There won't be any sandals tucked under the Cabinet table if the Greens are part of the next government. The Green Party's annual conference over the weekend continued the 'sandals to suits' transformation, with the party looking more professional, respectable and successful than ever.
What is very clear is that the Greens have effectively given up any pretense that they could form a government with National. Co-leader Metiria Turei launched a direct attack on Paula Bennett and John Key for stripping welfare and education provisions that they personally benefited from in their youth - see Isaac Davison's Greens launch attack on Bennett and Key and Battle of ex-solo-mums looms.
Meanwhile Russel Norman's attack on the Government for being 'fiscally reckless' is a telling sign of just how far toward the mainstream the Greens have come - see RNZ's Greens say growth measurement needs to change. Scolding National for giving away $14 billion in tax cuts and 'putting the Christchurch rebuild on the credit card', the Green co-Leader was careful to sound every bit the fiscally conservative and responsible politician even while promoting the 'green economy' alternative - see Newswire's Greens want 'smart, green economy'.
There were no major announcements or surprises at the conference, reflecting that the party has hit upon a mainstream formula that works and is sticking with it. The comments on mining are a good example. The Greens don't appear to have actually changed their policy but are clearly pushing a more nuanced approach that accepts some mining is inevitable and beneficial and are concentrating on opposition to 'risky' mining, specifically deep sea drilling - see: Charlotte Shipman's Greens call for mining 'transition'.
This change of emphasis has a number of potential benefits for the Greens. Obviously it increases their appeal to more centrist voters who might be put off by the more hardline environmentalism that is a part of the Green Party's heritage. It also provides a signal to their current supporters that compromises will be needed in government and provides them wiggle room for when the inevitable dead rats need to be swallowed.
Simlarly Russel Norman's reason for advocating a levy on businesses and high income earners to pay for the earthquake rebuild were quite revealing - namely to avoid further government debt, and that their polling had shown it was a popular move - see TV3 The Nation's 13-minute interview with Russel Norman. We can only wonder if the tax increases would survive if the focus groups turned against them. And certainly Norman is not committing the Greens to any income tax increases or leftwing changes to GST in future.
Because of their 2011 election success and ongoing high polling there was a lot of attention paid to the Greens conference. While the political wreckage of previous junior coalition partners weighs on their minds, John Armstrong says the strong undercurrent at the conference was the party's impatience for power after 20 years of exclusion - see: Greens want serious tilt at power. For an understanding of the current state of the Green Party, this is a must-read column. It stresses just had badly the Greens want to be in government, with an awareness of the pragmatism and challenges to political principle that will come with this.
In a separate column, Armstrong looks at the Labour-Greens relationship which, as a number of commentators point out, is complicated by their need to be seen as an alternative government while chasing after many of the same votes - see: Bumpy rides on both sides of the divide.
Local body elections may be next in the Greens' sights thinks John Hartevelt, who points out that a rumoured challenge by Labour's Annette King to Wellington Green mayor Celia Wade-Brown may perversely work to the Greens' advantage. King winning the mayoralty off the Greens would precipitate a by-election in Rongotai, one which Greens co-Leader Russel Norman would have a very good chance of winning. Gaining an electorate seat at the beginning of an election year would be a huge boost - see: Greens' path to power far from clear. There is keen awareness of the tensions between the two parties, and Jordan Carter criticises some of his Labour colleagues who begrudge the Greens' success - see: Polls move slowly #2, and Labour/Greens.
Promoting yourself as a key part of an alternative government means putting up credible economic alternatives. Blogger Pete George has a sympathetic look at the difficulties the Greens will face in implementing their policies - see: Greens: environment an economic argument - while David Farrar quotes Sir Paul Callaghan who said there was no evidence that New Zealand can or will be a world leader in clean technology, calling the party's policy 'an absurd list' - see: The Greens' economic plan.
Meanwhile, for an insight into the unofficial new 'Green Party Auckland leader', see Audrey Young's profile of Laila Harre: Harre repels cancer threat.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The TV reality show, The GC comes in for some long-needed support with Fran O'Sullivan hailing the series for showing successful young 'Mozzies (Maori Aussies)' chasing 'better lifestyles on the Gold Coast' and enjoying the 'sun, surf and sex' lifestyle that the area offers - see: Cast off the negativity and Maori can thrive. Rather than referring to such young New Zealanders in Australia as 'plastic Maori', O'Sullivan argues we 'should embrace these young people's success'. In her usual unsubtle way, O'Sullivan positively contrasts these young Maori 'having a really good time' with the alternative of 'wallowing in some tribal backwater'. Although her analysis is rather crude, the success of Maori in Australia does raise questions about the success (or lack of) of the 'return to your culture' model promoted for disaffected Maori in New Zealand.
* The problem of National's superannuation policy is discussed by Matthew Hooton in the NBR - see: John Key's cunning super plan?. Hooton suggests that National is currently preparing itself for a major repositioning manoeuver on the issue.
* How and when can politicians survive their political scandals? Andrea Vance answer this in: How to survive in the political spin cycle.
* Who will be New Zealand's first Maori prime minister? Matt McCarten says it won't be Hekia Parata or Shane Jones, and he surveys some other recent contenders that have crashed - see: Crash! Another Maori PM hope trips and falls. Interestingly, John Tamihere is hinted to making a come-back.
* Marty Sharpe sees how the clean up of dirty dairying is going and looks at the biggest offenders in recent years - see: Dirty dairying laid bare.
* National finally slips under 50% in the latest TVNZ poll - see: National's popularity slides in latest poll.
* There seems to be some inflating of job figures when it comes to the controversial SkyCity convention centre deal - see: David Fisher's Puzzle of Key's extra casino jobs.
* The Auckland suburb of Howick has revealed some disturbing social attitudes which many Kiwis may have thought had been consigned to the past - see: Michael Fox's 'Racist' Howick puts stop to special school.
* Tame Iti's defence seems to have been up against it from the start, with Kathryn Powley reporting that a Juror said before trial that Iti 'looked guilty'.
* Bill English has stopped talking about the need to grow New Zealand's tradeable sector according to Bernard Hickey. He says that's because, although English pointed to its decline as a failure of the previous Labour-led government, it has continued to decline under his watch - see: All our eggs are in the wrong basket.
* The Herald on Sunday accuses the Government of dishonesty over its class size policy, saying that their justifications are based on a simplification of some research and that their 'nebulous notion of quality' is really 'so much political humbug' - see: Putting the spin on bad news.
* The Queen's husband doesn't deserve the order of New Zealand says the Herald (see: Cullen richly deserves gong, but not Prince), while Colin James (How we changed over 60 years), Chris Trotter (Long Live The Republic!) and David Cohen, Jane Clifton and Joanne Black (Here's to you, Ma'am) all look back on the Queen's reign and what the monarchy means to New Zealand today.