The stage is being set for Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick to join Marama Davidson as a co-leader of the Green Party, replacing James Shaw.
This requires amending the party's constitution, which currently demands one co-leader be female and one male. Party members will soon change the rules, instead requiring one co-leader to identify as a woman and the second as any gender. They are also expected to introduce a rule requiring one to identify as Māori and the other as any ethnicity.
The moves are motivated by both principle and pragmatism.
The new ethnicity requirement reflects the Greens' commitment to partnership under Te Tiriti.
On the sex rule, using "male" and "female" excludes intersex people and has uncertain implications for transgender people. But changing the words to the genders "man" and "woman" would still exclude many intersex people and the entire non-binary community.
The issue hasn't been easy for the Greens. Not having a sex or gender requirement was unacceptable to the party's more traditional feminist wing.
In 2019, there were ructions when the party newsletter published a column by 80-year-old member Jill Abigail worrying that trans rights might affect women's rights and safe spaces, which her generation of second-wave feminists fought for in the 1960s and 1970s. Both trans-rights and old-school-feminist members resigned over how the dispute was handled.
Two and a half years later, the compromise speaks positively of the Greens' internal democracy and members' generally consensual style of decision-making.
The more pragmatic issue is Shaw having no obvious successor as male co-leader.
Successfully negotiating a so-far durable compromise with Labour, National and Te Pāti Māori over 2019's Zero Carbon Act made Shaw a genuine world leader in climate politics. If not head-hunted by an international agency, he's a shoo-in to replace Rod Carr as chair of the Climate Change Commission if Chris Luxon becomes prime minister.
Alternatively, with over 70 per cent of greenhouse emissions said to come from just 100 companies, Shaw might calculate that he could make a bigger contribution by returning to his PwC climate consultancy.
Either way, a vacancy in the Greens' co-leadership is expected sometime between next month's Budget and the end of 2023.
Of the Greens' two other male MPs, Teanau Tuiono has the skills for leadership but apparently not the aspiration. Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins is stuck in that job until October.
With no other credible new male co-leader on the horizon, the Greens' constitutional changes are responsible succession planning.
Swarbrick would most likely be unchallenged by any parliamentary colleagues. She is the only one with proven public appeal, including to people who may not otherwise vote Green. In preferred Prime Minister polls, she already manages a percentage point or two, while Shaw and Davidson don't feature.
Even as a 22-year-old, Swarbrick's last-minute and somewhat eccentric run for Auckland Mayor in 2016 yielded nearly 30,000 votes and won her third place in a field of 19.
In 2020, she won Auckland Central from National with over 35 per cent of the vote and a creditable 1068 majority over second-place Labour. It was the first electorate win for the Greens since Jeanette Fitzsimons snuck in by just 250 votes in Coromandel in 1999.
Swarbrick has her critics within the party. Some sneer that she is too middle-class and earnest, having gone to Epsom Girls Grammar and then doing law and philosophy degrees at the University of Auckland before setting up small businesses. Rivals suggest her open-book policy about her teenage and early-20s struggles with alcoholism and ADHD could be an electoral risk.
Such claims seem overstated, and the departure to Te Pāti Māori of more radical members of the party's Green Left faction has lowered internal tensions. Besides, Davidson brings all the radical and working-class credibility the party needs.
Experienced Greens also know militancy doesn't help. Russel Norman's suit-and-tie policy saw the party average 12 per cent in the polls between 2014 and 2017. It would have been higher had Metiria Turei's confessions of welfare fraud as a young single parent not collapsed the party's support seven weeks before election day.
After 2017, the Greens tried to have it both ways, with Shaw joining the government but Davidson staying outside it, promising to be an independent critic. It didn't work so well, with the Greens averaging just 7 per cent in the polls over the next three years.
Since 2020, Davidson has also joined the Government with the newly created portfolios of Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and Associate Minister of Housing responsible for homelessness.
It's not entirely clear what these jobs involve, not being supported by their own agencies. In March, the Government even insisted in Parliament that children living in emergency housing fall outside Davidson's ministerial responsibilities. But the arrangement seems to have worked politically, with the Greens averaging 10 per cent in the polls since the election, never slipping close to MMP's all-important 5 per cent threshold.
The Turei debacle and some 2019 wobbles aside, the Greens' polling is remarkably stable, sitting in a fairly tight band around an 11 per cent average for over a decade. In contrast, Act has bounced around widely, usually in an inverse relationship with National's performance. It was an historic achievement for Shaw to have increased the party's vote in 2020 despite the massive Covid-led swing to Labour. Until then, every small party that supported a government fell below 5 per cent at the next election.
NZ First has done better playing its MMP cards to secure short-term baubles and policy concessions, but the Greens are undoubtedly the more sustainable MMP party. Everyone now pays at least lip service to issues like climate change and inequality, if not the anti-capitalist ideology the Greens believe is essential to solve them.
But lip service is usually all it is, particularly for National and Labour.
Most recently, Labour has utterly betrayed the young people who swung in behind Jacinda Ardern's 2017 promises to deliver a "nuclear-free moment" on climate change, make housing affordable and reduce poverty and inequality. To young leftists, her 2017 declaration that capitalism has been "a blatant failure" seems like one she has just proven true ever since.
With Labour struggling in the polls, it falls on the Greens to secure the left-wing base. Current speculation sees Swarbrick replacing Shaw after the election. But if the Labour-Green bloc keeps failing, she may need to step in earlier to keep the betrayed 20-somethings in the tent and prevent them from splintering off in all directions along the spectrum.