Election 2011: Greens set to go but have long winding road ahead

By Jane Phare

Metiria Turei and Russel Norman address the Green Party faithful. Photo / Michael Craig
Metiria Turei and Russel Norman address the Green Party faithful. Photo / Michael Craig

For the Greens, it was never going to be a win-win.

They have won a higher share of the vote than ever before with a slick, well-run campaign, scooping up more than 10 per cent of the votes, translating to an impressive 13 MPs. But National's dominance means the Green Party faces another three years in Parliament without real clout.

Under a National government, they'll at best, be signed up for another memorandum of understanding, but there'll be no ministerial portfolios as promised under a Labour-led coalition.

For the party that likes to say it is neither left nor right but out the front, for this term at least, they'll be out the back.

But co-leader Russel Norman put on a positive spin.

"We had a target of 10 per cent and we are now at 10.5 per cent. It's a tremendous result for the Greens.

It is only the second time since the introduction of MMP that a third party has got over 10 per cent."

He wouldn't be drawn on any possible role the Greens might have, saying "we will be having meetings tomorrow".

But coming off its best result the party will be hoping to extend that memorandum of understanding and have more projects to work on with the Government.

The party celebrated the vote with a crowd of 300 last night on Auckland's Karangahape Rd, hosted by actress Robyn Malcolm.

"You have asked people to think beyond their tax break and give a damn about kids and rivers and take a long hard look at where this country is heading. It's not about money it's about caring for your country. People listened and they agreed," Malcolm said.

Green MP Kevin Hague, third on the list, said he had voted for West Coast Labour MP Damien O'Connor and was looking forward to working with the Government on finishing the national cycleway.

He would also be pushing for "rainbow issues" such as same-sex couples' adoption rights and alternatives to 1080.

Wellington lobbyist Mark Unsworth predicted the Greens would keep gaining ground on Labour with this term producing a power struggle for space on the front benches, with the Greens aspiring to eventually take over as the main centre-left party.

But a National win was always going to be a dilemma for co-leaders Metiria Turei and Norman.

They've already been accused, by their core supporters, of wooing the blue-green vote, the well-educated urban liberals, and of moving too close to the centre.

Last week Green "fundis" chatted nervously online about the party selling-out and getting too cosy with National.

Party leaders deny that possibility but Norman pointed this weekend to progress made in the past three years working with National, on insulating 120,000 homes, the cycle network, and cleaning up contaminated sites.

He said there was no reason for that working relationship not to continue.

"We vote against them on confidence and supply but we work with them on areas where we have common ground."

Norman dismissed National's chilliness towards the Greens in the past few weeks of the campaign as nothing more than a tactic to make sure National voters did not stray at the last minute.

But he denied, as one commentator suggested to the Herald on Sunday this week, that National did not like working with the Green party because it was "all take and no give".

"We've got ongoing projects," Norman said. "We get on fine. It's just that we disagree about some pretty important things."

Asked about the possibility that National might not even sign a memorandum of understanding with the Green Party, Norman said the party would "cross that bridge when we come to it".

The party has also adopted a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the curly question of forming a more significant partnership with National.

While the co-leaders have always made it clear Labour was their preference, they have never dismissed outright the possibility of a closer relationship with National.

"It will depend very much on the policy," said Norman.

Such talk may well alarm hard-core Green supporters who lament the desertion of the likes of Sue Bradford, taking with her a history of non-negotiable views, often spouted through megaphones or plastered on placards.

And no more Nandor Tanczos, with his dreadlocks and skateboard. The absence of those faces, and others such retiring MP Keith Locke with his anti-American sentiments, mean centre voters had less to be suspicious about.

There was much less chance they would be forced to give up their SUVs and holidays to Fiji.

And no more talk of legalising marijuana and hemp.

"Tree huggers" is a label of the past and even herbal tea has become mainstream. It's that shift that has worked in the Green's favour.

Both sides have shifted: the Green Party to a more reassuring centre for new supporters and public opinion has increasingly had an acceptable green tinge.

Mark Unsworth said the Green Party has not changed too much in terms of its direction and policies, but its PR had.

"They've sold their policies a lot better."

The party had run a slick, media savvy campaign, he said. It was well organised and Norman had become the "go to" man for media comment.

The majority of its candidates were bright, well-educated people, many with more than one degree or a doctorate and even a Rhodes Scholar. Little sign of the "I-grew-up-in-a-state-house" scenario.

Norman said that with a larger caucus the party would have to "think a little bit about how to manage it".

- Herald on Sunday

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