I was involved in Aotearoa Indymedia we did a number of things to drive traffic to the website; we made stickers, posters, and photocopied zines with stories from the site, put on doco screenings etc. We talked about the site at protests and conferences and encouraged activists to make use of it. It was clear to me at the time, and I still think it’s true, that online activism is meaningless unless its tightly integrated into offline political activity.

  4. Otto Mann says:

    Party voted Green, local voted Greg O’Connor. Sorted.

  5. Mike the Lefty says:

    Just yesterday I was mulling over this problem.
    I thought it was just me, but it seems it is a bit of a dilemma for progressive voters.
    How do we maximise our voting power to make sure National gets kicked in the arse?
    This is where polls can do a lot of harm if they are rigged, which many of them apparently are.

    • Wgtnscarfie says:

      Good question. National is carrying out a tax-attack; kicking Labour’s arse. Jacinda did say they were going to run a clean campagin (still curious on Peter’s pension leak & the timing the release of Turei’s benefit fraud). I’m not a National supporter but I think they may have this one in the bag. Your everyday Kiwi will see “tax this and that” but not too much on National’s track record on issues like child poverty, housing, education (which are also KEY determinants of health and there are many). Maybe NZ has a short memory and attention span? Voters need to engage their brain and not to the fricken shit media in NZ.

  6. Black Lemming says:

    Spot on .

    Jaccindas stance on TPP-11 this morning on RNZ clearly shows Labour wants to proceed with with TPP come what may ( once they have negotiated a carve out on foreign property ownership )

    Despite ordinary New Zealanders consistent opposition to it , on many other grounds ( food labels , IT,medicines , ISDS,environment and lots more ) Labour look set to sell us out just the same as National .

    Such an act of betrayal by Labour , in the face of such long and strong public opposition means voting for the greens has just become even more relevant .

  7. Richard Christie says:

    That’s the history – and the lesson to be drawn from it couldn’t be clearer. The election of a centre-left government only becomes possible when the number of voters prepared to vote for progressive policies grows

    Except, in 2002, as you relate it, it wasn’t the lesson.

    In 2002 the lesson was, again as you relate it, don’t maintain non negotiable bottom lines that might exclude the formation of a centre left coalition.

  8. John Stroh says:

    And perhaps TOP voters should be encouraged to vote Green rather than waste their party vote. Perhaps Dr Morgan will humbly suggest to his would-have-been constituency to do just that.

    • Michal says:

      Yes I agree, I like a lot of TOP’S policies but they aren’t going to get that vote Green if you want a left part of government, not Labour they are not left we know that of old, nothing has really changed, just a different face.

  9. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Ho hum, Chris. Everyone has a “take” on things; that’s human nature.

    However, I did hear your precious Jacinda on RNZ this morning refusing point blank to decry neo-liberalism, despite being pressured by arch-fascist Espiner to do so at least four or five times.

    Oh dearie me.

    That is NOT what an old commie like me wants to hear.

    Watch this space.

    Minto 1

    Trottoir 0

  10. G.A.P says:

    After hearing Jacinda on morning report today state her support for 99.5% of the tppa, it’s off to the polling booth to party vote green. Meet the new boss same as the old boss.

  11. countryboy says:

    Speaking of butter.
    Is Adern an idiot? She’s mouthing off about a water tax on cowsploiters for Gods sake!
    To her I’d say ‘Shut your trap!’
    Make it a POST election thing, and God only knows we need some sort of water quality regulations but what she’s doing is alienating the farm vote and by association the rural town vote and that’s significant numbers.
    Is Adern equally concerned for the Chinese company near Ch Ch drawing off and exporting our water for free from what was once a tannery, so I’m told ?
    Adern is alienating our export industry and handing their hopeful heads to National and by association, the banksters, on a plate. I mean … W.T.F! ?
    You @ Chris Trotter nearly hit the nail on the head a number of times. Think hammer wielded by an epileptic with a hangover?
    Galvanising the masses to vote intelligently is no idle Sunday afternoon’s picnic. Certainly not after years of brain washing by a corrupt media.
    Getting the money out of national’s boney fingers and bottomless pockets is a much easier and more profitable past time.
    Labour MUST court the farmer and their money away from national before any dangerous threats of water taxes or societal wound stitching can be done.
    What? About that? Do you not comprehend?
    Draw the farmer away from national. Promise higher taxes on POST FARM GATE PROFITS to off-set water quality issues if you must. Hit the Banksters hard in their pockets! They’re the ones yanking in the farmers strings. They’re the scum who tinker with the economy thus forcing farmers to overstock to pay higher interest rates. Remember ANZ and the interest rate swaps fiasco that forced members of our vital food export earning industry from their homes and farms? That shit was the tip of a gruesome iceberg.
    Labour must move to protect our agrarian PRIMARY export industry as a PRIMARY goal. Nothing is more important to NZ/Aotearoa. All the political wrangling and high gas content wankery is steam on a mirror compared to what will happen if we lose control of our agricultural industry. And there’s Adern. Deliberately freaking out the farmer who know only too well that most city people sitting down to a buttered quesant and a latte loath the farmer as though they were cancer. Why is that? Who’s the architect of that division between our farmers and our city people? Who’s lying to who?
    What’s in it for the liars? Adern? Any ideas?
    The seemingly desperate and complex nature of a scant few 4.7 million people on hugely rich lands is a sad distraction from some frightening truths.

    • Darth smith says:

      Why there are more urban votes than farmers they don’t. Vote green or labour farming is only 4.35 percent of the economy as tax payer iam sick of the farmers want tax payer subsidies fucking up the environment and expecting the rest of us to pay the bill farmer can fuck off.iam all for making the bastards pay.

      • countryboy says:

        Well, fuck you too. Go hungry.
        Farmers ? On strike!
        How’s your anal sphincter now then? Empty would be my guess. As for your 4.35 % ? Stop doing drugs. They’re not for you.

  12. Priss says:

    I agree; we must have a party to the left of Labour in Parliament. So today I Party Voted Green and electorate voted our local Labour candidate..

    • John W says:

      Hone may well come through if Labour doesn’t join the rest in buggering up his chances. Labour could use Hone just as Nact use Act.

  13. Tom Gardner says:

    We need Winston who can (in the words of Aussie pol Don Chipp) “keep the bastards honest”.

    • Michal says:

      Nonsense Winston believes in much of the same shit frankly!

    • mosa says:

      ” Keep the bastards honest ” is an oxymoron after the last nine years.

    • mary_a says:

      Did exactly the same here this morning too Priss … Green/Labour. I was amazed at just how busy the polling booth was at the time.

      One Labour/Green government coming up 🙂

    • mary_a says:

      @ Tom Gardner … Rubbish!

      Winston is a secretive old clapped out windbag. A National man through and through, a protege`of Muldoon. He cannot be trusted himself, so how can he be expected to keep any other political party honest!

  14. Marc says:

    “Jacinda’s ability to form a genuine centre-left government after election day will not be enhanced by swapping votes between Labour and the Greens, but by growing the vote of both parties. John’s imprecations notwithstanding, it should not be a matter of progressives already committed to voting switching their allegiance, but of their encouraging as many good-hearted New Zealanders as possible out of the Non-Vote and into the electoral fray.”

    Absolutely, but how can you do this, when parties, left, centre or right, do usually ignore many on welfare support, or only ‘discover’ them just a few days of week out of an election?

    It seems, as much as I hate it, the only way Labour can grow its vote under Jacinda is by winning over female light blue voters, who fell for Key and his easy going and superficial ‘charm’, as they are liberal at heart, but still somewhat business and career friendly at the same time.

    Others Jacinda may appeal to are students and youth in general, but she only will appear to a fraction of the large group of non voters or former non voters.

    This makes for some depressing reading, I know, but we will in all likelihood not get that peaceful ‘revolution’ with stardust charm that some seem to be dreaming of, far from it. Once the dies are cast, it will be business as usual, with a gentler touch perhaps, and some tweaks here and there, to make it look ‘progressive’ on the surface.

  15. […] Chris Trotter’s comments this morning that the Left have to bring over new voters rather than eat each others support base are perfectly timed. […]

  16. Hongi Ika says:

    NZ First & Winston were absolutely shafted By Jenny Shipley & National, NZ First & Winston worked quite constructively with Labour & Helen Clark where Winston held the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and was Deputy PM ?

  17. Caleb Day says:

    All that you say is true, but you’re missing another very true and very important point: the Greens are fighting for survival!

    Yes, definitely let’s grow the centre&left vote. But those who are already on the centre&left team need to support the struggling member of that team with our party votes, because they need them more than the surging member of the team needs them. If we don’t, 4.whatever% of the centre&left party vote will be wasted.

    Besides, if the Greens disappear, where will Labour get all its policy from? 😛

  18. Henry lll says:

    Greens are weird and dead. Both want to tax their way to prosperity, and we all know that can never be done.

    I want NZ First in Govt this year to stabilise the weirdos on the blue and red sides. Greens are dead so waste of Vote there.

    • John W says:

      NZ was far better of under a strong progressive tax system.

      You may not have been around perhaps to remember.

      It doesn’t work the way the Neoliberals and Nact would have you believe – if you let them..