The election of James Shaw as Co-Leader of the Greens marks their coming of age as a mainstream political party.

He campaigned unashamedly calling for the party to broaden its base and above all to win more votes at the next election.

That plainly struck a chord with party members who at the senior levels seemed almost traumatised by their failure to grow their vote at the last election.

His campaign for the leadership was founded on a simple promise:  “We can win, we can change the system, even when we are faced with powerful entrenched adversaries.”

It was a theme he repeated in his keynote speech to the Greens’ AGM.

More importantly though he set out his own political philosophy and in the process provided one of the most intellectually acute criticisms we have heard of the status quo.

There’s no name for this system that we now live under.” he said.

“It’s not capitalism or neoliberalism  and it’s not conservatism.  

“It’s not conservative to destroy all of your rivers and streams, and mine your oceans and national parks.  

“It is definitely not compassionate conservatism.”


That was conventional enough for a Green Co-Leader but where Mr Shaw looks like he is going to be different is his ability to link his Green ecological concerns into the overall economy.

“It’s not compassionate or conservative to subsidise businesses to damage the atmosphere of the planet that we’re living on,” he said.

“There is no name for this system.  

“Nobody speaks for it. Nobody voted for it.  

“It happens in the spaces between speeches and elections.  

“It happens behind closed doors or over dinner with lobbyists. 

“We have a political economy of friendly deals and whispers. Of overnight polling and focus groups.”


This focus on the economy is becoming a dominant theme for the Greens.

Outgoing Co-Leader Russel Norman, in his speech proposing a Carbon Tax said the proceeds should be used to lower both company and personal income tax.

What Mr Shaw’s speech also  did was underline what he has been saying during the leadership campaign; that there is no way the Greens could support a National Government.


That though leaves them trying to struggle their way through the confusion that is the Opposition party morass.

Their relationship with Labour is complex.

Party officials say that on a day to day basis it has improved and Labour is becoming easier to deal with.

But the same officials say that they still don’t really know what Labour stands for.

Crucially they are waiting to see definitive policy from Labour on climate change.

Nevertheless they now accept that they would be the junior partner in any Government that Labour might form.

During the election campaign the top of the party  became convinced they would get near if not ahead of Labour’s numbers on election night.

They realise now that was never going to happen. 

Even their own polling showed potential Greens supporters returning to Labour because they wanted Labour to be the main Opposition party.


But if their relationship with Labour is complex, their relationship with New Zealand First is even more so.

That’s surprising given the overlap that exists in a number of policy areas — Mr Shaw’s speech about policy under the current Government happening behind closed doors or over dinner with lobbyists could easily have been made by Winston Peters.

But Mr Peters is the problem.

His pronounced antipathy to the Greens has left a trail of bad blood.

However moves are already under way to try and secure a meeting between Mr Shaw and Mr Peter in the hope that a new face might make a difference.

Otherwise party officials believe that all they can do is not antagonise him and keep their door open.


Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the Greens this weekend has been the unity that the party has been able to display.

Obviously Mr Hague was disappointed with his failure to win the leadership, so were many of his supporters and another unsuccessful candidate Gareth Hughes  looked less lively than usual. The fourth candidate, Vernon Tava accepted the result and looked forward to Mr Shaw’s leadership.

But there weren’t any outward signs of disunity — far from it, it seemed as the whole party was on message.

“POLITKIK” understands that a substantial part of Mr Shaw’s speech had been drafted well in advance ready for whoever won the leadership.

Not many political parties could get away with that. It is a demonstration of how far this party has come and maybe a portent of how far it might go.