Green Party sneaks back from brink

It was a close call for the Greens, writes Char­lie Mitchell.

Sunday Star-Times - - ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2017 - Green Party leader James Shaw Clarke Gay­ford ex­plains part­ner Jacinda Ardern’s evening.

The Greens know what the view is like from the side­lines of Par­lia­ment.

In its 27-year his­tory, 18 of those in Par­lia­ment, the Greens have never been in Cab­i­net or formed part of a Gov­ern­ment.

For many in the party, it has been a sore point, a tightlyscr­ewed cap on their po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. It will hurt this time, per­haps more than the others.

‘‘I think it’s been demon­strated over the last 20 years that in or­der to make progress, we have to be in gov­ern­ment, that be­ing in op­po­si­tion is in­suf­fi­cient,’’ Shaw said in May. It’s a feel­ing on the ground, too - that the party needs to be in Gov­ern­ment to be truly ef­fec­tive.

‘‘Over­whelm­ingly, my­self in­cluded, we want to be around that Cab­i­net ta­ble and be in­volved in get­ting change at Gov­ern­ment level,’’ said Peter Tay­lor, a long­time Green sup­porter and for­mer can­di­date.

That it didn’t get there, and ceded some of its party vote in the process, will hurt.

The Greens were a party for these times: an elec­tion marked by grow­ing pub­lic con­cern about fresh­wa­ter qual­ity, the loom­ing threat of cli­mate change, and a Gov­ern­ment on the de­fence around in­equal­ity and child poverty, tick­ing off the ma­jor points in the Greens’ man­i­festo.

From the side­lines, they will be mulling what went wrong, and how much could have been avoided.

The mess of the Me­tiria Turei saga – what Shaw would po­litely call ‘‘a mo­men­tary lapse of rea­son,’’ but at the time had the feel of a cir­cu­lar fir­ing squad – was a de­par­ture from the Greens’ rep­u­ta­tion as un­shake­ably united. I was ex­pect­ing that we were go­ing to take a big hit be­cause ob­vi­ously the last cou­ple of weeks have been very messy.

It hap­pened as Jacinda Ardern re­sus­ci­tated Labour, which served as a con­ve­nient life raft for Left vot­ers spooked by the tur­moil within the Greens, or those who had de­parted Labour with He­len Clark.

In the af­ter­math, when the Greens polled at 4.3 per cent last month, it was the party’s very sur­vival at stake.

‘‘This is about as bad as it gets,’’ Shaw said at the time.

‘‘I was ex­pect­ing that we were go­ing to take a big hit be­cause ever ob­vi­ously the last cou­ple of weeks have been very messy and if there’s one rule in New Zealand pol­i­tics, it’s that vot­ers hate that kind of messi­ness when it comes to po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

‘‘But I am hop­ing peo­ple will look at our track record over the last 17 years and see this as a bit of a blip.’’

The fact the party re­bounded from the dol­drums was it­self a vic­tory, likely to be at­trib­uted to Shaw’s steady lead­er­ship and MPs such as Marama David­son, Julie Anne Gen­ter and Eu­ge­nie Sage step­ping up in Turei’s ab­sence.

While Shaw him­self pre­dicted a re­bound to around 10 per cent, a tar­get it didn’t reach, its fi­nal tally will be a re­lief.

But an­other spell out­side of Gov­ern­ment will be tough to swal­low.

Shaw had his eye on an econ­omy-re­lated port­fo­lio such as Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, Pri­mary In­dus­tries, or En­ergy, a way to in­flu­ence the en­vi­ron­ment through the econ­omy.

Gen­ter had made no se­cret of want­ing a Trans­port role: Given Labour’s trans­port spokesman, Michael Wood, was far down the party list, a min­is­te­rial po­si­tion would have been ne­go­tiable in a coali­tion with Labour.

There will un­doubt­edly be a re­port into the events of a cam­paign, along with in­ter­nal hand­wring­ing about what could have been done dif­fer­ently.

It is un­likely to point to the Turei saga - a fail­ure of mes­sag­ing, per­haps, but other­wise in-line with the party’s val­ues - as much as the po­lit­i­cal cost of Ardern’s rise.

Af­ter its dis­ap­point­ing 2014 re­sult, the party com­mis­sioned a re­port into the cam­paign, which found nearly 30 per cent of vot­ers con­sid­ered vot­ing Green, but had se­ri­ous ques­tions around trust and abil­ity to gov­ern.

It was taken se­ri­ously by the party, which donned for­mal wear and sought to pro­ject an im­age of ur­ban, lib­eral com­pe­tence - a party com­fort­able with mar­ket eco­nomics but not be­holden to it, at ease with busi­ness lead­ers as much as con­ser­va­tion­ists.

Whether there will be an­other shift af­ter the elec­tion will re­main to be seen.

Crit­ics of the Greens have ques­tioned the party’s in­flu­ence out­side Par­lia­ment, say­ing it has been an easy party to ig­nore. Again, its abil­ity to be a mean­ing­ful voice with­out a for­mal role will be ques­tioned.

But the Greens have long been prag­matic, and know bet­ter than any other party how to man­age be­ing out­side Gov­ern­ment.

Shortly be­fore she re­signed, Turei said the Greens were ’’in the busi­ness of the art of the pos­si­ble in pol­i­tics’’.

It echoed the Greens’ men­tal­ity af­ter the bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing 2005 elec­tion, in which He­len Clark side­lined the party for a deal with Win­ston Pe­ters.

ABI­GAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

Green can­di­dates Gol­riz Ghahra­man and Hayley Holt put on a brave face at St Matthew-in-the-City.

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