New Zealand has finally got itself a new government, and it’s already clear to see who are the big losers. The Greens, despite strongly supporting Helen Clark’s Labour Party during the campaign, have been left out in the cold, and now say they will abstain on votes of confidence.

This is a real lesson in power politics. Being too close to Labour was the Greens’ undoing: it meant they could be taken for granted. The other minor parties could threaten to support the National Party, and therefore had to be bought off. But the Greens stuck in the Labour camp until it was too late – until Clark had stitched together enough other deals to no longer need them.

In Germany, remember, the Greens at least contemplated going into coalition with the right (the “Jamaican option” – black, green and yellow), although it didn’t work out that way. In New Zealand, they tried to show responsibility by portraying themselves as a reliable partner for Labour. But reliability isn’t always an advantage in politics.

On the other side, ACT, the NZ libertarian party, has the same problem. They succeeded against the odds in retaining a foothold in parliament, but their influence will be negligible. They were unable to influence the new coalition because they were too close to National to join in the bidding war.

Instead, New Zealand risks becoming an international laughing-stock with the protectionist Winston Peters as foreign minister – but outside the cabinet, and reserving the right to ignore collective responsibility. According to The New Zealand Herald, Greens co-leader Rod Donald “predicted it would be a ‘reactionary’ Government and said many of the demands Labour had accepted from NZ First and United Future were ‘socially, economically or environmentally destructive’.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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