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Green Party co-leadership

By   /  May 6, 2015  /  16 Comments

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I’ve had many people ask me my opinion of the Green Party co-leader contest. In the early stages I predicted that Kevin Hague would win, but that Gareth Hughes should. That was before James Shaw entered the race.

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I’ve had many people ask me my opinion of the Green Party co-leader contest. In the early stages I predicted that Kevin Hague would win, but that Gareth Hughes should. That was before James Shaw entered the race.

His nomination changes my mind on both points. Firstly, I think James Shaw can win the leadership. Secondly, I think he should.

Now, I’m on record as holding all four contenders in high regard. So don’t read this contribution as beating up on anyone. All can and should contribute to both the internal work and the presentation of the Greens to the public. All could work well in Cabinet or champion issues in opposition or from the cross benches. The Greens are lucky to be spoilt for choice here.

Before looking at the other options, I need to explain why I am not backing Kevin. Yes, he is the senior of the four and an old friend. He has had many successes as an Opposition MP. He’s also been an important backroom player, smoothing ruffled feathers and providing guidance on strategic planning at the caucus level. That’s why he is the front runner. He has heaps of support in the public health sector, who would have been pretty disappointed that the election outcome meant he missed out as Health Minister. This is what he should do next time. But I don’t see the portfolio as a defining one for the Greens. In fact it’s a risk portfolio for them – and he manages the risk well. He advocates vaccinations and fluoridation, not an obstacle-free course for a Green health spokesperson.

So Kevin is undoubtedly clever and principled.

But I don’t see him attracting new support to the Greens, and to the extent he does it is likely to be at the expense of Labour – a zero sum game. His natural milieu in the public health sector and rainbow constituency is already Green or Green-friendly Labour, and from a broader left point of view that’s good enough.

This co-leadership change is a time to think about constituency building. With Metiria Turei staying on, and considering the generally “mature” Green caucus and their established networks, there is already plenty of attention going to those naturally interested in progressive politics in general and the Green kaupapa specifically.

What is needed is a high-energy focus on what, for want of a better description, I’ll call “Generation Internet” constituency. This is not just an age-defined constituency, although it is largely younger. The constituency is free of the ethnic, sexuality and other prejudice often attaching to traditional Labour and National aligned groups. It wants jobs with socially and environmentally responsible organisations and businesses, but does not (for better or worse) identify with the traditional institutions of social democracy – Labour and the unions. It wants less regulation of private choices like drug use.

“Generation Internet” is on a big learning curve. Its assumptions are of freedom, but its reality is student loans, mortgage and consumer debt, a plethora of trivial consumption expectations and other real freedom barriers. Mostly, its parents had secure work and are heading into or enjoying prosperous retirements in freehold houses. This constituency was born in public hospitals and went to state schools, but assumes it needs health insurance and if it could afford to it would pay for private education before digging in to help out at the local school. It used to be certain about global warming but finds the sophisticated excuses for maintaining high carbon lifestyles appealing. You couldn’t get a better demonstration of “false consciousness” than exists in this crew, and they’ll need engagement not preaching to abandon that.

 

The more financially secure in Generation Internet care about inequality but mostly struggle to empathise with contemporaries whose lives are so utterly different from their own. They don’t get the welfare state. Yet, a not-insignificant section of the constituency live those very different lives – having grown up in households defined by the 1991 benefit cuts, the internet is the most equal and neutral domain they inhabit.

This constituency, mostly living off the vestiges of 1950s wealth, but infused with the innovative survivors of the 1990s, is nursing the next generation of leaders. They have no choice. But as wealth becomes concentrated at the top, so too does leadership. If, as the Greens intend, that generation can be oriented to planet protection and equality, then they have to connect the two ends of this constituency with each other and question shibboleths of left, right, and yes, Green. We are at a time in history where you can’t say “just because” and expect the kids to accept it.

Imagine the Greens as the Party that says “invent the future with us” to this generation. And if they really mean it, if they really mean to bring this constituency into the game (the infinite game) then they cannot predetermine the outcome. They cannot have all the answers. They must be able to project uncertainty as well as they already project belief. It would be possible, but inauthentic for Kevin to take this course.

So, to the other choices. I couldn’t support Vernon Tava. He’s muddled up about coalition scenarios, confusing independence with neutrality viz the two major parties. Current Green voters (and these cannot be toyed with as Labour rebuilds) are not neutral between Labour and National. When Russel Norman sowed the tiniest bit of doubt about this in the last week of the 2014 election campaign he lost Green votes. The new constituency might not care so much, but that’s where leadership counts. Everything that sustains National is about reducing the scope for questions. And it is questions that the new constituency get to ask, and answer.

So that leaves James Shaw and Gareth Hughes. Before James entered the race I made a marginal call in favour of Gareth over Kevin, based mainly on energy levels and a view to the longer term. He sits snugly in the internet generation. But it’s his slickness that misses the mark for me. Leaders who don’t know everything are needed more than those who do. Gareth hoovers up ideas and turns them into policy. He has a good turn of phrase. All this has helped his credibility. But I don’t see him facilitating the kind of big public conversation that’s needed for the Greens to maintain support and grow as the mainstream parties flog their popular policies. He would likely also be hamstrung (as is Metiria) by conformity on social justice issues – which isn’t going to help connect the two sides of the internet generation divide. New thinking is critical on work and welfare.

Gareth has also not shone organisationally.  In 2014 he was freed of an electorate to focus on the youth vote, but there was little evidence of energy or effectiveness there, and don’t even start me on the lack of leadership (not just on Gareth’s part) that assured Peter Dunne of victory in Ohariu, Gareth’s home seat.

Of all four contenders, James Shaw is easily the most focused on the minutiae of winning votes. I don’t think you can lead a relatively small party without caring about where every vote will come from and playing a strong organisational leadership role. Russel got this, but at an intellectual level. What the Greens have lacked is an activist leader who actually enjoys campaigning for votes and the systems and processes needed to make that time pay off. James is the only candidate who can truly lead by example here.

Moreover, James doesn’t pretend to know everything. In my brief spell on the Green Party campaign committee I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with him. His management consultancy experience seems to have done the trick with mainstream media credibility – which is a definite plus. He has the interpersonal skills to navigate a co-leadership that will not be underpinned by an existing friendship. That hasn’t existed at the top since Jeanette and Rod worked together, and whereas Russel and Metiria have got by with a strict division of labour, the potential for James to insert himself into the social policy discussion is, I think positive, and not to be feared. It will be delicate but that boundary needs to come down. When I listened to Greens on election platforms in 2014 say how much they “loved New Zealand” and parrot policy shopping lists under environmental, social and smart economy headlines I got bored. It might keep candidates on message but it hardly inspires the kind of potentially popular radicalism that will make it worth being Green.

Of the three credible candidates for Co-Leader, it is James Shaw that IMHO can best take on the internal challenge, the organisational leadership and the job of connecting to Generation Internet.

 

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16 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Good brief Laila, something missing here can you address please?

    What does James Shaw stand for please?

    We all need to know his thoughts about all issues
    For instance where is he on rail?

    We in HB Gisborne have the reckless Government not prepared to fix their rail line they damaged after “diverting” (Kiwirail admission) funds meant to maintain the drains/culverts in the event of rain storms and sent the funds “elsewhere” and the rail still lies broken down three years later while trucks are ruining the communities and environment.

    Although Garth has spoken out in the past nothing is spoken from any Green Party candidate since two years ago?
    Apart from Labour and NZ First, speaking up precious little has sadly come from Green Party as the supposed “Champion of our Environment” we all thought.

    Time for the Greens to speak up now before we lose our rail forever to yet another bike trail and live in a dirty polluted community with truck gridlock.

    • Sara says:

      ‘Standing for’ something is a function of party and policy and all 4 candidates hold Green values to the core. The thing that separates the co-leader from the rest of the team is the ability to front the policy to the country and lead in a way which will grow the votes and make it more likely that policy will be implemented. I think that Laila has it spot on.

  2. e-clectic says:

    Sheesh, Laila, it’s astute thinking and analysis like that that will get all the parties across the spectrum ganging up and colluding against you and your mates.
    Oh, wait a minute.

  3. me says:

    We should be beyond thinking the Greens might take votes from Labour if they choose the smart one.
    Labour is now just National lite but with more taxes and everyone should run their own race.

    P.S. That photo is not me

  4. madtom says:

    If your perception that “James doesn’t pretend to know everything” means that he might be the leader to admit the Greens were WRONG WRONG WRONG to support the infamous retrospective Kaipara Rates Validation Bill, whose evil is too broad and deep to go into here, I’d go far to support him.

    Heck, I might even rejoin the party. Being a member since those Jeanette & Rod days, with the added benefit of Sue and Nandor and a few other amazing folks, I found the present rather bland party only just ho-hum acceptable, and they fell far below that standard with that despicable vote. Bring back some FIRE, please.

    It is not just the TPP and TiSA threatening us – New Zealand risks falling into other American-type traps, like corporatising and privatising everything and offering voters so little real choice that they just don’t care.

    Is it already beyond repair?

  5. CLEANGREEN says:

    Sadly the greens appear to be in cahoots with Key at snatching any railway for a cycleway it seems now as Russel was proudly sitting on his bike up in Northland last sunday cycling with FJK down an old railway corridor as greens announce their project as a great project.
    Sadly the greens appear to be in cahoots with Key at snatching any railway for a cycleway it seems now as Russel was ploudly sitting on his bike up in Northland last sunday cycling with FJK down an old railway corridor as greens announce their project as a great project.

    Using a railway?????

    One truck pollutes the air 100 times more per tonne carried than rail does???

    Best Greens tall us how they intend to get all these trucks off our roads and back on rail as they say they want to?

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11442847

    Key/Norman circle is complete. with using our rail corridors

    Using a railway?????

    One truck pollutes the air 100 times more per tonne carried than rail does???

    Best Greens tall us how they intend to get all these trucks off our roads and back on rail as they say they want to?

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11439653

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503450&objectid=11442847

    Key/Norman circle is complete. with using our rail corridors

    Learn this russel.

    Our narrow single lane winding roads are not designed for all road freight, and built on very soft sub soils not able to take the weight of ever increasing volumes and higher weight allowances of Heavy goods vehicles.
    Road Engineers are now also warning us that the heavy trucks are possibly responsible for shaking the cliffs above roads and causing land slides, (Waioweka and Manawatu Gorge significant road closures after partially collapsing last year both show very graphic examples of costly taxpayer repairs they are causing after cliff fractures and land slides. Also Devils Elbow road closure.
    Rail efficiency & environmental benefits to be considered.
    One tonne carried one km efficiency rail v’s road.
    Rail is 5 to 9 times more efficient than road. (NIWA)12 times more) US rail ass’n)
    NIWA statistics, – Litres per 1000 tonne, per Kilometre
    urban trucks – 85 litres.
    Articulated trucks. – 28 litres.
    Intercity rail. – 8 litres.
    Long haul rail. 2.5 Litres.
    Rail pays 77% of rail maintenance costs.
    Truck road freight pays less than 53% of road maintenance costs. (IPENZ)
    Truck freight cause over 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. NIWA.
    Air pollution emitted from particulates one truck >to 100 times higher than one car.
    Rail air pollution is almost (Quote) (insignificant impacts of CO, HC, PM, NOx compared to road freight. (NZ Study. (Fuel & energy) 1999 “Impacts of Rail Transport on Local Air Quality” File # 363.73926 RAI. Ministry of Transport.
    Therefore Rail emits no cancer causing (PM) tyre & diesel (particulate pollution) to residential communities as road freight does.

    As regional ratepayers we all have to pay for the road upkeep so please regard rail as our ally to keep our road costs down, and our economy expanding.

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    QUOTE: ““Generation Internet” is on a big learning curve. Its assumptions are of freedom, but its reality is student loans, mortgage and consumer debt, a plethora of trivial consumption expectations and other real freedom barriers. Mostly, its parents had secure work and are heading into or enjoying prosperous retirements in freehold houses. This constituency was born in public hospitals and went to state schools, but assumes it needs health insurance and if it could afford to it would pay for private education before digging in to help out at the local school. It used to be certain about global warming but finds the sophisticated excuses for maintaining high carbon lifestyles appealing. You couldn’t get a better demonstration of “false consciousness” than exists in this crew, and they’ll need engagement not preaching to abandon that.”

    I dare to say that “Generation Internet” is going to be another generation that will have become overly consumed with their own time and trends and fads, which will pass.

    A lot of the “younger” tech savvy generation have little real first hand comprehension of the complexities of the natural world that still exists outside urban centres they mostly dwell in, they certainly have almost NO understanding of nature as it was without human influence and manipulation, including “cultivation”, exploitation and use of resources.

    This goes further and is an issue most urban dwellers have, they have often only a “romantic” idea about anything “green”, and fail to see the complexities, and do often also not grasp, that besides of the fact that resources are finite, the planet needs large untouched, natural landscapes to survive.

    Yet the large human population is in itself totally unsustainable, unless some scientific “miracle” may happen, offering endless energy to power future electronic and electric machines and gadgets, and unless science will provide methods to feed billions of people, who are presently ruining the planet.

    Even if we go “green” as the Green Party, and the new Co-Leader may wish us to go, that will NOT save us as a species and the planet. Having business use “green” as a label and concept to be “fashionable”, to appeal to consumers, and sell products that are still made with fossil fuel resources, are still made by polluting massive areas of the oceans, lakes, rivers and soils, will not address the challenges.

    Very radical solutions are needed, and it is yet to come, the time and chance for REAL Greens to convince the majority of voters, which will be, once the shit really hits the fan.

    Attracting the Generation Internet, very hardly real radical Greens, obsessed with fads, trends, gadgets, games and endless use of social media and so, being hardly in touch with life on the land outside sheltered urban dwellings, will be a waste of time.

    The Green Movement is itself going to disqualify itself, if they go for such business savvy trendies like Mr Shaw, who even lacks some basic scientific and even business knowledge, as a program on The Nation showed not so long ago.

    A solid pair of hands like Kevin Hague may actually be a better bet at this stage, until the Greens find out which is the way to go. Generation Internet needs to grow up first, and smell the real coffee and real life, and go out on a bush camp for a few months, with NO internet, to do so.

    I even think, the whole world NEEDS an economic and financial collapse, for governments and populations to WAKE up, and see their limitations, before we get anything. Back to basics is a big part of the solution, stop consumerism, bring about a totally different social order, all else is daydreaming nonsense.

    No, sorry Laila, I cannot quite follow you on this. “Engaging” them sounds like the nice “nanny” approach, cuddling them to make rational changes. I doubt very much that this will work. Engagement must also mean challenging them, as the future will be no easy path for us to walk. But apart from the minority precariat, most seem to be quite happy to avoid anything hard and uncomfortable.

    • madtom says:

      With regret, I must agree, though I usually try to be more optimistic in order to get through each day.

      To get a related message with huge amounts of corroborative detail, authoritatively and very readably delivered by one of those most knowledgeable about nature and humanity, and most realistically concerned about both, read E. O. Wilson’s latest books. “The Social Conquest of Earth” and “The Meaning of Human Existence”.

      By outlining our place in the scheme of things, based on the best science, Wilson makes it clear that (and why) humanity has been a continuing disaster for the rest of life on Earth. So much so that we are seriously damaging our own life-support systems. Extinction is the usual reward for this, and is likely to be ours unless we make better use of our brains than we have to date.

      This is far beyond the usual political issue in importance.

      But politics seems to be all we have with which to respond.

      Good luck to us all.

    • Saint Nick says:

      I agree that we need radical change. But I don’t think that can happen just right now, we are just too cosy with the world we live in. Like you say a major collapse/crisis would wake people up, and that would have good consequences for the health of the planet.

      So since I don’t think people will voluntarily make a radical change, the next best thing is to get more people wanting to make a “moderate change” in the way they live, and hopefully momentum can be gained thereafter. The way to do that is to get more people voting Green or Mana. A crucial part of that is having a leader people can engage with and follow – they are the party’s shop window. Shaw offers that.

    • Strypey says:

      With all due respect Mike, this rant only shows how out of touch you are with the internet movement (I hear you Laila, but as you admit it’s not really a specific “generation”). Like myself, most of the techy people I know are also passionate about tramping, kayaking, outdoor festivals, organic/ local food, fairtrade, and taking their families on picnics. We know and value our environment, and we’re deeply concerned about environmental issues. Many of us got involved in the internet movement because we saw the internet as a tool for working on environmental and social problems. There are so many examples, geek/green projects like Appropedia.org, OpenSourceEcology, open source electric car projects, deep democracy platforms like Loomio (and most of the projects connected to Enspiral).

      Two things distinguish the approach of the internet movement; we approach problems by trying to understand the systemic nature of them, rather than find someone to blame for them (“the right”, “the left”, some political party, “druggies”, “dole bludgers”, whoever), and we try to solve problems by designing, testing, and building on new systems – whether open source software or permaculture ecosystems – to replace the dysfunctional/ malfunctioning system we’ve identified. We are seeing a need for platforms to do political development work the way open source communities do software development work, and we’re starting to build them.

      Political parties working through the broken parliamentary system are never going to be more than a short-term solution for us. We are working on redesigning democracy from the bottom up, pushing it into the workplace, education, everywhere. Making it inclusive, collaborative, transparent, and always-on. David Graeber’s ‘The Democracy Project’, Rachel Botsman’s ‘What’s Yours is Mine’ and Yochai Benkler’s ‘The Penguin and the Leviathan’ maps out some of the contours of what we’re working on.

  7. Saint Nick says:

    I think you’re right Laila. It has to be Shaw if the Greens want to increase their vote significantly. His business acumen would really engage the people who put more weight behind the current economic system/status quo but still care about environmental/social issues. There are many people who fit into this category that can’t bring themselves to voting Green yet. Shaw would change all that, he is perfect for bridging the gap to encourage that huge group to vote Green. Pure Green voters might not be so happy with him, i.e. Would he want to form a coalition with National? He did respond to that very clearly on facebook, that it isn’t the leader who decides on a coalition partner, but the Green membership. Is he too businessy? I think that is the impression people are given that he is a commerce man, but his values are quite clearly green.

    Shaw also has that X-factor in front of the media which is vital for any leader. He’s sharp, personable and engaging which the others can’t quite match him on.

    Having him at the helm could be the difference between 15% or 11-12% at the next election.

    I know this sounds like an ad for him, but I just believe that he is the best answer to growing the vote in the next few years.

  8. Kim Dandy says:

    Unfortunately, most see the entire worlds problems too hard to tackle.
    Closer to home is easier for people to understand.
    The number one goal for the greens should be removing National from power before they ruin what NZ has left.
    New Zealander’s for the most part ‘do care’ about their country, and will vote for it.
    Whoever the new co-leader is they must have the conviction in protecting New Zealand for the future, whatever that may hold.

  9. CluckytheHen says:

    Jeepers Creepers. Backing the man who has regularly described himself as the to be first Green PM! He’s a great politician and he will win the Greens National votes but at the cost of the Greens remaining the Greens.

    Of course he hasn’t talked about a support agreement with National, he’s too astute for that. He knows his audience and how to win support within the Party. However he is a walking and talking example of what is wrong with terms like “neither left nor right.” He is a neo-liberal generation Green MP, he has no history in activism and instead has a history in big business. It should come as no surprise that he supports small government and market-based policies, which do not solve the current environmental and social crises.

    He may win votes but that will not instigate the huge social change needed to transition to a sustainable and equitable society. Instead it will continue the Green party’s stagger towards the centre (which did such wonders for the German Greens and Irish Greens politically alienating their core support base).

    He’s a careerist politician within a neo-liberal paradigm. I don’t want to see him leading a party I’m a member of.

  10. kmccready says:

    I doubt if the anonymous cluckythehen is in the greens. It is offensive and stupid to accuse james shaw of being neo-liberal.

    • Michal says:

      Because one disagrees doesn’t mean one isn’t in a member of the Green party. I have been a member for 14 years. And I also think that James Shaw is a ‘market man’, a neo-liberal! A leader is what we need not someone who is going to drag the party to the crowded (Labour, Winston) centre.

      I was at a meeting of the 4 candidates and James emphasised that only he has economic credibility and that in research done post election 28% of those researched (about 200 in the research) said the main reason they did not consider voting Green was our lack of economic credibility.

      This research claim appears to be false, assuming he is talking about the Green commissioned UMR research only 3% of the 28% of potential voters cited ‘economic’ specifically as their main reason for not voting Green.

      James cites the increase he got in the seat built up by Sue Kedgley over many years. I suggest he get on and next time actually stand in that seat. It is a long time since we had anyone stand in a seat. I am sure the party would support this.

      Kevin Hague has a huge long history of leading no one else in the race does.

  11. davidhaynz says:

    The next co-leader will have to work hard to establish a power base to match Metiria’s, to influence strategy and culture. James may have to work harder than the others. Gareth has a young family, so will have less time and energy for it.

    Laila is right about the internet generation (and right about Kevin). But the party probably won’t get that. And if it does, it’s too tightly constrained, by its own internal rules, culture and decision-making processes, to do anything about it.

    My analysis, at length, here:

    http://sophocrat.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/a-new-leader-needs-to-reconstitute.html

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