Green Party sneaks back from brink
It was a close call for the Greens, writes Charlie Mitchell.
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.
Green candidates Golriz Ghahraman and Hayley Holt put on a brave face at St Matthew-in-the-City.