The candidacy of James Shaw confirms the Green Party male co-leadership election as a full ideological spectrum debate. The frontrunners – Shaw and Kevin Hague – have great strengths. Hague provides a steady hand and strong healthcare experience that could contribute to a strengthened plank to the Green platform. Yet despite his strengths, there is no symbolic change. The last Green election campaign, an attempt to break into the mainstream with 15% of the party vote, arguably went too far at the expense of substance. The hashtag slogan of ‘Love New Zealand’ gave the impression of an appeal to stereotypical inner city millennial’s adoption of political principles as a lifestyle brand, while Russel’s adoption of rote talking points repeated ad nauseum indicated that the Greens were like every other political party.
On paper, Shaw makes the superior choice. A former Price Waterhouse Cooper consultant, Shaw would bring business gravitas and nuance to Green party policies – especially regulatory and economic reforms. His more cooperative approach to politics and ‘blue-green’ image is symbolic of what the Green Party probably needs to become that 15% party: environmental economics and social innovation based on market regulation and government spending. Suspicion of Shaw as a Thatcherite ‘trojan horse’ is rather trivial and reflects a purist mentality held my many Green sympathisers. Shaw, an Aro Valley resident, is treated as the corporate yuppie who those who moved in before gentrification sneer at, just like many ‘blue greens’ might be seen by original activists. Many New Zealanders work for corporates have Green sympathies but might not feel welcomed my such purist attitudes – therefore might end up voting National. A Shaw victory could symbolise the direction that would be the difference between the 14-15% polling average before the general election and the 10% result on election day. The Greens need the Aro Valley resident who works in the corporate sector and does yoga and attends weekend protests. However, this would also be contingent on no possibility of a National-Green coalition – yet. The Greens depends on a strong left-leaning base and it would be political suicide to alienate them with a National-led coalition, especially with a Labour Party under Andrew Little attempting to appeal to National-leaning voters. Vernon Tava is currently the sole proponent of a National-led coalition as an option. Left wing competition to the Greens would probably only emerge under a Labour-Green coalition, so until now it would be safely a left-leaning party but can still appeal to blue greens.
Beyond whoever wins the co-leadership, to become a 15% party, the Greens must appeal also beyond the inner city core, and especially beyond their Wellington-centric image. It’s no coincidence that the strongest Green party vote was in Wellington Central at 29.5% – where the electoral candidate was Shaw. Wellington-based MPs make up 4 out of 14 caucus members compared with 2 Auckland-based MPs. – the highest ranked 8th. Tava is the only Auckland co-leadership candidate. A greater focus on Auckland would certainly shake the image of being an upper-middle class, young, inner city Wellington party. Firstly, the current Auckland Plan submissions provide an excellent opening for the Greens to articulate their position of a greater government contribution towards the city rail loop, North Shore rail, commuter rail between Auckland and Hamilton, better urban and local neighbourhood planning, social housing, and green architecture – therefore appeal to the Auckland vote share. Tava, a Waitemata Local Board member involved in planning issues around the Auckland Plan, is well positioned to articulate a Green alternative. Secondly, the Greens can better balance list placing rules to increase the number of Aucklanders in caucus. If he doesn’t win co-leadership election, Tava would be an ideal paper candidate as a local body politician and Auckland Community Law solicitor. Thirdly, with the likely demise of Len Brown, the Greens could stand a local politician, celebrity, or Auckland-based MP for the Auckland mayoralty next year. Though chances of victory are slim, it could provide a perfect platform to articulate a Green vision of Auckland – especially on public transport and super city structural reform – and could sow grassroots seeds for the general election in 2017. Fourthly, the likely election of Shaw from Wellington or Hague from the West Coast could be considered as an incentive to consider an Auckland-based successor to Metiria Turei.