30 May 2015

Greens make the smart choice

When the Greens elected Russel Norman as their male co-leader in 2006, the winning candidate was not yet even a member of parliament. So we should not be too surprised that this time, following Russel's resignation as co-leader, they have elected a smart and (relatively) young man who has only been in the House since the last election.
While Kevin Hague would also have made a great leader, the choice of James Shaw signals that the Greens know who their most receptive audience is: educated, politically aware urbanites who are forward-thinking enough to know that the future for business and economics has to be genuinely sustainable and based upon renewable energy sources. These people are also concerned about social inequality and poverty – but they are not the poor. The electorates where the Greens polled the lowest in 2014 were the South Auckland Labour strongholds, Manurewa, Mangere and Manukau East. So, the Greens can continue to push their message of social justice, so long as they know that the poor aren't paying attention to them. The people who are listening and voting Green are relatively affluent, likely to be university graduates, and pursuing innovative businesses and/or knowledge-intensive professions.
Under the Turei–Norman leadership, the Greens have gone from 5 to 6% of the party vote to 10 to 11%. Although they were disappointed at their result at the last election, that's still a big leap. The fact that they could aspire to 15% shows how far they've come.
To get to that 15% level, though, there is no point in fishing around only in the left-of-centre pond. While it's inevitable that the Green success will to some extent be at the expense of Labour, the Greens have to focus now on 'soft' National supporters as well. To do that, they don't need to change their economic policies. What they need to do is to show their educated middle-class audience that Green economics makes sense for the future, and that it is not dangerous or impractical. What they have to watch out for is that, as green ideas become more widely accepted and 'mainstream' (as they inevitably will), the major political parties simply adopt those ideas and thus marginalise the Green Party electorally.
Nonetheless, Andrew Little has lots to worry about. On his left and right, the Greens will be poaching educated urban voters, while Winston Peters will be poaching white uneducated provincial voters. Former Labour strongholds like Wellington Central can no longer be taken for granted. While the Greens would like to see the Labour Party succeed, Labour is in danger of becoming 'just another opposition party' rather than the unquestioned leader of the Opposition. And that's where they'll stay if they can't get their act together.


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