Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, June 9th, 2013 - 106 comments
Categories: accountability, blogs, democratic participation, greens, local government, national/act government, russel norman, same old national, spin - Tags: isaac davison, john armstrong
Yesterday The NZ Herald’s John Armstrong followed the Lusk plan in attacking The Green Party: he picked up and ran with accusations made by “right wing bloggers”. In his attack on recent changes to remit procedures at the party’s annual conferences, Armstrong used as much spin-and emotion-laden language as he claimed the Greens’ Russel Norman had been using when critiquing key’s anti-democratic government. A more balanced account of the Green Party rule change was reported by Isaac Davison in yesterday’s Herald.
The Green Party rule change does raise some issues about the possibilities for bottom-up democracy, within a parliamentary system that is pretty much organised on a top-down basis. This is something worth discussing, without the right wing and anti-Green spin that is used by Armstrong.
In his piece, Armstrong presented the highly flawed argument that the rule changes were equivalent to the raft of anti-democratic processes enacted by our present National-led government:
It therefore took some gall for Russel Norman to use the conference as a platform to tear strips off the Prime Minister for being increasingly undemocratic and even Muldoonist in his actions, when the endorsement of another item on the conference agenda stripped away rights from the Greens’ grassroots membership and reinforced the already heavy clout of those in the party’s hierarchy.
So much for democracy. Not that too many at the conference seemed to mind. By all accounts, the motion to streamline the party’s antiquated remit system easily obtained the required 75 per cent backing to effect a change to the party’s standing orders.
Get that?! A rule change that won a vote by the party membership with well over 75% for the change, is equated with the following: the NAct government’s on-going excessive amount of abuse of urgency in the house; over-riding local democracy in Canterbury and Auckland; changing the GCSB in support of foreign commercial interests; making democratic protests illegal around some mining areas; taking away the democratic rights of family carers of disabled people…. and on it goes.
A more balanced article was published by Davison. He gives both sides to the issue about the rule change. It now means that for remits to reach the floor of the annual conferences, a local branch must get the agreement from 2 other branches, including one from another region. Previously a remit had required only 12 signatures. The argument against this remit goes:
One party source said the effect of the rule change would be to wipe out any debate on grassroots-sponsored remits at the Greens’ conferences.
The requirement that the backers of any remit would have to get the endorsement of a branch in another region would require driving hundreds of kilometres around the country to lobby other members.
“It wouldn’t be worth the effort,” one party member said.
The argument for the remit, which apparently got about 80% support, goes thus:
Party co-convener Georgina Morrison said that there was some contention about the amendment, which the party felt was “normal and healthy”.
She said the party was always working to be more professional and to have high-quality remits, but any important grassroots proposals would not be censored from the party’s annual meeting.
If issues raised by the party’s local branches were not dealt with at the annual meeting, they could be raised at other party meetings.
The article reports that one green member was suspicious this change was done in anticipation of a Green-Labour government:
One Greens member was suspicious about the timing of the rule change, believing it had been done before next year’s election to stifle any internal criticism of the Greens’ performance in any subsequent coalition with Labour.
Ms Morrison dismissed this as “absolutely ridiculous”, and said the Greens were already planning how their executive and MPs would continue to remain engaged with members as the party grew larger, or if it entered Government.
“We want to take the membership with us.”
Remits debated at the annual meeting influenced how the party was run, but did not determine Greens’ policy.
This does raise an important issue about the difficulties a smaller party has in negotiating with a larger one within a government alliance. Along with that come crucial questions about the role of the flax roots in determining caucus policies. The caucus needs some flexibility in negotiating with another party, and in the heat of parliamentary politics, sometimes decisions need to be made quickly.
The Green Party is in a tricky position. It values bottom-up democracy, but we have a parliamentary “democracy” that often works against that. Nevertheless, at least with the Greens and Labour such parties, such debates are given some public airing, unlike the secrecy with which the National Party conducts its party procedures.