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Opinion: Green Party in a battle for its soul as members choose a new female co-leader

The Greens are in a battle for their soul, with the first bout set to kick-off as members choose a female co-leader.

Source: 1 NEWS

However, they've already sold-off a little bit of that soul by compromising over Winston Peters' pet waka-jumping bill.

Now in Government it seems like a good point from which to rebuild the party from the wreckage of last year, but there are forces at work that could equally pull the party apart.

The first is Labour. At six or seven per cent the Greens remain useful, but cowed, as a support partner. Any higher than that and they start to eat into Labour's own vote.

The second is the party faithful. For all their green bona fides, the new Green ministers (James Shaw, Eugenie Sage and Julie-Anne Genter) are not radicals.

The Green Party co-leader's voice trembled as she spoke about the "difficult decisions" people make on low incomes. Source: Q+A

Some members are still licking their wounds over the brutal felling of Metiria Turei.

The only acceptable replacement will be someone in that radical mould such as Marama Davidson, the daughter of urban Maori activists and a human rights warrior.

In some ways that could work for the party. She would be the conscience of the party, free to criticise the Labour-led Government from outside the executive.

Mollifying the grass-roots movement, while the others soldier on as the biddable junior partners in Government.

But at some point that approach will cause friction. Some 30 years after their formation, the Greens have reached a crossroads and finally have to decide between the movement and the institutionalised party.

We got a hint of this quandary this week. MP Golriz Ghahraman attended a demonstration at the GCSB's Waihopai facility. "It's time to stop helping Donald Trump (or anyone else) unlawfully spy on our Asia Pacific neighbours," she tweeted.

So far, so normal – the Greens have long been associated with direct action. Protest is a tool for those without power, to challenge the establishment and cause disruption and create conflicts.

But the Greens are now part of that establishment, they hold (some of) that power. Can a party in Government realistically oppose its national security agencies? Can it offer support to demonstrations where there is civil disobedience?

James Shaw has announced that a new female Co-Leader will be chosen "by the time Easter is finished". Source: 1 NEWS

There are degrees of radicalism in the party. Among other things, they challenge the power of large business, support non-mitilaristic defence and pose a challenge to the traditional political elites.

And that's not just grassroots members. A meme pinned to Ghahraman's Twitter account quotes her saying: "One of the greatest threats to both human and nature's rights is the subjugation of democracy to corporate interests."

In a major speech last week, James Shaw called for structural reform away from growth economics.

Can the Greens in Government retain and continue to speak to these values? Can you strive for a revolutionary worldview when you are regularly compromising to senior partners in Government? It's inevitable tensions will chafe away at party discipline.

It's not a new dilemma. Green parties in Ireland, Germany, Finland and Belguim have all entered with varying degrees of success.

In 2011, the Irish Greens lost all their seats, punished for being party of a Fianna Fail that botched attempts to salvage the country's economy.

Of course, members could choose a more moderate figure like Eugenie Sage and go the same way as the German Greens who recently broke with tradition and elected two figures from their centrist wing.

It was a strategic move to make them more palatable to Angela Merkel's conservatives and put a centre-left stamp on her coalition.

In the two months they take to decide on the new co-leader, the Greens have some soul-searching to do.