With the announcement of Julie-Anne Genter’s candidacy for the Green co-leadership yesterday the race is as much a battle for the soul of the party as for the position itself.
And its outcome could have a profound influence on politics generally over future years.
The difference between the Genter and the other candidate, Marama Davidson, was starkly demonstrated in Genter’s statement yesterday.
“I believe the Green Party must offer a bold alternative vision for the future if we are to live in a society where no one is left behind, and the injustice of climate change is not imposed on future generations,” she said.
Genter is offering a balance of environmental and social justice policies whereas Davidson in her opening speech emphasized the economic impact of neo-liberalism on areas like Otara where she grew up.
“The environmental crises we face are caused primarily by economic and social factors,” she said.
Genter made a veiled hint at the divisions within the Greens between the “social justice” and “environmental” wings of the party when she told POLITIK she thought the party needed to focus on building up party unity particularly after the last election..
“ We need to make sure that people are all on the same page, that we are going back to caucuses and the consensus kaupapa we used to have so that we can be really united as a party when we go out and campaign,” she said.
Genter is pitching her bid to the traditional Green member and is quick to remind people of her own background as both an activist and then a member of the Greens board before she became an MP.
She believes the priorities have not changed over the years which she says are environmental protection and social responsibility.
“I think we are getting to quite a critical point, and many Green Party members would share this view, that we need to urgently change things because we are headed at a very fast rate towards some ecological disasters like climate change and at the same time we see an increase in prosperity and income and wealth which has huge consequences socially but also environmentally.
“Fundamentally there are solutions to all this, and we need to be able to agree on what they are and inspire the public with them.”
Genter is often regarded as something of soul-mate to the other co-leader James Shaw with an ability to communicate to non-traditional Green audiences like business people.
She agrees with that, but she says her ability to speak to different audiences is not limited to business-friendly types or urban liberals.
“I think I am much broader than that,” she said.
Davidson says part of her appeal is that she is not a member of the executive like Genter and can, therefore, more vigorously hold the Government to account.
To an extent, Genter agrees that the Green have to handle their relations with the coalition with care but her solution is to work within the system..
“I think we have to be very careful that we are not subsumed by the coalition Government,” she said.
“So we have to be strong negotiators and effective communicators where there are differences.”
Genter happily admits that she and Davidson are different.
“I thought the members deserved a choice,” she said.
“I think we bring very different skill sets and experience to the role.”
in essence Genter is the “establishment” candidate and Davidson the outsider.
There may be other candidates.
Eugenie Sage is the one thought most likely also to stand, but she is currently in Antarctica.
Sage is a strong environmentalist.
However, there may also be a feeling among some Greens that the party would be best served by a clear choice between Davidson’s social justice emphasis and Genter’s more balanced approach.
Davidson is widely considered to have an edge on Genter among the members — who are generally more radical than the MPs — but one Green insider said that experience had shown that Green elections did not necessarily favour the social justice wing.
Metiria Turei had won the co-leadership over the more radical Sue Bradford and James Shaw had surprised many with his win in 2015.
Davidson has paid tribute to Turei and her election would not only introduce a tension between her and Shaw but would also clearly indicate that the party’s rank and file want it to be a radical left-wing party.
Genter and Shaw would offer a more centrist Green Party which could conceivably even work with National sometime in the future on some issues.
Nominations close today and consultation and branch voting is between March 26 and April 7 with the result announced on April 8.