Metiria Turei has been a strong and influential co-leader of the NZ Green Party: a leader whose political direction has been shaped by growing up in meagre circumstances; a leader who hasn’t pulled the ladder up after her; a leader who can speak at significant Māori events with a deep understanding of cultural processes; a leader under whose watch there has been an increase in Māori candidates standing for the Green Party; a leader for our most difficult and complex times.
But that’s not obvious from the way many right wing commentators, many of them in the mainstream media, have responded to Russel Norman’s resignation as co-leader. This undermining of Turei, is in keeping with the way leadership, especially political leadership, is still associated with traditional masculine values. [See wikipedia’s explanation of “masculinity” as being socially constructed behaviours associate with men; seee also this 2011 research that shows the cultural stereotype of masculine leadership is still very alive; ].
On top of that, against the dominant trends in Key’ government and the media,Turei has been a consistent and clear voice, speaking for those in poverty, and against the too large inequality gap.
No wonder the right would love to see her follow Norman and resign. John Key’s government has not only been strong on poverty denial, it also has seen a resurgence of conventional masculine values – in the House, and in the media. See for instance, the way John Key aligns himself with selected All Blacks, and the way he and his government is championed by such aggressive, and abusive, high profile commentators as Paul Henry, Mike Hosking, and Sean Plunket; NZ has a strong tradition of associating “social, political and economic leadership” with success at rugby (Making Men: Rugby and Masculine Identity, 1996: p. 209).
Amanda Hess writes about a significant piece pf research, “Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” published in Political Psychology, April 2014. It concludes that in the US women politicians tend to exist as occupying a confused gender zone. The students surveyed did not see them as conforming to traditional “feminine” qualities. However, they were also not seen as having masculine qualities. In contrast, male politicians were seen as having traditional masculine qualities. Hess states:
The students saw men as competitive, driven leaders, and they said the same of male pols.
The 2014 Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership (p700) explains that there is a masculine bias in adversarial Anglo systems of governance. Such Westminster-derived systems concentrate power in the executive and rely on the combative, and highly polarised adversarial system for accountability. Despite providing space for the less adversarial Green Party, too uch of the worst of abusive, game-playing, and superficial politiical,posturing remain in the NZ system
The NZ Green Party do try to operate in a more consensual way, and to avoid the aggressively personal abuse that is part of our oppositional political system. Within this systems, Russel Norman achieved a new kind of credibility for the Green Party by developing considerable prowess in the area of economics and finance.
Under our capitalist and masculine system of governance, economics and finance portfolios have considerable status. While not exhibiting the trappings of aggressive, abusive masculinity, Norman achieved some (albeit tentative and contradictory) status by developing considerable expertise in the areas of finance and economics. This captured the (sometimes begrudging) respect of right wing and mainstream commentators, with some labeling him as the “de facto leader of the opposition”.
At the same time, Metiria Turei was continuing her excellent work campaigning for those in poverty, and against the damaging impacts of a large inequality gap. See for instance her questioning of John key about Planet Key:
She has consistently spoken well in the House on these issues, holding Paula Bennett and others in the government to account over their cruel policies. This has often been ignored or undermined in the media, by right wingers, and even by some left wingers. It is disappointing that even Gordon Campbell labelled Norman “de facto leader of the Opposition”, and ignored Turei’s strengths, in an otherwise very good article.
The Green Party needs her to remain as co-leader, not only during the early days of a new co-leadership team, but for a considerable while yet. She has some very necessary political and leadership skills of a kind that strongly counter the dominant style of NZ politics. A more equal, sustainable, inclusive and caring society needs her advocacy for the poor and powerless. And the country needs her understanding of Māori culture and issues.
Norman has shown that green politics are informed by a sound understanding of economics and finance. That doesn’t mean that the Green Party needs to continue to follow that masculine tradition of foregrounding economics above social policy and the daily experiences of people living in diverse circumstances. It just requires that the spokesperson for economics and finance is strong in these areas.
The strength of the Green Party is that it focuses on society, people and their environment as a whole, and develops the economic policies that will bring about a caring, inclusive and sustainable society. It’s values are those of the broader LEFT wing of politics. What counts as left wing politics has changed with the changes in society and power structures. In so doing, it retains the legacy of its French origins, when the revolutionaries opposed the autocratic power of the King and aristocracy.
NZ needs the mix of consensual Green Party processes, while retaining the left wing tradition of opposing the abusive, damaging and self-serving accumulation of power by a wealthy and powerful minority.