From watermelons to algae.

For the first time since 2002 I will not be giving my party vote to the Green Party. Nor will I give my electorate vote (in Helensville) to its candidate. The rush to privilege personality over substance, to put pretty young (mostly female) faces high on the party list in spite of remarkable lack of qualifications by most of those so anointed (the exception amongst the high placed newcomers being Golriz Ghahraman, who I have respect for even though she also has little practical political experience), coupled with the abandonment of any class oriented (particularly brown working class) policy focus in favor of winning over the millennial metrosexual hipster vote, has diminished the Greens in my eyes. They all seem nice enough as individuals, but being congenial does not suffice to staff an effective political vehicle.

My disenchantment with the Greens occurred before Metiria Turei pulled the short-sighted stunt about her past record of welfare (and voting) fraud, which if clever as a politically opportunistic tactic, was incredibly foolish in light of the inevitable reaction from her opponents and the corporate media. In doing so she may have raised awareness of the plight of those needing public benefit support, but she also set back the cause of welfare reform by opening herself and every other struggling parent to charges of being prone to fraud and abuse of taxpayer-funded benefits. As an experienced politician she should have known better.

With the current line up the Greens have finished the move from Red to Blue at their core and in so doing have diminished their electoral appeal in my estimation. I recognize that I am not part of their targeted demographic and am in fact more of the demographic from which the expelled Kennedy Graham and David Clendon come from, but if the Greens wanted to expand their voter base one would have thought that they would maintain their appeal to traditional “watermelon” voters while actively recruiting the blue-green millennial vote. Instead, they appear to have decided to abandon a traditionally loyal (but shrinking due to age) group of voters in pursuit of another potentially larger but less committed one. In fact, it as if the party list selection is aimed at young urbanites under the age of 35 who prefer image and style over experience and substance. Besides being an insult to the intellect of younger voters, the stratagem also appears to have backfired, at least if recent polls are to be believed.

So goodbye to Greens it is for me. But what to do next? The Right side of the electoral ledger (including Winston First) is a non-starter, the Opportunities Party is a vanity project (albeit with the random ponderable idea), the Maori Party is, well, narrowly focused, and entities like the Internet and Mana parties are full of unsavory critters or marginal types that are best shunned rather than encouraged (I say this in spite of my affection for the likes of John Minto and Sue Bradford, but they cannot carry the can of representation all by themselves). So the options for a disgruntled Green voter are limited…

….To not voting or voting for Labour. I have thought about not voting but that would be the first time I did so in my entire adult life. Plus, the political scientist that I live with takes a very dim view of people shirking their civic responsibilities in a democracy, so I have maintaining domestic harmony to consider. Given the damage another National government can do, it therefore would be irresponsible for me to not contribute to their ouster.

Hence I am left with Labour. But therein lies the rub: Labour has stolen a page out of the Greens book and gone with a so-called youth movement in its candidate selection, including of its leadership. It too is all about a campaign based on sunshine, smiley faces and chocolates in every box. In terms of practicable politics, both Labour and the Greens campaign like debutantes at their first school ball–all hope and illusion, seemingly unaware of the practical (and often dark) realities of what happens when they come to that sort of party.

The good news is that electoral campaigns are nothing more than political icing. The cake in politics is found in the policy platform that a party has underlying it. It is where new ideas find their way into policy proposals and moves to change laws, statutes and regulations. And that is where I feel comfortable voting for Labour this year. Because, beyond the long-overdue commitment to fully legalise abortion, Labour’s policy playbook has many good ideas well worth considering. Most importantly, unlike the Greens their core policy proposals are both doable and targeted at more than their electoral base. Unlike the diminished appeal of the political equivalent of blue algae surface blooming in a stagnating electoral pond of its own making, Labour appears, for the first time in years and in spite of its campaign strategy plagiarism of the Greens, to actually have commonweal alternatives to offer that are more than the usual “National lite” policies of the last decade.

So my party vote this year goes to Labour. Perhaps I will return to the Green fold in years to come, but not now. I am undecided about the electorate vote other than to state that I would rather run rusty metal slivers under my fingernails than vote for the Green or National candidates. Perhaps the Legalize Cannabis Aotearoa crowd will run a candidate in Helensville, in which case I can vote for someone who at least admits to being high rather than someone who is riding on a cloud of flattery and sycophancy that is more divorced from the realities of practicing politics than anyone in the thrall of reefer madness.

16 thoughts on “From watermelons to algae.

  1. The rush to privilege personality over substance, to put pretty young (mostly female) faces high on the party list…has diminished the Greens in my eyes.

    electoral campaigns are nothing more than political icing. The cake in politics is found in the policy platform that a party has underlying it. It is where new ideas find their way into policy proposals and moves to change laws, statutes and regulations

    Difficult to reconcile those two statements, especially as you recognise that Labour have a strategy of plagiarism of the Greens (but probably not the same commitment to enacting these policies). Your being in Helensville, and from the general tone of the post, seems to suggest that you just really dislike Hayley Holt (who now at 14 on the list is unlikely to make it in, unless the GP get over 10%; which with a resurgent Labour seems unlikely).

    Fair enough, but bemoaning the lack of; Clendon & Graham, when they burnt their own bridges with the Green Party seems unfair. When two of eldest male politicians remove themselves from the list, then it is not surprising that those left would be younger and female as the original rankings attempted to balance; age, sex, location & “brown”-ness, with an eye to representation as well as competence.

  2. DSpare:

    My allusions to algae reflect my belief that policy substance has been sacrificed by the Greens in favor of eye candy. The Greens are all icing and little cake. As far as I can tell, there may be some policy overlap between Green and Labour proposals, but Labour’s is much better thought out.

    I am no fan of Clendon, whio has outlived his shelf life. But Graham was a very good spokesperson for the pacifist/humanist wing in foreign affairs. That they quit over Turei’s lies or were pushed/jumped in the aftermath does not diminish the fact that the Green caucus is now uncomfortably thin, not just of males but in general. Genter seems the most likely to rise to the role of co-Leader, but as things stand I cannot back them until they get some nore depth in the ranks.

    TBH, I find the candidate for Helensville to be an insult. I have aired my concerns before and heard opposing views, but I will be darned if I vote for her. I can think of several better qualified wimin who could have been recruited instead, but it is very possible that those that I am thinking of either refused or have better things to do with their lives. So I need to find a more palatable alternative.

  3. I remember the 2002 election well, I was very pissed off at being disqualified from voting, despite having lived in NZ for 17 years at the time, indeed NZ was the only country I had lived in. “Universal suffrage” my arse!

    I didn’t know anything about Hayley Holt, but a quick look makes her seem similar to playboy politician and current PM of Canada Justin Trudeau. No doubt if her dad was David Lange or similar she would already be leader of the Labour party. Trudeau, Macron, and Ardern have made me realise just how shallow and vacuous a sizeable chuck of the electorate is. They care about charisma more than policy!

    I’m also a long time Green voter, who is seriously considering voting for someone else this year. I took a chance and paid $20 to become a day one member of TOP. I would dispute that it is a vanity project, I doubt that he is doing it for his own ego. However, it absolutely is the Gareth Morgan party and it is comprised of primarily Gareth’s ideas with a few other ideas from the members given secondary billing. It is very much a one man party with Gareth providing all the money and having veto over all the policy and this is a serious problem, but as you suggest every party has serious problems.

    As a young-ish person though only one thing really matters and that is housing. Despite being a member I was far from committed, I’ve been vacillating for months between Greens and TOP, but I think now I go with TOP. It is a bad choice, but they are all bad choices, in my opinion it is the least bad choice. The worst choice though would not be choosing at all.

    *sigh* Maybe I will start my own party for 2020; I hate all this compromise.

  4. Good post Pablo, fully agree except with the voting for labour thing, Jacinda i like and I feel that Labour is on the up but just not ready to cast my vote for them yet, so I am in limbo until I figure out who to cast mine for.

  5. James, if housing is your priority, what’s wrong with Labour’s housing policy? It might not be perfect, but in its premise of addressing a chronic undersupply by building more dwellings, and of a variety of sizes and formats, it has appeal.

  6. Come on….we need the Greens in Government with Labour. The Green Party has impressed me since I was in the U.S. and felt I could not vote for them. This is not the case here in New Zealand. Their charter is like a lighthouse in a storm. That lighthouse needs our help to make it brighter. Don’t desert, join in!

  7. “ put pretty young (mostly female) faces high on the party list in spite of remarkable lack of qualifications by most of those so anointed..”

    Who are you talking about specifically? And in what way are they unqualified?
    (Edited punctuation for clarity)

  8. The lack of experience in parliament (say, as a staffer or researcher), the lack of professional qualifications in areas connected to politics (except Golriz), and a general lack of experience in anything remotely connected to policy-making is a major concern. One look at the “Who We Are” page of the Greens explains it all. Being photogenic, a c-list celebrity or running spoiler mayoral campaigns is not, IMO, sufficient grounds for candidacy from a serious party. Some of the more “veteran” people on the list do have better credentials, but are ranked further down than some of the neophytes.

    I say this because I believe that no matter how smart or ambitious one is, parliament is not a place where one learns on the job. Best to have a clue before entering that arena.

    If any/all of these new candidates had spent a few years working in parliament for the party or in areas connected to policy-making (be it in the private or public sector), then I would be of a different opinion. But as things stand the list reminds me of the types that used to (and may still well) infest the Princes Street Labour Party branch–wanna be professional politicians without any grounding in the real world.

    Sometimes you have to put in some hard yards before you get to bask in the limelight.

  9. You know GM that is a good question and one the briefly entered my mind after I posted my comment. Why don’t I even consider Labour when deciding who to vote for? Here are some reasons:

    Labour is a party of professional politicians, as I see it they are only interested in advocating the bare minimum of change require to get into government and are deathly afraid of saying anything that might upset anybody. Most, maybe all of their housing policies are not ones that they had three years ago. This is symptomatic of the fact that they don’t have an underlying ideology driving them and this makes them unpredictable.

    A hard choice is a foreign concept to Labour.

  10. The Greens do not want you to give them the electorate vote, they only ever campaign for the party vote. The exception this year is Metiria’s attempt at Te Tai Tonga.

  11. Pablo wrote “the political scientist that I live with takes a very dim view of people shirking their civic responsibilities in a democracy, so I have maintaining domestic harmony to consider. Given the damage another National government can do, it therefore would be irresponsible for me to not contribute to their ouster.”

    It is precisely my sense of civic responsibility which prevents me from enrolling as a voter under the present system of government. Pablo is an academic, an intellectual and a person whose understanding of New Zealand politics is, I suspect, on a par with that of his political scientist partner, yet he, by his own account, struggled to find a candidate or a party to whom he could safely entrust his vote before coming to a decision about which even he has lingering reservations. I cannot claim Pablo’s in-depth knowledge of the personal qualities of candidates and party leaders, or the policies of their parties. Even so I might be prepared to take a stab at choosing one over the others – perhaps selecting one who I consciously perceive as the best of a bad bunch – if only my own interests were at stake. However, supposing the fate of the nation was to turn on the outcome of an election (which I am not so sure is actually the case), then I would not be willing to impose my choice, whether made in brash confidence or honest doubt, on my whanau, friends, neighbours and iwi.

    If the candidate of my choice loses the election, he or she resumes his or her usual employment, and my vote has had no tangible effect upon the political process. If, on the other hand, the candidate of my choice wins the election, then he or she goes on to rule the country, and my choice has been imposed upon all those who would have had a different person to lead and rule them. Even if I felt competent to make that choice I believe that it would not be right for me to do so. Fundamentally, I believe that people as individuals have the right to choose their own leaders. The colonial regime does not allow that right, therefore I choose not to participate in its political processes.

    Having said that I am very well aware of “the damage another National (or for that matter Labour, Green, NZ First or ACT) government can do” and my sense of civic responsibility obliges me to do what I can to redress that damage, whether in practical ways such as housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, protecting and restoring the environment and so on, or more philosophically through discussing the nature and purpose of life in community.

    To vote is to assert one’s power over others, and to impose one’s own choices and preferred solutions to the problems of the day. That should involve a measure of responsibility, and by publicly stating his choice for Labour, Pablo has acknowledged his personal responsibility for any outcomes, good or bad, that our people may suffer under a Labour government. However it is the norm to vote in secret and so in practice most voters cannot be held to account for their choices. For such as those, the process of voting under the present system is, literally, an exercise in personal, political and civic irresponsibility.

  12. Geoff:

    That is an interesting take on voting (or not) in a liberal democracy. In contrast,the general idea amongst democratic theorists (to crudely summarise) is two fold: that the minority or plurality of people who do vote determine political outcomes for all; and that the minority or plurality who vote contingently delegate political decision-making to the victors in exchange for opposition representation in legislative assemblies and them (the victors) submitting to electoral scrutiny at regular pre-determiend intervals. This gives the “losers” in one election a chance to be heard over the short term and to win in the next.

    This is not so much a case of voters imposing their preferences on others, although there is an element of that. More precisely, it is recognition that democracy is a contingent outcome of conflicts, be they material, cultural or social, as channeled through and regularised through the institution of the vote. The outcome is contingent in the sense that winners have to deliver on their promises in order to get re-elected and losers get to compete (and even win) again down the road, so nothing is forever. Refusing to vote strengthens the voice of those that do, but not to the point of tyranny because of the built-in contingency guarantees inherent in the system.

    As you know, I have written at some length on this aspect of demcoracy as well as on the notion of consent. The combination of contingency and consent makes for a distinctive democratic feature: consent is given either actively (voting) or passively (non-voting), with both being contingent on how government’s perform once in office. People can move from a passive to an active consenting stance or (vice versa) based on their perceptions of how governments perform, but the fact is either form of contingent consent-granting is also a form of two tiered delegation: directly by those who vote to those who govern, and indirectly by those who do not vote to those who do.

    Since I prefer to have a direct hand in determining who gets to make political decisions over the short-term, I vote. Unfortunately, this year has seen a paucity of attractive choices of the Left side of the ballot, where personality and style have outweighed policy substance in the campaign. On the Right side there is policy but it is tired and unattractive rehashing of market-oriented panaceas that have been proven to not work, at least in the interests of all (even when figures are not fudged).

    So I am left with a lesser evil choice, and that is why I will party vote Labour.

  13. Even if we concede, as Pablo does, that a clever move is not necessarily a prudent one, I am not persuaded that Metiria woke up one morning and decided that by telling the story of how she defrauded the social welfare system she would earn political kudos. She would have been aware of the risks attendant upon it and in particular she would have appreciated the danger of opening a closet in which lurked other more troubling skeletons from her past life. That suggests her action may have been made in desperation rather than with calm premeditation. In other words she decided to take preemptive action against revelations of her past which were about to be made by another person or party, by publicly disclosing the facts herself in a way which would at least limit the extent of the political damage which she might suffer as a result.
    Consider the case of Winston Peters, also the intended victim of a leak engineered by someone with access to confidential personal records held by departments of state. It would appear that Winston survived the attack with little damage to his reputation, but it is interesting that he has positively discouraged any attempt to track down the source of the leak. That would appear to be uncharacteristic of the usually combative Peters. It could be put down to fear that the leaker has more potentially embarrassing information at his or her disposal, but a more likely explanation is that Peters is actually trying to protect the person who attempted to derail his election campaign. Why would that be the case? Simply because at heart Winston Peters is a loyal supporter of the system. He will desist from taking any action which might threaten to shake its foundations. After first trying to make political capital out of the Peter Thiel citizenship affair he suddenly dropped it, for the simple reason that he chose not to put his own political interests ahead of the interests of the New Zealand state as he perceives them to be.
    Then we have the still unexplained political abdication of John Key in the prime of his political life.
    So there is a lot of “cleverness” at work in the New Zealand political establishment, orchestrated by people with privileged access to state secrets who are intent on influencing the course of the political process. However even if such manipulation is effective in the short term (which is by no means a given) it is, as Pablo observed in relation to Metiria Turei, “incredibly foolish” in the longer run.

  14. This article and subsequent comments has convinced me there is a flaw in our electoral system.

    That is… there is no choice given to OPT OUT of voting.

    If voting were compulsory and OPT OUT was a choice on a voting paper the results would be a fairer representation
    of the strength of a political party’s mandate to govern

    Sidebar: NZ First’s election slogan is ” HAD ENOUGH ” with a photo of Winnie WOS ( waste of space )
    These bill boards are ripe for defacing !! Why not add.. Of me??!! and vote for somebody else

  15. First, ‌in reply to Pablo, I can’t claim familiarity with your thinking and writing on contingency and consent, so please excuse me for going over matters which you may already have covered in depth elsewhere.

    I can see that both constitutional provision for a formal opposition to the government and regular periodic elections make the democratic system more palatable to minorities and dissenters generally, but when minorities implicitly consent to be ruled by majorities I suggest that they do so on much broader grounds.

    One is that the government should be by rule of law, rather than by fiat, decree, regulation or particular legislation, for example legislation which expropriates particular property of particular persons, or pardons or permits particular acts of particular persons which would not otherwise be permitted under law. Allied to this requirement is the requirement for an independent judiciary to which any person may appeal on matters of law.

    Then there is the rather more nebulous requirement, which is usually conventional rather than constitutional in nature, that a government elected by a majority should act with respect for the interests and values of the minority groups.

    When all these conditions apply, then we tend to have what might be called tacit or implicit consent. When these conditions are absent, then we have reactions ranging from the public revocation of consent (the catch-cry “Not my president”) to violence (legislators shot to death on a golf course).

    The broader principle of consent does not in fact, depend on the existence of a democratic system of election. New Zealanders, whether European, Pakeha or Maori, did not elect the present New Zealand Head of State or any of her predecessors of the past three centuries. Only a small minority actively support her rule, a significant minority (perhaps a majority, though it is hard to say) tacitly consent to it, and a significant minority are actively opposed. Even so, this is a situation in which the regime can claim popular consent without submitting itself to any kind of electoral process, and without allowing any kind of oppositional representation. (Elected representatives who do not pledge allegiance to the Head of State are automatically denied access to their seats in parliament). So on the one hand we can have tacit consent to an undemocratic system, and on the other hand we can have explicit non-consent, or revocation of consent, to the outcomes of a democratic political system.

    New Zealand still broader adheres to a system of rule of law and an independent judiciary, and this is, in my opinion, still the strongest basis for popular (and in particular minority) consent to the outcomes of democratic process in this country. However it is a fragile thing, easily undone by laws which give powers of discretion to Ministers of the Crown, the Police, Security and Intelligence services, other state servants, local government officials, judges, commissioners and so on. There is a whole area of so-called “soft-edged” law which gives increasing discretion to politicians and judges at a time when the judiciary and state service appear to be more politicised than in the past.

    So supporters of the system should not complacently assume that opposition representation and regular elections are sufficient to ensure the tacit consent of the population to the outcomes of a political process. Other factors need to be taken into account and in particular the question of whether people believe that “win or lose” the system will deliver outcomes compatible with their interests. That confidence in the system “win or lose” might be what inclines so many people not to vote, but it would be unwise to make that assumption without clear evidence to back it up. My experiences in talking to our people, even over the past few weeks, is the exact opposite – that they believe that regardless of whether their chosen candidates win or lose an election the political system will not deliver to their interests. That is the main reason why they do not vote and it does not really constitute consent, not even tacit consent.

    We can disagree about whether it is a moral imperative (as the regime claims) or morally questionable (as I maintain) to participate in the electoral system, but I expect that we would both agree that not voting in itself is an insufficient response to the problems of New Zealand society (and we might even agree that voting in itself is an inadequate response).

    So if we accept that the system is either in crisis (because of its failure to deliver desired outcomes) or in decline (because of mass non-participation in voting and in political party organisations) we need to develop new ways (or reinstate old ways) of giving people a real voice and a real choice in terms of political representation. Frankly, the idea that a secret ballot gives the individual a political “voice” is ludicrous, as is the notion that we are free to “choose our own leader” when, in reality, the political process can impose upon us the “leader” to whom we are most passionately hostile. Words like “voice” and “choice” are just part of the rhetoric of democracy. When it comes down to it we know that it is not about “voice” or “choice”, but about whether a regime (democratic or otherwise) governs in a way that our people can reasonably tolerate. I personally do not believe that the colonial regime has the capacity or the will to govern fairly in the interests of all our peoples, and I do not believe that its constitution is conducive to good outcomes for our people.

    At the global level, the protagonists of capitalism and democracy do not have to listen to those of us who question and criticise, and they do not have to yield to those who resort to violence or insurrection, but they should, in their own interests, be taking note of the vast numbers who are disaffected, disenchanted and disillusioned and who on account of their disenchantment participate in the political process reluctantly, without enthusiasm or conviction, or do not participate at all. For our part, we have the much greater challenge of growing from the grass roots alternative systems of government which will give people a genuine voice, and a genuine choice.

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