It's hip to be square for the Greens

GREEN LEADERS: The party lead by Russel Norman and Metiria Turei is kicking off its election campaign today.
GREEN LEADERS: The party lead by Russel Norman and Metiria Turei is kicking off its election campaign today.

It's the year the hipster stopped being cool. Beards became standard and were no longer sexy. And the Greens went mainstream and lost their edge.

Politics - like fashion - is a fickle thing.

By rights, this should be the Greens' time. They've done the hard yards. Tie-dye was replaced by sharp ties and designer jackets. GE corn took a back seat to serious economic discussion.

And while Labour floundered, consumed with its own internal squabbles, the Greens took on the role of Opposition.

With a caucus boosted to 14, the party became a slick machine, taking it to the National government during parliamentary debates and driving their own agenda in the media.

Russel Norman became the credible voice of progressive economics (except for that printing money thing). Metiria Turei was the go-to politician on matters of social inequality.

At their annual conference in March, the party signalled a goal of reaching a 15 per cent share of the party vote. This would net them an extra six MPs after September's election.

At the time, it seemed perfectly plausible. A bold carbon tax policy was unveiled at the conference. It stayed in the headlines for barely a day before Labour killed it stone dead. By not entertaining the idea in any post- election deals, Labour deprived the policy of the oxygen it deserved.

This was the first hint of trouble for the Greens. They planned to be innovative in this campaign - differentiate themselves from Labour.

But how genuinely unique can you be when the implementation of your ideas ultimately relies on the very party you are trying to distinguish yourself from?

As the Greens shifted into the mainstream, the right worked harder to portray the Greens as dangerously out of left field.

Thus the "devil beast" was born - and then mutated into the "five-headed hydra" with the birth of the Internet-Mana alliance.

Not only are the Greens struggling to shrug off this narrative, but their steady drip-feed of policy has been completely overshadowed by the cuckoo antics of Colin Craig, Winston Peters and Kim Dotcom.

Behind the scenes, the Greens are frustrated they can't get media cut-through. They are established enough to be considered a little boring next to the young pretenders. On the other hand, they aren't mainstream enough to be guaranteed the coverage afforded to National and Labour.

Today, however, is their big day. Their election campaign - and some new social policy - will be launched at Auckland University of Technology. Internally, the message is: keep calm and carry on.

There will be no change of strategy, no attention-grabbing stunts, and the party will plough on with its campaign based around three priorities: kids, rivers and innovation.

While it is easy to panic, supporters can console themselves with polling numbers that keep the Greens consistently at 11 to 12 per cent. The challenge is growing that base, particularly where the left vote, has become increasingly fractured.

The Greens, like all the cool kids, know the hipsters have moved on to norm-core - acceptable, bland and ultra-conformist.

Sunday Star Times