Editorial: Grand opportunity for Greens to grow

Greens co-leader James Shaw celebrates survival after the election on Saturday, but the party's brand was severely ...
ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

Greens co-leader James Shaw celebrates survival after the election on Saturday, but the party's brand was severely undermined during the campaign.

EDITORIAL: Conventional wisdom appears to be that Bill English and Winston Peters will be the ones standing in front of the governor-general to put the next government in place.

Plenty of commentators talk about legacy, that this will be 72-year-old Peters' last opportunity to write a compelling footnote to a stellar political career.

There is, however, a grand opportunity for another legacy, from a very different politician at the other end of his own legislative life.

James Shaw was one of the winners on Saturday night. He'd pulled his Greens back from the collapse that followed Metiria Turei's stunning welfare fraud admission, to relative safety. Relief spread across his face like the building glow of an eco light bulb.

But now that they have secured that surer footing, would the Greens be happy to remain hidden in the dense, verdant bush of the foothills or should they instead push on to the rarefied air of the government benches?

There are reasons why they might not: political militancy operates like muscle memory within the party and green and blue do not appear to mix as well as green and red.

But there are also good reasons why National and the Greens getting together makes sense – for both parties.

The latter only just survived this election, but their brand was damaged, not helped by their continual denial of Turei's role in their near-downfall.

They have three years to rebuild. Those three years might be spent in relative obscurity on the opposition benches waiting for the tide to turn red in 2020. Or they could be three years on the front foot, implementing an agenda that has so far been kept at a safe political distance by others.

A Green Party with the environment portfolio and a few runs on the board might not only survive but thrive ahead of the next election, picking up the people who deserted them in the previous cycle, and potentially others who have toyed with support in the past but ultimately been turned off by their lack of pragmatism and inability to compromise.

Greens have played key roles in governments overseas to implement policy and advance their cause in areas such as the environment, social justice, immigration and same-sex marriage. Many of these have become fundamentals in those countries, even if the Greens have not succeeded at the ballot box.

Back in New Zealand, there are potential gains for National too. Partnership with Peters appears the safer option but he's likely to want more in prestige and policy than the Greens, and there's something about hooking up with NZ First that smacks of political groundhog day. English can't ignore the mood for change that ran between the lines of various voting statistics.

A successful partnership with the Greens would allow National to demonstrate that desire for change and a genuine concern for the environment, which would improve its chances of an unprecedented fifth term in government. It would certainly be a setback for Labour, which would have fewer options to call on.

Timing is key. The pragmatic Shaw finds himself at the head of a party at a crossroads; without a co-leader to temper that pragmatism he is unlikely to have this opportunity again to consider a bold new path that could create a legacy for himself and the green movement.

* Comments on this article have been closed.

 - Wellington

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