The Greens have the aim of becoming more than a minor party stuck at around 10% of the party vote. In order to do so they have to become more of a broad church, covering a number of tendencies. Occasionally they have the dream of supplanting the Labour Party which, as the working class becomes fragmented consumers or clusters of identities (women, Maori, PI, Gay, Lesbian…), can seem nostalgic. For the Greens encompass social justice issues – have workplace and social policy that is progressive – as well as being focused on the environmental issues that resonate with younger generations. They also see the possibility of growing their Maori vote, their role seamlessly linking with the concept of kaitiakitanga.
Yet growing the vote proves a stubbornly difficult task. What are the problems? The first is a cultural one. Typically, Green party members will be middle class pakeha (with more than a smattering of Europeans, Brits and Americans), politically correct, healthy out door recreationalists, well-travelled, vegetarian, versed in conflict resolution, smile a lot and have a PhD. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above, and perhaps everyone should be like that, but somehow there are a lot of people who aren’t. They didn’t get their PhD, they work with their hands, they can have strange beliefs, they eat meat, go in for chemical abuse, get angry and sad and sometimes obese, stuff up, have arguments, blow the budget, watch crap on television, scowl and curse, drive diggers and dump trucks and deliver the junk mail, and find transgender a difficult concept. It’s not easy to get them to the Green church because they’re not going to feel comfortable. And like any church community, the Greens are capable of closing ranks and intuitively promoting their own kind.
The second issue is the default position of most Greens and the public perception that results. Green = environmentalist = jumping up and down over proposals for development, whether it be buildings or mines or factories. A miner once said to me, You can’t do anything without digging a hole. The perception becomes that whenever anyone wants to dig a hole, or build a building, the Greens will start jumping up and down. This widens to forestry, farming and fishing – there’s always an environmental impact. Of course this perception of the Greens as anti everything that provides a living is not true, for what they are advocating Is sustainable production. But with that concept, the issues are even more difficult (and the PhD starts to become useful). Will a sustainable economy produce enough food for the present level of population? Will the same number of jobs be available? At what rate of pay? Who funds the transition? Is this transition possible under a capitalist regime?
Probably a revolution is required, rather than a reform of the system. Yet the Greens want a broad appeal. The result is the mystification that religion produces: a wished for world which can only be achieved in the after life. Meanwhile, in the real world, the congregation continue to worship the ideal and do some good works. This position is not easily shared, requiring moments of revelation to energise it.
The third issue stems from playing the modern parliamentary political games: of branding, identification of voters as consumers- of politics as marketing, which doesn’t sit well with the Greens. It doesn’t sit well with Labour either. It’s politics as commodity rather than process or praxis, but the only game in town. It produces the false smile and leads to disenchantment. The people at the bottom know about disenchantment and they don’t want any more.
At the same time, disenchantment of gigantic proportions looms in the form of climate change and species loss. We are burning up, flooding up, freezing up, cycloning up at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is still working, or being rapidly repaired, so the same old shit continues. 21st century capitalism seems to be able to cope with extraordinary stresses – so far. And the Greens oscillate between trying to resolve conflict with a smile and playing a Cassandra role by issuing dire warnings. The prophetic role has the energy, yet is a marginal one.
Are there any solutions to the above problems? It is essential to attract a broader range of the community and to adjust the culture accordingly. And then what? What do party members do? Any political party has an inevitable hierarchy and a sado- masochism that accompanies this: the leaders pleading for money and voluntary labour (pleasure and pain) and the members giving money and voluntary labour (pleasure and pain) – the goal the orgasm of power (and often a melancholic aftermath). This is not a comfortable fit either, even though the Greens pride themselves on their democratic processes (processes which generate a reasonably dense bureaucracy).
It’s possible that a healthy parliamentary party is actually impossible. Yet the current mess in the US points to the need to maintain something resembling functional representation.