It was time for politics to take a different approach.
At the end of 1972 I was to vote in my first General Election. 1972 was also the year that the ground-breaking “Limits To Growth” was published. Using computer modelling the authors showed that the earth was rapidly approaching its limits. We could no longer continue on our wasteful, exploitative and destructive growth path.
It was time for politicians to take a different approach. New values were needed.
A New Party Then…
On cue, six months before the Election, a new political party - the Values Party – was formed. Its basic political platform was Zero Growth. Zero economic growth, zero population growth.
Something about the Values Party rang true for me and I found myself voting values in my first election. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was then part of history. I’d voted for the world’s first “green” political party.
Forty years later the Values Party has gone but the Green Party was established by a number of Values party members. What did the Values Party give us? Is there anything in its legacy worth holding onto? Can the current membership of the Greens learn anything from Values?
In an attempt to tell the Values story Claire Browning has written “Beyond Today: A Values Story”. The title is a deliberate nod to the title of the Values Party 1975 election manifesto: “Beyond Tomorrow”. That manifesto remains as one of the most visionary documents on the New Zealand political scene.
Rather than just tell the Values story Browning is keen that “Beyond Today” also be a “think piece about the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, and green politics, policy and principles”.
Reading the book both these objectives are obvious, so too is another. Browning seems keen to enter into an internal party debate about direction with members of the Greens and also with Paul Kingsnorth (an English environmentalist and former deputy editor of “The Ecologist” magazine).
Does “Beyond Today” meet these objectives? From a reader’s viewpoint I think one is met, one not so well and the other maybe shouldn’t have been an objective at all. I found it difficult to get a coherent sense of the Values history amongst the “think pieces”. Similarly, I found it difficult to follow a line of argument through when interspersed with historical vignettes.
Perhaps this is just a lack of editorship as there are some very worthwhile comments within the text. Browning notes for example (p 66) that “for happy people, Green policies need to show how, within the new economic framework, they are still capable of delivering wealth and health” yet also acknowledging that “a Green government…would put ecological sustainability first;… it would also have to think globally, because some of the economic obstacles to acting locally are global, and so are the worst environmental threats”. (pp. 78-79)
However, the book is not only a discourse on the path the Greens need to take, sometimes it is an exposition of Greens policy and principles, and it is here that Browning does an excellent job. Her discussion of the four principles enshrined in the Greens Charter (Ecological Wisdom, Social Responsibility, Appropriate Decision-making, Non-violence) is clear and thoughtful. She succinctly shows how each of the four principles are mutually enhancing.
As an exposition of Greens policies and principles this book is an useful work. As a history of the Values Party it left me wanting much, much more. As an organ for a debate within Green circles I would have preferred that left for a separate medium.
Having said that, congratulations to Claire Browning for attempting this. It cannot be easy trying to pin down the thoughts, ideas and politics of those of Green persuasion – after all, Greens (and Values before them) are dreaming of the future, not pacing out current terrain.
Claire Browning is keen that the ideas in her book get read and discussed, so on the page where she asserts her authorship and copyright she quotes Sam Mahon:
“…if you want to quote it, read from it, hand it round, engage the public generally with any of the ideas expressed herein, or nail it to a country chapel door; then by all means go for it”.Rather than searching country chapels for your copy you may find it easier to order it (at NZ$15) direct by email at email@example.com
1. Germaine Greer was an Australian feminist author of “The Female Eunuch”. Tim Shadbolt was a radical student leader in the 1960s and 70s who went on to become a mayor of 2 New Zealand cities. Sam Hunt was (and still is) one of New Zealand’s leading and most loved poets. “Imagine”, of course, is the well-known song by John Lennon.