Change in the face of urgent need or, the value of being in opposition


I’ve been having some interesting discussions recently about change and how to achieve it, particularly in relation to parliamentary politics and the Green Party in particular.

In the face of appalling child poverty and rheumatic fever rates, peak oil and irreversible climate change there are many people who feel a need to make change NOW.

I feel that anxiety, but tend to disagree with the conclusions some draw.

There are people who seem to believe that the Greens need to be in Government to make those changes.

I’m not sure who this quote is ascribed to but it has been mentioned to me more than once recently: “You can do more in one day of government than you can in three years in opposition.”

I think this quote must have been made before MMP, or before the Greens were in parliament, or was made by someone in Labour, or it was before the Maori Party joined this government.

Going into a coalition government as a small party entails many risks:

  • being subsumed by the major party to the point you’re invisible, a la United Future/the Progressives.
  • compromising your values to the point your kaupapa is lost and membership is disillusioned or ripped apart.
  • being co-opted into the dominant paradigms so the integrity of your message is compromised.
  • facing a public backlash by pushing the major party into agreeing to policies that the public resents.From my perspective the Green Party has been really clever by staying outside government. We have managed to achieve really significant changes: reducing youth rates, amending Section 59 of the Crimes Act, getting flexible working hours, opening up MP expenses, ensuring prisoners have the right to be at the their own trials, getting 180,000 homes insulated, allowing mothers to be able to have their babies with them in prison, waste minimisation legislation, funding for conservation, and community groups, cleaning up toxic sites, building cycle ways, an end to sow crates…

    This is remarkable and ALL from outside government. Over this time we have maintained the integrity of our message; our planet and people will not survive the status quo so we need a new way of working.

    In the face of climate change and peak oil and rapidly increasing inequality we need to keep our message clear and loud. All the evidence suggests being in government before our time will compromise the volume and/or purity of our message.

    The flaws in our financial systems, the worsening inequities and ecological and climate costs will become more and more obvious. I believe it’s our duty to make sure we are here and ready when that time comes.

    Some people think this will be too late. It may be, but without public support and a clear vision we can’t achieve what’s required anyway. I think it’s better to keep campaigning, keep our radical voice, and keep making the changes from outside until the “climate is right for change.”


One response to “Change in the face of urgent need or, the value of being in opposition

  1. Congratulations are in Order I believe Jan….I sincerely hope that the Green Party will hold ‘the Balance’ of power after the next election.
    That really is, being in power – the opportunity to shut down some of the harmfull and obnoxious ideas that spring to the minds of the eternally comfortable will be laid bare.
    Wow – talk about participation!!!

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