There’s a thought in some parts of Labour – in fact, only the Leader’s Corridor, far as I can tell – that they need to ‘put the Greens in their place’, then they will get back the votes that the Greens have taken from them, and that will lead to victory. It’s an Underpants Gnome strategy, missing the crucial link of how doing what they want to do emotionally results in the supposed objective. Better to build together.
Look at the Manufacturing Inquiry. A perfect example of competitive cooperation. Labour joined the Greens after Russel Norman’s call for a select committee inquiry into the crisis in manufacturing was blocked by National. Since then, they’ve been cooperating in the inquiry while both having their own interest in bringing more public attention to the issue through news stories and research, and both trying to bill themselves as being part of the solution, while National isn’t.
In contrast, look at the housing policy. KiwiBuild is very much Shearer’s baby. It is fundamentally flawed – the people its intended for can’t afford it – but it has proven very popular (the last week’s dumbness over what price they can build at, notwithstanding). Labour feels that the Greens have encroached on their space with their Home for Life package, which includes Progressive Ownership – a policy that makes KiwiBuild affordable for young families.
Now, there’s two ways to deal with this.
The Greens’ approach resembles their approach to the Manufacturing Inquiry – offer an opportunity for competitive cooperation in which both parties offer different but complementary solutions to a problem and at the same time frame National as having no answers to the crisis.
The other approach is to seek to undermine the other party’s policy, which has blowback because your own similar policy gets discredited too. That’s what Labour’s Fran Mold seems to have advised Shearer to do on housing in the mistaken belief that discrediting the Greens’ policy would let Labour ‘own the space’.
From the start, Shearer questioned the affordability of the Greens’ plan, before he could have even read the papers – that only echoed Key’s obvious line and started questions about Shearer’s own policy’s affordability. When the Greens showed that $300,000 homes are possible in Auckland, and they exist in Key’s electorate, Shearer started talking about $550,000 4 bedroom homes and Mold called the $300,000 house ‘an embarrassment to KiwiBuild’. It looks like Armstrong’s piece yesterday was fed by Mold too (you know, if she spent half the effort attacking National as she does on attacking Cunliffe and the Greens, she might be worth half her $200K+ pay packet).
Now, it won’t come as any surprise to you which I think is the better option for the Left. The Greens are here to stay as a significant party with around 15% of the vote. Those votes are people that Labour would find very hard to win back. They don’t believe in Labour. Even if Labour somehow managed to hurt the Greens, it would just increase the non-vote among Left Kiwis. Despite impressions over the past four years, I’m pretty sure that’s not Labour’s purpose for being.
Labour and the Greens are not very far apart in either their analysis of the major problems facing the country/National’s weaknesses, or in the solutions – because both have looked at what has worked overseas, and in the past here. The differences are in degree, not type, in general. So, the opportunity arises to be the party that tells the story the best – who holds National to account the best and who best shows themselves ready to be part of an alternative government.
There are some areas where the party’s different brands create an opportunity to target different sets of voters.
The Greens own the environment space and, despite mad talk that Shearer is going to try to take if off them, they will always own it because its core to their brand and they can always move ahead of anything Labour would do in terms of policy.
Labour has a far larger, but shrinking, base in the working class than the predominantly middle class Greens – and it’s also where they’ve been losing votes to non-vote. It would make sense for the Greens to lead the opposition on the environment (as they already do) and for Labour to lead on work rights and wages (as they used to – when those working class people bothered to vote).
No-one’s saying that every policy from each party has to be greeted by the other with unalloyed glee but they should generally be supportive. They should share information. They shouldn’t highlight weaknesses in each other’s policies. They should keep the guns trained on the common foe.
It’s pretty obvious stuff, really. The Left’s not going to win if the Labour is spending its time attacking its primary potential coalition partner because the old guard is angry at the Greens for ‘stealing their votes’. They need to worry about how to grow the Left vote, long before worrying about how its divided between the two of them.