Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Talkin' bout a revolution

"You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait"
- The Beatles

Like Act, the Greens should take heed at the ideological schisms that threaten to consume their support base. The NZ Herald's Kevin Taylor summarises the grilling the Green Party is receiving from all sides about its lacklustre election campaign.

Parliament would be a less colourful and challenging environment without Act or the Greens to keep the main parties honest. Unlike NZF, UFO, and JAP, the Greens and Act are not cults of personality but of ideas, and have a long-term future if they can only work out what their raisons d'etre are.

The biggest problem I see with both Act and the Greens is the focus on niching their policies to a limited audience instead of taking on the centre. Neither party has the luxury of committing to National and Labour only. It limits their appeal and reduces them to Baldrick status, much like Labour's lapdog Chairman Jim in his "Party of Me".

If the Greens wish to truly placate business groups, a policy or two which National would assent to couldn't do much harm. Surely, there must be some common ground? Likewise, many of Act's ideas were fermented in the '80s Labour caucus. To disavow Labour forever, as Rodney did early on in an interview on Kim Hill's Face to Face, may make a great soundbite but it isolates you from a large proportion of voters. How averse would Act be to Labour if Phil Goff were leader?

The Greens need to spit out some of those watermelon seeds. While well-intentioned and committed to environmental issues, limiting their policies to pecuniary measures such as bans, taxes and regulation is getting them nowhere. It can also come back to bite them on the bum later.

There is only so much labelling the Greens can stick to themselves before they start peeling off. Frog has recently described the Green Party as "socially libertarian", yet they backed the Smokefree ban. How much has litter increased with smokers throwing their butts into the gutters and into stormwater drains instead of ashtrays that are emptied into rubbish bins? How many gas burners are used to keep the smokers warm on winter balconies? Are pubs, clubs and cafes conserving power by trying to heat outdoor lounges? So much for holistic thinking.

Another area that the Greens should consider is whether to co-ordinate with opposition parties on tactics to thwart Labour. It looks increasingly likely that the Greens will be outsiders looking in to government this term. Lacking any direct influence on government policy to demonstrate their effectiveness next election, the Greens might gather more support by challenging Labour's policies. If nothing else, it would teach Labour not to take their party for granted.

One more piece of advice, well-meant and freely given, is that Greens should not pretend to have all the answers. Promoting a comprehensive Research & Development policy would be a good start. If the Greens want to promote households as self-sufficient in that Good Life mythos sort of way, how about doing something demonstrable to lower the barriers for that choice?

For example, which is preferable; spending 2.5 billion taxpayer bucks on getting 500,000 solar panels installed in private homes (@$5k a pop), or spending a fraction of that researching a cheaper alternative to the current technology? Photo-voltaic cells are still really expensive and difficult to retro-fit in existing buildings. There are prototypes of solar cells almost as cheap as Glad Wrap. Expand on this idea in a way that lowers the barriers to encourage consumer uptake. Make it cheap enough for it to be in everyone's interests to buy their own. Time for the Greens to support Demand-Pull over Supply-Push.