This just in: the Greens are a political party. It ought not to be news, but it seems to be having that effect on Sue Bradford, John Pagani and some other commentators. They’re throwing up their hands in horror at the idea that the Greens might, just possibly might, enter into some kind of agreement to work with or support a National-led government.
The Bradford version goes something like this: when Rod Donald was alive, the Green Party was unflinching in its resolve not to have anything to do with National. Then he died and other counsels began insidiously to prevail—to the point where, says Sue, ‘The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has now joined the majority of Green Parties around the world who believe that in the struggle to save the planet Greens should support any party in government with whom they can cut good enough deals.’
To this extraordinary statement, there is only one valid response, and I’d like to give it now. Be patient for a moment while I get it ready. Okay. I think I’ve got it together. Here it comes. This is it:
If a deal of any sort (ranging from memorandum of understanding to full coalition) was ‘good enough’ for the Greens, why on earth wouldn’t they sign up to it? They’re a political party, for goodness’ sake (I don’t know why I have to keep saying that), and the aim of all political activity is to make your ideas happen.
Of course there are always tradeoffs between principle and practicality; as my old mate T S Eliot was fond of saying, ‘Beween the idea and the reality falls the shadow.’ Sue Bradford knows that as well as anyone. In a democracy nobody gets everything they want, not even governments, and least of all minor parties. Australian Green leader Bob Brown made this plain at the New Zealand Greens’ conference when he said his party would inevitably have to compromise on the nature of a carbon tax (‘We are responsible about this’).
There seems to be a deep wish on the part of some people for the Greens to remain pure, pristine and uncontaminated by the mucky business of making compromises and deals in order to get power or influence those who have it. Some journalists parrot this nonsense: ‘It's hard to imagine them stooping to grubby politics as their big party rivals often do,’ writes political reporter Adam Bennett in the New Zealand Herald.
A cynic might even say that someone like John Pagani has a vested interested in keeping the Greens pegged in their ‘pure’ corner, well away from any prospect of supplanting Labour as a major party. ‘The Greens,’ says Pagani, apparently while gazing down from some Olympian height, ‘are trying to have it both ways, and in doing so they risk having neither.’
Like, Labour never tries to have it both ways? Never ever tries to strike a balance by deciding on policies that please some constituencies while not wholly pissing off others? Come on, John. Why not come straight out and say that it suits Labour to keep the Greens from growing?
The fact is, sooner or later the Green Party has to start mixing it. Whatever value was once extracted from being seen to somehow stand apart from the normal ruck of politics is long past its use-by date. They have to enter the arena and horse-trade like any other party (which they do already anyway, at a less visible level). There will be failures, of course, and embarrassments, and keepers of the sacred green flame will cry foul. But it’s time to—the horror, the horror!—get down and dirty (with good organic soil, of course).
It makes political sense at voter level too. if there’s one thing about the Greens that gets up people’s noses it’s this constant banging on about how different and special they are. If they are ever to become the government, which I believe is entirely possible, then they won’t do it by being holier-than-thou.
In any case, having said all the above, the Greens have hardly rushed madly towards National’s arms, all dewy-eyed and panting at the prospect of a sniff of power. Far from it. Both co-leaders and the party’s annual conference have been at pains to stress that going into coalition with National remains highly unlikely. And it is. Frankly, given the current state of the Labour Party, I’m not sure they’re much more of an appealing option anyway.