Posts Tagged ‘Green Party’

On Billboards

datePosted on 06:48, November 16th, 2011 by Lew

To state the bleeding obvious: the coordinated actions of a group of Green activists to deface National party billboards is bad form. This is not so much because of the defacement itself (that’s bad enough), but because of the scale and extent of the organisation by members and representatives of another political party, and one which claims to be a good electoral citizen.

The method of defacement — stickers with snarky slogans, mimicking National party campaign material but conveying opposing messages — was clever, well-executed, and the slogans might arguably be true, but that doesn’t excuse the offence against our democratic loix de la guerre, such as they are. That having been said, I would not be so concerned if it had been undertaken on a smaller scale, had been less organised and more “organic”, and particularly if it had not been coordinated and undertaken by members of a rival parliamentary organisation that stands to gain a zero-sum advantage from National’s embarrassment. A certain amount of public-sphere critique and satire is to be expected within a democracy, and at times that means having to tolerate a little vandalism. But these actions crossed well beyond what most people would consider reasonable.

Fortunately for National, and unfortunately for the Greens, this sort of transgression brings its own punishment, and the episode should be a clear lesson to all political parties that dirty tricks of this nature aren’t on (or, more cynically, if you’re going to go there, you need to outsource it). This goes double for the Greens, whose political brand of good-faith, play-the-ball-not-the-man politics would have been ruined if this were seen to be an integral part of the Green strategy. It seems not to have been seen that way, and I think this is largely due to the exemplary response by Russel Norman (and to the best of my knowledge, other senior Greens), coming clean as early as possible (only a few hours after co-leader Metiria Turei urged the Prime Minister to do likewise regarding the “teapot tapes”), and offering the time of Green party volunteers to repair the harm done. This shows excellent faith and genuine respect for the democratic process, and in an ideal world such a response would also be its own reward — though in reality a public opportunity to demonstrate such a commitment may not be worth as much as a dose of (in this case, justified) outrage. It is a black mark against the Greens’ institutional competence that such a stunt could be arranged so close to the leadership, but this shouldn’t be overstated. In general they are pretty good, and given the size, diversity and ideological fervour of their activist community, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often is itself quite remarkable.

An unrelated observation regarding National party billboards: most days I travel between Kapiti and Wellington, and on the weekend for my sins I drove to Palmerston North and back. Leaving aside the demographic changes between electorates, it puzzles me that the National billboards are erected in such a slapdash manner. If you’re going to have a billboard campaign setting out an ordered list of priorities, why on earth would you not stage the billboards in order following peak traffic flows so as to establish a coherent, narrative communication platform? Perhaps they have attempted this, but some billboards have been knocked over, obscured or whatever. But I have been able to distinguish no clear patterns, and it seems a missed opportunity.

L

Is a Blue-Green Foreign Policy Possible?

datePosted on 10:00, October 30th, 2011 by Pablo

Discussion of potential coalitions stemming from the upcoming general election has largely avoided the question of foreign policy. Although the differences between Labour and National are more around the edges than at the core of New Zealand’s approach to international relations, there are some areas of significant difference, to which can be added the perspectives of the minor parties that might serve as coalition partners in a future government.

New Zealand First, Mana and the Maori Party have very little by way of foreign policy platforms, with the former adopting a mix of economic nationalism, anti-immigrant and neo-isolationist perspectives on New Zealand’s position in the world. Mana and the Maori Party’s focus on the defense of indigenous rights, with Mana  adopting a broad anti-imperialist agenda while the Maori Party seeks preferential benefits from foreign trade and investment. As a junior partner in the current National government, the Maori Party secured New Zealand ratification of the 2010 United Nations Defense of Indigenous Rights Convention (which had been opposed by the 5th Labour government), but has been silent on pretty much every other foreign policy issue.   For their part, personality-driven minor parties like United Future have no discernible foreign policy agenda.

Since the mid 1990s there has been a broad consensus on the part of the foreign policy elite with regard to New Zealand’s international relations. Labour and National agree on the trade-oriented and market nature of the New Zealand economy, as well as its general direction. They also agree on its non-nuclear position and support for multilateral resolution of international disputes. On security matters National has, as of the Wellington Declaration of November 2010, made New Zealand a first-tier security partner of the US, in both its military as well as intelligence-sharing dimensions.  Labour started the process of rapprochement with the US on security matters after  9/11, taking advantage of the fact that the US was desperate to enlist international support for its “War on Terror.” Sometimes beggars can be choosy, and the 5th Labour government took advantage of the window of opportunity presented by 9/11 to cultivate a security relationship with the US that had been dormant, apart from core intelligence sharing, since the 1980s. National has followed up by codifying the restored US-NZ security relationship in the Wellington Declaration. This includes closer Australian-New Zealand security cooperation under a US-centric  strategic perspective.

The trouble for Labour and National is that both also want to expand into non-traditional, non-Western markets, particularly in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The minor contradiction is that all of these regions have current and potential trading partners that are authoritarian and habitual human rights violators, thereby giving lie to the stated New Zealand foreign policy goal of being a staunch defender of universal human rights. The bigger contradiction is that the major party approach to international security matters places Aotearoa on the horns of a diplomatic dilemma: its economic fortunes are increasingly tied to regions in which the US strategic perspective sees more rivals than partners. Again, China-US relations are instructive in that regard. By explicitly uncoupling security from trade with the Wellington Declaration, National seeks to split the diplomatic difference between larger strategic rivals, although this may result in a Melian dilemma rather than a bridge between new and traditional overseas partners.

Labour still exercises some discretion around the margins of the pro-US strategic alignment, such as stating that it will withdraw the SAS from Afghanistan rather than renew its deployment in March 2012 even if requested to do so by the US.  It also prefers a more flexible and UN-focused approach to international issues, whereas National is obsequious in its cultivation of US patronage. But on most core matters of foreign policy, National and Labour are reading off the same page.

This is where the potential coalition mix gets interesting. The most interesting possibility is that of a Blue-Green coalition between National and the Green Party. The Greens are poised to receive their largest vote ever. Although they would seem to be more natural allies of Labour when it comes to coalition politics, the Greens were burned by the Clark government on several policy matters such as the Zaoui Case, the Free Trade Agreement with China (and the content of trade agreements in general), deployment of NZDF troops abroad, security and intelligence legislation, human rights and environmental defense, animal rights and a host of other foreign policy issues. However, things may change now that Keith Locke is no longer the foreign policy and defense spokesperson for the Greens, and as I have said before, there is room for neo-realism in the Green foreign policy agenda.

Even so, National’s signing of the Wellington Declaration and extension of state powers of surveillance, detection, detention and control under the banner of countering terrorism is anathema to core Green principles.  To be part of a government that openly overlaps its security with those of the US (to include the possibility of entering wars of choice instigated by the US rather than limiting engagement in war to essential national defense or international peace-keeping), and which curtails basic civil rights in a liberal democratic setting where no serious security threat exists, cannot sit well with the Green rank and file. Selling out these principles to be part of a National-led government may well be a step too far even for the more pragmatic, second-generation leadership that controls the party (which has seen most of the original “red” cadre of which Keith Locke was part leave politics).

But it may not be. If the Greens can extract concessions around the margins of the the foreign policy agenda, say by pushing National to take a firmer stance on whaling or foreign fishery vessel operations or reaffirming New Zealand’s commitment to multilateralism, non-proliferation and peacekeeping, then perhaps its membership and the public at large will be mollified so that the coalition can be sustained. The Greens offer the perfect place to recruit a Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control. The Greens might be able to temper some of National’s trade discussions with environmental and labour-related concerns. Pigs can fly.

A Blue-Green coalition will require the Greens to compromise their foreign policy principles as the price for access to decision-making authority. A confidence and supply agreement might finesse the conundrum, but it could remain as a point of division that could well weaken the government down the road. In fact, Green access to, much less influence in, the foreign policy apparatus (to include MFAT, MOD and the various intelligence agencies involved), could well be a step too far for National and the bureaucracies involved, so the Blue-Green coalition possibility is limited on both sides.

For these reasons a Blue-Green coalition seems unlikely unless the Greens undergo a pro-market, realpolitik transformation or divorce their domestic policy agenda from their foreign policy concerns in order to focus exclusively on the former. As for the rest of the small parties, they will have little or no influence on foreign policy regardless of their electoral fortunes.

 

The Perils of the Dark Side

datePosted on 21:29, October 19th, 2010 by Lew

Via 3 News journalist Patrick Gower on Twitter, the news that Pita Sharples is the keynote speaker at the Destiny Church annual conference this Labour weekend. Concerning news.

Except I’m not sure it’s completely accurate. According to the Destiny press release, Sharples is the keynote speaker at the Friday night Awards & Recognition event which kicks the conference off, while (who else) Bishop Brian Tamaki is the “keynote preacher” for the weekend-long event. I think this is an important distinction: it’s appropriate for Sharples, with a lifetime of support for Māori excellence, to be present for an event which celebrates achievements in “business, management, the health and social services sectors, Pacific arts, family breakthrough and contribution to at-risk youth” for a large and largely Māori organisation, featuring pasifika and kapa haka performances to boot.

But that’s quite a different thing to lending the imprimatur of his status as the co-leader of a government party and Minister of Māori Affairs to the shady cultishness of Destiny’s main event. This is not to say that Sharples should shun Destiny outright: after all, as a kaupapa Māori politician he does represent some of the group’s members, and many non-members who share some of their values. Such ‘Dark sides’ of support exist for almost every party; the Greens have their crazed dark-green environmentalists; Labour has the blue-collar rednecks about whom I’ve written previously; ACT has mostly sucked away the white-collar rednecks (and doesn’t mind admitting it) from National, but the Nats still have the worst offenders among the farming lobby and many of the least-savoury Christian sects (much of Destiny undoubtedly included). For all that they might be abhorrent to some, these are all legitimate interest groups and — within reasonable bounds — they must be tolerated and their needs entertained in a free society. Their members have as much right to democracy as anyone else, but (as with any fringe group) politicians must be extremely circumspect about the type and quantity of support that they grant.

There is a danger that Pita Sharples will be seen to pander too much to Destiny; and indeed a danger that he does pander to them. The māori party paddles turbulent waters at present; having compromised very heavily on the Marine & Coastal Area/Takutai Moana legislation to replace the Foreshore & Seabed Act, and now finds that Faustian bargain under attack both from the ACT party without and from Hone Harawira within. Despite the former, and probably because of the latter, they have been very quiet lately. Although they — ironically — share some common ground with Labour on the Takutai Moana bill, there remains a very large gulf between them; not least because Labour’s own conference signals a much more classical materialist direction than that which has previously obtained. Sharples and Turia are no fools, and can see that remaining a client of Key’s pragmatic-instrumentalist National party is a hiding to nothing — even with the ACT party likely out of the picture after the next election, the likelihood that they can maintain common cause once the other has outlived its immediate use seems slender. So they feel like they need another support base, and it must be very tempting to team up with a charismatic leader such as Brian Tamaki at a time like this.

It would be ruinous to do so. Most obviously, this is because outside of his most loyal followers — his 700 Sons — Tamaki’s is an illusory sort of strength, based on the smoke and mirrors of a showman’s art rather than upon deep loyalty and conviction. This much was clearly shown in the 2005 and 2008 elections, where the Destiny Party (and later the Family Party with Destiny’s express endorsement) failed to come close to success, due largely to a lack of internal cohesion. Destiny has failed to demonstrate — even at the height of its profile five years ago, under a government largely hostile to it — that it could mobilise a meaningful number of votes.

The second, and by far the more important reason, is the abhorrent nature of the policies and principles Destiny stands for — crude Daddy State authoritarian Christian conservatism with a brownish tinge; illiberal, intolerant, homophobic and misogynistic, quite opposed to where Aotearoa is heading. And that’s to say nothing of the corruption and appalling social dysfunction endemic to the evangelical cults of which Destiny is an example. The sorts of scandals which currently rock the church of Tamaki’s own “spiritual father” Eddie Long in the USA must undoubtedly also exist within Destiny. This is essentially the same package of qualities which turned the Exclusive Brethren to political poison for Don Brash’s National party in 2005. Because of this deep and fundamental disconnect, and New Zealanders’ innate distrust of folk who think they’re ‘exclusive’ (especially if they’re brown, wealthy or religious), the reality is that an alliance between the māori party and Destiny would likewise be poison, and would probably circumscribe any future prospects of working with either of the two main parties, not to mention utterly ruling out the Green party — with whom the māori party shares the most policy in common.

So there is no easy course for the māori party in the long term; the swell is heavy and the winds both strong and changeable. But to extend the nautical metaphor, Destiny is a reef; not an island. Better that they paddle on by their own course and seek more solid ground.

L

Frogs, toadies and tadpoles

datePosted on 11:22, September 20th, 2010 by Lew


There’s been a long and turgid discussion about the Greens’ support for the Canterbury Earthquake Response & Recovery Act (CERRA) on Frogblog, with commenters including many of the usuals from around the blogosphere, Russel Norman and Kevin Hague, and someone called BJ Chip (who I assume is a comms flack) running defence for the Green party. (I can’t figure out how to link to individual comments, sorry). Another commenter, Geoff Fischer, makes a persuasive case against the Greens’ newfound pragmatism, both on the Frogblog thread and on his own site. Whilst I don’t entirely agree with Geoff (I’m a pragmatist at heart) I think his critique is a good one, particularly for the Greens (who aren’t). But there are also strong pragmatic grounds to attack the Greens’ decision to support the CERRA; grounds which, if the Greens are serious about their new realpolitik posture, they’d do well to consider.

I’m often disappointed by the Greens’ persistent — even pigheaded — reliance on the ‘principled stand’ in politics. While valuable among a suite of tactics, it’s overused as a one-size-fits-all response which pigeonholes them as idealistic zealots who don’t compromise and can’t be worked with. But although I think its consistent use is a poor strategy in the general case, it gives the Greens a valuable trump card: the ability to say “these are our principles; if you don’t like them, go ahead on your own”. While it all too often results in other parties abandoning the Greens as irrelevant and going ahead on their own, it does build a powerful narrative about the Greens which speaks to characer and reliability and permanence. Principled politics, as Geoff says in other words, has an objectivity about it which is often lost in modern pragmatic discourse where what often passes for ‘true’ is whatever you can argue. When all the other parties in parliament — even the other parties who (however unjustly) appeal to the ‘principled’ brand, such as ACT — are falling over themselves to betray their principles, it’s all the more important that you stick to your own. Put another way: when your political strategy is to be principled, refusing to act on principle is not a pragmatic decision.

Most obviously, taking a uniquely principled stance at the time when the pressure is greatest to cave in hugely strengthens that narrative mentioned above, ensuring the long-term strength of the brand. It’s easy to be principled when nothing is on the line — the measure of a party’s commitment to principle is how it performs when the stakes are highest. That measure has now been taken.

Secondly, principled politics is what the Greens know. It’s their realm of competence. An idealistic stance would have given them the ability to critique whatever misdeeds the government undertakes in the name of this act with a clear and objectively indisputable line (“we voted against it”), whilst the best they can muster at present is the equivocal, inconsistent line which Norman is running in the Frogblog thread (“we objected to it and we don’t like it but we voted for it anyway because we thought it was the right thing to do”). BJChip demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding how public-sphere political communication works with (her or his, I’m not sure) defence: “if they give us such idiotic cr@p [as “you voted for it”] we can give it back chapter and verse”. I replied with the following:

And not a word after “but you voted for it” will be worth a damn out there in the cold, pragmatic world of realpolitik which the Greens have now decided to enter. In that world “but you voted for it, so STFU” is the super-hero version of the “Nine Long Years” gambit which paralysed the Nats from 1999-2004 and has paralysed Labour for the term so far. You can’t beat it; in the battle of the soundbite, it’s political kryptonite because when they say it, they’re right. You voted for it: it’s your law, you swing by the same rope as the rest if and when it all comes apart. And so you should.

As much as they might believe themselves to be big-game players, the Greens have never even made a serious attempt to master the complexities of pragmatic politics, preferring to leave the cut-and-thrust to others. In the realm they have now entered they aren’t so much frogs as tadpoles. Judging by Norman and Hague’s statements and the spirited defence of BJChip (and others who use the pronoun “we” on behalf of the party), it seems they will attempt to defend the decision to support CERRA as they would any principled stance, with a clear restatement of the whys and wherefores behind the decision, omitting any discussion of the political consequences. This is impossible, because it is clear to even the most casual observer that the decision was a pragmatic one based on the politics.

Third and most importantly, at the electoral sharp end a uniquely principled stand positions the party as a ‘safe harbour’ for voters from other parties who are disillusioned by those parties’ too-enthusiastic embrace of pragmatism. This is where I think the Greens got their political calculus most badly wrong. The Greens’ own membership and support base was not going to be unduly turned off by the fact the party refused to support a bill granting dictatorial powers to Gerry “sexy coal” Brownlee; they may have taken some sort of hit, but the risk was not as dire as it is being spun. But a principled stance against this manifest assault on the constitutional framework of the country would have permitted the Greens to position themselves as the last line of defence against Shock Doctrine authoritarianism; a rallying point for liberal values. “Even if you disagree with our policy orientation,” they might say, “at least you know where we stand, and can rely on us to stand against the worst excesses of government impunity.” Coupled with the ideological moderation signalled by the departure of Sue Bradford and Jeanette Fitzsimons, I believe the Greens stood to gain considerable support from disappointed Labour voters, particularly those who wanted the party to act as a functional opposition to the government — and they might have even picked up a little bit from the other parties, as well.

So the decision manifestly fails on grounds of principle, and because the Greens are a self-declared party of principle with neither a strong history nor any particular skills in the exercise of realpolitik, it is doomed to be a failure in practice as well. One silver lining, though: since the Greens stand to gain nothing from it, their support for CERRA doesn’t really indicate that they’ve sold their principles out for power as “Tory toadies”; more that they simply lost their nerve. This stands in contrast to Labour, whose support for the act was obviously based on pragmatic grounds of political calculus, and principles of good governance be damned. This is especially the case for Christchurch-based MPs like Brendon Burns, who is leading the red team’s defence in a particularly distasteful fashion. They are complicit in the power grab. The Greens and their principles are just casualties of it.

L

Fire in the House

datePosted on 21:17, May 5th, 2010 by Lew

The opposition was strong in Parliament today. I’m stuck for time, so what follows is somewhat stream-of-consciousness.

Front and centre was the government’s failure to perform on unemployment and wage growth, the subject of criticism from both flanks. Bill English had led off with “the budget will be about the many, not the few”, and then “but seriously …”, to a stinging rebuke from David Cunliffe, who listed the government’s failings as he saw them. This adoption by the government of Labour’s own tagline looks like an attempt to muddy the counter-campaign and poach their emphasis, trying to set up National as the party representing “the many”, rather than the policy merits of the government’s program, but if so it’s a fairly ham-fisted one. While “the many” looks on its way to becoming this election cycle’s “hard-working Kiwis”, the government’s attempt here to muscle in indicates that National has accepted Labour’s rhetorical framing, although they disagree with it. If you adopt your opponent’s narrative, you need to be able to make it your own — either that, or you need to dismantle and discredit it. English did neither.

Cunliffe was strong, also raising the variance between English’s aspirational and controversial “Plain English” ad and the policy track he has delivered. Sir Roger Douglas also took aim, and was forced by the Speaker to rephrase the question (to Paula Bennett): “Which is more important? Young people getting jobs, or pandering to the Left?”.

Bennett also took a bit of a pasting on the matter of the identity of one Peter Saunders. The Standard has picked this up so I’ll not elaborate more. Wayne Mapp, standing in for the Minister of Agriculture also stumbled on a line of questioning from Sue Kedgley regarding AgResearch’s GM cattle trials. Not exactly a shock since, not being the minister himself, that information wasn’t top of his mind, but it contributed to the general atmosphere.

Then it was all on in General Debate, with Goff, King and Cunliffe leading off on the same topic matter (jobs/wages) with a couple of fiery speeches, and re-emphasising the “smile and wave/photo-op/government by poll” meme and the retrenchment of the government’s mining plans. Judith Collins concentrated on David Cunliffe’s lack of orthodox economic credibility, and purported concern for Goff having to shoulder the dual burden of leading a party in which Cunliffe was both the finance spokesperson and a leadership contender. Nice concern troll, but what’s more interesting is how much she was looking forward to seeing Cunliffe’s expenses records — and the threats hurled across the House while she thought she was not miked — “You wait, just you wait! …” Some irony in this given that it was just yesterday Collins raised the most threadbare defence of her (or someone else’s) extensive use of the ministerial self-drive car: “All the travel is within the rules – that’s all I’m prepared to say on it.”

So, while superficially an ordinary sort of Wednesday (albeit one where the Member’s Day was not clobbered by urgency), I think this has provided a few glimpses of the 18 months to come: a robust focus on core materialist issues from the Labour party, ahead of the budget, and a clear desire to debate the policy merits; combined with continued attacks on the credibility and perceived competence of English and Bennett in particular; the government attempting to subvert the opposition’s framing rather than exclusively arguing the merits; Collins v Cunliffe shaping up as a key battle. Nothing flash, but it’s starting to look like something resembling a threat. Most importantly, something to require the government to rethink its own gameplan. Until now they’ve had the ability to act almost with impunity, their errors going unpunished. If today’s performance is any indication, no longer.

L

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

Young and free

datePosted on 13:19, July 28th, 2009 by Lew

It seems that Australia is considering a measure which would give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote in federal elections.

There are some aspects of Australia’s political system which make this sort of measure perhaps less controversial than in NZ. Australia’s electoral system is more complex than NZ’s; there are many more levels of representation, with two chambers at federal and state level (excluding Queensland); the right being proposed only extends to federal elections, not to state elections which are arguably more important to local electors; and it is a right to vote in a country where adult electors are required to vote. In a sense, proferring the opportunity to vote to those young’uns who consider themselves sufficiently informed and engaged to do so could limit cases of people being thrown into the deep end of compulsory voting in a complex system without a clue.

Politically, this was poison in NZ not so long ago, with most of the vitriol directed at Sue Bradford (who sponsored the Civics Education and Voting Age Bill), and the Greens’ secret conspiracy to take over the country.

But wait a minute, didn’t that bill include civics education? Wouldn’t that make NZ’s electorate more aware of and engaged with political systems and norms? While those with an ideological barrow to push would deride the teaching of civics as a propaganda exercise wherever it didn’t take their particular viewpoint, it is perfectly possible to teach the broad strands of political history, principles of government and representation and the bones of the major ideologies in a non-partisan manner – not an unbiased manner, mind; in a manner which makes the presence of bias clear and obvious enough for students to go and educate themselves. As far as I’m concerned, civics education and democracy should go hand in hand – and civics education and compulsory voting must go together. As it stands, we rely exclusively on the media to give us the information we need to be free and self-governing – without any sort of formal idea about what it means to be free and self-governing, or any critical tools to judge whether we are, or whether the information we get is sufficient to that end.

So, while I’m unconvinced that 16 and 17 year-olds should vote, the idea of them voting with a civics education is frankly less frightening than the idea of adults voting without one.

L

Optimism isn’t enough

datePosted on 22:50, July 9th, 2009 by Lew

I have, of late, been rather critical of Labour, and the reason for my critical tone is at least partially because the sort of Pollyanna bullshit exhibited by certain partisans on this thread (and elsewhere) is eerily similar to the rah-rah-it’s-all-good campaign of 2008, in which the True Believers grossly underestimated John Key and National, attacked him on his weaknesses and derided him as less than credible and not a proper threat, and got soundly and deservedly whipped at the polls for doing so. I don’t want to see that happen again, so I say: stop just assuming the electorate will come to their senses and vote Labour because they know it’s right, or because Labour’s policies will objectively benefit them. They won’t; that’s not enough. You have to convince them to do so; you have to make them want to support you; you have to lead them. So IrishBill’s advice is a good generic communication strategy; it’s also critical that it also be backed by a credible policy strategy (which, I hope, is brewing at present).

To all the True Believers: you don’t help your chosen party by being uncritical cheerleaders; you feed the echo-chamber. Stop it. Loyalists should be a party’s harshest critics and strongest agitators for change when things aren’t working – which, absent deep changes within Labour since the 2008 election, they aren’t. Good supporters ask hard questions, expect good answers, reward rigour, punish prevarication and do not live in awe of or aim to preserve the precious disposition of their representatives. They do not deride those who do so as traitors or try to hush them up for fear of giving the impression of disunity, killing any hope of dynamism in the process.

So far I see precious little of this on the left in NZ, and that does not fill me with hope for the future. The glimmers of hope I see are from the Green Party and the māori party, who have had the good sense to cut themselves loose from the drifting hulk of Labour, at least until its people start to set things to rights again.

L

Memo to the left: the māori party is not your enemy

datePosted on 15:59, May 16th, 2009 by Lew

Eddie at The Standard has posted the latest in a long line of post-election attacks on the māori party, this time for Tariana Turia criticising Labour’s filibuster against the supercity bill. Leaving aside the fact that I disagree with Tariana’s remarks on the filibuster, this attack is typical in that it picks up some specific decision and applies a convenient ideological misinterpretation of its purpose and likely consequences to prove the existence of a traitorous conspiracy against Māori, the working class, the broader left, freedom, truth, justice, motherhood and apple pie. The Standard is far from being alone in this – others on the left resort to this tactic, and the the original and most egregious example of the form is Chris Trotter’s rabid “Kupapa” attack on Tariana Turia (which doesn’t seem to be online but was helpfully reproduced in full by DPF).

There are good grounds upon which to criticise the māori party, but engaging with the government in good faith and using their independence to progress their agenda, however incompletely, isn’t one. Or to put it another way, it’s reasonable to criticise them on the success or failure of their programme, but not for having a programme at all. Having been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea the māori party decided that the devil needed to be taken at his word for once, and at this point their good relationship with National is all that stands between us and a National/ACT government with a clear mandate to enact precisely the sort of jack-booted majoritarian agenda against which Labour and the Greens are now filibustering. The decision to work with National was a risky one, and if that risk doesn’t pay off they will be sorely punished by their electorate. Labour supporters seem intent on undermining the relationship in order to regain the political allegiance of Māori, and that’s a very big risk. They are also intent on undermining the Greens’ more recent relationship with National, thereby undermining what few progressive options exist for this term. Just because Labour has to sit out the coming three years doesn’t mean others on the left must do so – or even that they should, because every progressive voice involved in the governmental process has a moderating effect on what would otherwise be a very ideologically homogeneous group. The māori party isn’t strictly a left party but it remains a potential ally which Labour alienates at its peril.

If it is to be a credible force, progressive politics in this country should be about more than the kind of `my party, right or wrong’ partisan blindness that these sorts of attacks suggest, and which Trotter’s columns make explicit. The greatest weakness historically faced by progressive movements is their fractiousness in the face of a united opposition movement who are just as strongly factionalised but are prepared to put their individual differences on hold in service of common goals. The greatest strength of progressive movements is their independence and tactical diversity, but this is only of value when that diversity is allowed to stand, rather than being cut down if it does not conform. The left must be as politically inclusive as the society it wishes to create. Howling denunciations and ostracising those who disagree plays directly into the hands of the massed forces opposite.

The impression given by attacks like this is that Labour want three disastrous years, so they’ll have an easier time regaining the treasury benches in 2011. I hope, for all of our sakes, that they have a Plan B.

L