Will the door be open to a new National leadership, and does the party need to flex its muscle to get noticed in the coming months?
Suddenly it’s election year again. The National Party has jettisoned Simon Bridges in favour of Todd Muller, a sensible man with a firm handshake. Over the weekend Jacinda Ardern emailed supporters, pivoting from the public service announcements to asking for campaign donations. And this morning the Greens are the first out of the gate with a party list.
The final ranking – arrived at after the initial list, picked by party delegates, was tweaked in voting by the whole membership – has the co-leaders at the top, with Chlöe Swarbrick, the next most visible of the party’s current caucus, coming in third, bumped up four places by members.
It is a very different picture to that memorable North & South front page of just over three years ago. Half of the high ranking candidates on the cover are gone. The magazine itself is gone, too. Perhaps more of a time warp, however, is the cover line: “Is the once ‘loony left’ ready to rule (and should we be afraid)?” For plenty of Greens – voters, members, and even some in caucus – the question is have they been loony, or at least loud, enough?
The full list is as follows (the plus or minus denotes any move from the April preliminary list, as reported by Stuff):
- Marama Davidson – Tāmaki Makaurau
- James Shaw – Wellington Central
- Chlöe Swarbrick – Auckland Central (+4)
- Julie Anne Genter – list only (+2)
- Jan Logie – Mana (-2)
- Eugenie Sage – Banks Peninsula (-2)
- Golriz Ghahraman – Mt Roskill (+1)
- Teanau Tuiono – Palmerston North (-3)
- Elizabeth Kerekere – Ikaroa Rāwhiti
- Ricardo Menéndez March – Maungakiekie
- Steve Abel – New Lynn
- Teall Crossen – Rongotai
- Scott Willis – Taieri
- Kyle MacDonald – Epsom
- Lourdes Vano – Manurewa
- John Ranta – Ōhāriu
- Lawrence Xu-Nan – Pakuranga
- Luke Wijohn – Mt Albert
- Kaya Sparke – Rotorua
- Jack Brazil – Dunedin
- James Crow – Napier
- Elliot Blyth
- Richard McIntosh – Hutt South
- Gerrie Ligtenberg – Rangitata
Seven sitting members take the top seven places (the eighth, Gareth Hughes, is retiring from politics at the ripe age of 38), with Teanau Tuiono dropping by three places. It’s a surprise, given how well regarded Tuiono is, but if nothing else it indicates the membership as a whole is broadly satisfied with the incumbents’ performance.
And if there is a push for an assertion of left-ness, it appears not to be in the form advocated by the Green Left group within the party, which emailed members a month ago encouraging them to boot Shaw, Sage and Swarbrick clean out of the electable places.
The Greens are currently polling around 5%, so could find as few as half a dozen MPs returned – or, worse, none at all. Their poll numbers are better, however, than New Zealand First, the other party faced with the invidious task of campaigning after being in a supporting role for a box-office government. But they know there are voters to win back: in the two elections before the last they won 11% of the vote and 14 seats.
Less than two months before the 2017 election, the party polled as high as 15%. That was following Metiria Turei’s confessional welfare speech. It was quite a time. Labour’s poor polling slumped further. Andrew Little resigned, and Jacinda Ardern’s surged. The focus on Turei’s past and the Ardern halo meant by the time the results rolled in the Greens were just relieved to be there at all.
The party’s signature achievement in parliament, as a confidence and supply partner to the Labour-NZ-First coalition, is the Zero Carbon bill. They can point, too, to the ban on new offshore gas exploration, and some wins on transport. Jan Logie has made strides for women in the justice system. Chlöe Swarbrick has been the outstanding communicator on cannabis law reform.
But they’ve had to watch, too, as the Labour-led government poured billions into an infrastructure dream that looked quite a lot like the last National government’s infrastructure dream – most of it ribboned with roads. On welfare, yes, they won a Welfare Expert Advisory Group. But the report that resulted sits for the most part in a filing cabinet somewhere, gathering dust.
The Greens’ agreement with Labour was not just about exploring and investigating and reviewing. It’s there in black and white: the deal is to “overhaul the welfare system”. It’s hard to imagine another party, by which I mean New Zealand First, being so polite about it all.
With $20 billion still to spend from the Covid-19 recovery fund, it will be interesting to see how much the Greens are willing to throw their weight around in the next couple of months. If they really wanted a dust-up they could at any point vote with National in the house and achieve a majority.
One criticism directed at the Greens is that they got less out of their negotiations with Labour than Winston Peters’ party because they had nowhere else to go. By refusing to entertain any real prospect of making a National government happen, they lose deal-making muscle. Now National has Todd Muller as leader – the man with whom James Shaw worked at great length to get cross-party support for the Zero Carbon Act. And as deputy they have Nikki Kaye, whose climate and environmental are burnished in her open opposition to her own party’s position on mining on Great Barrier Island.
The next few months will see calls, therefore, for the Greens to glance across the aisle, and thereby to win leverage for post-election negotiations. The thought will be anathema to many in the Greens’ base, and the evidence suggests only a tiny minority of Green voters countenance the idea, that but creaking the door open an inch is not beyond the bounds of possibility – after all, the Greens have had a “memorandum of understanding” with National before.
Assuming Labour manages to hold anything like its commanding post-Covid polling position, however, the Greens and New Zealand First will be campaigning as a corrective on the biggest party. New Zealand First: we are the only ones who can stop the country rolling towards socialist hellfire. The Greens: we are the only ones that can achieve a true transformative tilt. The Green Party’s case already was: we, too, want more on social justice; we, too, are frustrated at the lack of change; we can do better with more MPs. The experience of the last election will leave some MPs risk averse, but politeness can be risky, too.