Politics aside: National, coalition partners, and the environment

I know nothing about politics, and try not to blog about it – in fact, I hope to not post on it again.  So please don’t be too mean to me 🙂

But I also like to write blog posts, and find the entire idea of getting the Conservative Party into parliament as a coalition partner for National to be weird.  Especially after this “Ask Colin Craig” event on NBR.

Now sure, there could be room in parliament for a socially conservative/religious party, that is all well and good.  And given the current make-up of the National party it would likely lean towards National – but with the Conservative Party’s willingness to be economically interventionist, they also have more in common with where Labour and the NZ Greens are going.

With ACT burnt up, the Conservative party, and calls for a new version of ACT seem to be the only ideas flying around about future coalition partners for National.

But why can’t we have an economically centrist Green party?

Yeah I know in 1996 we had the progressive Greens who only got 0.26% of the vote, and I know that National supposedly has its own ‘blue-green’ core (although you would never think it given the comments Gerry Brownlee comes out with regarding transport and global warming).  But let’s be honest, that was 17 years ago and National’s blue-green core doesn’t come across as having much sway on policy.

A lot of people who couldn’t vote in 1996 have pretty strong feelings about the environment, about the idea that environmental quality is a public good, and about the scientific consensus regarding global warming.  Furthermore, when it comes to urban design and the significant demographic and cost changes (think oil prices, and efficacy of differing transport options) in the last decade a lot of people want the government to at least acknowledge these things.

A economically centrist (or be it centre-left or centre-right) could work with National or Labour.  It would likely be competitive in electorates such as Auckland Central, Wellington Central, and Coromandel – put in a strong candidate and get support from a main party and one of these seats could turn.  And from National’s perspective, it would likely take away votes from Labour and the Greens – improving their odds at forming a government.  For many of the rest of us, having a Green party that could work with either of the major parties would mean environmental issues would get more play – which would make us more likely to vote for such a party.

Why put effort into getting a party into power that will eat part of your own base, and deal badly with satire, when the same effort could be expended getting a centrist Green party rolling.

Note:  Before you say “but the current Green party could go either way” I have to admit I just don’t believe you, or them when they say it.

This implies two things – first if my belief is true, then the statement in itself is just false, and given the way the Green party talks about some policies (note that I like a lot of the people in the Green party) they are unlikely to work within a National government, or even a government that is economically moderate (note many of the broad macro suggests by Labour and the Greens are NOT moderate).   Second – even if my belief is completely false, it is a belief I am not alone in sharing and basing my voting decisions on, as a result I often end up not voting Greens even though I have a strong preference for environmental policies.

Anyway, this isn’t my comparative advantage.  Tomorrow I’ll write about something I know at least a little bit about 😛

28 replies
    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Hmmm – given he has been attacking Labour he suffers from the same “problem” of being stuck to one side that I view the Greens being stuck to. That makes it difficult for him to push this I do believe.

  1. Sam Warburton
    Sam Warburton says:

    I don’t know that the interventionist / non-interventionist split works.

    Russel Norman was on the radio this morning listing all the interventionist policies of the National government. It was fairly comprehensive.

    How do the questionable interventionist Labour and Green policies (a few macro policies, power, insurance) stack up against the questionable interventionist policies of National (Rio Tinto, irrigation, ultra-fast broadband, Warner Brothers, Sky City)?

    You may be (slightly) underplaying the level of swing with the Green Party. While the Green Party’s daft macro policies align with Labour’s, they wouldn’t support corporate subsidies like the film/irrigation/whatever the flavour of the month is, that Labour certainly would.

    Given my various levels of revulsion to different dumb policies, in my mind the Greens are more centrist than Labour.

    Finally, parties are only as good as the people working in them and the advice they get. Why not be more involved? Many of the daft policies across all parties include stuff that people I know who have studied economics (but not ever really kept it up or practised it) support. If those kinds of views are common even among people with reasonable economics backgrounds, there’s a long way to go for any party to fill this spot.

    PS, any reason you left Bill English off the climate change comment? His comments were particularly disappointing.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      “How do the questionable interventionist Labour and Green policies (a few macro policies, power, insurance) stack up against the questionable interventionist policies of National (Rio Tinto, irrigation, ultra-fast broadband, Warner Brothers, Sky City)?”

      Good point. However, what would a Labour & Greens coalition have done if they were in charge? Many of these interventions would have gone through, combined with the fiddling of the RBA, direct nationalisation (which is an extreme form of interventionism), and indirect subsides for manufacturing (even if we take this as solely exchange rate intervention – this is what would be going on). Don’t get me wrong, I disagree with what National has done here – but the Labour and Green parties are explicitly big fans of “fine tuning” and “picking winners”.

      “Many of the daft policies across all parties include stuff that people I know who have studied economics (but not ever really kept it up or practised it) support. If those kinds of views are common even among people with reasonable economics backgrounds, there’s a long way to go for any party to fill this spot.”

      Indeedy, many people in the community have a view of the trade-offs that are not evidence based – and that is tough! The best thing we can do is push towards information to make the trade-offs more apparent. Note here though that I am not asking for my ideal party – I am more surprised that we don’t have another Green party that sells itself as more centrist!

      “PS, any reason you left Bill English off the climate change comment? His comments were particularly disappointing.”

      I did not spot them – I wrote this post immediately after being sent some comments by Brownlee on global warming, hence why he is mentioned. If you send them to be I’ll pop it in the post.

      Reinforces the idea that the “blue-green” element of National is under the thumb atm!

      • Matt Nolan
        Matt Nolan says:

        I have no doubt that Russel Norman could fill this space – and take the Greens in a direction where they could hold the balance of power. He’s a good speaker, and likes to tackle the issues. But, that is not what I see happening – and to be honest, the Greens would need to make a significant effort to look like they could talk to National before a lot of potential voters would swing there way.

        And, doing that may be a awful awful move for them! They have channelled into a group of people who are left leaning, favour fine tuning, and care about the environment – and that is working out great. I just wouldn’t be surprised if there was room to the right for an environmental movement – with the added benefit of getting National to pay a touch more attention

  2. Julienz
    Julienz says:

    I so identify with the points you raise. I really wish National would acknowledge environmental issues as it would make me so much more comfortable voting for them. There seems to me no reason why provision of public transport, energy efficiency measures, soil and water conservation need to be viewed as left leaning.

    • Eric Crampton
      Eric Crampton says:

      Bit of a shame that one need choose between {congestion charging, sensibly getting rid of parking minima, all mainstream economics is wrong and businesses shutting down because of regulations is likely a benefit anyway} and {Auckland’s banned from implementing congestion charging, decent economic policy}

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Social policy is very important – and personally this is the area I get most frustrated at National, and even elements in society. But this isn’t about me 🙂

      I don’t think a single party has to agree with everything we put out, this just feels like a “gap in the market”. To reiterate, such a party would not be my ideal party – I would expect it to be socially liberal due to the base it is targeting, which I am, but not necessarily targeting it in the same way I would – but it seems there may be a space.

      • Sam Warburton
        Sam Warburton says:

        Between this, my other comment, and Julienz’s point, it sounds like what you want is an economics party (a true one, not like those who pretend they are).

        A leave it for others do decide whether there’s a market for that!

        • Matt Nolan
          Matt Nolan says:

          Hmmm, I don’t think I’d vote for an economist. More that I’ve talked to a lot of people who are into the environment – but share my general concerns with the fine tuning that is suggested by the Greens in other areas. I find the fact there are zero parties against industrial policy in parliament to be frustrating – very frustrating – but I view that as indicative of the fact they wouldn’t get elected.

          However, a party that focuses relatively more on environmental issues more than the Greens (and less on industrial policy and social welfare) and is believable as a coalition option for either main party seems very electable. Personally, I would want more weight on social policy – but I’m not sure that the group they would be targeting shares my taste for land taxes and minimum incomes

  3. bmk
    bmk says:

    I agree entirely that there should be a centrist environmental party. But what I would like even more is a highly liberal centrist party. A party that on the political axis is highly socially liberal while being centrist on economic issues. At the moment only the Greens are socially liberal and they are well to the left economically. ACT once were (or at least proclaimed to be) socially liberal while being well to the right economically, since then though Rodney Hide and John Banks have made sure that ACT is no longer liberal thus getting rid of their only redeeming feature (in my eyes).

    What I’d really love to see is a highly socially liberal, environmentally aware, economically centrist party. That would be a party I’d actually want to vote for. I don’t know how many others there are like me in this – but I’d guess there must be at least 5% of the population who would want to vote for such a party.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I suspect that such a party could be popular – but I can’t really see where it will come from. Perhaps National will split into liberal and conservative parties after the next election, who knows random guessing is fun!

  4. Wilbur Townsend
    Wilbur Townsend says:

    I tend to agree that there’s a political demographic > 5% who would support an economically centrist, liberal, green party (indeed, I suspect that most Green voters would prefer such a party). There’re two things stopping this:
    + First, in a small political market, it’s very difficult to enter. Fixed costs are massive, as the conservatives have demonstrated. Those costs include the monetary costs of running a credible campaign, the volunteer infrustructure, all the legal work that needs to be done, and finding competent potential MPs. Crossing the 5% threshold is super difficult, as people don’t want to waste their vote.
    + Cureent trajectories within a party self-perpetuate: new members tend to share the old ideology, groupthink happens and people opposed to the current ideology drop out.

    Collectively, those two effects mean that the political landscape changes only very slowly. So, the most ‘efficient’ outcomes, in terms of a parliament that reflects the preferences of the population, doesn’t happen.

  5. Shay
    Shay says:

    National is not remotely centrist (that was always just a lying ploy for votes) it is extreme right wing. The Conservatives want to double spending on defense to meet with Australia so they aren’t remotely economically conservative at all. John Key just wants to rob from the poor and give to the rich. Labour is the most centrist party we have. It is very centrist and that is why I voe Green because I believe in affordable health care and education not Labour’s wishy washy centrist policies.. Right wing equals pure greed and give to the rich nothing more. The stuff about being economically careful is more brainwashing. Giving a big raise to all MPs and lavishing money on the Americas Cup while making cuts to education and health isn’t particularly economically . John Key cut tax breaks to the poor and lower middle class only that isn’t being “economically moderate” you are just brainwashed believing in National being “economically moderate” they are just out for the interests of the rich and their own pockets and to hell with the rest of New Zealand that is all National and ACT stand for.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I appreciate your views, but factually National is not extremely right wing – and I am also relatively sure I am not brainwashed, these things are always hard to tell aren’t they 😉

      These issues are not quite as clear cut, and “good vs evil” as you are making out my friend 🙂

  6. Luc Hansen
    Luc Hansen says:

    A late entry into this post, I know, but I’ve been thinking about it and that takes a while 😉

    I’d like to make a couple of points.

    The first is that we (my wife and I) decided to vote Greens a couple of elections ago simply because of the imperative of bequeathing an environment that is – at least somewhat – fit for purpose for future generations, especially as we have a five year old to consider. Very credible scientific projections tell us that the second half of this century is when the consequences of fossil fuel burning is really going to take a toll on the human species, and at least the Greens take this seriously. It’s a very important issue, and we are not usually single issue voters.

    The second is about your characterisation of the Greens (and Labour’s) economic policies as immoderate. I had a cruise through the Greens economic policies on their website and I would be willing to bet you that all or most of those policies are mainstream in some or all of the most successful economies in the world, specifically the Scandinavian economies, plus, in many respects, France, Germany, Switzerland and Israel (the latter two included because of their successful interventions to lower their floating exchange rates). And bear in mind that your support of UBI would be seen as immoderate by any conservative ruling party 😉

    But overall, we are on your side in wanting effective environmental policies alongside sensible fiscal and monetary policies. So this is our advice. Join the Greens. Engage in their debates. Give them the benefit of your economic expertise. Be passionate. Make a difference.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Indeedy, cheers for the comment.

      Immoderate may be the wrong word – I think Labour and the Greens are being disingenuous with the trade-offs involved, and some of their designs around monetary policy concern me as they are fundamentally regressive. The left-right boundary is far to hazy for that to make sense – but that is the way.

      The Green party people I’ve met I like, in fact I haven’t met anyone involved in a political party who I found annoying in person – except for one, and they will remain nameless 🙂 .

      My impression is that the Greens are a party torn between individuals who care more about class based judgements of policy, and those who care more about environmental based judgements. I suppose I’m just whining as I’d like a party who is more explicit about environmental issues – and through the lens of price, rather than black and white judgements about things being right and wrong. Many people in the Greens are like that, no doubt – but as a collective I just haven’t gotten that from them, and suspect they will still only go with Labour.

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