Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hold the tofu

The Greens must now want the red meat of
Cabinet power. Even they must be tired of
condemning earthquakes in distant lands,
eating tofu and raffling hemp jumpers.
Lifestyle politics is fun, but to save the
world they may have to accept the pay rise.
They have a strong brand and only need 5%.

—Mike Moore, Otago Daily Times 11.1.10

Condemning earthquakes in distant lands? Mike Moore
still clearly hasn’t lost the ability to say things that don’t
make sense, or to wheel out stereotypes long past their
use-by date; and he does bang on about ‘Kiwi battlers’
and the virtues of so-called free trade a mite obsessively.
But he has an acute political eye, a great line in ironic
self-deprecation and an unbounded love of New
Zealand and its ways—for these reasons I’ll always cut
him a bit of slack as a politician. He was desperately
unlucky to inherit the poisoned chalice of the Labour
leadership and the prime-ministership that went with it
in 1990 when Geoffrey Palmer went belly-up. He had to
take it—he had no choice—and he made Labour’s
subsequent election rout less worse than it would have
been with Palmer still at the helm; but had fortune been
kinder to him, I think that, with all his flaws, he would
have made a good (and extremely entertaining) prime
minister for at least a couple of terms. I was also
impressed that he agreed to be interviewed by me for
my book on Helen Clark, given that he scarcely owed
her any favours, and even more impressed when he bent
over backwards (not always successfully) to be generous
about her. And he continues to write lively, provocative
opinion pieces, invariably with a memorable line or two
to savour (one I can’t get out of my head from a column
the other day is ‘Paula Bennett is the Susan Boyle of
New Zealand politics’).

Leaving aside the tofu and the hemp jumpers (??), Moore
is right to draw attention to the Green Party's political
situation and the hard choices it faces. Where the Greens
go from here is in fact one of the most critical questions in
New Zealand politics. In theory, they have the potential
(one might almost say the destiny) to be one of the
country’s two major parties, the standard-bearer for a
red-green alliance of parties, movements and leanings,
displacing Labour, which sadly has run its course but
which—as is the way of these things—may sputter on
obstructively for years. Yet after 10 years in Parliament
and a consistent percentage of the popular vote that
ought to have given it a piece of governmental power
by now—a couple of cabinet seats at least—the Green
Party remains pretty much on the sidelines, a respected
voice saying the right things and making a lot of sense
but condemned, it seems, to the role of carping critic
while National and Labour borrow or steal and (usually)
bastardize its best policies.

A brutal realist—Mike Moore, perhaps—would probably
say, well, like it or not, no one likes the Greens that much.
If they did, the party would get more votes. QED. This is
true. But by the same token, no one likes National or
Labour that much either; they just happen to be what
we've become used to as the least uncomfortable political
options. And just as civilizations don't last forever, nor do
political parties. With National and Labour looking more
and more like 20th-century (and early 20th-century at
that) parties incapable of coping with the realities of the
21st century, the door is open, probably for the first time
since the 1930s, for a major new political movement to
surge forward. It can only come from the left, because
between them National and Labour represent the right
and the centre-right (and will foreseeably coalesce at
some point in the next 20 years). The Greens, as Moore
says, have a strong brand—as strong as 'Labour' was in its
heyday. They need to take that brand (if we must use
consumerspeak) into the marketplace more aggressively
and risk getting their hands dirty with compromise and
coalition. They are never going to be handed power on a
platter—even one with tofu on it.

1 comment:

Mandala Mess said...

I wonder why Greens get labelled as tofu eaters? Many greens eat meat, and yeah, sure many eat tofu- but MOST of us recongnise that most tofu is not environmentally sound, or particularly healthy. When veganism goes bad.

Of course, all this tofu-eating stuff is just linguistic warfare. Some people are masters of it, and it happens to work rather well in New Zealand.