Joe Hendren

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Green party co-leadership on Agenda

Yesterday morning I watched the Agenda special on the Green party co-leadership election.

Agenda presenter Lisa Owen clearly had not hosted many panel debates before - she looked nervous and unsure of herself at times. The clearest example of this was right at the end, when she called for final closing statements from all the candidates, and then only gave Mike Ward a go before she ended the programme!

The candidates Nandor Tanczos, Russel Norman, Dave Clendon and Mike Ward faced questions from the presenter, an audience of Green party members and phone-in questions from members of the public.

Perhaps the format was wrong, but all four candidates seemed to emphaise what they had in common, rather than the qualities and inclinations they would bring as co-leader. So many of the candidates answers came across as simple platitudes or restatements of Green party policy.

The phone-in callers appeared to be a bunch of single issue nutters, unlikely ever to support the Greens, who seemed to use the program's to land some cheap political points against the party. First we heard from Mike the Climate Change denier, and then another guy who attempted to make tenuous link between getting compensation for Agent Orange/Nuclear Test Veterans and a free trade agreement with the US. I though Nandor answered the latter question well, sympathising with the plight of the veterans and making a comparison of their plight with sawmill workers suffering 'hugely' from dioxin poisoning. Instead of the phone in circus, it would have been better to have questions from a panel of sympathetic commentators, like Chris Trotter and Keith Rankin.

Given that I have heard Russel Norman would like to place more of an emphasis on social justice I was a little disappointed he did not differentiate himself a great deal on this point, other than give a ringing endorsement of the work of Sue Bradford. Generally lefties want to hear more than just simple statements that social justice and ecological wisdom are innately 'connected' - they want proof. Despite the tax free band present Green party tax policy - tax shifting (which Norman endorses) - would still have a regressive effect unless tax rates were made way more progressive. It would be good to see Russel to follow Sue's lead and promote a Universal Basic Income alongside a more progressive tax policy to pay for it. If Norman wants to gain more support from the left it will not be enough for the policy to stand still.

This was the first I had seen of Dave Clendon, and he seemed to go ok. My spies tell me Dave has more 'centrist' inclinations, so I was pleased to see him rule out a coalition with National under his leadership. Perhaps Dave is the candidate for conservatively minded Greens who have concerns about Nandor's 'image'?

Mike Ward was awful. He seemed to have more to say than anyone else, but at times he came across as hectoring and dominated too many of the questions. How he managed to get into the top 10 of the Green Party List in 2002 I do not know. I heard a reliable rumour he was demoted below Catherine Delahunty - a non MP- in the first draft of the Greens 2005 list - and he should have stayed there. I have noticed that some MPs after they leave Parliament never get over the loss of status - lets face it they get three years of being treated like a VIP. I even came up with a name for this affliction. Mike Ward standing for the co-leadership appears to me to be a bad case of 'MP-a-lit-us'.

If I was forced to name a 'winner' of the debate I would call it for Nandor. He answered questions with an easy and relaxed manner and got some good points in. But so he should, given that he has had many more opportunities to be in front of the cameras than the other candidates. That said, I would expect some media training would be on the cards for whoever won the co-leadership.

This is not to say I endorse Nandor's strategy of moving the Greens towards the centre, and dissociating the Greens away from being a 'left-wing' party. Greens who say such things appear to be wanting to separate the ecological and the economic, at the same time they say they are 'interconnected'. They can't have it both ways. In my experience many of these types do think of social justice considerations, but think of them in a secondary fashion. If the Greens are to be 'less left wing' this means some of their policies will be closer to those of National or Labour - they risk the big parties only allowing the Greens to be a mere environmental clip on.

If the Greens avoid identifying free market capitalism as the key driver in environmental destruction (which it is), the level of analysis becomes shallow indeed. As a friend of mine put it "a good left critical analysis of our public health system is more than simply an inquiry into obesity and banning McDonald's happy meals."

I do find it a bit of an irony that Nandor appears to be targeting some of the conservative 'middle class' who are unlikely to support him on account of the dreds and the dope. I personally do not have a problem with either, but I suspect the petty middle class constituency who do not like to think of themselves as 'left wing' do. Lets face it, we are talking about image in both cases.

I noticed Nandor had his hair tied up for the Agenda debate!

While some on the left are predicting Russel Norman will win the co-leadership, I am not so sure. As the postal vote will be conducted under an STV system, it is likely Nandor will pick up more of the second and third preferences of those who cast their first vote for Ward or Clendon.

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At 8:31 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis, although you've got the selection system wrong. The Leader will be selected at the AGM this weekend in Wellington. The decision will be made by the concensus decision making process amongst electorate delegates, as outlined in the Constitution.

At 10:49 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Thanks Kakariki.

So initally I had it right! I had thought it was going to be selected at the AGM, only to hear someone else more recently say it was going to be a postal vote of members, so I wondered if there had been a change in plans. cheers for clearing that up :)

So as I understand it, there will be an attempt to reach consensus, and failing that a vote will be taken
Its would be an STV vote though, wouldn't it?

In any case I wish the Greens the best of luck for the AGM, and I hope things don't get too fractuous! Most important thing is us red/green types keep talking to each other, including those inside the Greens (like yourself) or lefties on the outside like me :)

I guess its going to feel a bit odd watching from Aussie - I remember trying to find info on Alliance conferences when I was in the UK - I was scrambling around the web, finding myself becoming more critical than usual of the little coverage offered by the mainstream media!!

At 9:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah it would be STV.

Oh it's mildly frustrating being here, but I've got a posse ordered to text me ALL the details, as they happen!

BTW, my thoughts here

At 7:49 pm, Blogger Terence said...

Hi Joe,

nice thoughtful post! I agree with you entirely about the Greens needing to stay a party of the left. And it's good to hear someone pointing out that behavour modifying taxes have distributional consequences. I'm not so sure about universal incomes though. Am I correct in thinking that, unless they're offered as some form of negative income tax, they end up giving money to those who don't need it? Even negative incomes taxes don't strike me as perfect once one considers issues of poltical palitability.

At 10:55 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Cheers Terence

Personaly, I am not against some behaviour modifying taxes like the carbon tax - but I do believe this actually strenthens the arguement for making the tax system more progressive. It concerns me some lefties and some greenies see it as a either/or sitution - IMHO we need both!

Yes money will be given to people who 'don't need it' but that is a key principle behind the UBI - universality. The payment could be likened to a dividend for simply being a citizen, and set at a level that would pay for most of your basic needs. Thus any extra money earned through work could be used to further your livestyle, instead of working simply to pay the landlord, the supermarket and the oil companies. There would be no need for "benefits" as we have them now, and the level of "benefit" would not be sharply abated as you began earning additional income.

Keith Rankin wrote some interesting articles on the UBI issue a few years ago.


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