Could this party herald a radical realignment on the left of New Zealand politics? And are we seeing echoes of the 2002 election?
Last week I asked, somewhat facetiously, whether this would be New Zealand's first policy-free election. Now obviously parties will release policies and they will provoke some debate, but it does seem that the personalities and the general perception of each party is going to matter more in this election than is traditionally so.
And does all the sound and fury of this election mean a broader alignment of the political spectrum is occurring? That beneath all the upheaval, voters are starting to re-evaluate the ties of political history?
It's tempting to think of this election as being something of a re-run of the 2002 election. The polls are certainly starting to indicate that. The main opposition party is weak, and the governing party is bleeding votes to other parties who could act as a check on it in government. And if that is what is happening in the same vien as 2002, then the next election will restore the strength of Labour, just as 2005 did for National.
But there is another possibility. That there really is a fundamental shift occurring in New Zealand politics. Unlike 2002, the Green Party has now clearly become the third major party in New Zealand politics. It is no longer the largest of the minor parties, it's the smallest of the main parties. Could the Greens supplant Labour as the main party of the centre left?
The Labour Party was born from class and from unions. But over the last 40 years both the economy and society have undergone a transformation, with the result that unions are now a relatively small part of the national consciousness. Labour’s activists reflect this change. The members of parliament are much more likely to come from activist professionals, usually from within the broader public service. Apart from careerist reasons, there is no obvious reason why they will see Labour as being their natural political vehicle.
The Greens can perform that role just as well. Once it is apparent that the Green Party will deliver power and position within government just as effectively as Labour, then old loyalties (or plain political calculation) will diminish.
If the Green Party was able to get 15%, then they will have crossed a key threshold. At that level 20% or even 25% is not so far away, and would be their next logical target. At these levels it would be realistic for the Greens to demand the premiership.
Of course they could not expect their internal dual leadership model to be carried over into a constitutional position. But there is no reason why there could not be two deputy prime ministers. Many nations have such a model.
New Zealanders like to think of themselves as pioneers. Will this country, with all of its instinctive commitment to the environment, even if that is sometimes more by word than deed, become the first country to have a government led by the Green Party? That's clearly not going to happen in the 2014 election, but who would say that it could not occur in 2017 or 2020.