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PoliticsAugust 7, 2017

The Greens are in disarray, leaving the left resurgence hanging by a thread


An attempted mutiny against Metiria Turei has ended with two MPs resigning and the Greens thrown into turmoil. The Ardern euphoria now faces a brutal hangover, writes Toby Manhire

#IstandwithMetiria, went one of the rallying cries that echoed among Green supporters in response to the backlash against the co-leader’s revelations of historic law-breaking. This evening two Green MPs have stood up, too, but directly in challenge to Metiria Turei. For Kennedy Graham and David Clendon, both third term MPs, the co-leader’s announcement on Friday that she would not seek a cabinet post should they be part of the next government just didn’t cut it.

“We do not believe that lying to a public agency … can ever be condoned,” Graham told RNZ. “The two of us do not think that we cannot serve under her leadership.” Either Turei resigned the co-leadership or they were gone, they said. It was soon clear that she was going nowhere. The rest of the caucus was behind her, said Turei’s co-leader James Shaw, and he would move to have the pair suspended from the party. While he could respect their position, he could not respect their manner of expressing it, which had put the Greens’ campaign at “extreme risk” and “brought the party into disrepute”.

Many in the party will say good riddance to the pair, both of whom might be described as old-guard. Based on the immediate furious outpourings of anger on social media they’re already betes noires, saboteurs. Many are suggesting their list placings, of 8 (Graham) and 16 (Clendon), might have had something to do with it. The latter was vocally disappointed. A senior Green staffer was reported to be telling the press gallery they were disgruntled after having defied requests they stand down before the list was drawn up. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was simply a matter of principle. Either way, they have lobbed a grenade into a campaign terrain already pock-marked with explosives.

Elections around the world in recent times have been wild and unpredictable, and New Zealand seems determined to join in. Under Jacinda Ardern, it appeared the centre-left had grown a new limb. Must have been a foot, because the Greens are busy shooting holes in it. The strategy around Turei confessing to having lied to Winz started promisingly, bringing a poll boost and to a large degree prompting the conversation about welfare she sought. But it became unwieldy, and tipped over into further revelations around an electoral roll breach. What seems as extraordinary as anything is that the strategy could have gone ahead without the full buy-in of caucus. There’s only 14 of them.

Clockwise from top left: Kennedy Graham, Dave Clendon, Metiria Turei, Jacinda Ardern

Shaw, who has carried something of a bewildered look in his eyes over the last week, issued a statement saying they regretted but respected the MPs’ decisions, but that it meant some of their “high calibre and energetic candidates” would bump a couple of spots up the list in the absence of the two evacuees. But he’ll know that it’s unlikely – deeply unlikely at this stage – that their promotion will compensate for the damage brought upon the party, and the likely impact on their overall vote. And the vote of the centre-left as a whole.

The Greens won their 14 seats in 2014 from 10.7% of the party vote. They’ve recently polled as high as 15%. Even before this, they were likely to have in recent days lost a good chunk of that back to Ardern’s Labour. But how bad might it get now? Double figures already feels like a stretch. If they slip below 7% – and that’s entirely plausible; in 2008 they were 6.7%, in 2005 5.3% – the two young women who in many ways represent the future face of the Green Party, Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman (8 and 9 on the list following Graham’s departure) may not make it to parliament. Mojo Mathers, at 10, would be out. Other young talent such as Jack McDonald and John Hart (12 and 13): toast.

But beyond that calamity for the Green Party, this is horrible for Labour, too. Still dizzy from the euphoria of Jacindamania, the party faces a harsh Green-flavoured hangover. While Labour will expect to pick up plenty of votes from those unimpressed by the Green chaos, they’ll know, too, that they’re likely to lose as many floating National-Labour voters. Will those who were gingerly shifting to Team Ardern from Team Key stick it out with Labour, or shake their heads and settle for Team English?

Because of one thing there is no doubt: this is Christmas for the National campaign. The “circus” image that they have chosen to deploy in describing the parties of the left couldn’t be better. Yesterday, the party chose to respond to Kelvin Davis’s description of the PM as having the personality of a rock by embracing it. It might have been clumsily done. But amid the tempest of the left, you’d hardly blame voters for wanting something to cling to.

Read more of The Spinoff’s coverage of the suddenly very interesting Election 2017

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