Greens' survival only the first hurdle

Green Party leader James Shaw is leaving all doors open in coalition negotiations. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

The Greens are leaving the door wide open on any possible coalition arrangements, even refusing to rule out a partnership with National. The next few weeks will see how things shake out, but after bringing the Greens back from the brink, has James Shaw done enough? Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Rubbing his eyes and stepping up to the microphones, James Shaw looked about as pleased as a very tired man could be.

Having led the party back from the brink of oblivion and ensured their survival by a mere 0.9 percent, it was mission accomplished.

But there was also a sense of mild disappointment amongst Green staff as they reflected on what could have been, and what had been lost.

From riding an all-time high in the polls just a few months ago to a decimation of their support following Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud admission, the party will return to Parliament with just seven MPs – half of what they had before.

That will likely rise to eight when special votes are counted, but there is no escaping the erosion of Green power.

Publicly the party is boasting of the new young talent being brought in – Chloe Swarbrick and, most-likely, Golriz Ghahraman. But they have lost seasoned campaigners such as Kennedy Graham, David Clendon, Barry Coates and Mojo Mathers.

The immediate task at hand, however, is the delicate negotiations needed to attempt to woo NZ First leader Winston Peters into a potential Labour/Greens threeway.

Addressing the media on Sunday, Shaw was immediately asked if he would be willing to take a minor role in order to change the Government.

The possibility of sitting on the cross benches providing supply and confidence to a Labour/NZ First government did not sit well - but was also not off the table.

“I’ve always said my goal was to change the Government and to form a new coalition Government with the Labour party afterwards, that’s what I’m working on and I think that possibility remains very real today and will become more so as the special votes are counted," Shaw said.

“In my view, that’s more likely in a full coalition where we work together as colleagues on a common programme for government rather than a minority Government that has to go to the cross benches to get every vote passed.”

As far as a National/Greens marriage goes, the unlikely partnership is at a stalemate.

Shaw said he wouldn’t be picking up the phone but would listen if the Prime Minister called, while Bill English said later in the day that there would have to be “some indication” from the Greens that they wanted to talk.

“It’s my responsibility to [answer the phone] and we’ll have to see what they’ve got to say but one of the things I’ll be saying in return is you know we campaigned on a change of Government and you know what was in our manifesto and you know how incongruous that is with National’s economic manifesto,” Shaw said.

Although the possibility is being thrown around by several pundits, the option is highly unlikely.

It would require 75 percent support from Green Party members, something that seems an absurd possibility given their loathing of National.

Former Greens leader Russel Norman told Newsroom that it would take an extraordinary offer from National to get any deal over the line.

“Obviously it’s highly unlikely but obviously if National went to them with a great offer they would have to think about it…but it’s a very, very high bar so it would have to be an extraordinary offer from National to get over that bar.”

Asked to rate Shaw’s performance there was a long pause from Norman before describing it as “solid”.

He said there had obviously been a huge mistake made at the beginning of the campaign, but the on-the-ground party had mobilised to save the day for the Greens.

With their immediate future secure and coalition negotiations likely to wrap up in the next few weeks attention will eventually turn to the Greens’ leadership.

A new female co-leader will be chosen at next year’s AGM, with Julie-Anne Genter and Marama Davidson frontrunners, but Shaw will also be up for re-election.

Whether the party reward him for returning them to Parliament or punish him for his role in such a disastrous mistake remains to be seen.