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Greens icon Nándor Tánczos on Metiria and what the party really stands for

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.

 

https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/11-08-2017/greens-icon-nandor-tanczos-on-metiria-and-what-the-party-really-stands-for/

Not voting is an own goal

In 1990 I put an election billboard on my fence that featured a sinister looking silhouette in a business suit saying “vote for No-One, because No-One cares”. People’s responses ranged from amusement to furious anger, with one person even climbing the fence to vandalise it at night.

It was a bit of fun, but with a serious intent. I wanted to express my dissatisfaction at a system that trades a vote every three years for meaningful participation. I wanted to show my disgust at the co-option of governments by corporate lobby interests. I wanted to demonstrate my belief that the parliamentary system is unable to comprehend, much less find a solution to, the real issues facing our world.

All those statements still hold true for me today. Looking back, though, what strikes me is my dismay when New Zealand elected a National Government. I could see on election night that things were going to get much worse for ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, that Government soon introduced a range of regressive policies that remain in place to this day, including the end of free tertiary education, vicious welfare cuts, attacks on workers’ rights and asset sales that even the previous Labour Government had balked at.

A year or two later I found myself at a huge march in Auckland to oppose the policies of a Government that I had encouraged people not to vote against. That contradiction, and others I experienced at a variety of street demonstrations and occupations during those years, led me to question much of my political ideology and dogma. As a result of this on-going self reflection my ideas about strategy and tactics have become more responsive, while my principles have become clearer.

My views on engagement in parliamentary politics changed with the introduction of MMP. In 1999 I was elected as an MP for the Green Party and just under nine years later I resigned from Parliament. In my final speech I spoke about many of those same themes that had concerned me in 1990. Perhaps more than most, I am well aware of the limitations of parliamentary politics.

There are two main reasons that progressive thinkers give for not voting. The first is that it makes no real difference. The second is that voting legitimises an illegitimate system.

It’s true that you can’t vote for revolution. That doesn’t mean that revolutionaries shouldn’t vote. It just means they should vote for more practical reasons. Voting is a tool, and like all tools there are some things it is good for and some things it is not.

The outcome of this election will make a lot of difference. Not in fundamental ways perhaps, but it will have direct impact on people’s wellbeing. Whether National or Labour leads the next Government – and just as importantly, how much influence the Greens have, or the Conservatives, ACT, the Maori Party, Internet Mana and NZ First – will determine how much the lowest paid workers will get to take home each week. It will determine whether our coastline is opened up for oil drilling and maybe whether we end up having a catastrophic oil spill. It might decide whether the Maui’s Dolphin becomes extinct. It will decide whether housing will be more, or less, affordable. It will make a clear statement about whether as a nation we are concerned about child poverty or whether we really just don’t care as long as we get a tax cut.

My aims in voting this year are modest. I don’t expect radical change from politicians because they couldn’t deliver it even if they wanted to, at least not without massive changes in public opinion first. I don’t expect the big problems to be solved or to see congregations of the wise inhabiting the Beehive. I vote to make some government policies a little better and to stop some others getting worse. I vote so that at least some of my most important issues are amplified. I vote so that there is someone in there to call out the bullshit when they see it. I vote because the National Party’s lies and deceit just went too far this time. I vote because trying to make the world a better place is easier when we have allies in Government. Given the minimal effort involved, it seems like an own goal not to.

Finally, if you are worried that ticking a voting form will somehow legitimise the system, don’t be. Your vote will have absolutely no impact on that. All it will do is make it more or less likely that John Key and the National Party is re-elected.

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