The Greens are now a single-issue party. That is how they painted themselves last week and how their opponents will paint them in the election.
Actually, they are not a single-issue party. Over the 30 years since they exploded on to the electoral scene as the Values party, forcing a hurried lurch into environmentalism by the then thoroughly smokestack Labour party, they have broadened their reach.
Sue Bradford is the living illustration. At first glance you would place her in Laila Harre’s Alliance, with her background of aggressive advocacy for the poor and unemployed.
But Greens never tire of insisting they stand for social justice as much as for the sanctity of our biosystem. And in one important way Bradford is quintessentially Green: she grew up comfortably middle class.
Greens who have low incomes generally have chosen the simple or rustic or self-denying life. They are not helpless victims. Many have university degrees capable of delivering them the comfortable living standards of their parents — some even have lived in such comfort in their past.
Which is a key to understanding them: a Green life is one of choice. Greens are individualists.
The right often mistakenly classes the Greens as “socialist” or “left” because they oppose free trade and international capitalism and demand more generous social services — not to mention preferring “consensus” decision-making to the majority mechanisms of mainstream politics.
The Greens were a constant puzzle to their allies in the Alliance, who came mostly from a background of union solidarity which submerges the individual in the collective mass.
A Green debate is a cacophony of consciences. At a Green conference you will hear personal stories of spiritual awakening to the perils of mainstream predilections. We shouldn’t like spending money in malls on a Sunday. Don’t we know we are destroying the planet on which we depend?
You can see how a horror of the poison of genetic modification can develop in such a mind. Can’t we in the mainstream world see that GM is about to destroy humanity as surely as an all-out nuclear war? (Some people once thought electricity would, but we will let that pass.)
This view is held deeply, as deeply as any religious conviction, so deeply that it is inconceivable to Greens that anyone could hold another view if they but heeded the evidence.
This is all very admirable but is it politics? Parliamentary politics?
The Greens bank on widespread public opposition to GM in opinion polls delivering them votes — perhaps enough for a considerable increase on their current seven seats, which the leaders see as the rock-bottom condition for considering coalition.
But this public opposition is essentially a safe food concern, often offset with worries about our farmers adulterating food with hormones and killer sprays.
That is, GM is a “yes, unless” issue. Not many voters are likely to make it the sole or deciding issue on which they vote.
If Labour successfully paints a spectre of paralysis and instability in a Parliament in which a Labour government is dependent wholly on the Greens, with a real possibility a National government would follow, fears about GM might well be relegated to second place.
The Greens’ gun-at-the-head declaration has also, according to Nationalists, revived a phenomenon from last year: National-leaning voters who assume there will be a Labour government and will vote Labour to stop the Greens having real leverage over it.
And, remember, once the election is over what governs is parliamentary politics, not referendum politics. In the next Parliament, as in this, the great majority of MPs will be for the already tight Labour stance or something more liberal.
Parliamentary politics is cruel on true believers. It is a numbers game. Realists — the “realos” of the German Green party, for example — understand this and compromise. Fundamentalists — the “fundis” of German Greens — take fixed, uncompromising positions.
Our Greens have played a constructive “realo” game till now. But throwing down the GM gauntlet to Labour has made them single-issue “fundis”. It casts them as extreme, a cardinal sin, along with disunity, in most voters’ eyes. That is not where power lies.