OPINION: The buffet was still offering vegan food. But Greens co-leader Russel Norman was almost carnivorous on Saturday - baring his teeth and savaging Prime Minister John Key.
He let rip at his party's annual conference in Christchurch, unveiling what many have long suspected: Rusty is a wolf in organic, fair trade wool. The speech was a critique of National's repeated "attacks on democracy."
Norman had a comprehensive list of examples to back his assertion that "something in rotten in the state of New Zealand politics...something is rotting in the Beehive."
He cited: the SkyCity deal; Hobbit employment law changes; the sacking of Environment Canterbury councillors; dumping of proposed MMP changes; a ban on deep sea drilling protests at the behest of oil companies; and recent disabled carers' legislation.
Norman argued it was time his party drew a line in the sand and spoke out. However, the speech was, at least in part, a response to the government's portrayal of the devil-beast alliance, with the Greens dragging Labour to the far left.
Norman's blistering speech made no attempt to disguise his party's socialist ideals, lashing National's "crony capitalism."
But the 20-minute address marked a departure from the Green's particular brand of play-the-ball-not-the-man-politics. Norman launched a personal attack on Key, painting him as a Muldoon-style bully. There was also a snide reference to Key's personal wealth: he is "irritated if we are not all grateful for him generously agreeing to be PM." And he trashed Key's trademark genial disposition.
"The next time you see John Key smiling, ...he's smiling because he's giving favours to his mates while undermining your democracy," he said.
Norman later defended the attack-dog politics. "John Key represents the government and part of the brand was he was going to be inclusive. He's become increasingly divisive and I think its important that we call him on it."
It's a risky move. National are still riding high in the polls. Although diminished, other politicians would kill to have Key's personal popularity. Voters don't embrace negativity.
The Greens have slow-cooked themselves a considerable movement - now with 14 MPs and a target of a 15 per cent share at next year's election. A lot of that is based on their good-faith, constructive politics. Changing the recipe could be harmful.
Much of the conference was focused on building up to October's local body and next year's general election campaigns. Most sessions were closed to reporters. "We will let the sunshine in," Norman told the party faithful. But not the media.
Discussions were snappier and shorter than previous conferences. And with a 2013 twist, social media users were instructed to use the Twitter #greenpartyAGM.
The gathering still retains elements of a hairy hippie love-in. Delegates were informed it was to be a fragrance-free couple of days, which elicited eye-rolling from more 'corporate' members. Anxious to counter the image of bare-footed bohemians, the party's fashionista mavens conspired to create a Tumblr of participant's best shoes.
The party is evolving as it moves into the mainstream, and possibly, government. Coalition often demands compromising ideals - and Norman demonstrated yesterday he can be as realpolitik as the best of them.
- Sunday Star Times