24 January 2012

Where do the Greens fit in?

I’ve been asked this question by a reader. The Greens got my prize for the best campaign last year, and (more importantly) they got their best-ever result, with 14 MPs. But let’s look at where their strongest support is coming from: it’s most strongly (but not exclusively) middle-class urban electorates. The Greens’ shift to the centre under the new leadership obviously paid off last election. But their success was also partly due to Labour’s poor showing. The fact that many Green-party voters split their electorate vote with the local Labour candidate shows a degree of divided left loyalties, and that could swing Labour’s way on party votes in 2014 if Labour gives the right signals.

Russell Norman’s appeal to small business owners last year show how the Greens are now doing well with the urban knowledge workers and a certain type of petit-bourgeois self-employed or entrepreneurial class – those with slightly alternative ideas about capitalism, I guess. But they are not so favoured in the very wealthy or the very poor suburbs.

So, again, the sad story is that the three most successful parties will all be circling like sharks around a shrinking school of fish. The Greens did really poorly in the three low-income South Auckland electorates and they fared not very well in most Maori electorates. They don’t do well on traditional blue electorates, but they do do well on Labour’s traditional territory. Wellington Central stands out as the Greens’ best result (they got more party votes there than Labour); but Auckland Central performed well for them too, for instance.

Labour and the Greens appear to be stealing votes off one another, while the centre-right romps home to victory (for the time being). In as much as anything is really predictable in politics, this last excellent result for the Greens could be a high-tide mark. As Labour regains support, it will be partly at the Greens’ expense (though NZ First is bound to suffer too). I would be surprised if the Greens equal or better their 2011 party vote in 2014.

So, on hard-nosed electoral grounds, there is no point in the Greens sticking up for the poor and marginalized any longer, because the poor and marginalized are simply not responding to them – or simply not voting at all.

The party with the most to gain next time around, if their leader can get the tone right, is the Mana Party. There is a huge untapped pool of disfranchised voters in South Auckland and elsewhere, including the Maori rolls, that could help them take off next time. In my last post I was a bit dismissive of their 1% showing, but let’s wait and see if the three years ahead give them time to build up a better support base.


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