Green go nuclear and blow up hopes of a left-centre coalition
OPINION: Just when it you thought it was all quiet on the western front, or rather the Left front, and it looked like Labour, Greens and New Zealand First were all playing together nicely, the Greens broke rank.
Last week, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei appeared on Q+A to say that NZ First was on a roll, partly due to a racist approach to immigration. Then she warned voters of worse immigrant-bashing rhetoric to come from NZ First leader Winston Peters.
Turei's words were not just a "one time thing" slip of the tongue during what is now the longest interview slot a politician gets in broadcasting – the weekend interviews on Q+A and The Nation. And indeed there was worse to come later in the day as Turei reiterated the same NZ First-bashing rhetoric at the Green Party campaign launch.
Peters eventually retaliated with his own warning, calling Turei's accusation spurious, adding ominously that there would be consequences for the Greens.
This plays right into the Right's belief that the Left cannot hold and is inclined, at the slightest provocation, to splinter off. Here was Turei, an experienced and respected politician, not in the habit of launching unprovoked attacks, going out of her way to make trouble.
She had looked at the polls showing the Greens level-pegging with NZ First and panicked. After the humiliation of being treated with such a cavalier attitude by Labour in past elections, and now at high risk of losing their third-party status, something had to be done.
Extreme measures were called for, so Turei wiped the dust off the Green Party's nuclear codes and hit the annihilation button on a putative left-of-centre coalition.
Peters probably didn't think she had it in her and was slow out of the starting blocks to give her a serve back. Then Green MP Barry Coates wrote in a blog that a Labour-NZ First government would be unacceptable to the Greens, and they didn't want a repeat of 2005, when Labour favoured NZ First over the Greens.
With one Greens co-leader and an MP both launching pre-emptive strikes on NZ First and a possible Labour-NZ First government, the other co-leader, James Shaw, was left to try and shut it down.
With the America's Cup parades and the Lions tour over, the way was clear for political parties to finally roll out policy. Who would have thought the earnest Greens would have been the ones to so shallowly divert attention away from the core election business of revealing hard-core policy?
Turei will go down in history as the Sonny Bill Williams of the Left in 2017. Williams is blamed for the Lions-All Blacks draw, and Turei with her shoulder charge on NZ First red-carded her party to the bench and could be responsible for the collapse of the coalition.
What a tragedy. Now, more than at any other time, when the world has become acclimatised to the dire realities of global warming, all the Greens had to do was stick to their knitting and say: "It's the planet – stupid!"
Calling Peters' immigration policy and his rhetoric racist doesn't cut it with immigration running at an all-time high and the electorate feeling real pain from being swamped by the numbers.
With many Kiwis eking out a living as low-wage refugees in their own country, the rapid rise in the renting class, and an economy that doesn't invest in its workforce, New Zealanders are facing deeper problems.
Under nine years of National, social mobility has ground to a halt and we have a young electorate that grew up not knowing what it's like to live in an egalitarian country. Passive acceptance of a status quo where, unless you're in the top 5 per cent, you have to live with debt and keep borrowing way beyond your means is now embedded in their psyche.
The more the populace falls into debt, the more the economy becomes vulnerable and volatile to shocks. With both National and Labour's answer to the collapse of the middle-class, to beef up Working for Families and dish out add-on grants, there is a howling absence of vision and ideas about how to get us out of the rough.
Whether you like it or not, NZ First is going to be the third party and it is going to take huge bites out of Labour, the Greens and National.
This is realpolitik, and the Greens, who have historically done well in New Zealand compared with the UK, the US and Australia, could have been accommodated by NZ First and Labour.
All it took was to hold the line. Now NZ First has been given the perfect excuse to go with National. With John Key out of the way, Peters won't mind working with Bill English and he will make damn sure there's no need for the Maori Party to stick around under a National-NZ First coalition.
Labour's only real hope is to hold Peters to the promise he made back in December 2016, that his bottom line to any election deal was re-entrance to the Pike River mine. Labour leader Andrew Little vowed he would do everything he could to open the site for entry if his party was elected.
Pike River is National's Achilles' heel, and if the party remains adamant about not going back in, this is Labour's way back in with NZ First.