John Armstrong: Greens in election no-man's land after Metiria Turei shambles

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Metiria Turei's messy exit from the post of co-leader of the Greens has exposed some home truths which that party would much prefer to ignore.

Not the least of those is the very vexed question of the party's positioning on the political spectrum.

Despite the recent ructions within the party, the Greens could still end up partnering Labour in a post-election coalition government.

Source: 1 NEWS

That would likely come at more of a price than the Greens would have expected to pay just a few short weeks ago.

For such a two-party coalition to be feasible, the mathematics of MMP would require that Labour's revival under Jacinda Ardern sees that party registering close to 40 per cent of the party vote.

The equation is simple, but brutal. Unless the Greens can bounce back strongly from their troubles, they will end up with fewer seats at the Cabinet table and a lot less leverage and influence.

That is the optimistic scenario. It is more likely that Labour will also need New Zealand First to be part of that power equation.

If Winston Peters refuses to countenance the Greens being part of any Labour-led coalition which includes his party, the Greens could at best become a governing partner holding some ministerial portfolios, but crucially without securing a single seat at the Cabinet table.

Worse, the Greens could find themselves shut out of government entirely, but forced to back confidence motions enabling a Labour-New Zealand First administration to govern, rather than risk forcing a second election no-one would want.

That scenario is almost a carbon copy of the circumstances which prevailed prior to the 2014 election.

They are likely to be circumstances which will continue to bedevil the Greens for as long as the party ghettoises itself to the left of Labour - and thus becomes hostage to the major Opposition party.

The Greens are well aware they are trapped. The negotiation of a memorandum of understanding with Labour was evidence of the Greens' efforts to pressure its supposed ally to be loyal to the cause of the left rather than end up pandering to the populism of centrist New Zealand First.

The memorandum technically expires on Election Day. But it was rendered redundant from the moment parties across the spectrum began indulging in pre-election coalition jostling.

Ms Turei's answer to the conundrum facing her party was for the Greens to launch an all-out offensive to try to supplant Labour as the major Opposition party.

The timing was propitious. Labour had a weak and ineffective leader. Public backing for that party seemed to be spiralling ever lower ever faster.

Greens leader James Shaw told a crowd in Auckland the party still holds the same values.
Source: 1 NEWS

But Ms Turei's strategy required that Labour not change its leader so close to the election. That was not an unreasonable assumption. In the unlikely event that Andrew Little was rolled, it was assumed his successor would do little better.

How wrong can you be. The subsequent drubbing of the Greens in the most recent polls should serve as a huge wake-up call for the party.

No longer can the Greens rely on the disease responsible for the rapid decline of social democratic parties worldwide striking New Zealand's example of that species.

Labour's resurgence means there is now only one escape route from the cul de sac in which the Greens are trapped.

They need to reposition themselves in the centre of the political spectrum so that if they have the numbers to be a player in post-election talks on government formation, they have the flexibility to engage in serious negotiations with either Labour or National or both major parties.

There is nothing new about that solution. Those advocating such a fundamental rethink have been doing so for so long that they risk sounding like a cracked record.

What is different now is that the logic driving such a rethink has become even more compelling.

But try telling that to remaining Greens co-leader James Shaw. As recently as just a month ago, he insisted a National-Greens coalition government was "completely out of the question".

There is no indication that the extraordinary events in the interim have done anything to change his mindset or that of his party's wider membership.

Expressing a willingness to at least talk to National post-election would put a whole different complexion on the election. And no party is currently in greater need of such a change in the election's dynamics than Shaw's crew.

The temporarily sole leader has valid reason to be cautious, however.

He would argue he has no mandate for initiating such a drastic rethink. Moreover, given such a change in approach would require consensus across the party, there is simply not enough time for such a debate prior to the election - especially one which would draw attention away from the party's policies.

The ructions which have seen three of the party's 14 MPs quit have left it in no condition to contemplate even more upheaval.

Moreover, any suggestion that the Greens might in future be willing to do a deal with National would cut across the Greens' insistence that this year's election must produce a change of government.

Above all, a shift in the party's stance to one that could result in National remaining in power could see the exit of a further wave of voters - one that could be of such size as to threaten the Greens' continued representation in Parliament.

While Shaw might be adamant there can be no rapprochement with National, other things need to change in Green-land which would have the by-product of making a repositioning of the party more likely, if only slightly so.

Here's why. To save face - Turei's -Shaw insists that the Greens' war on poverty will remain a key part of the Greens' election campaign.

But the party's social justice thrust has become hopelessly entangled with Turei's personal narrative of her life on the benefit.

Her focus on social justice to the exclusion of virtually anything else has effectively turned the Greens into some kind of ersatz version of Jim Anderton's Alliance.

The Greens' already-announced policy initiatives to help the poor have barely got a look-in so far. To highlight them now would only risk reopening the hugely polarising argument regarding the rights or wrongs of Ms Turei's actions.

Her skewing of priorities has resulted in the Greens' other guiding principle of ecological sustainability coming a long second behind the party's other principle of social responsibilities.

Yet, it is as the purveyors of "ecological wisdom" that defines the Greens and provides them with a brand of inestimable value.

Instead of being at the spearhead of the debate on environmental policy, Ms Turei's excursion deep into Labour's territory has resulted, however, in the Greens arriving very late at their own party.

Metiria Turei resigned yesterday shortly before a Newshub-Reid Research poll showed a collapse in Greens support.
Source: Breakfast

Uninvited guests - be it National promising to purchase electric cars for the public service's vehicle fleet, Labour demanding royalty payments for bottled water or Winston Peters' sudden interest in protecting native flora and fauna from introduced pests - have pinched all the presents.

Mr Shaw's immediate task is to persuade voters that these imposters are charlatans when it comes to protecting the environment.

The need to relight his party's true brand in environmentally friendly neon ought to trigger a debate on the party's positioning.

If the Greens are to save the planet, they must first save themselves. And that is going to require thinking the previously unthinkable.

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