I spent most of today at Te Kohinga Mārama marae, Waikato Uni, watching people graduate. I was there to see my brother-in-law, Enoka Murphy, receive his PhD and was really proud to stand there as part of his whānau while his Ngāti Manawa kin repped their iwi.
My experience of graduation ceremonies is limited to that marae and to US films. I couldn’t help but compare the lifeless and dull academic ceremonies depicted in the movies – perhaps briefly enlivened by someone boldly mounting the stage with bare feet or some other rebellious act of individuality – with what I experienced on the marae.
Some graduates climbed the stage to the accompaniment of a ferocious haka performed by rows of proud whānau and friends eager to celebrate the great achievement of completing a university degree. Others had a beautiful waiata, sung by a proud parent or nanny. A group of Pasifikans occupied the entire ātea, dancing to wooden drums while lei upon lei was piled around the graduate’s neck until they looked like big bird on mescaline. A huge ope of proud Ngāti Porou busted out ‘Ko wai te tekoteko’, one of my favourite waiata of all time. Some Africans (Nigerians? I wasn’t sure) clapped and sang.
Every contribution, from the enveloping waves of sound that rose from a mass of singers, to the gentle trickle of a single voice, was appreciated and applauded. No one seemed to be in too much of a hurry and so everyone had the time to do what they needed to mark out their own proud story of whānau success. The audience loved to see the different iwi represent, but there was special appreciation for the unexpected – whether a cultural offering from another country or the string sextet that offered up a few bars of music to celebrate a colleague.
One of the most poignant contributions was from a mum who stated apologetically that she couldn’t kōrero Māori or offer a waiata but she wanted to say how proud she was of her daughter, the first one in their whānau to get a university qualification. The daughter climbed the stage with her grandmother to receive her degree.
The whole thing was so beautiful, so full of life, so expressive and overflowing with emotion. So Māori. I wondered if the parallel ceremony at the Events Centre a few days before had the same feeling, but I suspect not. One of the things I really love about Aotearoa, about Māori, and about Polynesian culture is the way people do ceremony. It is powerful, fulfilling – whether talking about tangihanga / funerary rites, the pōwhiri / ceremonies of welcome or celebrating success such as a university graduation. For Pākeha who engage with the Māori world, it is in my opinion one of the most important things to learn – the importance of tikanga, of doing things right.
Some quick thoughts off the back of Winston Peters’ comment to a journalist today that the idea of a Labour Green government is a “gross misrepresentation of the NZ political situation”.
What did he mean? Frankly, who knows? Even on the rare occasion that Winston says something in plain language, he still never actually said it according to him. Even when it is published on the New Zealand First website. I have no interest in trying to decipher his intentions from such sparse hints. It is more interesting is to reflect on the bigger picture of the coalition negotiations.
Winston can either go with Labour Greens or with National. Going with National is a risky line to take – and if he does he will be wanting to push the blame onto the Greens as much as possible for being ‘unreasonable’. Even so, NZF was badly damaged after going into coalition with National in 1996 after a campaign indicating that they were going to change the government. It is likely they will be damaged again if he does so now. His election slogan was “Had Enough’. Unless he was talking about himself (and most of us have), this implies an intention to support a Labour-led Government.
In any case, by propping up a last term National Government he will be handing a poisoned chalice to whoever he plans to anoint as successor. Whoever it is will have a hard enough time regardless. Of the two most likely contenders, Shane Jones cannot hide his supreme contempt for anyone who isn’t Shane Jones and is unlikely to have a lasting appeal to voters. I rate Ron Mark as a much better choice, but he doesn’t have anything like the charisma of his boss. If NZF goes with National and then Winston retires, I doubt the party would recover.
On the other hand, if he goes with Labour and elbows the Greens into the position of a support party outside of government, the Greens might end up with more leverage than they have now. The government would still rely on them to pass all its legislation, unless it can get support from National, but the Greens would not be bound by rules of cabinet responsibility. Labour could guarantee to support NZF legislative initiatives but not to pass them. Or it’s own for that matter, unless it ties the Greens into a closer arrangement than confidence and supply.
If the Greens were in a C&S arrangement with the government reliant on them for votes, they would have to use such power carefully and wisely. To be seen to be hamstringing the government would likely provoke a backlash. But what they could do is use the opportunity to strategically carve out a broader support base, by being seen to speak and exercise power on behalf of some new constituencies – ones that disrupt the left / right model of politics that they are currently trapped in.
Finally, it is a shame to see that the small parties are unable to talk together during coalition negotiations (and by all accounts it is Winston that refuses to entertain the possibility). NZF and Greens have plenty in common and no doubt by working strategically together they could achieve far bigger gains for both of them. Divide and rule is an old tactic but I don’t understand why anyone would play that trick on themselves.
There is a lot of talk in the media and in the public at the moment about the merits of a National / Green coalition. It is not a new idea but this post-election there seems to be a deliberate and concerted effort to push it.
National, of course, would love to have a second option strengthening their hand with New Zealand First. It is important to understand, though, that this is not just coming from the Nats. People are increasingly concerned about our looming social and environment crisis and some see it as a way to make progress even if we don’t get a change of government.
Let me state clearly at this stage that I do not think James Shaw should be ringing up Bill English to discuss coalition options. To support the National Party to become a 4th term government would be both impossible in practical terms and politically suicidal.
Impossible because any coalition agreement needs ratification by 75% of the party and there is more chance of Winston retiring gracefully from politics.
Suicidal for a multitude of reasons. First, people voted for the Greens on the clear understanding that we would not support a National Government. To do so would be a complete betrayal of our voters, akin to NZ First going with National in 1996 (for which they got badly punished). Second, it might be worth the risk if we could shape the trajectory of an incoming government. To bolster a government almost certainly in its last term, a government that has shown such disregard for both the environment and our growing social inequality, just before their support collapses, would be a tragic mistake. Third, to make such a move without lengthy preparation and discussion inside the party would tear the Greens apart.
Note I did not say ‘because going into coalition with National kills small parties’. Coalitions are always dangerous for small parties but there are many lessons to be learned from the demise of the Alliance and the Māori Party, and from the zombie resurrection that is ACT.
Entering into a coalition with National right now would be a disaster for the Greens and one from which we might not recover. But as I first said in 2008, at some stage in the future we must be prepared to seriously consider the idea.
The tactical negotiating reason is compelling enough, in my view. Labour is currently the only option for the Greens but the same is not true in reverse. Labour doesn’t owe the Greens any favours, and the fact is that Labour will never respect the Greens until we recognise that truth. Rather than expecting a guaranteed relationship with a party that we aggressively target for votes and constantly criticise for not being enough like us, we need to recognise that Labour will give us just as much as they need to, to stay in power. Having an unconditional promise of support means that they don’t have to give us very much at all.
To put that another way, players only respect other players.
But even if the Greens are ourselves content in our current codependency, there is a more fundamental problem. If Greens cannot carve out a constituency beyond the ‘left of Labour’ cul de sac we are in, we will continue to play out the dynamic of this election over and over, soaring in the polls only as long as Labour is doing badly, but dropping back to 5% as soon as Labour turns left again. Or finds a charismatic leader. We may be mighty in opposition, but we will always be puny in coalition until we stop relying on discontented Labour voters for support.
This does not mean giving up our principles. Green politics is, and always has been, as much about social issues as environmental ones. I attended the first Global Greens conference in 2001 when the Global Charter was decided. What struck me was how the pillars of Green politics are essentially the same everywhere – ecological wisdom, social responsibility / economic justice, peace / non-violence, and local decision-making.
The idea that Green should “stick to the environment” is confused. It shows a deep misunderstanding about what Green politics is, what the environment is, and what human beings are. But does a commitment to social responsibility mean the Greens are left of Labour? Or a left-wing party at all? What does it even mean to be ‘left wing’ in Aotearoa New Zealand today?
Some people on the left think being left means you care about other people and being right means you are selfish. Some people on the right think being left means you are economically illiterate and being right means you are clever. It is sadly common in political debates for people to assume that their opponents are either stupid or morally deficient or both. My experience is that most people from either side are neither.
In fact, if you look at the fundamentals, there is very little genuine political difference between National and Labour. What we have now is more in the way of different political clans, held together by a sense of shared identity (often inherited) rather than by any coherent political core. It is in that way that the Greens have become tied to Labour. Not because our principles demand it, but because of a sense of kinship.
Because if you look at the most fundamental Green concerns: climate change, protection of waterways, child poverty, growing inequality, protecting civil and human rights, tāngata whenua rights, the last Labour government was barely more progressive than National. In fact the main argument used against ever forming a coalition with National – that their economic agenda is fundamentally at odds with a Green agenda – applies just as strongly to Labour.
It might be that Labour is more willing to address these fundamental issues than National, but that would require us to play hard-ball in our negotiations. You can’t do that when you have given your bargaining chips to the other side before you begin. Our current position on coalitions guarantees that we can never do more than greenwash a Labour government.
The problem is that we have bought into an inadequate conceptual model of politics that kind-of works in a First Past the Post political environment but which starkly reveals its flaws when confronted with the political diversity of MMP. This is the idea that political philosophy can be represented in one dimension on a straight line between left and right.
A left / right continuum is simply incapable of representing Green politics. Our most defining issues don’t figure on it at all and neither are the solutions to them a simple application of any one ideology, whether ecosocialism or green capitalism. Both the left and the right have valuable contributions to make to this discussion, but more important for the Greens is the opportunity to articulate uniquely Green solutions as the third point in a left / right / green triangle.
If we take ‘left’ to mean a collectivist orientation and ‘right’ to mean an individualist orientation (which is the only definition that seems to make sense) Green politics is not simply about adopting left social policies and applying left ideas to environmental problems. It is a fundamentally different way of understanding those problems, based on an ecological worldview. When we understand how human society operates as an ecology, when we see how ecological principles can be applied to foster a better education system, or health, or in addressing poverty and inequality, then we are able to offer real, green solutions. This is the approach some leading edge thinkers are already taking in economics, in industrial design and in community development and it has the potential to transform our politics as well.
To illustrate: in order to build a more robust support base and grow the vote for a progressive government, the Greens need to stop trying to poach Labour voters and identify new constituencies. There are around 450,000 small businesses in Aotearoa employing 5 people or less. Self employment speaks to core Green ideals of supporting local economies, building self-reliance and personal autonomy, helping people lift themselves out of poverty and fostering stronger linkages between businesses and the social ecological communities in which they are located. I know a great many small business owners who support the ideals of the Greens but who don’t connect with us a party because we are not speaking to them.
There are actually lots of Greens who are small business owners – probably a disproportionate number compared to either National or Labour. Both National and Labour tend to focus on large corporate bureaucracies and play little attention to how their policies impact on small businesses – who as we know are New Zealand’s biggest employer. For years the Greens put loads of effort into trying to woo the unions. It would be worth putting the same effort into understanding how to support a sustainable, resilient and regenerative business ecology. Certainly no one else is doing much in that space.
Escaping our ‘left of Labour’ trap is not about ‘moving to the centre’. The very notion of a centre sitting half-way between Labour and National is irrelevant when we locate ourself on a triangle. Neither is it about ‘abandoning our principles’. Rather it is about embodying them in their entirety. What they cannot mean, though, is relegating ourselves to the periphery of power just because we are committed to giving Labour a free run.
I expect that Labour will always be a preferred coalition partner for the Greens. We share more values with them than we do with National. And I think it will be a while before the Greens are self confident enough to even find out what might be on the table in a coalition discussion with National. Maybe what is on the table would never be enough, but I think that just asking could make all the difference.
From The Spinoff
By Don Rowe | Staff Writer August 11, 2017
In the wake of Metiria Turei’s resignation as Greens co-leader there has been much discussion about a perceived tension between the emphasis on social justice or environmental issues. Don Rowe tracked down Greens icon Nándor Tánczos to get his thoughts.
Nándor Tánczos is undeniably one of the grooviest cats to ever make their way into the government of New Zealand. A former radical activist and leader of the Wild Greens, Tánczos was something of an anomaly even amongst the Green party at large during the early aughts. But beneath the dreadlocks is a capable political brain; during his three terms in parliament Tánczos paved the way for the Clean Slate Act, the Waste Minimisation Act and even the growing of hemp in New Zealand. Though he cut his hair in a purification ceremony two years after leaving parliament, Tánczos remains a practicing Rastafarian and these days resides in Whakatāne, far from the bureaucratic crush. As a member of the Whakatāne District Council he continues to be politically engaged, however, and had plenty to say about the struggles of the Green party in 2017.
Being in parliament you dealt with a lot of stereotyping, how does that intense scrutiny impact you personally? People making value judgements on you based on very little information about a small snippet of your life and so on.
It’s a very difficult world because you are in the public scrutiny and unlike some forms of notoriety or being in the media, in politics there are a whole lot of resources focused on pulling you down and investigating any dirt to be found, so it’s a pretty tough life and it’s a 24/7 kind of thing. Your family suffer because you’re away from home an enormous amount, and if you’re in the firing line over anything then your family really feels that. That’s one of the hardest things. It’s pretty tough and you’ve gotta have a pretty thick skin but even then it would be pretty rare that at least some of it didn’t get through.
Particularly in a situation like the one Metiria Turei was in. What are your impressions? Do you think she has been treated fairly by the media or the public?
I can’t say about the public, I wouldn’t want to assume that, but there are people who have gotten behind her quite strongly and others who have been very critical – but certainly the media by and large have been incredibly unfair on her. She’s had some very strong support from some of the bloggers, there’s been some very good analysis by people like Bryce Edwards, but I think in terms of the mainstream media it’s been incredibly unfair. You’re dealing with pretty minor things that were done more than 20 years ago, things done by her as a solo mum trying to raise a family and trying to study to better herself, and you compare those to some of the things that our own Prime Minister did as a minister of the crown who took far greater sums of money that he was not entitled to – and far more unethically and for no other reason than that he could. There’s no argument that he faced any kind of financial hardship.
And of course the reason why is because we have an incredibly vicious attitude in our political world towards beneficiaries. They’re treated very harshly and have been the whipping boy for politicians for quite a number of decades now. That’s all kind of embedded in the system. And the other thing is that she made a statement about it, announced it to the world, in the context of saying ‘actually, we treat beneficiaries really badly,’ and that was the thing that made people upset. She was siding with the poor and the oppressed and that’s what our political world cannot stand.
There are some very uncomfortable themes around class, but also race and gender.
We expect abject grovelling from beneficiaries. There’s class, there’s gender, and there’s ethnicity all tied up in this and we expect grovelling gratitude for any crumb from those people. And that’s the interesting thing, the whole episode has really highlighted that and brought that in front of our eyes. That’s why I say I don’t want to make any assumptions about the public because I think the media, the mainstream media, have really shown their stripes and I think that the public has been able to see that. It’s polarised people, there are people who support her and those who are really opposed to her, but it’s brought that contradiction starkly in front of our face and when the dust settles we’re going to have to find some way of resolving that in our own national psyche.
It seems like there’s a fine line to tread where these discussions are important but at the same time the Green party has in some people’s opinion come along way from what they perceive as the original mandate of being more intensely focused on the environment. Now it sometimes appears to be more about issues of social justice and politics of that nature.
There’s a couple of points I’d make. The first one is that anyone who says that the Green party should stick to the environment fundamentally fails to understand what Green politics is by its very nature. The Greens aren’t the ‘environment party’, they’re the Green party. It also fails to understand what humans are. Humans are a part of nature and our social world is part of the environment as much as the native forest is. We’re part of this world, not some separate thing, and the relationships we have between one another and with the rest of life are all part of the same thing. Green politics has never been about preserving the environment, it’s always been about the relationships we have with each other and the rest of life on this planet. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is back in 1999 when the Green party was first elected, the caucus that I was in, the Greens have always had an extremely strong social justice focus. It’s interesting because back then the criticism was that we only thought about the environment, and it wasn’t even true then. In fact if you look at what the MPs in that first caucus campaigned on, there were more people working in the areas of social justice or social issues than there were people working on the environment. It’s never been true that that is what we did and that’s what we were exclusively interested in, and at the time we were criticised when people thought that’s what we did.
People’s impressions of what political parties do and what they’re about are often quite far removed from the reality of what the party has actually done. People form these general impressions through snatches in the media and it takes a very long time for those impressions to change. Often that’s based as much on what someone said at the cafeteria as what the party is actually doing. Look at the National party – there’s this ongoing perception that seems very difficult to dislodge that the National party are good economic manages but all the evidence says that is just not true. But there’s this abiding perception that National are good economic managers. To me that’s completely unrelated to anything that they actually do when they’re in government.
Another thing I’d say is that when it comes to Metiria and people saying the Greens should stick to the environment, there’s a misunderstanding that’s been spread again in the mainstream media – and I fear that it will take hold – that the Greens lost support in the latest poll because of what Metiria did around beneficiary issues, and I think that that is a complete misunderstanding. People say she made a mistake and should never have said that, but as she said, the Greens have tried everything to get that discussion up in public. It’s been very difficult to get any traction. Well, this has people talking about it, so it worked in the sense of that objective.
That goes directly back to what you were saying around the current media climate. Everybody was clamouring for the scalp. In that environment, is it possible to turn things around?
That’s right. Everyone wants to claim the scalp. I think the challenge for the Greens has been to control the narrative and that’s become very difficult. I imagine they predicted that to some degree, that once that came out it was always going to be difficult to stay on top of it. The problem is what they couldn’t predict is a change of leadership in Labour. I think it will be a challenge to get on top of the narrative again, but I think they could do it. Now is an opportunity to regroup and look at ways to seize the initiative. The real challenge for the Greens is in terms of support on election day. The simple mathematical reality for the Greens is that they do well when Labour is doing badly and they do badly when Labour is doing well. That’s how it’s always been historically, and the difficulty with that is that it makes the Greens very strong in opposition and it tends to weaken them in government. If there’s enough of a swing to Labour to get a Labour-led government, it hurts the Greens. So there’s a more fundamental long-term strategic issue that I think the Greens have to grapple with. How do they solve that dilemma? Because until they do it’s always going to be difficult to be the substantial part of government they need to be in order to make the changes we need to see.