The disaffection of two Green MPs, David Clendon and Kennedy Graham, is symptomatic of a wider problem now facing the party. Metiria Turei's admissions of youthful deceit have driven a deep wedge between the Green's core supporters and mainstream public opinion. The party's core supporters admire their co-leader for telling her personal story of benefit stress and appear willing to forgive her false enrolment for an election as a minor folly. Mainstream opinion, though, is deeply disturbed not just by these indiscretions long ago but by the seemingly cavalier attitude to benefit rules and law she still exhibits when she defends herself. She has put her co-leader and the rest of her MPs in an invidious personal and political position. If they demand her resignation they risk losing some of their core vote; if they let her remain co-leader they tarnish themselves in the eyes of the public and give up much chance of broadening Green support at this election.
Kennedy Graham, perhaps more than any other Green MP, gave the party potentially broader appeal. Brother of National's Sir Douglas Graham and a former diplomat at the United Nations, he might have gained a higher profile in a government coalition and tapped a rich vein of potential Green support on the centre-right. It is not uncommon to hear conservative voters express interest in the Green's environmental values. Such is the tribal nature of mainstream politics that many National voters are more well-disposed to the Greens than Labour. But in their response to Turei, the Green caucus has clearly decided to shore up its base rather than broaden its appeal. It made this choice clear on Monday night when Clendon and Graham told their colleagues that if Turei did not stand down, they would resign. Co-leader James Shaw not only sided with Turei, he made it known he would ask the caucus next morning to suspend the pair's membership, apparently to deny them the honour of resigning.
Wider heads prevailed in the caucus yesterday. Clendon and Graham are to remain Green MPs until the election but will no longer attend the caucus or do any campaigning for the party. Shaw says they have agreed not to speak publicly on Turei's behaviour before the election.
So they are effectively muzzled, but their ultimatum on Monday night speaks more powerfully than anything extra they could say. The Greens are a diminished party, not just numerically in their caucus but in the country at large. It would be wrong to say they are in disarray, for their loyal base of 7-8 percent of the electorate will be strongly behind the backing the caucus are continuing to give Turei. In polls taken just after her benefit fraud admission, the party rose to 15 percent, but that gain has probably returned to Labour with its leadership change and as more details have emerged over the Turei affair. It is telling Jacinda Ardern acted to distance her party from Turei as soon as the second act of dishonesty was discovered. The Greens could once have offered a centre-left coalition the prospect of gaining non-Labour votes in the mainstream. Now, the Greens are reduced to their solid core and Labour's hopes of government will probably depend on Winston Peters again.