Another disappointing election for the Greens ought to be prompting some serious thinking within the party about why it is in politics and where it is going. The second question is easier. The party is going nowhere on its present political settings. It has been around for nearly 25 years with members in Parliament for the past 18 years. In all of that time it has never been part of a government. When it looks around the chamber in the new Parliament, it may notice it is the only party of the seven that has never had a ministerial seat.
The reason is obvious. The Greens position their policies to the left of Labour, which means they are compatible only with a Labour Government. But given a choice between coalition partners of the centre or a party to its extreme, a governing party will reach for the centre, as Helen Clark did when she preferred Peter Dunne and Winston Peters to the Greens.
Their positioning on the left also means that their vote rises when Labour's falls, and they suffer when Labour does well. They are weak when Labour is in power and stronger when Labour is out. That is why this election must have been a particular blow. Labour sank to its lowest share of the vote in 92 years, yet the Greens' share did not rise. Their hopes of attaining 15 per cent were dashed. They remain a party supported by about 10 per cent of voters.
While this represents a consistent, loyal voting base, enough to keep the party in Parliament under MMP, the Greens need to be asking, is that all they want to be? That is the first question, why is the party in politics? The obvious answer is, for the environment. Green parties everywhere are first and foremost environmental parties - except ours is not. The New Zealand Green Party puts social policy in the forefront of its platform.
Its MPs spend at least as much time, probably more, talking about social issues such as child poverty and the plight of beneficiaries. It worries about workers' rights, public health, state education as much as, if not more than, the physical environment. It ranges all over centre-left territory and since it does so without Labour's need of broad support, the Green Party can appear more heroic than Labour to Labour's core constituency. In this way it is damaging Labour without doing much good for its particular cause, the environment.
When the Greens were a young party they pretended power was not important and they were in Parliament to promote principles. They promoted everything from food safety to pot smoking and wondered why Labour kept them at a distance. After 18 years of parliamentary experience at public expense, they ought to take stock. Might the public be better served if they left social policy to the Labour Party and the country had a Green Party that stuck to its environmental knitting?
That would be a Green Party that could catch the attention of both mainstream parties since environmental concern is by no means confined to the centre-left. Many voters on the right value clean rivers, lakes and sea, carbon emission reductions, conservation of land and native forests, undeveloped coasts, price rationing of water and other natural resources.
Polls find a high proportion of National voters nominate the Greens as their preferred coalition partner.
But the Greens have aligned with one side of the mainstream divide. Nobody would deny the party a right to policies on issues besides the environment but they need not preclude the Greens working with a government of any stripe. They claim to be an independent party. They have yet to prove it.