Realpolitik, the belief that politics should be pragmatic and based on “reality” rather than any form of utopian or moral ideology. By moving to the banal center of New Zealand politics, that empty wasteland where policies and ideas are reduced to a single sentence or 30 second sound bite, where the debate is framed by a vacuous mainstream media and historical context is what happened last month, the desire by the Green Party to form an accommodating alliance with the Labour Party in a future coalition government is profoundly disturbing.
Russel Norman’s recent capitulation on his incorrectly labeled Quantitative Easing for part of the Christchurch rebuild, because he couldn’t explain the concept to the media and was being mocked by the Prime Minister, was gutless. Those within the Green Party who supported him in this were equally spineless. They gave up on a sound policy idea because they felt they were being laughed at and because their potential coalition partner is almost as neoliberal in its economic mindset as the National Party. It was pure Realpolitik.
Yet as Chris Trotter aptly pointed out in a column, abandoning the nascent policy (of what should have been more correctly defined as Public Credit) leaves the Green Party with no way to fund its environmental and social wish list under the current financial and monetary system.
Both the Greens’ and Labour’s promises: to put New Zealanders back to work; on a living wage; in clean, green and innovative export industries; while guaranteeing them and their families an affordable home; effective health services; and a progressive, child-centred education system; can only be achieved at the cost of billions of NZ dollars-worth of new state spending.
Russel’s QE proposal: Requiring the Reserve Bank to purchase government issued Earthquake Recovery Bonds to a sum equivalent to 1 percent of GDP (approximately $NZ2 billion) to both assist the Canterbury rebuild and bring down the value of the punishingly over-valued NZ Dollar; was one of the very few practical and non-inflationary funding options available to an incoming progressive government. By taking it off the table, what Russel is really telling us is that the Greens’ and Labour’s promises can no longer be paid for.
Trotter quite rightly takes Norman and the Greens to task for giving in so easily to the Prime Minister and the knee jerk neoliberal acolytes in the press.
….Russel should also foreswear any ambition to be Minister of Finance in a Labour-Green government.
His claim to that post had real merit while he continued to speak economic truth to power. New Zealand desperately needs a Finance Minister with the courage of his convictions. Someone willing to undertake the slow and painful process of educating the political class out of its neoliberal prejudices. A person with both the patience and the intellectual grunt to out-argue the slavering ignorance of the media’s parliamentary attack dogs. A politician who not only refuses to abandon controversial policies, but who, by calmly explaining them over and over again, finally convinces the voting public of their worth.
Until his decision to abandon QE, Russel came very close to filling that job description. It is, therefore, nothing less than a tragedy that he has either voluntarily, or under pressure from his caucus colleagues, repudiated Green political praxis. Because, with every passing month, the number of New Zealanders who heard Russel speaking about the New Zealand economy and what needs to be done to improve it, and surprised themselves by quietly nodding in agreement, was growing.
Bryce Edwards is cutting but correct with his observation that the Greens seem to be increasingly flexible with what it will adopt and abandon to attract more votes and facilitate its coalition ambitions.
In the past, if the Green Party believed in a particular policy it would hold onto it regardless of the winds of popular opinion. That was once part of the charm of the Greens. But this latest move suggests that the party is morphing more into ‘just another party’ of ambition and populism.
Just as concerning as its jettisoning of alternative monetary ideas is the black hole where its policies on economic concepts like Steady State should be. If any of the current Green MP’s are fans of Herman Daly they sure are shy about sharing it. Do they believe you can have infinite growth on a finite planet? Do they believe technology will provide all the answers? Or do they believe there are no votes to be had in questioning the current continuous growth model? The Greens appear to have decided that a full on assault on neoliberal orthodoxy is a battle that they have no stomach for and one that will lose them votes. Better the Realpolitik accommodation, the business as usual with a bit of tinkering at the edges that the Labour Party promises. Trotter once again on the QE decison but would equally apply to other non orthodox policies:
Russel’s right course of action was to press onwards into the full-scale ideological battle that the Greens must engage in – and win – if they are to ever see their ideas translated into reality. But that was not the course the Green co-leader chose….
Having being bullied into laying down the banner of radical green economic reform, it is now much too late for Russel to cry: “Give me back my flag!”
The Green Party is in real danger of losing its soul by getting into bed with the current Labour Party who have no intention of challenging the economic status quo. Bill English and David Parker are as aligned in economic orthodoxy as Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson and the Greens will be faced with either being shafted and left out of a coalition again, or even worse, being part of a Labour led government that presides over more of the same.
Yes it is a thankless task promoting ideas that challenge the almost overwhelming stranglehold neoliberalism now has on economic discourse, not just in politics but the media and academia. But the only other option is surrender and collaboration and kidding yourself you can make change from within. Ask NZ First and the Maori Party how that one worked out.
Yes it is a thankless task confronting the many New Zealanders who now feel they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
And yes, no one will thank you for pointing out the faults of the current economic system and say “you were right” when it inevitably goes belly up.
But the Greens of all the parties must have the courage of their convictions and not concede to Realpolitik. The issues are too big and too important to be bargained away.