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. 

Comments (23)

by Jane Beezle on August 28, 2014
Jane Beezle

My pick: In three or four electoral cycles - when the current cohort of school children are voting - the Greens will have support up in the 30% range.

Environmental issues are the reality for the younger generation, in education, in the media, at home.  plus, the Greens are in it for the long game.  That brand is not going anywhere. 

by Nick Gibbs on August 28, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The Greens are still the watermelons. A thin green veneer covering a strict socialist center. Turei didn't list the environment as a priority, while Norman dithered over what he thought was important but it wasn't the environment. 

There's still plenty of votes to be gained for any party willing to rationally stand up for the environment sans the socialist baggage.

by ShanghaiSue on August 29, 2014

I am one of those people who have `left' Labour for the Greens.  It is not so much a rejection of Labour but more a recognition of the global catastrophe that is climate change.  The Greens are the only party who I believe will prioritise a risk assessment for our country, seriously work on mitigation strategies and help us cope with the problems that are here already and will just increase.  The young recognise this, but also more mature voters like me, who think of the next generation.  I think we are patronisingly referred to as Sue Kedgley Mums

by John Hurley on August 29, 2014
John Hurley

It is a no brainer that house prices in Auckland are affected strongly by immigration yet the Greens are in denial. Population increase needs infrastructure; infrastructure needs taxes; taxes need a solid productive economy and an econopmy supplimented by an immigration sugar rush isn't delivering. These represent limits to growth but they are blind: they turn left whenever population meets environment. They have no solution beyond sending people to the regoins where all the low hanging fruits and fruits higher up the tree have been picked. Their solution to that  is over achieving enterprises (otherwise known as "magical thinking").



by Ken on August 29, 2014

Nick is either ignorant about the Greens, or more likely just repeating Key's smear that we're no longer an environment party. I'm betting the latter.

The policies of the party I joined 15 years ago are not significantly different from those it has today, just more mature and better developed. We are a party of the left, but have never been socialists. I realise it's difficult for some on the right, who think there is nothing between socialism and neo-liberalism, to tell the difference.

The ultimate irony though is Key's cynicism that he, whose antagonism to environmental protection is so obvious, is in a position to criticise anyone's position, let alone the Greens, for whom the environment remains a core issue. Both Russel and Metiria stress the Greens environmental goals constantly. For sure, most of the right isn't afraid of the Green's popularity because of our social policies, but because we would end the free ride that exists to pollute our environment.

by Wayne Mapp on August 29, 2014
Wayne Mapp

The proposition of this article is based on the fact that the Greens are fundamentally a Left party (as Ken, Shanghai Sue and Ken concede). And that is reflected in their MP's. As I see it, they are more left than Labour, though it would be questionable whether they would want to remain so, if they aspire to become the major party of the left. And if they did become more centerist, they may be able to work across the political divide in a way that would be impossible for Labour.

At the moment their basic strengths are in the environment and social policy. As far as I can see they are not really connected to the New Zealand economy in any meaningful way, although Russell Norman clearly recognises this as a weakness. Perhaps if they got some MP's with clear economic and business strengths, they would be in a better position to broaden their appeal. I suspect that this is a task to be undertaken during 2014 to 2017. That will be quite tricky so long as they make it their creed to be more left on social policy than Labour.

by John Hurley on August 29, 2014
John Hurley

Gareth Morgan is a "green"; Keith Locke's entrails aren't.

by mikesh on August 29, 2014

The difficulty that the Greens face is that environmentally friendly policies may well be inimical to economic growth; and in fact the decades of growth may be coming to an end in any case with the petering out of fossil fuels and other resources. These, however, are matters which the electorate at large don't want to hear, so of course the party stresses the need for "smart, green growth" (whatever that means).

I will still be voting Green by the way as I think the world will have to face up to these issues sooner of later.


by Andrew Osborn on August 29, 2014
Andrew Osborn

If NZ follows Europe, they'll get just enough votes to become a minor party in a coalition and then lose popularity after that once they have to try an implement some of their idealistic policies.

After decades of Green activism in Germany they only managed to scrape 7% in 2013. That seems to be about their threshold, long term.

by Katharine Moody on August 29, 2014
Katharine Moody

The Greens are not fundamentally left - they are fundamentally future. I've got to laugh about that notion that @Wayne expresses which suggests that only right-leaning folks (in his now outdated typology of political science) have economic and business strengths. It really is a laughable proposition these days that 'right' means business and 'left' means beneficiaries. Join the present Wayne.

All one needs to do is look at the growing number of organisations stacked full of business leaders, such as Environmental Defence Society and Pure Advantage here in New Zealand, who support green/sustainability principles. These are future looking organisations, just as the Green Party is.

Here's a little guessing game for you Wayne. Who said this?

Earth’s resources are finite.

Only the willfully delusional continue to disregard the impact that humankind is having on our planet.

The challenge sustainable living represents to all nations, regardless of their financial strength, has seen a corresponding increase in economic opportunities associated with meeting that challenge.

PS. Not the Green Party

These opportunities are necessarily local: Global collaboration is well intentioned but irrevocably linked to each nation’s situation and aspirations.

In a country like New Zealand, where the environment plays such a huge part in our national character, our international prestige and the lifestyle we enjoy, we cannot wait for others to take the lead.



by Katharine Moody on August 29, 2014
Katharine Moody

Answer for Wayne:

Our trustees are Sir George Fistonich, Rob Fyfe, Chris Liddell, Phillip Mills, Jeremy MoonRob Morrison, Geoff Ross, Justine SmythMark Solomon, Sir Stephen Tindall, and Joan Withers.

Our founding trustees also included the late Lloyd Morrison and Sir Paul Callaghan.

The Pure Advantage secretariat is managed by Rob Morrison (Chairman), Duncan Stewart (Chief Executive) and Hannah Wills (Project Manager).

by Nick Gibbs on August 29, 2014
Nick Gibbs


Our trustees are Sir George FistonichRob FyfeChris LiddellPhillip MillsJeremy MoonRob MorrisonGeoff RossJustine SmythMark SolomonSir Stephen Tindall, and Joan Withers.

And of this lot how many are members of the Green Party?

by Katharine Moody on August 29, 2014
Katharine Moody

Don't know, Nick. Doubt their membership details are a matter of publc record. I think I recall somthing about Phillip Mills being a publicly declared donor, though not sure. That's not the point though - as you don't need to be a member of a political party to vote for them.

by Ken on August 29, 2014

"As I see it, they are more left than Labour, though it would be questionable whether they would want to remain so, if they aspire to become the major party of the left."

This reflects quite a degree of ignorance about who the Greens are and what their values are too. A fundamental Green starting point is that environmental sustainability and social justice are dependent on each other; they cannot be achieved in isolation. That's what makes Key's line about the Greens no longer being an environmental party such a joke. The Greens (and the Values Party before it) were never exclusively and environmental party and have not changed in that regard at all. I'm sure Key knows this and just says it cynically to score points with those who don't know how absurd he's being. This is also why the very idea of the BlueGreens is oxymoronic. It is mere greenwash, though again useful to hoodwink those who don't know any better.

A Green Party that ditched its fundamental principles to gain mainstream support more quickly, would only be a Green party in name. This isn't likely to happen, if for no other reason than the membership make the major decisions, not the MPs. The membership signs off all policies, decides who the Co-leaders are, and how all MPs are list ranked. What Wayne describes would amount to a coup and the Party's rules make that very improbable.

That doesn't mean the Greens don't seek to be a major party. It just means that we are happy to do the hard work that is required to win support in a democracy. We're growing because the issues we care about are becomeing more urgent every day and voters know it.

by Wayne Mapp on August 29, 2014
Wayne Mapp

I know for a fact that quite a number of Pure Advantage are not Green Party members.

But I certainly agree with Katherine that not all business people are on the right. And this is really my economic point - where is the fusion of green economics and the actual New Zealand economy?

I do not think that the Green Party has yet to really capture in a New Zealand context  what green economics means. For instance the Greens sound like they are fundamentally opposed to the New Zealand farming model. They have opposed every single FTA, even though New Zealand is fundamentally dependent on trade. Where would we be without the China FTA?

To replace Labour as the major party of the left (or left of centre) they would need to have, for instance, a large scale diary farmer (500 cows plus) who practised a highly green approach to farming as an activist or an MP. Similarly, where are the activists or MP who has a background in smart high tech manufacturing. And if they don't have such people, at least show an understanding of how the New Zealand economy works.

Presumably this does not require abandoning the basic Green Party principles. In my view the basic New Zealand economy could become much greener without actually abandoning it. For instance Fonterra could be encouraged to do more than it does now.

But if the Green Party looks like they are only social and environmental activists, or are "Sue Kedgley Mums" they will forever remain less than 20%.

by Andrew Osborn on August 29, 2014
Andrew Osborn

Ken: A fundamental Green starting point is that environmental sustainability and social justice are dependent on each other; they cannot be achieved in isolation



by william blake on August 30, 2014
william blake

For instance Fonterra could be encouraged to do more than it does now.

or less. Every litre of milk in NZ is pasteurised using coal fired boilers. The Font have just got resource consent to convert a waikato dairy farm into an open cast mine. Taking vertical integration to new depths. 

You could call this centre right thinking under a Chinese FTA or just typical of the NZ economic, boom and bust, context.

by Wayne Mapp on August 30, 2014
Wayne Mapp


Why not get Fonterra to convert their boilers to gas in the first instance. Much less greenhouse gas. And then ultimately electricity, which is mostly from renwable sources.

Otherwise you confirm my view that the Greens seemingly to actually want a smaller economy and a poorer New Zealand, Or at least that is the implication of reducing the dairy industry.

I would have thought the smart green way is to produce the same, or more milk, with less emmsions. It is possible, but it means more imaginitive thinking.

by John Hurley on August 30, 2014
John Hurley

This reflects quite a degree of ignorance about who the Greens are and what their values are too. A fundamental Green starting point is that environmental sustainability and social justice are dependent on each other; they cannot be achieved in isolation.


Case Study:

"Stretching over 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mi) of the ocean, Kiribati consists of several islands spread across a territory of similar size to India, but most of the population is concentrated on South Tarawa.

This tiny crescent of land is home to around 50,000 people - it's overcrowded, with a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong."


"One way to deal with the problems created by increasing populations may be a return to the old way of life, suggests Tabao Awaerika, secretary to Kiribati's president.

"It's like taking a step back into our history - but it's very difficult to do that," he explains.

"We had this thought of getting people to eat babai, it's a local food crop like taro, but it takes about four hours to cook. Breadfruit is about an hour - rice is easier to cook, nicer and cheaper. So why do it?

"We need a total change of mindset. To encourage sustainable activity on outer islands so they don't need to come to Tarawa."

However, persuading more people not to come could be difficult.

Artan Rajit, the deputy mayor of nearby Abaiang - a greener, more spacious island with a population of under 10,000 - says simply: "We want what they have in Tarawa."

For people enduring a near subsistence lifestyle on Kiribati's outer islands, accepting the overcrowding and polluted environment seems a worthwhile price to pay for the vibrancy of South Tarawa, with its few shops, access to imported food, tinned meat and rice and medical centres.

Despite the pot-holed road and decrepit vehicles, there is also the potential for paid employment - though only around 20% of the population have full-time, paid jobs."

What (if anything) does this tell us about the Green Party's social justice/ environmental hitch?

by John Hurley on August 30, 2014
John Hurley

A fundamental Green starting point is that environmental sustainability and social justice are dependent on each other; they cannot be achieved in isolation.


Case Study 2

"Their document 'Ecological Footprint of New Zealand and its Regions' enumerates the carrying capacity of New Zealand, but the Green Party 'recognises that a sustainable population level for New Zealand would not be "final and fixed" but flexible.'

"However, it would be quite wrong to take from this that we are asking parents to have less kids," Mr Locke says.

"It is anathema to myself - as it is to the Green Party - that any person should interest themselves in the right of any one to choose how many children they have," said Mr Locke.

What would Richard Dawkins say I wonder?


"At the Commission we spent a lot of time challenging racism, embracing diversity and helping refugees and new immigrants appreciate the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi."

A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?

A key mechanism facilitating such in-group cooperation is ethnocentrism, the tendency to view one’s own group as centrally important and as superior to other groups. Ethnocentrism manifests itself in positive valuation of (members of) one’s in-group. Such in-group favoritism signals loyalty and positive commitment to the group, thus rendering the ethnocentric individual a reliable and trustworthy partner. Ethnocentrism may also show up in negative valuation of (members of) out-groups. Such out-group derogation signals to in-group members who should be excluded from in-group resources and exchanges, and reduces the probability that in-group resources are inadvertently extended to out-groups (1–6).


If in-group favoritism and out-group derogation have adaptive value and sustain in-group functioning, coordination, and cooperation, it follows that (i) throughout evolution those individuals who displayed in-group favoritism and out-group derogation and who detected such tendencies in others were more likely to spread than individuals lacking these capacities (5–8) and (ii) the human brain may have evolved to sustain ethnocentrism through yet-unknown neurobiological systems



by Katharine Moody on August 30, 2014
Katharine Moody

One thing for the Greens, Metiria got it right saying someone should lock down Judith's office now.

by John Hurley on September 01, 2014
John Hurley

The Greens doing a left turn

Stephen Keys, 9 days ago

The Greens talk a lot about sustainability and how the current economic policies aren't working. So why are they the only Green Party in the world not actively promoting "steady state" economics? Too hard? Too unpopular? If the current system is deeply flawed, why just tinker with it with Labour??

tussock, in reply to Stephen Keys, 8 days ago

 I think you’ll find the New Zealand situation fairly unique in our potential for massive growth in renewable energy, at least compared to Europe. There’s room here for a bigger economy with far more local manufacturing and added value on our exports while also improving the local and global environmental impacts.

Which is to say, we’ve more room to grow than others. The concept is that infinity is an unwise target, not that we can’t ever catch up.

 Rich of Observationz, in reply to tussock, 7 days ago

 * fairly unique in our potential for massive growth in renewable energy*

 Exactly. And there’s an argument that by growing sustainably and taking a reasonable number of immigrants, we are easing the burden on more populous and strained ecosystems, like Europe and China.



by Jane Beezle on September 01, 2014
Jane Beezle

Wayne -

It is very disappointing to see your article, which was initially about Green party support levels, morph fairly quickly into a biased partisan jousting match in your comments.  For example:

--your "more left than Labour"-washing;

--or that the Greens "want a smaller economy and a poorer NZ".

My hope is that Law Commissioners might, at least while in office, at least try to maintain some semblance of impartiality.   Otherwise you live out a poor legacy - that is, a party political appointment, to what many would otherwise hope is a neutral and impartial office.


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