THERE WAS A TIME when it was really quite hard to dislike the Greens. Back in the days of Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons; of Nandor Tanczos and Sue Bradford; of Sue Kedgley and, yes, even the rather dour Keith Locke. There was also that bloke who called himself the “Musterer” (instead of the “Whip”) whose name I have completely forgotten. [Ian Ewen-Street – thankyou Google!] When they first made their way up the steps of Parliament, back in 1999, I called them “The Magnificent Seven” – so perfectly did they cover all the bases of ecological politics.
If you counted yourself among the Left of New Zealand politics, and you didn’t vote for the Greens, you needed to be able to supply yourself with a very good reason why not. The Party made not voting for them a lot harder by being so damn nice. They practiced politics in the way most people agreed it should be practiced: by sticking to ideas and to the policies those ideas gave birth to; by refusing to get down in the gutter with those politicians who seemed to regard politics as an excuse for being personally vicious and cruel.
And now they run attack ads against opponents mocking them for their accent.
It is still possible to catch an echo of the Magnificent Seven in the 2017 intake of Green MPs. Chloe Swarbrick, in particular, would not have been out of place in that special company. Sadly, however, Swarbrick is the exception. For the most part, her Green party colleagues have lost that tremendous likeability that made it so hard for the Left to vote for anyone else.
Chloe is very genuine and likable.
The great problem now facing the Greens is that Labour finds itself in possession of the most likeable political face New Zealanders have encountered for many decades. When set against “Jacinda”, the Greens’ James Shaw comes across as a low-energy compromiser. Meanwhile, his co-leader, Marama Davidson, strobes identity politics in a fashion calculated to make a sizeable majority of the electorate feel decidedly queasy.
Neither Shaw, nor Davidson, is likely to hold in place many voters not already completely sold on the Greens’ brand of identity politics. The party is fast taking on the character of a political cult: filled with zealots determined to enforce their policies on what we should be permitted to drive; what we should be encouraged to eat and drink, what it is acceptable for us to think; and what we should be allowed to say.
It’s a long way from Rod’s beaming optimism, Jeanette’s grandmotherly wisdom, Sue B’s and Keith’s commitment to social justice and peace, Sue K’s safe food, and Nandor’s illegally resinous dreadlocks.
The good old days.