Time for new thinking, says fuddy-duddy lord

The Greens met in a “campaign conference” over the weekend. Delegates will now vote on a candidate list ranking. The big question for the campaign and the list: are the Greens a party of the future?

In 1972 the Greens’ predecessor party, Values, shook the political and policy tree when it burst into an election Labour thought it had locked up. Labour was in transition from the class-struggle politicians to 40s-50s middle-class modernisers. Values encapsulated next-generation baby-boomers’ rising bother about ecosystems and resources “commons”.

Labour hurriedly tacked on an environment pitch. A decade and a-half later Labour’s baby-boomers were running the party. They generated the Department of Conservation and the Resource Management Act. Values, captured by class-struggle types, biodegraded. In 1990 the Green party formed.

The Greens’ story of the past decade is a transition from a fringe shakeup party to a party of the system, securely above 5 per cent. They now want in a Labour-Green cabinet, as a full coalition partner, compromises and all. How radical and future-making can they be there?

The Greens are usually thought of as to the green-left of Labour on environmental integrity and to the red-left of Labour on income and other support. That has an old-hat feel and look. One option to out-future Labour is on the economy.

To get that look, the party list needs a leavening of younger, economically literate candidates such as lower-X generation business-savvy James Shaw, who was ranked one place too low on the 2011 list to become an MP.

So will Green delegates, then the members who vote after the delegates put Shaw up the list, especially if the party’s vote share drops in the event Labour’s rises? (Five per cent of the Greens’ vote was made up of people who voted for Labour electorate candidates, some of whom are likely to two-tick Labour this time.)

The Greens’ economic stance is essentially in two parts: Russel Norman’s “smart green” economy which promotes environment-enhancing technologies (Sunday’s pitch was home solar electricity), of which Labour pushes a light-jade version; and a rejection of free trade in the belief that good can be done behind closed doors.

That rejection of the global economy doesn’t exactly mesh with their global environmental perspective predicated on there being only one planet for all humans.

Baby-boomer Green MP Kennedy Graham gets that contradiction. So does Shaw. Graham argues for a shift in economic measurement — and thinking — from flows of goods and services, which gross domestic product (GDP) measures, to changes in stocks, including environmental capital.

Airy left-green waffle? Enter non-left Jane Diplock, former Security Commissioner, now on the global board of the International Integrated Reporting Council, which is pushing companies to account in annual reports for inputs and outputs (changes in stocks) of six capitals — among them natural capital.

A hundred global companies have signed up to that and Diplock says they are finding it improves their overall management. New Zealand is now well behind the global play, though, belatedly, Deloitte in New Zealand — talk to chair Murray Jack if you suspect left-greens run Deloitte — recently put out a note on integrated reporting.

Now harken to another non-left-green, Lord King of Lothbury, better known as Sir Mervyn King, recently retired governor of the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank. (Ours is the Reserve Bank.)

In a lecture here last week King picked apart the finance sector’s and central banks’ performances before and since the global financial crisis (GFC). He noted that public “anger is growing, not diminishing”. If so, that has implications for political stability in Europe and the United States and, potentially, in time, here.

King said central banks and governments had prevented serious immediate consequences of the 1930s global depression sort. But “this crisis is far from over”. The GFC was not a mishap. It was “a failure of a system”, a failure to think deeply, combined with hubris. There was “an excessive focus on flows instead of stocks”.

The need now: a “new equilibrium” from a first-principles rethink of the system. By whom? By a younger generation, not the “fuddy-duddies” of his age cohort who sleepwalked us into the GFC.

King, in a non-fuddy-duddy way, was clear: this rethinking needs not to be a reheating and tweaking of old, including Keynesian, ideas, which is where Labour largely is.

King was focused on the financial system and its place in the modern global economy. But his words could readily apply to broad economic policy — and to social policy, public policy (how to run the show) and environment policy.

At this point, were this 1972, you would hear a chorus of yesses from Values party sorts. Forty years on, are Values-descendant Norman and Metiria Turei of their fibre? Or are King’s new thinkers going to be found elsewhere in the social and political spectrum?