The grim faces on the Greens leadership as they arrived in Parliament’s foyer for a media briefing on Saturday morning said it all.
On Friday night Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere had joined Labour MP Meka Whaitiri to become the second Maori MP to resign from a party in the Government block in Parliament in the space of four days.
History suggests that the Greens will take a hit in the polls as a consequence of Kerekere’s move; however, the potential impact of Whaitiri’s resignation on Labour might be more complex.
The worry for Labour will be that the two resignations together give an impression that the Government side of politics is unstable.
Yesterday on “Q+A”, Labour’s Maori Development Minister and Maori seats campaign chair, Willie Jackson, was making every effort, including blaming himself for Whaitiri’s departure, to ensure that her resignation was not seen as emblematic of wider problems within the party.
Because Whaitiri has not provided any substantive reason for her resignation, he, like many, believes it was prompted by her being passed over for Cabinet in favour of fellow Maori MP Willow-Jean Prime.
“I think it’s obvious that she probably wanted to be promoted into cabinet, and she’s very a very capable minister,” he said.
“Did I do enough to look after her?
“I don’t think I did.
“I think that I could have; because the first time she was passed over, I supported her, and there was a lot of acknowledgement in terms of her work.
“And I think we, as a Maori caucus, probably should have looked after her a bit better.
“So it’s easy to say, oh, you know, it’s opportunistic, she’s leaving and all that.
“But actually, she’s a mana wahine. She’s someone who has made a major contribution to the Maori caucus in Labour, and we should have looked after her better.”
The Greens, on the other hand, responded very differently to Kerekere’s resignation, which had obviously blindsided them.
Shaw started by distancing himself from the Zoom meeting, during which she discussed the bullying allegations being made against her and which were the subject of an ongoing internal inquiry.
He said the meeting had been called by some members.
“It’s pretty unusual to have a situation where someone who is going through a process like that gets to put their side of the story<, ” he said.
“But ultimately, it is really important that the internal process continues, that it preserves natural justice and that it supports and is fair to all people involved, including Dr Kerekere.”
Neither Shaw nor Davidson was involved in the meeting, which began at 8.00 p.m., but the co-leaders both received an email at 8.08 p.m. from Kerekere resigning. However, she did not reveal that to the meeting, which went on for half an hour.
The whole affair revolves around text messages sent by Kerekere, which ended up at the wrong address, apparently accusing her fellow MP, Chloe Swarbrick, of being a “cry-baby”.
The messages were leaked and followed by a succession of allegations that she was a bully towards Greens staff and colleagues.
The party then launched an internal inquiry which is still ongoing.
But Shaw revealed that the allegations did not come as a surprise.
“We were concerned when those messages came to light that they were indicative of a wider pattern of behaviour,” he said.
So, unlike Whaitiri, it would seem there is less sympathy for Kerekere from her own caucus.
However, Davidson did not answer directly when asked whether all caucus members supported the response of the leadership to Kerekere.
“Our Green MPs are all united in wanting to just rip into the campaign and win an election,” she said.
“There is an agreement from all of our MPs to continue our work to remain a united group.”
But the big issue is how much damage the two resignations will have done the centre-left block come the election.
Labour is obviously trying to minimise the import, and they would hope to avoid the impact of Whaitiri’s departure.
Longer term, her presence in the Maori Party might be a bonus for them because she is a natural conservative and someone they might find relatively easy to work with in government.
But she has to win her seat first, and Labour will contest it strongly and today will begin the hunt for a candidate.
Jackson yesterday contrasted the Maori Party with Labour, suggesting that the Maori Party was too extreme.
“They don’t actually agree with different initiatives like co-governance; they want to own everything,” he said.
“They want to own Parliament. They believe in a Maori parliament.
“The best thing they (Maori voters) can do in those electorates is vote for Labour candidates because they know how to work within the system, and we’ve been doing that for years and years and years.
“Because you get into the debate about do you have incremental change, or do you get everything?
“And we work in an environment where you have to actually get incremental change.”
Nevertheless, the Maori Party remains an important potential component for Labour if it is in a position to form a government after the election.
Labour’s bigger worry may now be whether the Green vote will collapse as it did in 2017 after the Turei resignation.
Then, between August and election day, the Green virtually halved to end up at 6.5 per cent, but their vote may have gone to Labour which went up 10 per cent over the same period as Jacinda Ardern’s leadership won growing support.
Shaw professed to be confident about the potential impact.
“I think that most voters know that these kinds of events happen and that they don’t reflect on the broader work of the rest of our caucus, our candidates and our members out there in the community taking the work that we do on whether it’s climate change or biodiversity or inequality,” he said.
“The fact is that we’ve got six months up until an election that we intend to continue to campaign hard on.
“Metiria was a leading figure in the Green Party and had been for a very long time. And so that was a very, very, different set of circumstances.”
The problem for Labour is that the Kerekere resignation coming so soon after that of Whaitiri raises questions of government stability and will fuel what is a probable Opposition response that a Labour-Greens-Maori party government would be unstable.