Defending the party you prefer to support from its own stupidity can be a hard road, one I was trudging down for the Greens this week after co-leader Metiria Turei insisted she'd stay the course - but then resigned, to my considerable relief.

Relief because my head and my heart were locked in opposition: my head shaking in trepidation at the risk the party took backing Met when she'd admitted to benefit and electoral fraud; my heart firmly behind her intent to bring poverty to the fore this election and stand up for those who can't stand for themselves.

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The problem was the flaky way she had gone about it, making the party's decision to back her look equally flaky - albeit the Greens' are hampered by a tortuous replacement process that would have, and now has, left them without one co-leader until well after the election.


Making an admission of benefit fraud to draw attention to the plight of beneficiaries, Maori or otherwise, and highlight the daily dilemma they face over whether to step outside the law in order to feed and care for their families was a brave and selfless act.

To do so without first attempting some quiet accommodation with WINZ over any overpayment, and so risk throwing away all that carefully-collected mana in the face of predictable outrage and condemnation over an "open" case, is naivety bordering on negligence.

That goes for the party as a whole, since it backed her intent beforehand.
That's the bit that's stupid. That's why it hurts.

The so-called electoral fraud then unearthed was, as the Electoral Office admitted, a very minor issue, one copied by countless young people studying or travelling away from home and (of far more concern, I would have thought) by the Prime Minister, Bill English, who has lived permanently in Wellington since 1987 - before becoming an MP, note - yet apparently continues to be registered to vote in Dipton.

However, while the "third strike" of MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon resigning in protest could be dismissed as two old middle-class white guys being precious, losing them is a hit to the greenness of the Greens - a quality that appears in danger of being subsumed beneath the emphasis on poverty.

Even more so now that Labour has grabbed what should have been the Greens' natural number one issue - water - and is running away with it.

So my head saw the Greens' vote plummeting into an abyss; my heart wanted to believe speaking truth to power would spark increased support - or at least keep it friends, with benefits.

For a while the heart vote was winning, with a surge in supporters and campaign funds; then came TV3's poll showing a drop of 4.7 per cent and, later, Metiria's resignation.

Commentators linked the two, but Turei and co-leader James Shaw insisted it was the intense pressure on her family that tipped her hand.

It's history now. And while I've never been a Turei fan, after 15 years she'd finally started to make an impact in Parliament and was proving her worth for the party, particularly with her strong and principled stand on welfare issues.

The sad part is that stand has been shot down for crossing other lines of principle which a raft of current politicians - witness English's housing allowance scandal - have arguably also crossed; lines the rich, with their tax avoidance trusts and foreign slush funds, cross daily - without scruple or meaningful challenge.

The Greens can and will recover. My hope is those who saw Turei's stand as being for them will remain empowered, register, and deliver her party their votes. She deserves as much.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.