Is a Greens-National coalition actually viable?

by Jane Clifton / 02 October, 2017
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Bill English and James Shaw. Photo/Getty Images

Forget ideas of a greener shade of blue, says political columnist Jane Clifton.

There has been one daring proposition in recent days: “What about a National-Green Government?”

The fact that the suggestion has sparked a national conversation suggests that, even if the proposition has no legs, a lot of people would like it to grow some.

Bluntly, it will not become viable any time soon for a variety of reasons.

First, the Greens’ constitution would not allow it, and the machinations required to change the constitution would not be able to be completed before the November 23 legal deadline for Parliament’s recall. The Greens framed their constitution in that way expressly to signal their profound opposition to pretty much everything National stands for, as they see it.

Those like Vernon Tava who have tried to promulgate a blue-green wing, or a more politically open orientation in the Green Party, have either left or given up.

As MP Julie-Anne Genter told Nat-Green hankerers in an RNZ Backbencher audience the morning after the election, “I don’t think you understand how profoundly anti-environmental this Government has been.”

The rejoinders came: why not get aboard and change National? With seven seats, this is hardly realistic. Even at their peak of 14 seats, National could have mowed them down on most substantial policies.

The only realistic way for environmentalists to influence National is to join its growing blue-greens wing.

There is no discernible appetite in the Green Party to coalesce with National. There’s a reckoning certainly to come within the Greens over whether its environmental progress has been hampered by its insistence on hard-left/socially progressive (nomenclature optional) social policies, a question piqued by the catastrophic impact of former co-leader Metiria Turei’s benefit bombshell. But the Greens’ core supporters have always coupled red and green policies, and would doubtless counter with: why not ask National to modify its hard-right social policies?

A further practical difficulty: if Green seniors did explore some formal relationship with National, they wouldn’t last long. Kennedy Graham, the one Green MP to date to champion an open mind regarding National, resigned over the Turei kerfuffle and remains an outcast.

Optimists will continue to contend that MMP is designed so even parties at daggers-drawn can quarantine differences to get really important stuff done, and what’s more important than the planet? And they’d be right – but not yet.

If this election interregnum tells us one thing so far, it’s that our MMP system has not got its trainer-wheels off yet.

This is an excerpt of an article first published in the October 7, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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