Russel & Metiria – or Winston?

Yesterday Rob Salmond commented on Labour’s two likeliest options for coalition partners after the 2014 election, and had some interesting things to say about New Zealand First and the Greens.

But I must beg to differ on the suggested advantages of offering a plum deal to Winston and expecting Russel and Metiria to play along for the sake of a leftwing government at all costs.

Of course Labour shouldn’t rule out working with Winston, because the cardinal rule of NZ politics is “Never underestimate the power of Winston”. And he’s proven himself quite capable of backing good social policies, as long as they’re populist and have Winston’s name all over them.

But he’s also a man who has happily settled for completely empty titles in the past – the role of Treasurer, or Minister-of-Foreign-Affairs-outside Cabinet, must be the definition of ‘baubles of power’.

Then we have the Greens, who have steadily increased their share of the vote, and who have become increasingly pragmatic about the abilities of a mid-sized party in an MMP Parliament to get things done.

Interestingly, published around the same time as Rob’s post was this from Chris Trotter in the Press, on the challenge faced by the Green Party:

Only the Greens have grasped the need to turn the mechanisms of the market to new, environmentally sustainable and socially integrative purposes.

That being the case, we should not be surprised at the constant and increasingly aggressive misrepresentation of the Greens’ political project.

I don’t think Rob was wilfully misrepresenting the Greens in his post – but he has shown a bit of a tendency to assume that everything they do is a calculated power play. In the post linked above, he states

I think this realization underscores Metiria Turei’s weekend musing about co-Deputy Prime Ministers, which I imagine she knows is simply not going to fly in 2014. Now that she has floated the idea, it gives the Greens another thing to “very reluctantly give away” in the negotiations.

In an earlier post at Polity, he asserts that it was the Greens who leaked details of their offer for a pre-election deal – something I’ve not seen proven anywhere. (Personally, I think it’s just as likely that a certain freshly-departed, strongly anti-Green, Labour MP could have done it to further wedge the parties apart.)

Yet Jim Anderton was Deputy PM with 10 Alliance MPs following the 1999 election. And as Rob himself has pointed out, pre-election deals aren’t unheard of.

I’m seeing a tendency to assume that New Zealand First, while hazardous to handle, can be domesticated; whereas the Greens are inherently untrustworthy. If we take it back to Trotter’s column, it makes sense: the Greens, however many votes they get or however many diplomatic overtures they make, will always be the outside party because of their fundamentally different approach to politics and society.

But I see two problems with this strategy.

Not enough voters on the left are this pragmatic. There are those who would happily accept a Labour/NZ First alliance – who would prefer it to a Labour/Green coalition. But there are also those who do not trust Winston, will never trust Winston, and would rather stay at home on election day than suffer the notion of Winston or any of his erratic mini-me MPs sitting at the Cabinet table.

And the Greens won’t be willing to get stiffed for the sake of placating Winston’s ego. They’re a principled party, and while it could definitely lose them some of their softer Labour converts, their base wouldn’t punish them harshly for sitting on the cross-benches, voting confidence and supply on a case-by-case basis, if the alternative is playing second fiddle to a party with half the number of seats.

David Cunliffe has stuck with the line, ‘we’re not ruling anything out until the voters have had their say.’ It’s the best way to operate in MMP. But it’s natural to think about what a Labour-led government will look like after the election. And I think the Greens deserve to be taken a bit more seriously.

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