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James Cockle (left) and Green co-leader James Shaw (YouTube, Radio NZ)
James Cockle (left) and Green co-leader James Shaw (YouTube, Radio NZ)

PoliticsJuly 6, 2021

James Shaw facing Green co-leadership challenge from Dunedin activist

James Cockle (left) and Green co-leader James Shaw (YouTube, Radio NZ)
James Cockle (left) and Green co-leader James Shaw (YouTube, Radio NZ)

The Green Party co-leader James Shaw is being challenged for his job by an activist in Dunedin, who says the party has become too timid on the great challenges facing humanity. Alex Braae reports. 

Dunedin man James Cockle is throwing down a challenge to Greens co-leader James Shaw, saying he’s running because it’s time “for the Greens to become a major party”, and this isn’t happening under Shaw’s co-leadership. 

The Green Party re-elects its co-leaders at the AGM, which is set to take place in the coming weeks. Normally the election process is little more than a formality. 

This year the challenge to Shaw will force a contested vote, which Shaw will go into as the overwhelmingly likely winner. However, the challenge reflects wider rumblings of discontent within the party membership over the pace of action on climate change and social justice issues, particularly with the Greens playing a subordinate role to the governing Labour Party. 

Cockle has strong ties with direct action environmental group Extinction Rebellion, and has recently been active in protests against the industrial use of coal. 

In a YouTube video announcing his run, Cockle said he thought the public was becoming more receptive to the message that too much damage is being done to the environment in pursuit of economic growth. 

“I believe people understand that we’re hitting up against environmental limits, we know that we’re destroying and degrading the natural world,” said Cockle. 

“We’re hitting up against the line that once we cross, the natural world won’t be able to sustain organised human life any more. People understand this, and they want real leadership and direction, and I think it’s time the Greens offered it to them.” 

After the 2020 election, Green members voted to ratify a deal by which the parliamentary party would provide ministers for the government, but not be part of a formal coalition agreement. 

Under the deal, Shaw became climate change minister, and Marama Davidson became minister for the prevention of family and sexual violence, and associate housing minister. 

In the video, Cockle described the Greens since as becoming “Labour’s little helper”, and said a green vision needed to be put “front and centre”. 

The platform for Cockle’s leadership run is based on existing Green Party policy, but taking a much harder line on how it is put across. “It’s just really the way we discuss these things, and the way we share a vision for leadership,” 

Before the election, Stuff reported the Green Left internal party network drew up a suggested list ranking for party members to vote on, that would have resulted in Shaw being given an unwinnable list position, along with fellow MPs Chlöe Swarbrick and Eugenie Sage. 

All three ended up being ranked by the wider party membership in the top 6, which is generally seen as the cut-off point for guaranteed entry into parliament if the party vote crosses the 5% threshold. 

In the video, Cockle admitted there were risks in his challenge, including the possibility of negative media coverage for the party. 

“They would probably say that our party’s in disarray if people are challenging the leader, that the Greens are a mess. And they’ll think that we’re delusional, that we’ll never be able to make these things happen.” 

In response to these potential criticisms, Cockle said the party needed to be braver about putting its vision forward. 

If Cockle wins, it wouldn’t be the first time the Greens would have a co-leader outside parliament. Russel Norman was elected to the job after the death of Rod Donald, despite being up against incumbent MPs. 

Other incidents this year have hinted that Shaw’s position as co-leader could be under threat. Newsroom reported several months ago that discussions were under way around a change from a male and female co-leadership model to several other potential models, including one in which there is at least one female-identifying co-leader, and one more open slot. 

Shaw has been co-leader of the party since 2015, after winning a contested selection against incumbent MPs Kevin Hague and Gareth Hughes, along with party member Vernon Tava. All three have since left Green Party politics. Shaw could not be reached for comment.

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