Greens replace old guard
Congratulations to Metiria on landing the co-leadership for the Greens. I went to the Leadership debate hosted by Raymond Miller at Galatos last week and it was a tough call between Bradford and Turei. Although initially slightly alarmed to hear Swedish songstress Robyn blaring over the speakers, the evening quickly turned to one of constructive debate as the two made their cases for why they should be female co-leader of the Greens.
In typical Greens style, the pair made arguments that seemed poles apart, and then when probed on this in question time, both declared they were arguing the same thing as each other. Bradford seemed to be arguing for a more radicalised Greens, one where its primary focus was policy over publicity. This policy, for Bradford, needed to be directed towards the twin crises facing New Zealand, which are both global: climate change and the recession. She highlighted the need for more focus on import substition to encourage the circulation of locally made goods in an effort to provide a buffer for our import and export market, the latter of which is suffering under the current economic conditions.
Turei argued that the Greens needed to look at extending their support to a 15% - 20% wedge of voters for the 2011 election, a formidable challenge for the Greens on their current ratings. She argued that this increase in voters could be gained by focusing on 28-45 year olds, who where entering their first homes, with or thinking about having children and were concerned about the environment they would be raising them in. She also platformed the significant drop between pre-election polls and the result for 2008 in Green voters as one that would need to be addressed before the 2011 election. (Despite rumours that Green voters stay home, it would seem that the Greens has a 'Bradley effect' in polling where people want to appear as if being Green is higher up on their priority list). For Turei, such advances could occur through clearer communication of policies to the public, something she argued initiatives such as the Green New Deal were beginning to achieve. The Greens would need to be careful, however, in attracting a broader demographic as this could effect the consensus-building process that determines their policies.
Achieving this wedge of voters would allow less dependence on Labour, who have a track record of returning little support for the Greens at coalition time. However, both candidates acknowledged that the relationship with Labour would be crucial for the party in 2011. While some enthusiastic Labour pundits yelled out their alarm at the Greens' recent Memorandum of Understanding with National, which provides for a working relationship on home insulation (National's sugar coating for the bitter pill that was this year's Budget), energy efficiency and the regulation of natural health products, these sorts of initiatives will be crucial for the Greens in building an identity that exists outside of Labour for the next election. The Greens' pre-election announcement that their only potential coalition partner would be Labour in 2008 may have damaged some of their vote, with pundits questioning the amount of political efficacy a vote for the Greens might have under a National-led Government. However, this efficacy has become increasingly apparent as the Greens gain experience, with successes on a number of Bills passed through parliament, including the controversial anti-smacking Bill and raising the youth minimum wage.
Turei's win over Bradford may reflect this desire for the Greens to have a wider appeal - Bradford, despite her demonstrated ability to push even controversial policy through has been plagued by her public image as a radical. While Turei has managed to avoid similar controversy thus far and has less experience, her experience in Treaty issues allows the Greens the possibility of attracting the Maori vote, a segment of the population that despite progressive policy has been elusive thus far. A former corporate lawyer, Turei has the brains to be able to progress the Greens' influence. In the media, she comes across as personable rather than divisive; subversion always accompanied by a mischevious smile. Together with co-leader Russel Norman, she represents a new, youthful face of the Greens to the public - a gamble that could pay off if the party manage to wrestle some more independence from Labour before 2011.