Greens all out to get the vote

CHRIS TROTTER
Last updated 10:59 29/01/2013

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Chris Trotter

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OPINION: The real fight is now on the Left. John Key's Government has begun to descend the long slope that leads to electoral destruction, which only the most extraordinary events, such as September 11, 2001, can interrupt.

Once political gravity has a government in its grip, the location of the really significant political battles shifts immediately to the territory of its opponents.

This is what we see happening right now in the respective strategies of Labour and the Greens. So far, the Greens are winning.

On Sunday, the Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, delivered her State of the Planet speech to picnickers gathered in the Tahaki Reserve on the slopes of Mt Eden in Auckland.

About the same time, 600 kilometres to the south, Labour leader David Shearer was addressing his party's Summer School in Wainuiomata.

The overwhelming focus of Turei's speech was what she called "the new majority" and how the Green Party proposes to harness its decisive electoral power. This new initiative, "I'm in - for the future", seeks to replicate in a New Zealand context the extraordinarily successful "get out the vote" initiatives perfected by United States President Barack Obama's campaign organisations in 2008 and 2012.

One need not be a member of the Greens to participate in this new organising initiative. Road-tested in the campaign to secure a citizens initiated referendum on the partial sale of the state's energy generators, the goal of "I'm in - for the future" is to enlist activists around specific issues and causes, such as affordable housing, trusting that the Green Party message will be absorbed through the osmosis of engagement.

More than 3000 "asset savers", only 60 per cent of whom were Green Party members when they signed on, have already been identified in this fashion.

The Greens hope to call on this newly recruited activist base in 2014. By building up their numbers "on the ground", the gap between the Greens' nominal support, as measured by the pollsters, and the support actually received in the polling booths should be greatly narrowed.

Even if "I'm in - for the future" gives the Greens' party vote only a 1 to 2 per cent boost, its overall impact on the outcome of the 2014 general election could prove decisive.

Labour's ability to "get out the vote", once the subject of political legend, is now a pallid shadow of its former prodigious grunt. With a steadily declining share of the party vote, Labour, too, must find a way of plugging into the energy of the new majority, which is defined by Turei as "the new consciousness of environmental issues, human rights, fairness and the need for good change".

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Unfortunately for the people Labour purports to represent, the current disposition of political forces within the Labour Party makes this impossible.

Ignoring the radically democratic message from delegates attending last year's annual conference, Shearer has circled the wagons against not only his own activist rank and file, but also the expectations of the broader labour movement.

The Labour leader's inner circle of advisers is distinguished neither by intellectual creativity nor operational dynamism.

Far from reaching out to activists and supporters outside the party's structures, most of the Shearer camp's energies appear to be devoted to finding new ways of insulting and excluding them from policy-making.

Like the unlamented Stalinists of the old Socialist Unity Party, Shearer's backers appear to prefer retaining control of the losing side, rather than losing control of the winning side.

Shearer's speech to the Labour Party Summer School at Wainuiomata showcased every one of these weaknesses. A leaden rehearsal of policy announcements already months old, written in exactly the same unconvincing and uninspiring style as every other speech he has delivered since becoming leader (at the very least you would think he might have found a better speechwriter), the address possessed only one notable line: "A tide for change is building". These words, at least, ring true.

The tragedy, however, is that Labour's response to this tide for change's surge and pull is a cautious collection of technocratic adjustments to the status quo:

A capital gains tax.

Raising the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation.

Employer subsidies and youth training schemes.

Fussing about with the Reserve Bank Act.

Even Labour's policy centrepiece - the KiwiBuild scheme - is little more than a gigantic public-private partnership scheme targeted at the restive children of the middle class.

It took the Greens to come up with a housing policy for Kiwis without homes.

Given their head, Labour's rank and file would give the Greens a serious run for their money in the progressive policy stakes. Unfortunately, the only interest Shearer has in his rank and file's head is if it was presented to him on a platter. If the cautious coterie of centrists advising Shearer have little time for their own members, they have none at all for progressives outside the party.

The Greens, by reaching out, are reaching up.

- The Press

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