Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
A couple of weeks back I got the heads up from a Green Party insider to look out for an announcement / press conference that afternoon, which would make the news that day. And did it ever. Not just for that day but days to come. The news announced by the leaders of the Labour Party and the Green Party in a joint press conference was that they had signed a memorandum of understanding about how they would work co-operatively together in the lead-up to the 2017 general election.
Big deal I thought. Why make a fuss about something everyone politically interested thought such an obvious and sensible thing to do. After the experience of the last election when Labour and the Greens attacked each other and cannibalised each others vote it was assumed that they would not make the same mistake again and hand John Key another easy win.
I use the word “storm” with some hesitation as it does not really compute with the New Zealand media, which are not known for passionate reporting and debate. Nevertheless a fuss was made.
To my surprise the commentariat was more often than not negative and not only from the usual suspects. Chris Trotter on morning TV created the biggest storm when he seemed to be agreeing with an ex-president of the National Party. Chris, how dare you not to do your job properly being invited on the show to counterbalance the the radical neoliberal positions usually dispensed by the National Party.
What struck me most about the criticism from other than the usual subjects, which I want to ignore at this point, was twofold.
One was that the Green Party is still being portrayed as a electoral liability. This strategy is unlikely to bear the required electoral fruit, however, because neither National nor NZ First voters will embrace a government-in-waiting which includes the ‘weird and wacky’, ‘Far Left’, Greens. Even if in this example Trotter puts it in inverted commas.
Two was the criticism of Labour acting out of a position of weakness raising the white flag of surrender. Giving up on the goal of beating National on it’s own.
The later just tells us that even after 20 years of MMP many still live in the pre-proportional dark ages of the last millennium.
However let me deal with the two points separately.
The ‘weird and wacky’ Greens
Name-calling the Greens has a long tradition also going back to the last millennium. And the Greens gave a lot of easy ammunition. Remember the main stream media reporting of the Green Party conferences with serious political discussions and policies. The focus was inevitable on the line dancing, the vegetarian or – shock horror – even vegan lunch menu, the Kiwi fruit wine and the bearded, dreadlocked hairy leg brigade.
Our present Prime Minister raised the name-calling to a new level as he is of course bereft of any rational argument. Remember John Key calling the Greens’ suggestion after the global financial crisis to print money (quantitative easing) rather than borrowing it from the banks just bailed out by the taxpayer as crazy, lunatic and so on. Even if he as the professional money changer knew better as at the time the ‘lunatic’ US Federal Reserve, the ‘lunatic’ Bank of England, the ‘lunatic’ European Central Bank and the ‘lunatic’ Swiss Central Bank to name just a few were doing exactly that: printing money. The actual lunatic was John Key himself slavishly holding on steadfast to the extremist neoliberal textbook.
As most New Zealanders are financially illiterate the name-calling worked over rational argument and international example and the shellshocked Greens gave up a perfectly sensible policy suggestion.
Name calling the Greens and their ‘wacky and lunatic’ policies like for example wanting New Zealand’s rivers to be again swimmable reminds me of a cartoon I saw many years ago. And here I show my age. It comes from a time when I used to pick up any Playboy magazine I could lay my hands just to look at the cartoons. This Playboy cartoon showed an industrial/office building with the cigar smoking bosses looking out the window. From the site a big outlet pipe discharges black sludge into the river/sewer. At the river bank by the pipe sits the bucolic figure of a “greenie”. The speech bubble between the bosses reads “I wonder what devilish plan he is hatching?” The thought bubble of the “greenie” shows a a river with fish in it and children happily splashing and swimming.
This prophetic cartoon probably from the sixties or seventies shows in one image today’s National Party attitude and policies towards the environment. The sad thing is that portraying the Greens as lunatics with horns still seems to work.
Labour is indeed bankrupt
If the Labour Party would be an American corporation it would have filed for bankruptcy protection some time ago to get a break and hope to trade out of it’s difficulties. It has not much more left than a 100 year old brand.
By all accounts Labour is bankrupt financially, bankrupt as far as the organisational strength and falling membership numbers go, bankrupt politically by not offering any really alternative policies and most of all morally bankrupt.
Labour unleashed Neoliberalism (Rogernomics) on the unsuspecting country in 1984. David Lange, who himself obviously didn’t realise at the time what his government was doing, called for a “cuppa” in 1989. However the Labour Party and subsequent Labour government under Helen Clark did not reverse any of the extremist neoliberal policies they introduced. They even left it to National to give beneficiaries this year the first increase after the devastating “mother of all budgets” in 1991. Labour never acknowledged and apologised for the damage they have inflicted on the country and the New Zealand society and people. Michael Joseph Savage who’s picture many Labour politicians have on their office walls must be turning in his grave. Labour politicians who still cannot bring themselves to denounce Neoliberalism remind me of holocaust deniers. The painful lesson not learned is that there is no way forward without owning up to your past.
Unfortunately we do not hear the Greens either loudly debunking the neoliberal bullshit slogans like ‘public bad – private good’, ‘trickle down’, ‘personal responsibility’ instead of helping the most vulnerable, ‘privatisation of state assets to increase efficiency’ and the most annoying of them all that ‘there is no alternative’. When are enlightened politicians shouting from the rooftops that the neoliberal emperor John Key wears no clothes ?
New Beginning of Co-operation ?
Still the MOU with the Greens might signal the first tentative step of a new beginning for New Zealand politics. The one page MOU has mostly been criticised for what it is not like for instance a coalition agreement as it ends with the 2017 election. It is rather more like an non-agression pact. However the past has shown that mere non-agression pacts can have huge significance changing the course of history.
The most important development signalled by the signing of the MOU is the fact that the Labour Party seems to be finally getting over the old first-past-the-post electoral mind set. They finally realise that it doesn’t matter to beat National – at present an unrealistic goal anyway – but to form a credible coalition. Instead of nurturing their potential partners as National did with Act, Dunne and most of all the Maori Party Labour did everything to alienate them and in the process losing winnable elections. Hopefully the slow learner learned the lesson this time around.
Was that so hard ?