A time to oppose and a time to not

November 10, 2014

Last week wasn’t a good one for the Green party.

First they stripped Steffan Browning of his natural health spokesman role after his ill-advised signing of a petition calling for homeopathy to be used against Ebola.

Then they showed why they are a long way from reaching their ambition to be the major party of opposition by totally opposing the government’s plans to offer support in the fight against the Islamic State.

John Armstrong points out that sometimes in opposition parties are better to not oppose:

The next time the Prime Minister delivers a speech on something as fundamental as national security and the potential for Islamic State-inspired terrorism in New Zealand, the Greens should read it carefully, rather than making assumptions about its content and consequently missing or dismissing what he is really saying.

Had they done so, they might have realised the new (and temporary) law to be pushed through Parliament to block New Zealanders going to Syria to sign up with Islamic State (Isis) looks like being far less an infringement of personal freedom than its far lengthier and more prescriptive Australian counterpart.

The Greens might have also realised that contributing to military training in Iraq was about the minimum John Key could get away with without traditional allies such as Australia looking askance.

Labour Party polling is understood to have shown no public appetite for sending combat troops. Even National voters did not like the idea – less than a third were comfortable with that option.

National’s private polling would have produced similar results, and Key is nothing if not poll-driven, so his Government’s contribution to the battle against Isis is very much on the moderate end of things.

But the Greens would prefer to continue to demonise National as persecutors of the poor, environmental dinosaurs and in this week’s case, unfailingly loyal lap-dogs itching for an invitation to sign up to Uncle Sam’s latest military adventure.

It was hardly a surprise that the Greens rejected every initiative in Key’s Wednesday address that was targeted at Isis.

In doing so they have displayed not so much a reluctance to shift on principle as a downright refusal to entertain even the thought of doing so. That is their right.

But it means two things. First, there can be no getting the Greens out of the shadow cast by Labour without compromise or dropping whole swathes of policy as a prerequisite for any move more to the centre of the political spectrum, which would enable the Greens to no longer be hostage to Labour.

It also makes it harder for them to supplant Labour as the dominant party on the centre-left. That is because the politics of Opposition stretch much further than just opposition to policies or ideas.

On occasion – and Wednesday’s speech was such an occasion – the public expects political parties to show some degree of flexibility so they might reach some consensus in the national interest.

This is especially so on foreign policy, defence and intelligence matters.

Labour understands this. The Greens pretend not to understand. . .

No doubt Turei’s rejection of everything in Key’s speech made her and her colleagues feel good about themselves. All they succeeded in doing was to isolate themselves from the mainstream. It was left to Labour to exercise real opposition.

The party accepted the broad thrust of intended legislation to lock those intending to fight for Isis through cancelling passports. But Labour also made it clear that it would endeavour to use select committee scrutiny to iron out details it is not happy about. . .

Labour can thank three senior MPs for the party’s assured and no-fuss handling of the kind of issue where sticking to long-established principles, as the Greens have done, can be of no practical use to anyone. . . .

However, Armstrong’s praise of Labour might be premature because the party’s acceptance of the broad thrust of the government’s plan isn’t accepted by its four leadership contenders:

Prime Minister John Key’s plan to help fight Islamic State in Iraq by sending military trainers has been unanimously voted down by Labour’s leadership contenders. . .

Did they not listen to the three senior MPs who showed Labour taking the responsible path in parliament just a few days ago?

Or is this just another indication of how divided and dysfunctional the party is?

Almost all editorials and commentators have agreed that the government’s response was moderate and necessary.

Labour appeared to agree with that last week but yesterday none of the four would-be leaders were signing from the responsible. government-in-waiting song sheet.

 


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