Time for a Bluegreen Party

Gareth MorganEnvironmentLeave a Comment

Congratulations to the National Party. To increase your majority in your third term, reflects public confidence in the leadership team and an endorsement that one’s policies are more attuned to the preferences of voters than those offered up by any other party, or any other combination of parties. This much is indisputable.

Many Kiwis are clearly still ruffled by the Global Financial Crisis and look to the leadership of National to provide them with jobs and a steady stream of income. The public realise that to do that, we need strong successful businesses.

Of course it doesn’t follow that the government’s policy combo is ideal, it tells us only that it’s much preferred to others on offer. The election hasn’t provided answers for people concerned to keep the Kiwi way of life – including those who voted National. On socio-economic issues National is most deserving, but on environmental issues it most definitely has not made the grade. With its intended RMA reforms, National threatens to propel NZ even further toward environmentally-degrading economic growth rather than the ideal of strong economic growth in harmony with environmental protection.

Labour’s ongoing slide confirms that in the voters’ minds at least, its offerings have become less and less relevant to the needs and aspirations of modern day New Zealand. But for me, the most frustrating aspect of the election result is the entrenched inability of the Green Party to grasp that the environmental message is something that appeals to middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just Lefties.

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Sadly the Green Party’s policies for environmental sustainability have always come with a nasty fishhook – the out-dated edict that social justice can only be achieved by rehashed socialism. This has rendered the Green Party a real melon to mainstream New Zealand – a watermelon to be precise, far too red on the inside for middle New Zealand to stomach.

At the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, the National Party has long had its own Bluegreens Advisory Group, recognition that environmental protection is relevant. But when push comes to shove, National’s advisory group quickly cowers to the priorities of short-term unsustainable growth. Neither the Conservation nor Environment Ministers are in senior positions in the National cabinet – being ranked 13th and 15th respectively in a Cabinet of 20. National’s is more a green wash than a serious commitment to clever and clean growth.

The time is overdue for a Bluegreens political party, one that is happy to work with whoever is the senior party in government, and is focussed properly on improving our environment, society and economy together. Without this there is a large swathe of voters who are not represented adequately in Parliament. Can the Green Party assume that role? I doubt it very much, theirs is very much a socialist heritage and they exhibit an ongoing reluctance to get real on the importance of the economy. With their voter support capped at 10% (about the same as the craziest party in parliament, Winston Peter’s conspiracy theorists), the electorate continues to see no hope for the Green Party – the adverse impact on jobs and incomes is unpalatable.

Over and above voter preferences though, the continued drop in voter participation rates at elections reflects growing public disaffection with and alienation from politics as a whole. In other words, for increasing numbers of eligible voters the policy offerings are neither exciting nor credible. Only through better alignment of policy offerings with voters’ aspirations for improved well-being will this disaffection with representative democracy be reversed.

For instance, the prospects for mining, forestry, and dairying versus the health of atmosphere, the bush, the ocean and our rivers has been a conflict that (at least before the “Dirty Politics” distraction) has dominated headlines. To understand why, we have to go back to what it is people want with their lives. This requires us to appreciate what well-being is and the difference between it and income, wealth, GDP or economic growth. This difference still eludes many of our politicians so their offerings remain quite unhinged from what actually matters to people – as the falling voter turnout attests.

Well-being is the ability of someone to fulfill their aspirations. Of course money matters, whether that’s measured by wealth or by income. However, the pursuit of material wealth imposes trade-offs on a person’s capability to do other stuff. In other words, money can’t buy happiness. Too great a focus on money can impact mental and physical health, their social and community engagement and fulfilment, the legacy to their children, their grandchildren, their relation with nature and more. Once a person is aware of those trade-offs then it quickly becomes obvious that there is more to a full and satisfying life than intense pursuit of opulence. When you then add up those choices and trade-offs across all members of society, you get the full complexity of what improving a society’s wellbeing involves, what the political challenge really is. Suffice to say GDP is a crude and seriously misleading indicator of societal progress.

An additional dollar of GDP can be generated in either an environmentally dirty and intellectually dumb way, or by clean and clever means – the choice is ours, it is still just one additional dollar of income. As technology advances – and it continues to at a dazzling pace – the necessity for dirty and dumb is diminishing just as rapidly – yet neither National nor Labour have grasped this. A Bluegreen coalition partner would force them to.

A Bluegreen party would emphatically express New Zealanders’ preference for clever and clean as the way we want our dollars earned, while leaving National and Labour to fight over how social justice is best promoted – via National’s preference for capacity building through education and training, delivering more flexible employment and wage-setting practices; or via Labour’s penchant for widening and lifting of social assistance, greater progressivity of income tax, widening the tax base on income from capital, and greater protection of labour in the workplace.

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That is why today I am calling for a Bluegreen party – a party with a true environmental focus rather than a socialist party in drag. Tomorrow we will look at some of the policies such a party could pursue, policies that without a Bluegreen party are being left off the political agenda completely.

Don’t miss: Three areas where the Green Party and National need to get over themselves and work together RIGHT NOW.

Time for a Bluegreen Party was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.