This is the story of three politicians: Jack, Norm and John. Shaped by their youth, each implemented their own concept of Kiwi housing. Think of it as a typical bungalow that Jack built during the 1930s, Norm renovated in the 1970s, and John flogged off to international property speculators for a hefty profit in the 2000s. Their stories explain how the current housing crisis was created, and offer a way out.
The story begins with Jack. During the 1930s generations born during the late-Victorian era, who had started life in urban slums and rural huts for itinerant labourers, embarked a bold rethink of housing. Leading the charge was one of their own, John A. Lee, commonly known during his heyday as ‘Jack’. Born into a Dunedin slum in 1891, the teenage Lee was convicted of petty theft and sentenced to Burnham Industrial School for young offenders. After he successfully escaped, Lee spent years on the run working as a swagman in farms, butcheries and factories – experiences that informed his political outlook: practical, bold and with a lifelong penchant for rebellion. After a year in Mt Eden Prison for bootlegging and theft, and service in World War I in which he lost his left arm, Lee was elected a Labour MP in 1922. Political rival Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage refused to appoint the charismatic, popular radical to cabinet when Labour was elected to government in 1935, instead giving him the minor post of Parliamentary Undersecretary with responsibility for housing. Naturally, the Victorian survivor turned political gadfly had a plan.
Highlighting housing conditions during the Great Depression, Lee used his position to end the hardship endured by slum-dwellers, swagmen and the newly destitute alike. He proposed a large-scale state housing plan beyond what the cautious Savage deemed necessary, but the PM was ultimately convinced. With Government as the procurer of materials and land and Fletcher Construction as the monopoly builder, over 30,000 state houses were built between 1936 and 1949 housing the urban poor, middle class and eventually returning servicemen. Though the rebellious Lee eventually fell foul of Savage and was ultimately expelled from Labour in 1940, he deserves credit for affordable, accessible housing as a human right, with the state serving as a guarantor. The house was built.
Generations born in the early 20th century dreamed beyond basic rights, aspiring to own their own affordable home. Their dreams were encouraged by Norman Kirk, the prime minister from 1972 to 1974. A child of the Great Depression, Kirk had firsthand experience of the deprivation common among poorer families. A school dropout at 12, he worked as a train engine cleaner, chimney painter, ferry mechanic and factory worker in his youth. While better off than those from the Victorian slums, this generation often had to fight for good housing. Living in rat-infested workers accommodation at a Bay of Plenty factory in 1944, Kirk snapped one night when he killed a rat which attacked his infant son. He barged into a board meeting and threw down the newspaper-wrapped dead rat on the table, yelling “How would you like to live under these conditions?!” at aghast board members. Later, Kirk famously cycled his own building materials from Christchurch to Kaiapoi to construct the family home known as ‘The House that Norm Built.’
Kirk united his generation’s experiences of poverty with the views of idealistic baby boomers to create an aspirational vision of government and communities that were responsible for people’s basic needs so that individuals could make the choices he himself lacked. As Labour leader Kirk, immortalised voters’ needs as ‘Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for’ while acquiring the hippyish-endearing musical moniker ‘Big Norm.’ Coupled with health problems, Kirk’s fierce push to reinvigorate Lee’s housing rights concept (among an array of bigger reforms) hastened his death within two years. His legacy included mass state housing expansion, low-interest low-to-middle income loans, special savings accounts, better tenant rights and rent caps, and taxes on property speculation.
The success of Kirk’s programmes had a downside: many baby boomers began to take the opportunities provided by Lee and Kirk for granted, believing they owed successes to merit alone. For them, housing was increasingly seen less as a human right, and more of an opportunity.
Enter John Key, the Burnside state-house boy turned multimillionaire Merrill Lynch currency trader – New Zealand’s dominant political figure from 2008 until his resignation as prime minister late last year. Embodying his first election slogan ‘Ambitious for New Zealand’, Key’s politics stripped the public responsibility from Kirk’s hard-scrabble aspirationalism, enshrining individual effort as the ultimate means to earn that dream Parnell mansion and holiday homes in Omaha and Maui.
This approach sits comfortably with boomers who benefit from rising property values. National’s privatisation of high-value Orakei and Glen Innes state houses without sufficient replacements while refusing bold tax measures to halt rising prices and rents treats government as a hindrance to what is essentially a boomer retirement nest-egg racket. While homeowners demand young people make fewer ‘bad choices’ and ‘eat less smashed avocado’, people forced into overcrowded accommodation, uninsulated garages and even cars by rising prices represents a grim modern manifestation of the Victorian slum.
Abandoned by Key, Generation X’ers and Millennials need their own Lees and Kirks to end modern housing as a highly-profitable investment while also, like Lee, addressing broader generational hardships. The success of Chlöe Swarbrick is instructive: an unknown political novice, she ran for Auckland mayor against a former Minister of Education responsible for creating her university fees and student loan debt, and achieved 7% on a platform prioritising housing affordability. As with Kirk, our new political generation can learn from their predecessors while dealing with contemporary issues such as international property speculation. Despite Lee’s current pariah status in Labour, their Kiwibuild policy of bulk-buying materials and land for affordable private houses is a clear nod to their state housing pioneer. With boomer homeowners remaining largely oblivious to the housing crisis, it’s time for younger generations to restore the house of Jack and Norm to its former glory.
Having signed up as a Labour supporter two weeks ago, I’m no closer to deciding between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. Neither candidate will likely solve Labour’s problems and, rather than a real debate of ideas, the leadership election has been defined by mutual loathing, with rival supporters tearing cyber chunks out of each other on social media and news comment feeds. While Corbyn fans on Twitter seem more adept at this, at least it says a lot about Corbyn as a candidate worth fighting for. The passion that Corbyn inspires has brought 200,000 new members and transformed Labour into a grassroots movement with an energy not seen since Tony Benn during the 1980s. Enthusiasm among young people provides a lesson to youth voter turnout campaigns worldwide: you need to feel something.
Yet both sides are descending into an unquestioning worship of their corresponding political spirit animals.
I fear we are unreasonable projecting onto Corbyn an image of a perfect socialist messiah on whom we depend rather than principled policies that his team must promote more effectively. Where policies don’t exist, we take comfort in his glow and curse doubters. At worst, we’ve co-opted him as our trending political brand. A bearded, scruffy anti-politician who oozes vintage socialist-chic as our ironic anti-establishment statement but could end up as out of vogue as the pair of maroon Topshop trousers sitting at the bottom of our wardrobes. As a result, we can be too content with our social media and rally-based validation bubble to acknowledge valid concerns with Corbyn’s leadership abilities and outreach to Labour’s regional, working class English former base. The volume of complaints from former Shadow Cabinet ministers and his economic advisory team members – from lack of political, economic and media strategy to personal blunders – are too large to dismiss as political and media collusion. Critics of all stripes – even soft-leftists or allies like Owen Jones – are accused of treachery. Smith himself is too readily accused of being a pharma-corporate Blair – something of an insult to both his good work as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and to working and middle class voters employed by corporations who would feel uncomfortable with such career purism. If Labour is to become the grassroots juggernaut that Corbyn envisions, then he cannot be infallible and must be held the same standard as we hold Smith. Internal dissent for his more questionable decisions can only make the movement stronger.
Ironically, Owen Smith’s campaign is a cult of anti-personality. His main problem is still ‘Owen Who?’ – an unknown who generates little enthusiasm among his supporters. This isn’t Smith’s fault. He seems an interesting, smart, skilled, dedicated politician but this is no longer enough compared to Corbyn. During the last leadership election, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper as calculating, talking point-spouting human cyborgs of Westminster ruined leadership chances for all former Blair and Brown special advisors. Smith as Burnham 2.0 is a vast improvement but provides nowhere near Corbyn’s principled authenticity. He is the Remain campaign of leadership candidates in that no one is passionate about the project but are more driven by fear of the consequences of losing to those whose supporters they deemed ignorant, hysterical and unrealistic. Like with Brexit, this won’t work. As the establishment candidate – with over 80% backing from the PLP and mainstream media commentators – it is difficult for Smith to win support from members who feel ignored and currently denigrated by many of his political and pundit backers. The movement around Smith opposes Corbynism but responds with a Corbynite policy platform wrapped in a bouquet of condescension and vagueness that to many signals a return to top-down, professional politics that Labour members despise. Old approaches are unconvincing in a post-Global Financial Crisis, Scottish nationalist, post-Brexit Britain.
For me, this is a battle between my inner socialist and inner pundit in which I will seek to avoid absolutes. Corbyn isn’t perfect nor will Theresa May garrotte a weakened Labour to death in a ditch unless they follow a bland, outdated conventional political checklist. Regardless of who wins, to keep Labour together and viable the party leadership must equally inspire passion, listen and give real power to party members and run a smart operation that plans ahead and reacts swiftly. Call it a ‘red-vanilla swirl’ for a party that united that to stay together – at least for now – must be equal parts red and vanilla.
Imagine if democratic participation were as simple as a Facebook like – an everyday expression with real political weight. In times of strong anti-immigration and anti-welfare sentiment this is risky for some but to others it’s inevitable. Digital technology, they argue, is undermining political and corporate power in favour of citizens empowered by smartphones.
At the forefront of this are technology-driven activists working with some of the most prominent internet entrepreneurs to prepare for digital democracy. Democracia En Red (Net Democracy) was founded in 2012 by politically-disillusioned Argentinians who saw digital technology as key to revitalising politics. Co-founder Pia Mancini summarises the challenge simply: ‘We are 21st century citizens doing our very, very best to interact with 19th century-designed institutions that are based on information technology of the 15th century.’ They created DemocracyOS, an online platform that allows citizens to debate and vote ideas, with the goal of legislatures and parties using it to crowdsource policy proposals. Finding little enthusiasm, they started Partito De La Red (Net Party) to run in the Buenos Aires legislative elections in 2013 on a platform of elected representatives being bound by DemocracyOS user decisions. After a colourful campaign, it achieved 1% of the vote yet convinced the city legislature to adopt DemocracyOS, soon passing crowdsourced legislation guaranteeing better conditions for nurses. DemocracyOS then gained funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists Y-Combinator and was adopted by the Mexican Government for an online information law, American city councillors, and Latin American NGOs.
For their next project, last year co-founders Mancini and Santiago Siri teamed up with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Google News founder Krishna Bharat, and Bitcoin creator ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ to start Democracy Earth Foundation to make the internet the primary means of political and economic transaction.
A former teenage Marxist turned Wall St tech entrepreneur, Siri returned to politics when he realised the potential of digital technology as an inseparable part of daily life – especially for young people. He notes in his native Argentina, ‘If you actually go to the poorest slums in Buenos Aires, you will see teenagers and young people being connected with their smartphones. They do not have access to potable water, they do not have access to electricity sometimes, but they do have a cellphone that connects them to the world.’ Rather than apathetic Millennials, Siri see a ‘Digital Generation’ who use non-electoral means to engage. ‘They take action on Reddit, they take action on Twitter, they do petitions on change. Let’s say voter turnout on the internet is higher among the young.’
Revolutionary technological innovations have historically undermined ruling interests. Siri cites the printing press, before which ‘only certain priests in certain monasteries were able to read and write and even the scribes of the church were human photocopiers who didn’t understand the symbols that they were drawing in books.’ Now, media conglomerate and political collusion to control information is being undermined by new media. As television revealed Vietnam War horrors, Youtube, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden expose political gaffes, mass surveillance and alleged war crimes. Siri says ‘the internet is able to expose multiple points of view, it’s able to start getting people to realise that there is no objective truth to reality and I think that the internet is more than just a way of communicating.’
Recent innovations like Uber and AirBnb that undermine whole industries will happen to politics, argues Siri. ‘Government, big banks will start looking like the way we see the Catholic church: fascinating rituals but interesting like reality shows with fascinating characters. Yet more and more real power will be put on the internet and traditional institutions will look like an inheritance in our civilisations past rather than our civilisations future.’ This, he believes, relies on prioritising coding in schools. As individual blocks of information expressed through numerical values, code can build digital structures with multiple functions like Facebook or mobile banking. People would become their own politicians, debating and voting on workplace decisions to government spending.
Political establishments are fighting back through attempts to control online data such as NSA data storage and recent FBI attempt to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. However, Siri believes decentralisation will win. ‘Historically we rely on centralised, monopolistic organisations like government and banks to mediate trust for us in society, but certainly now with the rise of this new generation of technologies, having trust being mediated in a decentralised way opens a lot of interesting debates about how institutions can get built and what leadership and authority means.’
Simultaneously, Siri disagrees with corporate ownership of identity. ‘Facebook manages more identities than many of the governments I know. Today we give away our identities so we can get these services for free and we get advertising.’ Democracy Earth’s solutions is Blockchain: a personally-owned digital identity for all transactions that allows anonymity. ‘You sometimes want to do things showing your public image and sometimes you want to remain anonymous. To engage or interact with a corporation or large company without exposing the private information that you do not want to expose’
Reclaiming democracy relies on realising our technological power. Siri sees us like the monastic scribes, unaware what the printing press would bring. ‘They were like human photocopiers unaware that the symbols that they were able to copy they were able to read, then they became aware of their power. We are all using our cellphones right now unaware of the power we have in our hands.’
Originally published in Disclaimer Magazine
No two issues have sparked public interest in politics in recent times more than Scotland and Jeremy Corbyn. The Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 produced lively debate locally and across the UK, achieved an 85% turnout, and contributed to an overwhelming SNP victory last May. After that same election, the Labour leadership election piqued public interest in left-wing politics and 300,000 Labour members and 100,000 registered supporters voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn’s radical platform. This passion doesn’t extend to Westminster. Unlike Scotland or ideological debate, the bellicosity, spin and over-rehearsed talking points of modern politics are not only unappealing but reinforce a political dynamic where many feel incapable of making a difference. Governments can’t address deep social and economic problems without public input, which begs the question whether Westminster is currently ill-equipped to meet 21st century needs and could use a reboot.
This crisis is parliamentary and civic. Decades of high election turnout and mass-participation in unions, organised religion, and political parties have ended due to changing employment and economic conditions, evolving social outlooks and numerous revelations of corruption and ineptitude. These traditional interests have less money and members to mobilise and influence public and political opinion, as well as counter economic interests and their ideological allies within government. In this vacuum, wealthy individual donors and lobbyists provide much-needed donations to the smaller, more professionalised Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats in exchange for access. Conservative Leaders Group members, who donate £50,000 per year, can dine with David Cameron and key cabinet members at Downing Street while the best the public can expect is that Cameron will pretend to be a fan of their football team – whichever that is. This concentration of political power pursues mutual ideological agendas – currently welfare paternalism and austerity – ahead of housing prices, poverty and discrimination that define peoples’ real daily experience of politics.
Despite disillusionment and greater social isolation, we are in no less desire of collective action. Political outlooks have become more fluid and less suited to traditional top-down civic approaches, with many preferring to donate to and join NGOs and single-issue campaigns. Technology has become the new means of political engagement, whether through posting articles in Facebook social circles or debating them more widely on Reddit or Twitter. Rather than physically attending select committee meetings or Guardian Live events, we can livestream or follow Twitter updates to keep informed. Accepting the notion of a technologically-driven, atomised society denies the potential of technology driven by social needs as the infrastructure of 21st century political pluralism.
Despite the role of access, the ultimate power of Westminster lies in the electoral mandate as expression of the public will – an idea more suited to the 19th century age of empire and industrialisation from which modern Westminster arose. A majority government in the House of Commons can use this to justify unpopular election pledges such as junior doctors’ hours or break them like proposed cuts to family tax credits. The ‘winner takes all’ approach is an FA cup final mentality, where winning parties are undisputed champions until the next political championship. A digital approach could undermine the Westminster monopoly on democracy and enable a more perpetual idea of democracy.
Applying digital democracy to Westminster would essentially crowdsource policy, legislation, and constitutional proposals to ensure a public voice in decision-making. The House of Commons already holds binding debates on e-petitions that reach 100,000, having recently debated banning Donald Trump from the UK. This could easily extend to binding debates on legislative and policies proposed by the public. House Speaker John Bercow’s Digital Democracy Commission has recommended forums and channels for online public submissions for drafting bills and questions for PMQs – already adopted by Corbyn. Online policy development mechanisms could exist on a national scale independent of Westminster, a potential blueprint of this being the design process for a new Icelandic constitution in 2012-13. One group of citizens randomly selected by Government ballot respectively decided core principles to be included and another appointed group elected a 25-member panel to write it. The draft was opened to online public feedback that was incorporated into a final version approved by public referendum in 2012. Although rejected by the newly-elected parliament in 2013, a national approach to crowdsourced policy proved feasible.
Political parties provide another forum digital experimentation. Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has advocated online technology to connect leadership and members and touted digital party branches. Newly-created parties go further using open-source software. Podemos used feedback via Loomio to design their manifesto for the Spanish general elections in December, while the German Pirate Party discusses ideas on Liquid Feedback. The Net Party, founded by activist organisation Democracia En Red, ran in the Buenos Aires legislative elections in 2013 advocating representatives be bound to vote by online member decisions on DemocracyOS. Although the Net Party only achieved 1% of the vote, their campaign convinced the Buenos Aires legislature to adopt DemocracyOS to debate publicly-crowdsourced bills, through which it passed a bill for better conditions for nurses.
In a world increasingly reliant on online technology for public engagement, incorporating digital mechanisms into electoral democracy would update Westminster democracy for the 21st century. This would both embrace how people think and engage and enable a new political pluralism where public passion for Scotland and Jeremy Corbyn would hardly be the exceptions.
Originally published in Disclaimer Magazine
My greatest fear about Red Peak was that it was less a popular movement and more of a brand logo for the Grey Lynn Farmers Market. A middle class gang-patch for expats residing in London flats and New York lofts. Despite a media-savvy social media campaign to get it on the referendum ballot, it only achieved 8.7% in the first round. Red Peak appealed to people like myself, my friend group, and social media connections. Inner-city suburbanites living in restored villas or bungalows who tend towards organic and/ or vegetarian diets, cycle to work, and profess cosmopolitan social values and centre-left to radical and green politics. The downside of this is a bubble mentality. Too often, we naturally assume the superiority of our lifestyle choices and superior thinking and tastes as opposed to the poor choices and tastes of others. We frequently mock ‘their’ cul-de-sac outer suburban, ‘meat and two-vege’ eating, Holden-V8 driving, Dan Brown-reading, privilege unchecking, Lockwood flag-voting lifestyles. Though our interaction with them only truly extends to family, snark, or appropriation of ironic cultural or fashion trends, we demand that, in order for things to improve, that they change their tastes, beliefs, and flag aesthetics.It’s the equivalent of gentrification but applied to whole swathes of the population.
Surely, our greatest delusion was the failure of the Red Peak social media campaign to translate into a popular movement. We overestimated the contribution that Facebook, Twitter, and the online petition made to the public discourse. We Facebook posted the latest Guardian, John Oliver clip, or Pencilsword piece on the flag debate to great applause from our social bubble but not beyond it. Likewise, Twitter merely served the debate equivalent of sniper showdowns between Twitter personalities that the public by and large weren’t following. Most people don’t generally use Facebook or Twitter to debate politics but to reinforce their online identity – something we ‘politically engaged’ do with left-wing Red Peakism. This is not new, as last year’s Green voter ‘ballot selfies’ was part of a long line of examples of reinforcement rather than outreach. If we seek to change hearts and minds, talking about ourselves isn’t the place to start.
Red Peak has come to represent a symbolic divide between an upper-middle class social bubble and the public at large. Though our passion for Red Peak is genuine, we misread the situation because we can be insular and sometimes condescending about towards those who don’t share our tastes. Red Peak is probably not going to become the NZ flag in the future if the next referendum fails. Any new designs that are truly agreeable must not only be shortlisted by a more open panel of qualified designers and historians, we must also confront the reality of where New Zealanders’ aesthetic sensibilities lie. If we are genuine about our social media promotion of Red Peak for the greater good, we cannot assume that our ideas are superior. If we merely engage with those inside our bubble, ideas like Red Peak are merely middle class gang patches for our own social media brands rather than visual symbols that represent everyone.
Worldwide rage at Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering America has culminated in a 400,000-plus petition to ban him from entry into the UK reaching the House of Commons for binding debate. Owen Jones labelled him a menace and warned us not to see him as a clown. In this case, our popular rage appears misplaced. Consider the makeup of the Home Office list of banned individuals. This ranges from figures who have said controversial things to serious financial fraudsters, alleged terrorists, convicted war criminals, and human rights-abusing politicians. Strangely, there was no similarly popular petition to ban Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – previously informally banned over complicity in Muslim pogroms as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 – from visiting the UK in October. Our well-meaning efforts ignore not only the context of the Home Office list but also the reality of what Trump actually represents.
Trump’s presidential campaign resembles a billionaire vanity project meets a My Fair Lady/ Around the World in 80 Days ‘gentlemen’s wager’ in which American political dysfunction has allowed to succeed. Republicans candidates are trapped by an alliance of monied lobbyists, donors, and grassroots primary voter groups they fund who can fight politicians who have strayed from absolute devotion to their conservatism. Presidential candidates are being forced further to the right of the American public and can no longer simultaneously serve red meat in the primaries and convincingly return to the middle during the general election. Case in point: Mitt Romney.
The antipathy towards these disingenuous, professionally-trained career politicians has many among the Republican base more willing to support novices. In 2012, Herman Cain – the former pizza mogul whose bizarre campaign ads, naivety, multiple claims of sexual harassment, and a speech quoting Pokemon: the Movie – temporarily led the polls. In 2016 – amid a sprawling 17 mostly conventional candidates – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump have each stood out and held the limelight. Similar to Cain, Carson has fallen due to misleading biographical claims and Fiorina was hurt by aborted foetal organ harvesting claims and her record as CEO of HP.
Trump has succeeded against other novices and establishment candidates because he runs not as a politician but as entertainer. A candidate for the reality TV age in the mould of Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay – blunt and mean and whose controversies are treated as mere aggrandisement. Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, in his article ‘Inside the GOP Clown Car‘, argued this was a shift from professional politics in favour of celebrity. ‘He’s taken the Beltway thinkfluencers out of the game and turned the presidency into a pure high-school-style popularity contest conducted entirely in the media. Everything we do is a consumer choice now, from picking our shoes to an online streaming platform to a presidential nominee.’ A typical Trump campaign rally or debate isn’t a political event but a self-aware brand: bouffant hair, spray tan, wiseguy New Yorker attitude playing a reality TV president for the crowd. Even his mocking of the disabled, women, and now Muslims feels less like bigotry and more of a calculated, shameless appeal to bigots within the Republican base. He’s not beholden to politician rules so hasn’t suffered the consequences. If he did, the Sinn Fein fundraiser attendee, Democrat and Bill Clinton supporter, now Republican businessman with dealings with Chinese businesspeople and Gulf State Muslim princes would be at single-digits. Luckily, this hurts his chances in the general election.
Amidst our outrage, we ignore real demagogues like Narendra Modi the politician and elevate Trump to the position of political menace. We’ve confused entertainment for politics. Trump is a clown, but more symbolically he’s a court jester playing a satirical presidential candidate and consequently mocking a corrupt process. Close the petition page, pour a drink, and enjoy this meta-spectacle.
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.