Green comes in different shades
It may seem like a stereotype, to be interviewing Wellington’s new Greens list MP James Shaw in an Aro Valley cafe, with Arcade Fire on the cafe sound system. Yet Shaw doesn’t fit the mould. At 41, he’s entering Parliament after 12 years of working overseas – initially in a management role with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and then with a development agency he co-founded.
Last year, Shaw was working in rural India where a ban on bamboo harvesting was threatening the livelihoods of poor local villagers.
Shaw’s job? To find a compromise between the needs of conservation and economic reality.
His new job has obvious parallels.
Already, Shaw has been inspiring an unusual level of cross-party goodwill. On his Twitter feed, new National MP Chris Bishop praised and re- tweeted Shaw’s maiden speech.
In turn, Shaw referred to ‘‘ friends of mine in the seats opposite’’ in a maiden speech that quoted Margaret Thatcher approvingly, and expressed Shaw’s enthusiasm for aspects of the market economy.
The speech ended on the same bi- partisan note: ‘‘ We will all need to let go of some things and to be more committed to finding the answers, than to being right or to others being wrong . . .’’
Excitedly, the pundits have been hailing Shaw as a Green MP with whom National can do business, and as a Greens leader-inwaiting. Shaw rolls his eyes. ‘‘I say, don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been here four weeks. I’ve had two weeks in the House. It’s just the sort of thing that pundits say.
‘‘ They say it every now and then about people in every party.’’
The reference to Thatcher though, he adds, was quite deliberate.
It was meant to remind a National Party bent on reforming the Resource Management Act that one of the centre-right’s ideological icons had in fact, taken the plight of the planet seriously.
Similarly, when Shaw professed in his maiden speech that ‘‘I’m a huge fan of the market’’, it had been in the context of stressing that the state routinely needs to intervene and regulate the market, to save it from its worst excesses.
In other words, in James Shaw we’re not dealing with a closet conservative, but with someone smart enough to fight fire with fire.
He plans to use the centreright’s strategies and arguments against itself, and sees a necessity for doing so.
‘‘ Because over on the right, they don’t give any credibility to left-wing arguments. You can’t use left- wing arguments to reason with them.
‘‘You’ve got to go into their territory, to engage with them.’’
These tactical skills will be useful as the Greens lick their wounds after an election result that has left them facing a genuine dilemma.
Namely, should the Greens continue to compete with Labour on social justice issues, or should it (a) redefine itself as mainly an environmental party and ( b) engage constructively with National in ways that (c) could well win votes from the ‘‘ blue green’’ voters within National’s ranks. Shaw is aware of the debate. ‘‘ I think [ Greens co- leader] Metiria [Turei] is right. Our job is to move the centre towards the Greens.
‘‘And part of the reason why I chose to focus on Thatcher and my corporate experience is to go, ‘ It’s OK, and what we’re advocating is not that weird’.’’