Sue Bradford: hampered by her own effectiveness

datePosted on 20:33, September 25th, 2009 by Lew

I haven’t had a chance to read much of the matter written about Sue Bradford’s resignation today, so I apologise if I duplicate things other, wiser, faster people have said.

Sue will probably not appreciate the comparison, but she is like Roger Douglas in a way — too effective at driving a radical agenda for an orthodox political establishment to fully tolerate. Even the Greens, who for all their activist trimmings are essentially integral to the orthodox political establishment, and looking likely to become more so under the leadership of Russel Norman and Metiria Turei. As with Rogernomics, the s59 repeal was a powerfully controversial agenda against which popular opinion is strongly united. Unlike Rogernomics, though, it’s not so much because of the policy’s specific impacts (which are minimal) as the rhetoric around it which have proven poisonous. Sue made the bill her own and took a staunch position on it, and with a few exceptions (notably including Helen Clark, who also made the bill her own by adopting it as a government bill [turns out it remained a member's bill throughout, thanks Graeme]) she was allowed to stand alone on the issue, one person drawing the sort of fire which would ordinarily be directed at a party or coalition of parties. She drew it, took it, and saw the bill through to its conclusion.

And that’s the problem; people don’t like the policy — or rather, they don’t like the idea of the policy — and as far as they’re concerned Sue Bradford is the policy.

Sue Bradford is an extremely effective advocate and a powerful organiser, but she is not the person to lead a party whose central policy plank — climate change and environmental sustainability — is ascending ever more rapidly into political orthodoxy. She is the sort of person any party would want as a #3; someone who works like a demon, is ethically above reproach, has phenomenal networks, whose credentials and commitment can be relied upon, and who has the gumption to see things through to their conclusions. She will go far; we will see and hear as much of her in the coming years as we have of people like Laila Harre and Geoffrey Palmer. But because of her forthrightness and personal investment in the s59 repeal, to elect her to the co-leadership would have struck a critical blow to the Greens’ political credibility and branded them as an activist party without a cause. They have a cause: environmentalism. Other aspects of their policy agenda are important adjuncts to that, but they are just that, adjuncts. The Greens have a great opportunity to make themselves indispensable to future governments who need to be environmentally credible, but they need to focus on doing that.

What of the other parties? Despite her strength as a champion, I don’t think the other parties on the right will be thrilled with Sue’s departure. The Greens’ credibility (and the inability to howl about nanny state lesbians for distraction purposes) is their loss, not their gain. The other parties on the left, likewise, although this change is important in that it enables Labour and the Greens to more clearly delineate themselves from one another. This opens the way to a model of left politics such as I have described; Labour as the core, with the Greens as an independent but allied environmentalist party, with very little crossover. It has potential, although it relies on Labour desisting from the current notion that it can be all things to all people, and the Greens’ former notions of activism as an end, rather than a means.

L

14 Responses to “Sue Bradford: hampered by her own effectiveness”

  1. SPC on September 25th, 2009 at 21:11

    One can focus too much on the anti-smacking aspect, Sue Bradford became the Green MP associated with its economic and social policy and thus the leading “red green” in the party.

    The right first tried to discredit the Green Party on economic cost grounds (as not realist, but idealist). But when this failed to work by itself (because enlightened self interest involves managing future risk), they then tried to label the party as red green as if this discredited their advocacy of the sustainable environment/sustainable economy. In much the same way the political right earlier would label the liberal left “fellow travellers” with the red Soviets (the better dead than red and better red than dead Cold War era slogans).

    The social conservative right in the USA even sees environmentalism as a liberal left attack on their core values, even disparaging it as a false religion. Their market capitalist political allies are all too ready to preach the mantra of one world government alien threat to the USA from the red/left wing via internationalist environmentalism.

    Ultimately the concept was of the red using the green front as a left wing vehicle to bring down the white Christian male led world of “our” Anglo-American market capitalist colonialism.

    One can expect that Norman and Turei will soon be re-packaged by their political opponents to cast all the negative connotations that have been used earlier onto them.

  2. reid on September 25th, 2009 at 21:12

    They have a cause: environmentalism. Other aspects of their policy agenda are important adjuncts to that, but they are just that, adjuncts. The Greens have a great opportunity to make themselves indispensable to future governments who need to be environmentally credible, but they need to focus on doing that.

    Completely agree, Lew and I hope they adopt that course.

    However, I doubt any political strategist would recommend that approach as it lends itself toward outflanking on both sides. A single issue environmental party is vulnerable both from the corporate and private taxpayers who bear the cost of implementing it and also from those radicals who imagine they aren’t doing enough.

    It’s a hiding to nothing, from both sides.

  3. r0b on September 26th, 2009 at 13:27

    … the s59 repeal … against which popular opinion is strongly united

    On what basis do you conclude this? I’m not aware of any valid survey of public opinion on the topic, are you?

  4. Eddie Clark on September 26th, 2009 at 14:31

    On what basis do you conclude this? I’m not aware of any valid survey of public opinion on the topic, are you?

    No, but come on, you can’t seriously think that those in favour of it are a majority. I think its delusional to think that everyone would have voted “yes” in the referendum if it had been worded in a sensible fashion.

    Now I think that it was absolutely the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it must magically have majority support.

    Regardless, I’m sorry to see as effective a legislator as Bradford leave parliament.

  5. r0b on September 26th, 2009 at 17:24

    No, but come on, you can’t seriously think that those in favour of it are a majority. I think its delusional to think that everyone would have voted “yes” in the referendum if it had been worded in a sensible fashion.

    Why buy in to the claims of the noisy to represent the majority?

    What if the referendum question had been — “Should repeatedly beating a child as part of a violent temperamental outburst be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” — how many would have voted No to that?

    We actually have some real data on this. The Herald polled a neutral question and found it had 50% support.

    Unless there is data of which I am not aware I reject the claim “popular opposition is strongly united” against s59.

  6. Lew on September 26th, 2009 at 20:08

    r0b, I’m not buying into the framing as much as observing that a very large chunk of the country did. I’m not saying the s59 repeal itself is reviled and hated, I’m saying what people think the s59 repeal did is reviled and hated, and the evidence for this is the referendum. This isn’t a matter of policy, it’s a matter of symbolic politics; Sue Bradford has come to embody “Nanny State” in the public consciousness — or at least a significant part of it. This perception may be unfair and unfounded, but it does exist, and that perception is the reason she’s not leadership material.

    A neutral question is irrelevant here, because a neutral question was not asked of the electorate. The Yes Vote and others (myself included) had our chance to try to counteract the bias embedded in the question asked, or turn it back on itself — we failed.

    L

  7. Pablo on September 26th, 2009 at 22:42

    SPC has a good take on this, to which I add my own (admittedly uninformed) opinion.

    There is a struggle for the heart of the Greens, They have become a Pakeha middle class party looking to make gains in the soft centre of NZ politics, where whales, pollution, trees and climate change matter. There is no room for Sue because she represents the class/social behaviourist (i.e. Red) line in the party. The Clendon replacement is evidence of the ascendency of the soft green line at the expense of the red line within the party. Given that Labour has repeatedly betrayed the greens on class issues, it stands to reason that they would tilt towards their environmental wing given National’s disposition to listen on that score.

    Given that, Keith needs to watch his back.

    The big winners in this Green fraticide are the Nats. They no longer have to deal with the essence (class relations) and can now separate and conquer the soft margins of environmental discourse acceptable to the Pakeha middle classes. They did the same with the Maori Party (catering to marginal identity issues rather than the economic fundamentals underpinning them).

    Absent another viable Left alternative, the Greens were the last best progressive hope in this market-driven, hyper-individualist era (the Jim party does not count). With Sue gone and Keith isolated, that hope is now a pipe dream.

  8. Lew on September 27th, 2009 at 11:11

    The way I see it, if there’s genuine electoral demand for a ‘red’ party, such a party will reemerge. There was one: the Alliance, which in 2002 squandered a strong electoral position in 1996 and 1999 by failing to learn the lesson that the māori party is now learning — that in coalition government you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.

    If, as they believe, environmentalism is the new political centre, then this is unquestionably the correct decision for progressing an environmentalist agenda. Others can pursue the Marxist agenda, and if they do so they will undoubtedly find support in a new and more mainstream Green movement with more political legitimacy and broader support.

    L

  9. rich on September 27th, 2009 at 15:23

    The idea that the Greens should be a single issue, environmental pressure group is both mistaken and, I believe, mostly held by those who support another party.

    Without social justice and anti-authoritarianism, progressive environmental policies can’t be delivered. There are “right-wing emvironmentalists” like Goldsmith around who want the already disadvantaged to make all the sacrifices for the planet. National think this way – for instance, foisting the cost of the ETS on ordinary taxpayers instead of farming and big business.

    Joined-up polices are the only way forward for the Greens; I believe that Russel and Meteria and the rest of caucus are fully behind this, as are most party members.

  10. John King on September 27th, 2009 at 18:30

    At last… Sue Bradford has quit politics..the thing that strikes me is the reason… very selfish!!!! she did not win co leader so she gets sulky and quits… a good smack on the bottom is definitely needed… but hey she’s gone..great…

  11. Lew on September 27th, 2009 at 22:55

    Rich and Pablo, I should add that I don’t mean to imply there’s a wholesale change of direction here; more a change of emphasis, and a signal to the electorate and political establishment.

    L

  12. Pablo on September 27th, 2009 at 23:49

    Lew: Understood.

  13. Graeme Edgeler on September 28th, 2009 at 08:46

    … notably including Helen Clark, who also made the bill her own by adopting it as a government bill

    I hope you don’t mean that in the literal sense. There were suggestions that it might be adopted as a government bill to enable it to be passed under urgency, but this never happened. It was a members’ bill until the end.

  14. Lew on September 28th, 2009 at 09:01

    Graeme,

    I’m sorry, I did — and you’re right. How curious.

    L

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