• A Blue-green Party is a Nonsense

    There were reports last week of the forthcoming establishment of a new political party on the centre-right. The distinguishing feature of the new party was said to be that it would “green” as well as “blue”, providing an option, it is hoped, for those voters who are concerned about our environment and who would ordinarily vote National, but are deterred from doing so by National’s apparent lack of concern for environmental issues.

    The reports come, of course, as no surprise. Following National’s inability, for want of support parties, to form a government after the last election, the search is well and truly on for potential coalition partners. ACT seems to have done its dash, the Maori party is in difficulties, United Future has gone, and earlier attempts to form new parties on the right, such as Colin Craig’s Conservatives, came to nothing.

    Simon Bridges would certainly welcome the advent of a new “blue-green” party – and if and when this latest attempt founders, there will no doubt be other bright ideas advanced along similar lines.

    Nor does the identity of the new party’s would-be founder come as any surprise. It turns out to be someone who, at various times, has sought the leadership of the Green Party and has tried to become a National MP – a political chameleon who is apparently more concerned with self-advancement than political principle.

    The impression given of a political butterfly is borne out by the absence of any real political analysis in the statements he has made about the political space that he sees the new party as occupying. According to his analysis, environmentalists need an option that enables them to support green issues without having to go to “the far left” – the space he says is now occupied by the Green party.

    A recent poll, however, shows that the great majority of New Zealanders do not accept the notion that giving priority to environmental issues is the preserve of the “far left”. The poll shows that over 80% of Kiwis want stronger measures to protect the quality of our rivers and waterways, and stronger enforcement of the existing rules. They explicitly said that, in their view, our water quality had suffered because private commercial interests were allowed to prevail over those of the community as a whole.

    It is no accident that the Greens became a much more effective political force when they realised that concern for the environment is not just an “add-on”, a set of views that can be tacked on to a wider political agenda formed on a quite different basis. They quickly understood that policies for the environment would be much more effective and acceptable if they flowed from a wider analysis of how our society and economy work.

    The dividing line in politics is as to how far you would allow privately owned “business” to operate in an unfettered market, free to do what they want, and justifying that freedom because “the market” is infallible and must never be challenged. The public is beginning to realise that if you are serious about grappling with environmental challenges – (of, for that matter, with child poverty, or mental health, or homelessness) – you must be prepared to intervene in the market and make good its deficiencies and its failures.

    A would-be political leader who thinks that restraining market forces in the public interest is the hallmark of the “far left” is not only sadly mistaken in his analysis, but also doomed to failure in seeking public support. You cannot create a meaningful “blue-green” party by simply adding on to a market-based agenda a supposed concern for green issues.

    There are of course far-sighted business leaders who understand that protecting our environment is in their own commercial interests, but there is little evidence that our party-hopping tyro understands this. National’s rejection by a majority of voters at the last election will not be cured by tacking on to its current programme a new-found zeal for environmental concerns.

    The market is of course immensely valuable and effective in helping to run a modern economy. But it has no conscience or morality. You need political courage to recognise its limitations and to be ready to step in when those limitations begin to damage the public interest. Recognising when that is needed will not be helped by talk of a “blue-green” approach to our problems.

    Bryan Gould
    28 January 2018