A series of events that began last Friday has redrawn the map that leads to next year’s election.
On Friday, a High Court judge found two New Zealand First officials not guilty of fraud, thus clearing the way for the Party to begin campaigning again.
On Saturday, after a large motorway protest in Auckland, Freedom and Rights Coalition Leader Brian Tamaki confirmed the Party was in discussion with other populist parties about forming a coalition to fight the next election.
And then, in the most dramatic move of the lot, The Greens’ annual general meeting agreed to re-open nominations for James Shaw’s co-leadership position.
Of these events, the Greens is by far the most significant.
New Zealand First may have escaped their long-running prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office, but they have bigger problems now.
Where is the space on the electoral landscape for them?
In his statement acknowledging the Court decision, leader Winston Peters seemed more consumed by Utu than anything else as he blamed the media for the prosecution.
“I intend to address this abuse of power and hold this type of journalist liable for everything they write or say,” he said.
But Peters may find that the anti-establishment, populist politics that lay behind NZ First’s rise has now been taken over by a group of minor parties.
Leading the charge on Saturday was the Freedom and Rights Coalition, with its origins in Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church.
The Coalition led the motorway protest in Auckland, which saw around 1000 participants protest a litany of complaints against the Government.
“This Government needs to go” was a consistent theme.
Tamaki told Radio New Zealand that he would soon make an announcement regarding three minor parties forming a coalition.
Tamaki said the minor parties had committed to operating under a new umbrella.
The parties are believed to include the Outdoors and Freedoms’ Party, and there seems to be no certainty about who the third Party might be
— though the Christian-based One Party has been “on and off” in the talks, according to one source.
The source who has been involved in the talks told POLITIK that though egos and self-importance were evident in the discussions, “Brian Tamaki is doing a really good job trying to pull them together.”
But POLITIK understands there is pressure on the Outdoors and Freedoms Party and its leader Sue Grey from many of its supporters to go it alone, particularly after the Party’s high vote in the Tauranga by-election.
However, if either one of the minor parties individually, or a combination of a number of them can get to five per cent, that is likely to give National another option in the formation of a governing coalition.
The Outdoors and Freedoms party is, in many ways, a breakaway from the Greens with its emphasis on issues like 1080 and its general focus on environmental issues.
And it was the Greens’ internal difficulties that dominated the headlines over the weekend.
The Party’s AGM failed to endorse James Shaw as co-leader, and nominations for that position have now re-opened.
So far, no one has put their hand up. The most likely contender, Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick, is not responding to media inquiries. At the same time, there has been some speculation on social media that two MPs, Elizabeth Kerekere and Teanau Tuiono, might also stand.
Shaw himself has said he would consult his MPs and that he is still “processing” the result of the AGM.
But the mechanics of the Green Party favour him.
The move against Shaw was led by a ginger group within the Party, the GreenLeft network.
Its co-convenor, Nicole Geluk-Le Gros, in a statement, said the membership had signalled that a debate was needed about the Party’s direction, heading into the 2023 general election and beyond.
“As stated in the GreenLeft Network kaupapa statement, we believe the Green Charter is realised through the Party campaigning on a bold and radical left-wing platform,” she said.
“We look forward to seeing this approach from candidates in the forthcoming co-leadership contest.”
But the GreenLeft network may not represent the broad membership of the Party.
Through a quirk in the party constitution, nominations for a co-leadership position can be re-opened if at least 25 per cent of the valid votes cast chose that option.
On Saturday, 30 per cent of those at the AGM voted to re-open nominations which still left Shaw with 70 per cent of the votes cast, a big majority.
To be elected leader at the ballot, which must now take place, the successful contender will need 51 per cent of the delegates’ vote.
Thus the odds favour Shaw if he stands.
There are, however, widespread questions within the Greens as to whether the delegates actually represent the views of the broader membership.
An example, in 2020, delegates demoted Chloe Swarbrick down the list to seven, but the party membership then voted her back up to third position.
Nevertheless, the potential damage this affair may do to the Party is high.
Former MPs (Catherine Delahunty and Sue Bradford) are publicly implicitly criticising Shaw’s leadership, leaving an impression that the Party is deeply divided.
It probably is.
This is just the latest in a series of events that have indicated that the Party is divided between a pragmatic (or “real”) faction and a more radical (or “fundi”) faction with a more left-wing agenda.
This was evident in 2017 when the Party’s executive refused to readmit MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon after they had resigned in protest over Metiria Turei’s admission of rorting the benefit system.
In 2018 Maramna Davidson was elected co-leader though it was clear that Shaw had backed Julie-Anne Gener for the role.
There was controversy over the 2020 election list, which had to be resolved by the leadership.
More recently, strains have been evident over climate change policy, with the Party’s agriculture spokesperson, Teanau Tuiono, in a statement in response to the Climate Change Commission’s response to the He Waka Eke Noa agricultural climate change proposals saying that the Greens would be looking to Cabinet to agree on an emissions pricing system that would not only meet the climate change targets the Government had put into law “but also support farmers to switch to low emissions and regenerative farming practices.”
That seemed like a direct challenge to Shaw’s policy of trying to achieve a bipartisan consensus on how to deal with agricultural emissions.
The former MP, Catherine Delahunty, was particularly scathing of Shaw’s approach to climate change.
“You can trust James to support corporate solutions to climate change, but unfortunately, they won’t work because we got to this dire impasse on the planet from extractive growth economics,” she wrote on the left-wing chat room, “The Standard”.
However, a former Green staffer, Henry Peach, tweeted that the actual membership was highly likely to turn out to re-appoint James Shaw.
That seems likely, but the question will be whether the Greens can elect their co-leader without a fatal and very public split.
That would damn them – and very probably Labour too – to defeat at the next election.