The first person who spoke to the issue equivocated so I got irritated and seized the opportunity to speak second, and told everyone precisely why we must align with the left. The political context of the time featured two leading environmentalists indicating a willingness to work with the incoming Bolger government. The potential for the Nats to capture and control the green movement was obvious. Nobody disagreed with my description of this threat, so the discussion produced an easy consensus that we would align with the left in parliament. I don't recall anyone expressing concern that this parliamentary tactic would be misinterpreted as contradicting the prevailing consensus of the global green movement during the prior decade - neither left nor right: in front!
Towards the end of the 1990s our participation in the MMP parliament created a general feeling of an ecosocialist party that was failing to penetrate the mainstream and build poll support, but was merely serving to advance the political careers of refugees from the failed New Labour Party and Rogernomics. Waving the green flag of convenience worked for them – it didn't seem to matter that they had no personal history in the green movement. Things got even worse by 2003 when Helen Clark made it clear that she would continue to freeze the GP out of her leftist government. Ecosocialism was obviously a terminal failure as a political strategy for our party.
For the 12 years since then, our leadership group has proven to be collectively incapable of learning this simple lesson! Do they really believe that stealing voters from the Labour Party is the best way to grow our public support base? Has it not occurred to them that pretending to fight the political right in solidarity with the left whilst stabbing Labour in the back is a tad deceitful? Perhaps they rationalise that hypocrisy is the historical norm for socialists, so ethical conduct has no place in the political practice of ecosocialism.
I believe we would impress more voters if we get leaders who are capable of seeing the basic motivations that underlie political group psychodynamics and explaining how they cause the behaviour that triggers political events and media commentary. It is human nature to defer to opinion leaders: selecting leaders who aren't clueless and can be relied on to issue apt summaries is the best way to operate at the top political level. Suitable exemplars would notice that the global green movement has evolved into three subtribes over the past 30 years: those identifying neither left nor right have been joined by those disposed to collaborating with socialist & capitalist governments. There's an integral symbolic frame that balances these subtribes in relation to each other: imagine an equilateral triangle with red, green and blue corners. Place this triangle with all corners on a circle which represents the whole and we get an holistic view of the subtribes in parity with each other and in holistic relation to the entirety. Such exemplary leaders ought therefore to abandon the failed leftist experiment and adopt the integral frame instead, and explain to the public that the GP intends to become authentic representatives of all green voters.
The press conference announcing this political reframe must include an explicit repudiation of the ecosocialist hegemony that has prevailed within our party as the inadvertent consequence of our leftist parliamentary alignment. From now on such red-green sectarianism must be viewed as anathema. Restoring the minority rights of the real greens and blue-greens to parity with those of the red-greens is now the priority for us. I expect anyone assuming a leadership position in our party to declare that they recognise the minority rights of all three subtribes and will collaborate with the others in our leadership group to ensure that sub-tribe parity is proclaimed and enforced.
A further necessity is to learn the essential lesson of the recent election result. Swing-voters' behaviour has been indicative - but a scan of the political blogosphere reveals the penny has yet to drop! For many years it has been evident to me that this party must go through a transition of collective transcendence to break out of the traditional political matrix – so that it can lift its vote over 20%, become the key player on the political stage and create governments of the left or right depending on whatever principled and pragmatic basis seems the best option at the time.
There's a barrier in the collective psyche of swing-voters that is preventing escalation of the green vote. It is indicated by the discrepancy between the GP poll rating during the campaign and the final result: 3-4% of voters switched from us to NZFirst between campaign and voting. This late switch took pollsters & media commentators by surprise - but last-minute evaporation of the green vote has happened before. What's more, this barrier caused the green vote to flat-line around 7% all the way through from the 1990 election until the 2011 election produced a 3% increase.
This barrier arises from political identity, and a consequent tribal affiliation. The status quo persists until we see the gate, the padlock, acquire the key, and then use it. First step in grasping the key is to realise that poll questions can catalyse a dramatic increase in the number of self-identifying green voters. My estimate is that you can produce a range up to around 70% of all voters if you frame the question right. Ask them if they'd vote green if the result is protection of our natural environment in perpetuity and maximisation of the wealth generated sustainably by use of our productive environment, and I'm confident you'd get 70% agreeing and thus self-identifying as potential green voters. Ask them if they'd vote green if the GP ceased representing merely the red-green subtribe and began to represent the whole green tribe instead, and explain that this means endorsing wealth-generating economic policy together with wealth-distributing economic policy, and I suspect you'd get upward of 20% of voters self-identifying as potential green voters on this basis.
The second step in conceptualising the key is acknowledging that all three subtribes in the greens must be represented on an integral parity basis as described earlier. Sectarianism alienates too many people to be politically viable as a strategy. Not just within a party, but even more decisively so, in the public mind. The common interest is this second part of the key: a huge swathe of the electorate will always vote against a partisan sectarian option. Our representatives must reject the ecosocialist hegemony that has hitherto prevailed within our party, and declare that they will represent all three of our subtribes on a parity basis. This formal recognition of representation of minority tribal rights is our only viable path to future electoral success.
So the third step in the conceptual key that will unlock the barrier to growing our vote is eliminating our failure to provide an alternative centrist option for swing-voters. Abandoning tacit sectarianism in favour of an holistic inclusive style of politics can extend our consensus into the wider public substantially. Whereas NZFirst gives them a centrist choice purely on the basis of pragmatism, we can provide an alternative centrist option on the basis of principle. We ought to present ourselves to the electorate as non-aligned with both left and right, yet willing to work with both on the basis of shared principles which are readily specified as consensual. This means articulating the main things we agree on with the left - and likewise with the right. It also means specifying the main things we reject about both! This balanced frame specifies the pros & cons of both wings of the political establishment from our point of view in terms of simple principles that voters can readily make sense of. This enables swing-voters to do their traditional thing; control the extremist tendencies of both left and right parties by selecting centrist members of parliament who are non-aligned. In a world where everyone is going green more and more regardless of political postures, swing-voters are increasingly likely to go with this flow. All they need is a centrist choice that provides them with an option to increase this trend in politics. I suggest we give them that choice.
Dennis Frank, 11/2/15