sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Chris Trotter looks at Labour's history with the Greens, and suggests in Auckland Central Jacinda Ardern should free her party’s supporters to shift their electorate vote to the Greens’ Chloe Swarbrick

Chris Trotter looks at Labour's history with the Greens, and suggests in Auckland Central Jacinda Ardern should free her party’s supporters to shift their electorate vote to the Greens’ Chloe Swarbrick
Greens co-leader James Shaw by Jacky Carpenter.

By Chris Trotter*

Labour has always mistrusted the Greens. Such naked idealism embarrasses and annoys the pragmatic politicians Labour prides itself on promoting. The Green ethos also contradicts Labour’s “smokestack” legacy.

That the working class was involved directly in the subjugation of nature was, historically, considered a plus, not a minus, by Labour. Mining coal, felling trees, damming rivers, laying roads, transforming raw materials into useful products: that’s what workers did. That’s what progress was all about. The historic mission of the proletariat was to build a new world, not conserve this one. Shane Jones is by no means the only person with a Labour background who despises the Greens for promoting policies that (supposedly) rob honest working people of their jobs.

Labour’s mistrust began in earnest with the Values Party. Back in the days of First-Past-The-Post it made absolutely no sense to tolerate any political force to Labour’s left. In parliamentary electorates finely balanced between Labour and National, even a few hundred votes cast for Values (or, between 1990 and 1996, the Alliance) could tip the balance in National’s favour. Labour’s view of the Greens as selfish “spoilers”: holier-than-thou environmentalists who care more for trees than they do for human-beings; has lived on well into the MMP era.

Nor was it just Labour Party MPs and activists who bridled at the claims of these allegedly “left-wing” interlopers. Working-class New Zealanders, from the very moment environmentalism became a “thing”, back in the early-1970s, sensed danger. Though the Values Party’s opposition to economic growth initially attracted just 2% of the popular vote, it did not require all that much in the way of political imagination to foresee that if such an idea ever gathered a serious following, then the smokestack world responsible for lifting so many working-class families out of poverty would be doomed.

Working-class Labour voters also noticed who was making the case for a post-industrial, post-materialist, society. They were long-haired middle-class youngsters with soft hands and even softer heads. Leading these hippies up the garden path were bearded scientists and pipe-smoking academics: men and women who made their living with their heads, not their hands. Workers didn’t respect them and they most certainly didn’t trust them. Most worrying, from the traditional Labour voter’s perspective, was how many activists from similar backgrounds, espousing similar views, were now joining the Labour Party and being selected as candidates.

In the mid-1970s, (not long before he embarked on his career as an award-winning journalist and editor) the late Warren Berryman, was working as a labourer in the Thorndon Tunnel. He liked to recount how bitterly his workmates resented what they saw as the takeover of “their” Labour Party by left-wing academic “wan*ers” who’d “never done an honest day’s work in their lives”. That a great many of these working-class blokes would end up voting for the pugnaciously populist National Party leader, Rob Muldoon, was obvious to Berryman long before the Muldoon tsunami of November 1975.

Berryman’s insight is reflected in the election data. Values claimed 5% of the popular vote in 1975 – not enough, on its own, to explain Labour’s defeat. But throw into the mix the other 5 percentage points which Labour lost between 1972 and 1975 – mostly in response to the perceived threats posed by the “New Social Movements” (of which the Values Party was the most comprehensive expression) and it was clear that “the workers” were no longer enough. Any future Labour majority would have to be constructed out of new social forces with radically divergent interests.

The foregoing historical excursion was necessary because the election that will be completed in just five days’ time offers the best chance of resuming the forward march of New Zealand progressivism since the Muldoon tsunami brought it to such a shuddering halt forty-five years ago. The Labour Governments of 1984-1990 and 1999-2008, dependent as they were on winning and holding significant middle-class support, offered little more than benign neglect to its working-class base – and, all-too-often, much less.

In 2020, thanks to its leader’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Labour Party commands the support of approximately 50% of the electorate. (Norman Kirk, in 1972, won 48.4% of the popular vote.) Such a large number of citizens can only be a combination of many classes. What brings them together is not only the performance and personality of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but also the hope that a Labour Party freed from the constraints of Winston Peters and NZ First, and encouraged by the Greens, will look to govern New Zealand in a more responsive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable fashion.

For those looking forward to the election of such a government, the great concern is that so overwhelming is Labour’s popularity that the Greens may be squeezed out of Parliament altogether. Failure to clear the 5% MMP threshold would not spell the end of the Greens (as it almost certainly will for NZ First) but it would require them to conduct themselves in ways that could disrupt the strategic thinking of a stand-alone Labour Government.

Politically, the Greens would have no choice but to reconfigure themselves as an extra-parliamentary party of opposition: not only, in this case, to the policies of the official Opposition – the National Party and Act – but also, to the governing party, Labour. Unconstrained by either a formal coalition, or a confidence and supply agreement, the Greens would do all they could to persuade as many voters as possible to reconsider their support for Labour.

Given the ingrained mistrust of the Greens which still exists among many Labour MPs, there is a strong possibility that a stand-alone Labour Government would veer away reflexively from implementing policies too closely associated with its critical and radical rivals on the left. Not daring and experimental, but cautious and prevaricating, could again become the watchwords of an Ardern-led government. The massive, cross-class, electoral coalition which swept Labour into power, seeing the opportunity for a genuine policy re-set slipping away, would very quickly fracture and disintegrate.

The best way for Labour to avoid this grim scenario is, clearly, for Jacinda Ardern to follow the precedent set by National’s Jim Bolger in 1996, and Labour’s Helen Clark in 1999. In the seat where their potential ally is making the strongest showing: in this case Auckland Central; the Labour leader should free her party’s supporters to shift their electorate vote to the Greens’ Chloe Swarbrick. The likelihood that the final election result will show such a move to have been unnecessary is irrelevant. As with any kind of gift, it’s the thought that counts.

If the Greens could learn to love the workers, then surely it is time that Labour learned to love the planet?


*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

70 Comments

If you value short term comfort more than long term devastation, vote Labour, Green.

If you value long term prosperity more than short term comfort, vote National, Act.

If you value both, NZPUP in near future will offer a solution for a fine balance.

13
up

Er, what you mean to say is, if you don't care about the long-term health of the planet and believe in infinite growth in a finite system, vote National and Act.

Infinite growth in the system, you referring to Jacinda's RBNZ policy of spending without ending ?
You do realize thats Labour in charge of this utopia of spending.
$16M on art grants by Jacinda comes to mind, hey well we got some people to "think about art".

Might get some cool new arty flag designs like the laser kiwi - oh hold on that cost $25 million.

Act is one guy who has US republican party policies and questionable thoughts on female employment. I’m not sure that’s a smart vote.

13
up

One of the big issues I have with left wing politics is this statement; "The historic mission of the proletariat was to build a new world", but the obvious failure of the left wing politicians is that in my view 90% of the benefits went to the "upper classes". The fate of the working classes has progressively declined in the last 30 - 40 years. Perhaps it is those "left-wing academic “wankers” who’d “never done an honest day’s work in their lives", the likes of Helen Clark and Phil Goff who feathered their own ambitions and nest at the expense of those they claimed to represent. And then there is of course Mike Moore's advice to the Lange Government of those whom they could not afford to piss off. And the current Government continues to perpetuate this crime against the people of NZ by refusing to do anything substantive about the costs of housing, and of course the effects on the economy and jobs of the 'free market'. And then the National Party has only ever been worse, far worse.

The Green's shouldn't be trusted. James Shaw on RNZ this morning is insistent on a 'Wealth Tax', but has no criticism of the RBNZ propping up the housing market and therefore housing costs. Chloe Swarbrick is impressive, but very much a product of her generation and like all politicians very blinkered in a number of areas. A little bit of CTs bias come through in this article, but a careful listen and read of what the Greens put out and I can't help but think it is justified.

So just to be clear - are you saying the left has done nothing to avoid people becoming excessively wealthy so they are the devil, but a wealth tax introduced by the left to prevent people become excessively wealthy is also the devil?

IO, I am not calling anyone the devil. I don't agree with such emotive terms. What I am saying is that although Labour has stood on a platform of representing the working class in this country, their record at best is dismal. and National's is worse. This time around Robertson stated in the beginning he want jobs for everyone, everywhere but he and the party have done little if anything to progress it. And make no mistake - this lack of jobs and the erosion of working conditions is what has and is leading to many of the social ills of the country. And as to the cost of housing, in my view the single largest contributor to poverty, they have done less than nothing while one of their employees the RBNZ Governor, is actively trying to make it worse. No our politicians in general terms, represent the money no matter which side of the divide they supposedly come from.

Great - just double checking you were providing a balanced view. Funny that it appears to be the 'working class people' these days who don't want capital gains taxes or wealth taxes. The picture is very confused. Obviously everyone thinks they can be rich and nobody needs to pay the bills.

Wanting to be rich is everyone's dream i think, even those who claim not. The problem is most think that if you're rich then you likely stole if from someone. For landlords that is probably true, but many business owners, and i know a few, did it from hard graft and sweat. Some business owners though get to a certain size and then seem to think they can treat their workers anyway they please. However i don't know any business owners who built a solid, stable business, who was able to without the help of employees. so they owe their success as much to their employees as they do to their own entrepreneurship. But everyone who is in a job (important criteria) deserves a part of the pie, and a fair part, not some dribble that locks them into poor street while the owner builds a mansion.

Funny story - on one of the property investment pages on FB yesterday. Somebody asking 'can I use the equity in my mortgage free home to buy a rental. I don't have a job but not worried just want to buy a rental'.

Its our perverse tax system that has all the wrong incentives. Why work when you can just speculate on asset prices?

Solve that issue, be it from the left or right side of the political spectrum and we'll be making progress. As you point to, I don't think either side of the political spectrum is any better than the other at the moment.

I've seen that repeated a few times now. Yes I agree, but that person will still need to pay quite a few bills, because a property first and foremost is a liability. And if the rental is empty, they will be paying for two properties from a position of not having a job.

Disagree in principle to a CGT because as Micheal Cullen structured his version of it, as a mortgage free homeowner (just one- the one I live in) I would receive a tax bill each year base on some 'value' that someone else thought it was worth. That value means nothing to me as I don't want top sell my home.

I do think second and investment homes should be taxed, but not on some theoretical value but on some realised value. Your case in point to borrow against some change in value is a way to 'realise' a gain in value, just as selling it would generate a profit. But if a gain is taxable then any loss should also be taxable, although i disagree with the principle of LAQCs.

The working class people particularly don't want a CGT as they don't have any other clues on how to invest to get ahead than through the good old housing ponzi.

'Get ahead' of what? Each other?

There's the FOMO that is the psychological problem we have which is causing a housing bubble. Resolve that mental retardation (it looks like a mental illness to me) we have in NZ (and a few other anglo-saxon countries) and we'd be on the path to something more beneficial/sustainable.

Part of the problem Njay is how the 'wealth creation' is funded. Stocks and shares has to be from spare money that you can really afford to lose, and very few can afford to lose it. A house on the other hand is a different matter. With an on-going ability to pay the mortgage, the rent money goes into increasing your share of ownership, while if you're just renting the rent money goes into a black hole. Let's face it the bank is not very likely to rock up and tell you tomorrow that they've put the property on the market and it will be sold with 'vacant possession'. In my opinion it has always been cheaper to buy than rent, the problem is the lobbyists to the Government want more people to rent. Don't forget landlords are also receiving a huge subsidy as well.

100%. The taking of of LVRs for investors is an example. Thanks.

15
up

> If the Greens could learn to love the workers, then surely it is time that Labour learned to love the planet?

Implied is that the greens are primarily an environmental party. But their flagship policy seems to be a wealth tax. Ironically that wealth tax proposal is probably one of the biggest impediments to a deal in akl central, because JA has had to expend so much effort distancing herself from it.

No , the policy that everyone focuses on is the Wealth tax. The bulk of their policies and "wins", have been for the environment.

Really can you name any ?
I think they have consumed way more than contributed. Unless you mean the $4M payout to a Green named school.

Really I'm not sure you can claim all that as Green policy, just rubber stamp put Greens on that please.
Climate was done as bipartisan agreement.
"Transparency in Goverment" to finish......yep real transparent that $4M against Greens own policy.

What are these wins the Greens have had? Actual changes that deliver measurable improvement to our sustainability and to the environment.

The wealth tax is but one example. They are primarily a social justice party (imo). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not what the name immediately evokes, and as a consequence what many people expect.

12
up

Comrad Trotter at it again. Vote Greens so Comrad Jacinda can hide behind a coalition to implement her socialist utopia.
Vote Chole to get the Greens in, after all she has the work experience to backup being in parliament. Never had a job apart from a part time DJ.
Wow Trotter politics has never been so LOW.

Believe me if you want to see inexperience, check the ACT party list. People on there do NOT expect to be MPs and they may have a shock coming.

Nonentities. Had thought that Seymour having restored ACT’s profile would have been sure to have some substance with him next term. The ability to form a hit squad, give the opposition in parliament some bite. If they had they might have got my list vote, but they didn’t and they won’t.

As new MPs in Opposition, three years will no doubt give them time to gain experience and carve out a name for themselves. Everyone has to start somewhere and imo Opposition is the best place to start for list MPs. Let's face it - most list MPs currently are or were of little substance until they became constituent MPs.

Point taken, but for better or for worse, had in mind an identity of the ilk of Rodney Hide who certainly hit the deck running.

True, RH certainly had substance. Unfortunately I think we're seeing the changing of the guard atm and there will be lots of unknowns and newbies in our parliamentary makeup for possibly the next couple of election cycles. I expect probably 5-6 years of mediocrity and lack of progress will be our lot, National putting an 18yr old up as a candidate is a real WTF moment imv. Sums up their lack of ideas really

Should be right up your alley.

I'm guessing you voted for 9 years of mediocrity and lack of progress.

Then you'd be guessing wrong. I'll vote on the issues that concern me and not until Saturday.

Not the only party certainly but National have sure got some issues with the integrity and capability of their selection criteria. Recently, Sabin, then Gilmour, Barclay and this term Ross, Walker, Falloon. These last three really steepened the challenge this election for National.

The bigger problem is that their narrative is obsolete.

That is what has the knock-on effects of selection, angst, fear.

And as so many obsolete ideas do (christianity in the face of evolution being a classic example) they turn backwards rather than forwards, the more uncomfortable the going gets.

Wow PDK against religion as well, I guess no surprise from someone who favours Eugenics and wiping humanity out.
Well except for PDK he's not the problem in his mind, its the rest of us.

We are so numerous, and doing so much to alter the place, that we are now playing the part usually give the mythical gods.

All of them.

The fact that we haven't relegated belief to the dustbin, tells us we weren't Sapient enough not to shit in our own nest to a suicidal degree.
Which is exactly where we find ourselves.

Religion is the root cause of conflict, oppression, racism and genocide since before recorded history. Personally I am all for atheists simply because they can venture forth in life without any invisible means of support.

Really, you might want to actually read some history.
Stalin, China....these are all far left atheists and have killed way more than most.
Simply venture forth and wipe out others.

Yes, those gentlemen did kill masses of people, with an ideological zeal worthy of the most ardent theist. Perhaps it's single minded worship of any principle that's the problem, whether it be tablets carved by the invisible hand, ethereal deity, or philosophical idol?

2c anyone capable of critical thought should be able to work out that religion is just another political party and not actually about God. All religions are about power and control, and it is male power and control primarily. Granted a few are allowing women in now, but that has only been very reluctantly and under great pressure. You don't have to be a part of a religion to believe in God and you don't have to be in a church to worship God. But if you are an active member of a religion, then it is highly likely that your view of the world and humanity is highly biased and judgemental against those not of your religion (tribe). Fundamentally it comes down to a simple statement - Do No Harm. to anyone, directly or indirectly, or anything.

Anyone with critical thought would realize being an atheist is a belief and a religion.
Just like the global warming cult religion.

There are first-principles, facts and truths.

Religion (like climate denial) preys on the fearful and the gullible.

Power-mongers get hold of the religions, because of the sway they hold over said fearful/gullible. There will still be power-seekers, religion or no. But right now, we are impacting the planet at god-attributed level. It therefore requires us to make decisions on its behalf. And at this magnitude, EVERY one has to be correct, or we're screwed.

Which means we need to be well past belief of any kind. We obviously aren't. So on present trajectory we're doomed. I see deniers and believers as the kind of people who hid in their staterooms as the Titanic went down. Sad to note, but we need to bypass them.

Really, so climate apocalypse is not preying on fear ?
All you preach PDK is about fear and climate is clearly your religion and deride those who aren't like you as fearful and gullible, that's pretty rich.
Nice Titanic example, you do realize thats climate cooling ?

Perhaps it is because fear is what gets people moving?

God gave us a brain to use. That brain is designed to be able to come to conclusions based on the evidence before us and His expectation is for us to use it. To avoid doing the right thing on the principle that "God will save us" is a fallacy that will lead to our demise. History teaches us that and we cannot selectively choose which history we pay attention to and avoid the unpalatable bits. The evidence we have before us today is that we humans are making this planet, Gods gift to us as Eden, into an unlivable hell. We are doing this to ourselves, and we have to fix it ourselves. Religion won't protect us. Negligence is as much a sin as is pride.

Seriously? You're just holding your temperature gauge upside down. Obviously the heat has fried your brain, or maybe you have been drinking the kool aid from one of those US based evangelical cults?

Not accurate - he is only against any religion that is not his own.

The differences in policies and perspectives between the Labour Party and the Greens are deeper than the writer disingenuously tends to portrait.
Some of the policies of the Labour Party may well be questioned by the right, however even the opposition parties must admit that, at least, the Labour Party has a much more pragmatic and commonsensical approach than the Greens, who appear to live in an economic cloud-cuckoo-land and who should be kept as far away as possible from management of any economy lever.

Heaven forbid that Labour need the Greens. Neither is it sufficient for me to vote Labour or anyone else. Case every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

Labour & for the sake of the people of NZ would be better to strike a supply and confidence deal with ACT (yes bloody unlikely) than have the Greens in government, in cabinet. The Greens have far too much of an extreme agenda for the majority of reasonably minded NZrs to stomach. Reminds me of the unruly bunch that WP/ NZF took into coalition with the Bolger government which became both parties undoing. Labour should be extremely wary of such discordance and disarray, as Mr Trotter explains, because it would hurt them long term, very much so.

Ah yes, the Green Party that got very little done and spent most of the last term capitulating is vital to... what, exactly? The fact they are electorally circling the drain is entirely a mess of their own making.

Nevermind that Emma Mellow is coming off a shortened run-up and managing to close the gap in Auckland Central, which would be made far easier if Jacinda suddenly decides to do one of those deals that were supposedly 'dodgy' when National did them.

So are they dodgy or not?

The Greens? Nah, just hopelessly ineffectual and the contents aren't what it says on the tin. I think they should rebrand.

New name then? How about The Socialist Green Party or even more imaginative, The Green Socialist Party. And in either case for a real creative flourish, of New Zealand, could be added at the end.

How about: The Real Sustainability Party?

Would render all others obsolete.

Aye PDK, but any name and/or acronym, don’t mean much at the end of the day. Probably our National Party should have renamed themselves as the International Party. Then look at the USA what was once in the beginning The Democratic Party is now the Republican Party and vice versa.

I'd love to see one of those.

As someone that once voted Green I wish we had a real Sustainability Party - one that had some practical, down to earth ideas about what that meant and how to go about achieving it. The Greens in 2020 aren't that party unfortunately.

I think taking the word 'Green' out of the title might better reflect the party as it stands today.

Bit late now, voting well underway.

10
up

God help NZ if the Greens get any real power. We will be a third-world country by lunchtime.

I wonder if suicide and depression stats are as bad in 3rd world countries as NZ?

All countries will be Third-World shortly.

Extraction always ends, that which is based on extraction does likewise.

Only the stupid, at this late stage in the game, still believe in perpetual growth and the continued value of debt-issued proxies.

Green Party pretty much the only major party who released a financial plan without error. Hey I’m just saying ....

Incredible amount of advertising by Labour atm - Social Media, Online newspapers, letterbox, doors, etc.
Dont they trust the polls at 47%?

I think they're still chasing that magical 50%+ count. JA would be all "cock 'o the hoop" if they managed to govern alone.

Here Thomas Sowell quickly debunks the majority of Green policy platforms.

https://youtu.be/SprRnUBAruw
Progressives & AOC.

The joke is that they're both wrong.

But your man is much wronger than she is.

Too much embedded ideology, and an economist to boot. Or is that the same thing?

Still a patronising, condescending crank!

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-09-15/albert-bartlett-on-message...

Read it all. Me, I got where that piece is, decades ago. I make no apologies for a level of frustration that rises commensurately with our species digging itself an ever-bigger hole.

Sowell on Climate, should heed Sowell on examining all sides. AOC is a Nissan Leaf - knows there is a problem but starts from a flawed assumption; that the existing paradigm is tweakable and continuable. That said, we would be better traversing a collapse in her (and JA's here) leadership. From Trump to Biden to Cinton to Clinton to..... fill in the space - most of them will look after their own. As Clinton signalled when he signed out Glass Steagall and signed in Nafta - it wasn't for done for the cotton-pickers or the burger-flippers.

A minor detail, the Glass Steagall repeal was shoved through by a repugnican congress with a veto proof majority. Clinton had no choice in the matter...

Yes, he should not have signed the GLB bill...

A bit late to the commentary on this one...

The Green party. If only they were an environmental party that represented sustainability.

I cannot in good conscience support a party that has a leader with 6 tamariki. That is the essence of selfish unsustainability. Wild hypocrisy writ large.

If only NZ had an environmentally focused party that emphasized the environment with an emphasis on shifting to a sustainable lifestyle instead of endless growth. This is most decidedly not the NZ Green Party as it currently exists.

I agree. In the end the choice is as it's always been. Vote for the least bad.