Tomorrow, the Green Party will hold a vote to determine whether to continue in government with Fianna Fáil, and whether to support NAMA. Ciarán Cuffe TD describes it as ‘the eleventh hour’.
The Green Party have probably waited too long to ditch Fianna Fáil. Instead, they chose to watch as NAMA threatened to saddle this nation with years of huge debt. Instead, they chose to watch government expenditure insufficiently contract to deal with the tax revenue crisis.
Tomorrow’s vote might provide them with one last opportunity to rescue themselves from the fate of the Progressive Democrats.
What options do they have? For starters, the party requires a two-thirds majority to approve the revised Program for Government, which is currently being negotiated. If the current discussions are successful, it will probably include some nice new green policies and maybe even some concessions on electoral reform or planning procedures (depending on how nervous Fianna Fáil are feeling).
If the Greens refuse this deal, they are out of government when the election is called. They would lose the opportunity to continue with these reforms. Furthermore, they will not get the chance to push through some existing legislation to approval.
If the Greens accept the deal, they will have to stand by the government’s spectacularly ill-advised NAMA plans. This legislation will transfer huge amounts of wealth from the tax-payer into the hands of share-holders. In addition, the existing legislation doesn’t even fix the current credit freeze.
They will also be putting the final nail in their political coffin.
Let me explain. There are two kinds of people who vote Green. The first person will always vote Green, and they have very little political aspirations. They want Green policies to happen, but they have to be persuaded into government by the party leaders.
In recent years, there have been some sensible normal people voting Green. These were people who see Green policies as a rational response to the degradation of the environment, who recognise the market’s failure to internalise costs such as pollution and carbon emissions. These are the people who pushed the Greens into government.
Unfortunately, they are getting fed up with Fianna Fáil just like everyone else. They made this quite clear in the most recent local elections, in which the Green candidates were nationally decimated (in spite of, in many respects, the fine record of the Green Party in government by their own standards, as discussed here).
If the Green Party stay on in government, they will lose the last remnants of respect these voters have for them. It will be very difficult to get it back, and without it they will remain on the fringes of Irish politics. So they won’t be writing any legislation about cycling (or, more sensibly, preparations for the transition into a green economy) for a long time.
The Green Party need a legitimate reason to leave government. Otherwise, it will be condemned as mindless politicking. Lucky for them, NAMA provides just such an opportunity.
Perhaps the boat has sailed for the Greens to call for nationalisation, and join the chorus of every Irish economist and finance expert of note (including, more recently, former Chief Economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz). But NAMA is deeply flawed in many other respects.
Why don’t the Greens call one of the many problems with NAMA to light (such as, for example, its inability to unwind the credit freeze) and remove their support for the government as a result? The keep their dignity. They left government on their own terms, and removed support for Fianna Fáil for good reason.
What are the political consequences? They won’t be looking for Fianna Fáil’s support any time soon. Critically, they are going to be destroyed in the next election regardless. Unfortunately for the Greens, it doesn’t matter when the next election is.
If the legislation they’re currently waiting to pass is that important to them, it better be worth mortgaging any hope of future Green government. Because the damage done to the party by staying now could throw them out of the mainstream for a very long time. If they leave now, they might keep a few voters that might have otherwise defected out of disgust with the current Fianna Fáil regime.
It is hoped that the Greens, for their own sake, vote ‘No’ tomorrow to NAMA and the new Program for Government (whatever it is). It will be a strategic retreat. Although if you’re a neutral observer, you probably don’t care that much. Frankly, Fine Gael don’t know much about banking either.
Full disclosure: The author’s sister, Adrianne Wyse, was the Green Party candidate for Glencullen in the 2009 Local Elections.
© The Free Marketeer 2009