The Green Party male co-leader candidates now have their speeches up online. In essence:
- Kevin = experience.
- Gareth = youth.
- James = economics.
- Vernon = non-aligned political positioning.
Most people in party would be fairly happy with any of the first three. Kevin’s kind of a default favourite, James and Gareth are selling themselves as their own representations of the party’s future, and Vernon, well …
I owe Vernon an apology for not covering his stance in earlier posts. I confess I I thought he was equivocal when Lisa Owen asked him if he was doing it as a publicity stunt. But he’s got a point: the Greens take democracy seriously, and its doubtful whether any other party would let a non MP even take a run at the leadership. Russel Norman did it in 2008, won the gig and went on to almost double the party vote.
So even if Vernon is doing it as some kind of rehearsal, he’s also raising some good questions about the Greens’ fundamental dilemma, which is whether to grow at the expense of Labour, National or both. His argument runs like this: The Greens are the only party to recognise Earth’s resources as finite. This alone should attract voters from all points of the spectrum: ‘we are the zeitgeist of our age’, he says. But the party is wedded to a left wing bias: every three years declaring its love for Labour, only to have it spurned.
The question is deeply fraught. What does a non-aligned position even look like? All the other candidates already articulate a high degree of political agility, with Kevin, Gareth and James all showcasing examples of their work across the spectrum on all sorts: insulation, cycle ways, gay marriage, fisheries …
Despite that, the Greens do take a somewhat perverse pride in announcing their preferred coalition party shortly prior to every election. Maybe Vernon’s point is that they should just cut that out. Interesting. It’s a strategy that Winston Peters deploys brilliantly.
The received Green kaupapa on this is that it’s decent to inform voters which way the wind’s blowing. But it also scores an own goal: you declare for one side and against the other, and lose half your potential in the time it takes to read the headline. What does Winston lose by just kicking the whole question into touch? Credibility? Maybe. But not with his voters.
The party rightly and justly prides itself on building its policies based on evidence. But the triennial declaration for Labour is motivated more by philosophy. The fact that it’s based on a robust policy analysis is beside the point; a convenient truth of little interest to voters.
Vernon can’t play the parliamentary experience card. So it’s good that he’s running hard questions about the party’s political viability. But those questions aren’t going to win him the leadership. It’s too limited a thing in scope. And – what, 90%? – of the party are either first time voters or – more likely – defectors from Labour. So when Stuff reports that Vernon would get into bed with National for the cause, it’s hard to see the membership standing for it.
James and Gareth bring campaigns that project their own image as the future of the party. They both play to their strengths, which are economics & urban hipsters for James and youth and campaigning for Gareth. It’s true that the party leadership needs to be economically credible. And it’s true the party needs to appeal to young voters. Either version of the future looks good to me. Which one would it be, then?
The answer is neither. Or rather, both: it needs to look economically credible to all sorts, and it needs to appeal to youth, because a) they’re more likely to get it, and b) they’re less likely to be entrenched with anyone else.
But it doesn’t matter: Gareth can still win the hearts and minds of youngsters, and manage brilliant issue campaigns, and James can still supply the party with innovative & progressive economic strategy, while appealing to a new age of progressive minded business folks. One of those options is probably more polarising, and the other more inclusive. But I’m not convinced either of them need to lead in order to play those tunes.
Which leaves Kevin. His pitch is curiously light. He doesn’t talk excessively about aspects of the party’s future (other than it should be bigger), which are largely beyond the co leaders’ control in any case. Nor does he dive deeply into his past. Kevin’s pitch is more based on a claim: that he is simply the most experienced. Yes, he’s older than the others. And as a result, he’s had – so far as I can tell – much more experience in be-the-boss situations, both in and out of Parliament (although full CVs on the election website would be useful). He’s run the AIDS foundation, and a DHB with a staff of thousands and a budget of hundreds of millions. That kind of senior level leadership experience, the kind with hard decisions on a daily basis, and where unity is both vital and almost impossible, would surely be a valuable asset in any party’s political leadership.
All candidates agree that the party must get bigger, although none of them say how it’s going to happen, which is probably the biggest concern in the whole darn business. To be fair, Gareth has promised members ‘more door knocking than ever before.’ That’s weird. I know it’s effective. But I’m not exactly rushing to join the queue. And even if I was, is that really the strategy that’s going to take the party to 15%, or the Arcadian bliss of dominant coalition partnership?
By definition, getting bigger means appealing more to the mainstream. The best leader to achieve that is the one who can build the strongest team, allowing each member to flourish and appeal to their own constituents. If that’s anyone but Kevin, they still have to make the case for it.