GUEST BLOG: Ian Powell – Should Greens ditch cooperative agreement with Labour?


There are few things more annoying than being snookered. I was well into writing this blog when the Guardian published a column on the same subject and with a similar conclusion.

The columnist Morgan Godfery, is a progressive political and unionist activist currently employed as an academic at Otago University.Cooperation agreement with Labour toxic for Greens

I respect Godfery but kept writing anyway as our analyses are not quite the same. He contrasts the Greens now with when the events leading to the standing down of former co-leader Metiria Turei (with James Shaw) occurred over four years ago.

Morgan Godfery

In my view he over-glorifies Turei’s role at the time, doesn’t consider the bigger loss of support the Greens suffered in the polls immediately after the first good result he refers to, and doesn’t acknowledge the uphill battle leadership that the blindsided Shaw impressively provided in the subsequent 2017 general election.

But I agree with Godfery’s overall assessment of the position of the Greens now and his linkage with the cooperation agreement with Labour. It is toxic for them.

The cooperation agreement

Following the October 2020 general election, despite being able to form a majority government in Aotearoa New Zealand’s 53rd Parliament, Labour negotiated a cooperation agreement with the Greens. It was achieved quickly and without acrimony.

The agreement included the two Green co-leaders Shaw and Marama Davidson (Turei’s successor) becoming ministers outside Cabinet. Shaw continued on as Minister of Climate Change and also became Associate Minister for the Environment (biodiversity). Davidson became Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and Associate Minister of Housing.

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Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson

The main areas of cooperation between the two parties are climate, environment and child and community wellbeing issues. The Greens committed to supporting Labour on procedural motions in Parliament, including select committees, and not opposing it on matters of confidence and supply.

The agreement appears to have been strongly endorsed by Green members in 2020 but earlier this month strong signs of internal dissension emerged over the way it was affecting the effectiveness of their party.

The most recent point of contention was Labour’s late December decision to delay the release of the Emissions Reduction Plan to May, when it was originally due by the end of 2021.

Electoral context

Both Shaw and Davidson strongly defended the agreement in a subsequent Newsroom interview. Co-leaders defend agreement with Labour

Currently the polls, give or take, have Labour leading National by around 8-9% and the right-wing ACT slightly ahead of the Greens (both around 10-11%). Until last September Labour was well ahead. But since its misstep in lowering Auckland’s Covid-19 alert lockdown levels too soon and its subsequent poorly messaged u-turn on its previously successful elimination of community transmission strategy.

This Labour bleeding accelerated with National’s replacement of its unpopular leader Judith Collins with Christopher Luxon in December. In summary, Labour is on the decline although possibly stabilising, National is moving up largely at the expense of ACT which is on the descent, and the Greens are slowly moving upwards at the expense of Labour.

If an election were based on these polls, we would have a Labour-Green coalition with a comfortably but not overwhelming majority and a strong right-wing opposition. This suggests that Godfery’s assessment of the cooperation agreement as toxic for the Greens is premature.

Loss of Green voice

But is Godfery premature in making this call? I think not. It is not just Labour’s vote that has bled from a very high peak. The margin between the two main potential coalitions has also narrowed slowly but steadily, particularly since last September to around 6-7%. If this downwards trend continues then both Labour and the Greens have every reason to sweat.

A big problem with the cooperation agreement is that it has not delivered the Greens tangible visible gains that would make a difference in people’s lives. But the problem has had a worse effect; the muting of the Greens political voice.

Their co-leaders are muted and this has flowed through to its MPs. They have several capable MPs with impressive backgrounds, particularly environmentally and in social justice work. But they are too low profile.

On climate change it is difficult to distinguish Greens from Labour despite Jacinda Ardern’s promise in the 2017 election campaign to be transformational, especially over this vital issue. Her government simply has not been transformational, thereby undermining the Greens’ credibility.

The Greens have less political presence than ACT which they must turn around. They are taken for granted by Labour’s leadership. Godfery’s Guardian column was stimulated by rising internal membership dissatisfaction.

Unless the Greens recover their voice this dissatisfaction will become corrosive like rust leading to a downwards confidence spiral like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

New green-shoots

Withdrawing from a cooperation agreement does not mean withdrawing from a cooperative relationship on specific issues. The Greens have done this in the past with the Helen Clark Labour led government and to a lesser extent in the early days of the National led government.

But dropping the two ministerial portfolios would free up the Greens, including its co-leaders, to give much more public voice in areas such as climate change, conservation, housing, incomes and social justice where they are more progressive than Labour. Nor should the Greens be locked into Labour’s procedural conduct in Parliament including select committees.

If the Greens were to adopt this approach (ditch the agreement and reclaim their voice) they would become much more effective and publicly credible on these and other issues.

Voice is more effective and transformational that muteness. Its time for some voice green-shoots to sprout.

Ian Powell was Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the professional union representing senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand, for over 30 years, until December 2019. He is now a health systems, labour market, and political commentator living in the small river estuary community of Otaihanga (the place by the tide). First published at Political Bytes


  1. If you look forward to a potential coalition between Labour and the Greens, much the same argument will prevail. Even in a full coalition the Greens won’t be able to turn the government into a predominantly Green focused government. Labour has to actually agree. In short compromise will still be the order of the day, and given that Labour will be the largest part, most of the compromising will be done by the Greens.

    The same applies to National and ACT. It won’t be possible for ACT to lead aNational down seriously unpalatable paths.

    Any serious initiative by the smaller party require legislative or administrative change. That can only happen if the larger party agrees.

    • Winston certainly showed how to get the most out of him coming on board. The Greens are too soft to get anythink worthwhile and Shaw and Marama love the baubles of a little power.

    • might work if the greens were an actual environmentalist party rather than armature hour bourgeois social engineers

      • Gargarin. Aren’t they just ! And I still don’t know why linguist Davidson advocating normalising usage of the word c.nt, wasn’t saying it in te Reo. She’s at odds with the Wellington City Council here, who want everyone speaking te Reo by the time our rivers are safe enough to wade knee deep in. ( Without wearing Wellingtons aka gumboots – surely not a big ask for a Green.)

      • Yep … Bourgeois social engineers dangerously divorced from social reality.

        Bloated, affluent virtue-signalling narcissists whose crude distorted ID dogmatism – eternally evil vs eternally innocent demographics – will inevitably create massive new forms of social *in*justice.

        Users & Abusers posing as moral exemplars.

  2. As a farmer, I wish I’d grown Opium and Pot instead of that 200 hectares of oats, the 50 hectares of barley and all that Lucerne and meadow hay for our 5000 sheep who grew all that wondrous, worthless wool that virtually everyone who didn’t farm sheep made $ billions from. Aye boys? Those big flash buildings in down-town Auckland? Tourism build those did they?
    I also want to see davidson and shaw pack up their egos and fuck right off with them because I know, they’ve no interest in being Green unless it’s from the ink off all that farmer folding they’d prefer to be rolling in.
    If the Green Party were Metiria Turei and Chloe Swarbrick I’d be sitting up and taking notice but with wee jimmy “the corporate man” shaw and marama “That’s MY c..t word !” davidson in there? Is there a yawn large enough to express my meh? No.
    Labour and The Greens, and National and ACT? They’re effectively the same thing, just different.
    Agriculture is our primary industry, agriculture is usually green in colour, is a vital industry anywhere but especially here and there’s a grave risk that if agriculture is poorly managed ( I.e. greedily exploited as ours is being ) it’ll tank and we’ll die and yet… not one single word from The Daily Blog, the MSM or The Green Party about the cluster fuck that is our primary industry agrarian economy or of how vital it’s now become to have our farmers brought in from the cold and nurtured by a simpatico politic.
    I know most of you don’t care, or that you don’t know to care and [that] scares me to death and literally keeps me awake at night.
    Financially and environmentally there’s a huge amount of work to be done with regard to AO/NZ and our politics and we’re all running off in precisely the wrong direction to do it.
    Nothing to see here though, aye boys?

  3. The greens have actually outlived their usefulness. It is abundantly clear they have nothing new to offer the voter. Their silence merely endorses that…

    • @ jsb
      “The greens have actually outlived their usefulness.”
      No they haven’t. They’ve still got serious work to do. Just like ‘labour’, they must continue to convince us all that they toil endlessly to protect and nurture our natural world and the way humanity relates to the natural world while slavishly acquiescing to the corporate bottom line that’s destroying our natural habitats. That, right there is neoliberal capitalism. Smoke, mirrors and lies.
      It’s all about profit over common sense really.
      While the below topic differs from the above the script is the same.
      Watch this?
      Youtube. Russell Brand
      “People Are Waking Up To The Lies” Re public hospitals’ handling of covid.
      “Following news that The US government will stop publishing daily Covid death statistics, are we discovering more links between government health policy and government perception? ”
      The Green$ are trying to $ell u$ a narrative that doe$n’t fit with it$ image. Why i$ that do you think?

  4. CB, many of us do care an awful lot and I really enjoy your posts. I sense we are desperately hoping for improved leadership in NZ politics. On the website there are often articles and comments by Keith Woodward who seems to have great insights into NZ farming and economic issues.
    We are wandering in the wilderness. I would like to see the old farts and young fartesses fall off their political soapboxes and to see some young passionate people willing to spit in the faces of the corporates and useless ones. I think there is a building appetite for it.

  5. Metiria Turei’s cancellation by the ignorantly self righteous and venally opportunistic was a travesty and tragedy.

  6. The Greens need to take responsibility for what they haven’t achieved. Another report on family violence and an ideological approach to solving this problem, rather than an evidenced based approach. It will fail and be a waste of money.

    The Greens have been captured by gender ideology and show their complete lack of critical thinking. They have achieved nothing and come the next election this will still be the case

  7. I think that the greens had better stick to the planet’s environment. farming and the birds and animals generally. They are fully stretched trying to do that sort of stuff. Have they any ideas of what to do about that toxic dross from Tiwai? Is it getting into the Strait and affecting the oysters? Then there is Taranaki and Ivor Watkins Dow’s legacy and the Ohakea and other air bases affected by flame retardant.

    Let them leave people out of it and concentrate on what they are known for. Once they dropped Metiria like a hot potato they showed who they have to bow to.

  8. All the new voters are potentially green voters. They definitely wouldnt vote for the old grumpy mens party Natz or lunatic party Act. They are more social democratic these days. Us old boomers the Tory’s main support base are dying out. Watch the right wing media, dirty politics brigade, and other Tory supporters try and destroy the greens so their darling Tories have a chance of getting into power. Remember how they got rid of NZ First. The Labour/Green coalition should ignore right-wing commentators and strengthen their relationship.

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