The Greens have been lampooned for an apparently desperate fundraising appeal to their supporters.
"I won't lie," the party's campaign director emailed its donors, "the last two polls aren't looking good for us." According to both OneNews and Newshub, the Greens sit minutely above 5 per cent, the MMP threshold they must break unless Chloe Swarbrick wrests Auckland Central off National's Nikki Kaye.
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National insiders claim their secret polls have the Greens below 5 per cent. Labour strategists insist theirs put the Greens comfortably above. Either way, the Grey Lynn and Wadestown liberals who fund the Greens have ample incentive to set up another automatic payment. Whatever hay the Greens' critics make of the fundraising email, there couldn't be a better time to ask supporters for money than when a party is hovering just between triumph and disaster.
The Greens' problems, though, are not money, but message.
The party's leadership seems to think, as Jim Bolger and Winston Peters did in the 1990s and Helen Clark and Jim Anderton in the early 2000s, that a multiparty government wins points from voters for unity.
The subsequent poor polling and disastrous splits in NZ First and the Alliance argue otherwise.
John Key recognised the value of having support options to his right and left, blaming the Māori Party if he went one way and Act when he went the other.
He encouraged them to differentiate from National, and his own MPs to relax when they did.
In the end, though, the common ground between the Māori Party and Act on questions of self-determination meant they ended up getting on too well personally for Key's concept to truly fly. Jacinda Ardern has no such problem. Her support parties despise one another.
Conventional wisdom remains that the obvious divisions in her Government are a problem for Ardern. More likely, flexibility is strength.
As an earnest young staffer, Ardern may have dreamed of leading a Labour-Green Government. But as a Prime Minister hardened by the realities of coalition management and concerned mainly to keep her Labour Party in office for the long term, she understands as well as Key the benefits of maintaining options left and right.
NZ First went out of its way this week to publicly trash the Greens' "feebate" scheme for electric cars, which would have transferred wealth from NZ First's rural and working-class supporters to the Greens' wealthy backers in Grey Lynn and Wadestown and in this way apparently help to save the planet.
NZ First pulled the plug out of political calculation but also just because they can.
The Greens reacted meekly, pathetically saying the scheme would be part of their election manifesto.
Weakness seems to be the Greens' modus operandi over anything to do with NZ First. They have remained silent over the alleged NZ First donations and stalking scandal. They have quietly endured the humiliation of NZ First blocking a capital gains tax — which James Shaw said the Government should pursue, or it would not deserve to be re-elected — and the billions of dollars now being poured into roads they previously derided.
Perhaps worse for a party focused on social justice and the environment, in the last week Statistics NZ has reported there has been no significant change since the election in the number of children living in material hardship, while New Zealand's 2020 greenhouse gas emissions are now projected to be well above 2017 forecasts. NZ First is even set to roll back aspects of the post-March 15 gun reforms.
The Greens appear not to live by the adage that the standard we walk past is the standard we accept.
Nevertheless, the party's leadership insists that supporting the Labour-NZ First Coalition remains worth it. Heading to the election, they will emphasise what they see as their main achievements: the ban on new oil and gas exploration; the multi-party Zero Carbon Act and new Climate Change Commission; the $400 million rent-to-own housing scheme; record funding for the Department of Conservation; $14.5 billion for rail, light rail, buses, walking and cycling; and banning single-use plastic bags.
Whether or not these things were really solely due to the Greens, Ardern is more than happy for them to take the credit — although NZ First may not be so happy if they claim heavy rail as their own.
It would be a big call, however, for the Greens to assume this will be enough unless they also strongly distance themselves from the Government's failures in general and NZ First in particular. Many of their supporters are grumpy.
National strategists think public bickering among the three governing parties is in the Opposition's interests but that may no longer be true. Shane Jones mocking James Shaw for wokeness or Shaw slamming Jones as racist strengthens both parties' brands, and Ardern gets to play honest broker by telling them off.
Even better from Ardern's perspective, public NZ First-Green squabbles reinforce to Labour voters why their Government has failed on almost all important measures, and also crowds out National and Act from media coverage. If this leads to both NZ First and the Greens being back after the election and giving Ardern options to her left and right, then so much the better for her dreams of a third term.
Some in Labour and the Greens will insist this is mischief-making: that voters will punish Ardern if her Government doesn't look stable. But it has never looked stable.
Moreover, MMP is now a quarter-century old. Voters get it. They understand and forgive Ardern's regime for being a Government of three parts and see straight through fake shows of unity. Much better electorally to be open and transparent about the Government's structure and tensions, than pretending it is one that any of its three parties would have wanted in an ideal world.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland based public relations consultant and lobbyist.