The Last Thing Progressive New Zealand Needs Is A Coalition Of Contradictions

By   /   September 30, 2017  /   47 Comments

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IT IS POSSIBLE to want something too much. The New Zealand progressive community’s hunger for power – so shamelessly on display since Election Night – has led it to treat Labour, the Greens and NZ First as unambiguously progressive entities capable of working together without fault or friction.

IT IS POSSIBLE to want something too much. The New Zealand progressive community’s hunger for power – so shamelessly on display since Election Night – has led it to treat Labour, the Greens and NZ First as unambiguously progressive entities capable of working together without fault or friction. That they know this assumption to be false has not prevented them from presenting a Labour-NZ First-Green Government as unequivocally “a good thing”. Consequently, there is now a real danger of a coalition of contradictions being brought into existence: a forced parliamentary alliance with the potential to be as politically unedifying as it is electorally short-lived.

As by far the most progressive member of the tripartite alliance in prospect, the Greens will be expected to make the most wrenching compromises and concessions. They will discover very rapidly just how vast the discrepancy is between NZ First’s and Labour’s pro-environmental rhetoric, and any willingness on their part to join with the Greens in rolling-out the practical policy measures necessary to give it effect.

The differences between the Greens: a party rooted in the most sophisticated layers of metropolitan New Zealand; and NZ First: a party drawing it most steadfast support from the country’s smallest towns and rural servicing centres; is unlikely to be limited to the best means of tackling climate change and cleaning up the rivers. The Greens and NZ First will find that they are not only at odds over what constitutes practical policy, but that, culturally, they have almost nothing in common. Metiria Turei spoke no more than the truth when she described NZ First as a “racist” party. Quite how the Greens will cope with the sexism and homophobia that is reportedly rife within their newfound ally’s ranks will be agonising to observe.

The Greens’ relationship with Labour is likely to be even more fraught. Disagreements are always sharpest between those who believed themselves to be in accord on the issues that matter most – only to discover that they aren’t. Jacinda’s promises about eliminating child poverty notwithstanding, Labour is not about to abandon its policy of keeping in place a regime of strong “incentives” to “encourage” beneficiaries to move “from welfare to work”. There will be no bonfire of MSD sanctions under Jacinda. Nor will there be a 20 percent increase in beneficiaries’ incomes.

The one election promise Labour will keep and, since the Greens foolishly signed up to it as well, the promise their junior partner will also be expected to honour, is the promise to abide by the self-imposed restrictions of the Labour-Green “Budget Responsibility Rules”. Since these amount to a guarantee that National’s undeclared austerity regime will remain in force across whole swathes of the public sector, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Budget Responsibility Rules will become an extraordinarily divisive force within any Labour-NZ First-Green coalition.

Having denied themselves the ability to raise income and company taxes before 2020, the Labour Party has effectively turned itself into a massive economic brake on its own, and its potential allies’, policy expectations. Unless the Greens and NZ First can persuade the likes of Grant Robertson and David Parker to avail themselves of hitherto out-of-bounds financial resources, this ‘progressive austerity’ will soon turn the coalition into a bitter collection of thwarted hopes and dreams.

Small wonder then, that, according to political journalists Richard Harman and Jane Clifton, there is a growing faction within both the National Caucus and the broader National Party to walk away from any deal with NZ First. Convinced that the coming together of Labour, NZ First and the Greens can only end in bitter disappointment and, ultimately, coalition-dissolving division, they are arguing that it is better to allow the “three-headed monster” to demonstrate its utter incapacity to provide “strong and stable” government for New Zealand. “Give them enough rope,” runs this argument, “and in three years – or less – they will have hanged themselves, and National will be back in the saddle and ready for another very long ride.”

It would be an enormous error for New Zealand’s progressive community to convince itself that the deep contradictions embedded in the manifestos of Labour, NZ First and the Greens can somehow be overcome. Far better for Labour and the Greens, the two parties who are, at least theoretically, ideologically compatible, to spend the next three years developing a suite of progressive policies capable of making a real difference to the lives of the many – not the few.

Right now, with the progressive community’s desire for political power so unreservedly on display, it should be very, very careful what it wishes for.

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  • Published: 12 months ago on September 30, 2017
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  • Last Modified: September 30, 2017 @ 9:27 am
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  1. phillip ure says:

    and will you publically eat crow if you are wrong..?

    ‘cos i see all three as being far-sighted enough to see they can become the de-facto govt stretching away into the future..policies and demographics being the main drivers of that..

    i don’t share your cynicism about the possibilities of any coalition working – ‘cos i see that being contrary to all their self/best-interests..

    so you are advocating the abstaining from power ‘cos the fit isn’t perfect..?

    that’ll be a long time in

    and back at this coalition-beast – one thing that is certain is that the voters will severely punish any spoiler..

    it is kinda puzzling to me how some – including the writer of this piece – are advocating against going into govt…and to just continue tutt-tutting from the sideline..

    no thanks..!

  2. WILD KATIPO says:

    No. Disagree.

    Yes , you may state what the rabid right wingers and even O’Sullivan wrote today in the NZ Herald about the stupidity of National and the Greens forming a coalition,… which is the desperate plea we are hearing from that sector,… and yes after and before the actual shock of 9 long destructive years of a far right wing neo liberal govt finally coming to an end that the ‘ progressive ‘ Left’s desire for ‘political change’ should be careful for what it wishes for…

    However,…. you are making the usual noises that those who have suffered under an ‘evil ‘ regime when it is finally realized that it has been overthrown.

    First , the initial shock . Then the usual ‘jockeying’ for position of who will decide what and who will be in positions of power. And often , – yes,- the factions that overthrew that regime often devolve into strong disagreements and often that leads to conflict.

    That , Chris Trotter ,… is what significant change is all about. This is not Alice in Wonderland. This is real life. You should know that .

    However , you should also know , or at least have mentioned , – that this is what democracy is all about as well. Ruling by CONSENSUS. The very fact there is to be a coalition , ideally means that democracy is called upon to reach decisions. Not autocratic decisions made by one party over the others. And this is what current discussions are all about.

    There is no other way to approach this , – either you get on board now and accept the facts , but no matter when you do , – sooner or later this period MUST COME. Putting it off wont help , – that’s just procrastination. Or would you rather spend the next 3 , 6 , 9 years in disgruntled opposition simply because you were too timid? Or because being in opposition gives solace because we can criticize from the sidelines safely?

    Well , – anybody can do that. Criticizing is easy . Far harder to actually get off ones backside and make the dream a reality. And since when did anyone promise it was going to be a bed of roses?

    I also take umbrage with your gross generalizations about NZ First being a ‘ racist’ party and with the ‘sexism and homophobia ‘.

    WHAT . THE . F@CK ??!!??

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard you state such a bald faced generalization!

    This whole article has been one of pouring cold water on a Labour / Green / NZ First coalition. Talk about defeating your own team before it even gets out from the starting blocks !

    Or would you prefer a situation that Che Guevara described about urban communists as being ‘ useful tools only fit for limited service who only talk about revolution ‘ while avoiding any of the heavy lifting?

    Because that is what you are sounding like.

    Get on board and get with the program and keep with the winning side.

    Otherwise , … please piss off , Mr Trotter, …. and I do say that with the greatest of due respect.

    • Sam Sam says:

      Personals I find it funny that those over at the standard are pretty much saying what I was saying a year ago when anti Trumpers where saying that I was a right wing ninja (what ever that means) for suggesting if you keep up your anti trump rhetoric with out detail, that trump will win. And he did. So try and get over the butthurt.

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Hehehe… I too was the black sheep regards Trumpet . I got my own reasons for at least being tolerant of the Trump , and certainly get tired of the histrionics surrounding him. Mind you , North Korea / Trump is getting a bit hot admittedly.

        As for butthurt , I dunno ,… I just reckon a Labour / Green / NZ First coalition is the ticket for NZ . These are who we work with . These are our people now , and we shouldn’t pull back from getting on with starting things up and getting on with it , its got to start at some point.

        I reckon now is as good a time as any. And I am not about to start pulling down a fledgling beginning for change and start criticizing something before it even gets off the ground ,especially over peripheral points of difference in policy’s.

        Now is the time to strike.

        • Sam Sam says:

          There are two kinds of people in this world

          1. The modern day slave with student loan, mortgage, credit cards and a 9to5

          2. $Crypto people

    • Louis says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more Wild K

  3. patricia bremner says:

    Chris you are full of fear and a bloody defeatest.

    We are looking to give NZ a vision of a positive community based future.

    There will be problems and mistakes, but a people based economy is surely going to offer more than the dog eat dog of the current model.

    We have stopped buying their vision, and are supplying our own.

    There is nothing more powerful than people making life better for their children, and calling out the liars and wreckers.

    So what are you Chris, a neo-liberal advocate, or a born again lefty??

    This is a decision a number of people are going to have to make.

    To be inside a caring community, or outside it yelling “what about me??”

    • bert says:

      “Chris you are full of fear and a bloody defeatest.”

      I’ve posted this before,the acronym for FEAR


      So we shouldn’t fear a N.Z First, Green and Labour govt, we should relish it.
      The basis for this is the devastation of the past nine years and just one example, mental health and the record suicides.

  4. tony says:

    I too disagree here, Chris. There is a growing impression on the other side that the mirror image of your scenario is likely.

    For NZF and National to coalesce requires National to make policy concessions to its left (i.e. the centre ground of Winston, even left-of-centre of some of his colleagues). The National right (with close allegiance to ACT’s values and policies will find that very hard to swallow. If that government is not left enough NZF MPs will be forced to switch to opposition, if it is not right enough the right will be forced to depose Bill and try running a minority government of the right.

    If they don’t square that circle they will not provide strong and stable government, and 1998 will resound in your columns. Is this what Bill and Winston want, as their swan song?

    If Jacinda is the leader she shows signs of being, she will use the dependence on Greens and NZF to make her government bolder rather than more cautious, as both parties have policy areas that will help the world be a better place.

  5. Louis says:

    Chris wants a National government no matter the cost to anyone else.

    • Danyl Strype says:

      It’s possible to make thoughtful criticisms of left strategy without being a supporter of the right. Please drop the black/white thinking.

      What Chris wants, if you read what he actually said here, is a Labour-Green “progressive” left coalition that doesn’t have to answer to the social conservatives of NZ First. He thinks that NZ First governing with the Nats will damage the vote of both parties in 2020. I agree this is likely. He also thinks 3 more years will give the left time to pull more voters back to the Greens (they’ve lost half their MPs on election night numbers), thus pulling a 2020 Labour-Greens coalition much further into “progressive” policy territory than a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition would cope with. Given recent events, this a much more a crapshoot.

      A Labour-Greens coalition that didn’t depend on NZ First votes was my preferred outcome too. But it appears to me that NZ First’s economic policy is far to the left of Labour’s, closer to that of the Greens, and the two could actually do more together to drag Labour back into the centre-left (from their current position squatting the centre-right) than either could alone. Plus, all 3 parties have an interest in taking steps to make elections fairer, for example implementing the Electoral Commission recommendations on abolishing “coat-tailing” and lowering the 5% threshold to 4% (or even 3%).

      As I’ve said before on TDB, whatever way NZ First decide to go, it’s going to benefit the left in ways that another 3 years of NatACT-UF-Māori government definitely wouldn’t have. The election result may not have been an unqualified win for the left, but it wasn’t the win Bill and Paula wanted either.

      • David Stone says:

        “But it appears to me that NZ First’s economic policy is far to the left of Labour’s,”
        Yes. And Winston is the only one of the three talking about the structural changes that are needed to reverse the neoliberal settlement. Changes that are a vital prerequisite to making any significant “progressive ” social changes. To achieve anything worthwhile they need him, and they need to listen to him. And he to them.
        All the other policy or attitudinal issues like accusations of racism, homophobia, transcend, etc. are things for individuals to sort out for themselves, cross all political boundaries and have little bearing on poverty and gross inequality. Let’s hope the trio can keep them in perspective.
        D J S

      • Louis says:

        @Danyl, I stand by my opinion, so no I wont drop it, he has made himself very clear over his preferred preferences in a series of articles.

      • Louis says:

        You can bet there wouldnt be such displeasure if Winston supported National in forming a government despite the fact that NZ First has virtually nothing in common with National, but is very much on the same page as Labour and the Greens on many issues.

    • Barry says:

      Why, does Chris have a property portfolio?

    • Marc says:

      BS, in this post Chris shows total common sense, while some are desperate to get into government, no matter the bed mates.

  6. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Interesting, Monsieur Trottoir, very interesting.

    What you don’t say in your article is that there are exactly the sames constraints and fault lines with an NZ First/National coalition.

    In effect, we have three blocks of political leanings that cannot really work together but can only govern with at least one other block.

    Doing nothing is not an option. The electoral process requires a government to be formed.

    This means that some form of coalition must be formed. This is the point at which the entire universe enters the negotiations. Absolutely anything is possible. The only constraints are those imposed by the mind and dogmatic beliefs.

    Politics is the art of the possible. Let’s see it be possible now more than ever…

    (Valium or marijuana is good for twitchy nerves and Tums are good for dyspepsia – try them, they might help you Chris).

  7. mikesh says:

    I think, given the affinity between Labour and the Greens, NZ First would have to consider itself the ¨minority¨ partner in a three way coalition. As such, whilst it may, as the second largest partner, obtain the deputy prime ministership, it may not be too confrontational on policy matters. Winston himself in fact may see himself in a more avuncular role, showing the youthful Jacinda how things ought to be be done.

  8. Shona says:

    Oh ye of little faith! I have no respect for Labour. ( exception being David Parker)they will backslide and weasel and grab any truly progressive policies as their own. Just as Clarke and Cullen did. But i have all the respect I can muster at my age for the Greens and NZ First. The Greens have new leadership. NZ First has learned a lot and has the respect of the Education Community among many others. There is much common ground and I hope good people in the new intake of Labour members.NZ cannot take another 3 years of National. It would be collective suicide. So get into training Chris there is much work to do!

    • Barry says: