Jonathan Milne: An uphill bike ride ahead for the Green party

Just down the road from Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons' wind and solar-powered house is Thames, "Gateway to the Coromandel".

Once known for its gold mines, Thames is now better known for its famous organic, GE-free strain of marijuana, Coromandel Gold.

Thames is not much of a tourist destination. But then, if its townsfolk had really wanted to advertise their community, surely they could have done better than to describe it as the gateway to somewhere else.

The same applies to Fitzsimons' party, whose mantra this year is: "A party vote for the Greens is a vote for a Labour-led government."

The implicit message to voters? "We don't offer much ourselves but we are a route by which you can return Labour to government."

Suffice to say, the idealists in the Greens got a harsh lesson in political pragmatism at the 2002 election. The Corngate allegations sparked an acrimonious battle with Labour, causing both votes to crumble.

Fitzsimons lost the Coromandel seat, the party's 7 per cent vote share fell short of its 10 per cent target, and Labour teamed up with United Future to lift the moratorium on commercial release of GM organisms.

The Greens swore they could never support a government that lifted the moratorium, and have voted "no confidence" in Labour ever since.

Until now, that is.

The Green and Labour leaderships met behind closed doors last month and, unsolicited, the Greens made the offer to abstain on the confidence and supply votes in the May Budget and June estimates.

It is the start of a new strategy to position the Greens as a solid, sensible support partner for a future Labour-led government, rather than the erratic flakes the public perceived in the past. And it will make it more difficult for Labour to use the John Tamihere crisis to call an early election, with no threat to its majority.

Yesterday the Greens began hand-delivering 400,000 leaflets headlined: "Give a damn. Help make a difference."

Despite the ad man's gently provocative language, the message is toned down from the absolutism of past election campaigns.

In 2002, the party turned away a proffered $10,000 donation from casino operator Sky City.

This year, they may rue being so picky as they realise their fees from their 3000 members fall well short of the $700,000 war chest they seek.

The party expects a September election but will still issue its candidate list this week or next.

Fitzsimons will travel the country in a mini-campaign, seeking to lift polling above Thursday's meagre 3.8 per cent rating on TV3.

Their biggest weakness may be in Auckland, where they have only one permanently based MP to woo a third of the nation's voters.

A key message - coming soon to a newspaper advert or billboard near you - will be of the danger of "peak oil" when global oil production starts dropping and the world's car, planes and factories begin grinding to a halt.

Environmentalists say that day is almost upon us; others insist it is 50 years away. But car-loving Auckland may not welcome the offer of bicycles instead of motorways.

In past elections the Greens have scared out the vote with their dire warnings of the impact of genetic modification. This time the newly-pragmatic Greens will be hoping the "peak oil" apocalypse coincides with election day.

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