The Green Party has a talent problem. The party’s list selection process for the 2017 election has just begun, and there are a lot of potential new MPs wanting to go on the party’s list. The problem is, incumbent Green MPs are not about to allow themselves to become victims of a rejuvenation agenda.

There's a battle on in the Green Party at the moment. The party is in the midst of their all-important party list creation, and it held a conference in the weekend at which candidates auditioned for their places. The battle has been characterised as a generational war - young versus old - but it's probably better understood as a struggle between incumbents and challengers.

All parties need to rejuvenate their caucuses from time to time, and this can sometimes be traumatic for those involved. But in the Greens this drive to renew seems particularly fraught at the moment.

This was well covered yesterday by Newshub's Lloyd Burr, who says the renewal process is "more cut throat than the party's letting on, with a powerful new crop sprouting through" - see: Green Party faces division over generational change. He predicts that "Hearts will be broken", particularly because "some of its current MPs could be shown the door."

In another story, Burr outlines the division more clearly: "It will be a showdown between the old guard and the new guard. It means the Kennedy Grahams and Denise Roches of the party will scrap it out with the Chlöe Swarbricks and Hayley Holts.

Current MPs will defend their list placings to the death, while the new sprouts with high profiles will attack to get an electable ranking. The party really is at a crossroads. Guaranteed, there will be current MPs who'll be shown the road to Siberia, while those who can refresh the party will be shown the road to Wellington. Getting the balance right is hugely important - enough to keep the older, tribal Green voters happy, but enough to lure young voters with new faces and fresh ideas" - see: It's about to get messy in the Greens.

Which Green MPs could effectively face de-selection by their party? Burr explains: "Catherine Delahunty and Steffan Browning have seen the writing on the wall and are already leaving. Others on thin ice are David Clendon, Denise Roche, and newcomer Barry Coates. What have they achieved? Why should they stay? It will be tough for the Greens, and feelings will be hurt."

Hayley Holt. Photo / Richard Robinson
Hayley Holt. Photo / Richard Robinson
Chloe Swarbrick. Photo / Supplied
Chloe Swarbrick. Photo / Supplied

Green Party watcher Simon Wilson suggested last week that rejuvenation has been lacking in the Greens, which has resulted in "the oldest average age of any party in Parliament". This week he has revisited this, saying "The Greens list for 2017 can't look like the list for 2014. Of course there must be some continuity: they need to offer political experience at the top. But they must also complement that experience with fresh, youthful, charismatic energy. Credible candidates who will galvanise media and voter interest. Several such candidates, sitting in the top 15" - see: The Greens' mediocre Mt Albert result reveals the hill they have to climb in 2017.

He wonders how pragmatic Green Party members will be, and whether they're aware of being overtaken by Labour: "Party members have some tough choices to make: some of their incumbent MPs must be shunted down the list. It's uncomfortable and the debates can be bitter. But that's what political success demands. If Green Party members are in any doubt about this, they should take note of what Labour's doing right now with its candidates: choosing skilled, new high-profile people with charismatic clout."

Green supporter Martyn Bradbury is calling for a shakeup, and has blogged his comprehensive review of the incumbents and challengers for the 2017 party list - see: Green Party Members Special: Ranking the top 20 Green Party candidates. Brabury says "I'm suggesting a bit of a blood letting in terms of bringing in fresh new faces and talent because I think that's what the Greens desperately need to do to appeal to the under 35 voting bloc that they need to dominate if they are to get to 15%."

He recommends promotions for incumbents Marama Davidson, Jan Logie and Barry Coates. And de-selections are suggested for Kennedy Graham and Denise Roche. In terms of new challengers to give high list spots, Bradbury recommends Chloe Swarbrick, Damon Rusden, Golriz Ghahraman, James Goodie, and Robert Stewart for top 15 positions.

But will any of the Green MPs really be de-selected by being pushed down the list? The chances of a bloodletting are slim. It might seem logical that Green members will be aware that some of their MPs are poor performers who hardly feature in the wider public debate, and therefore do little for increasing the party's popularity. However, many of these MPs are in fact focusing a lot of their energies on the party members, who have the power to control their list rankings.

Hence, some Green MPs will typically prefer to fly around the country to go to party branch meetings and help the activists out rather than attend public forums or focus on winning over the public. The logic of the Greens' strong democratic list ranking process naturally fosters such behaviour, which ironically doesn't serve the party well in terms of elections, and the result is a lot of inwardly-focused MPs that the public never hear much about.

Furthermore, some inside the party talk about the Green MPs having a strong sense of "entitlement" - that they simply expect to be respected and kept in power regardless of merit or achievement. So party members will have to be prepared to challenge some strongly engrained views of their leaders if they want a shake-up.

In the past, the Greens have been rather conservative in promoting new talent over incumbents - see Isaac Davison's New, young Green women at risk of missing out on Parliament. He says "there is a risk that none of the Greens' new candidates will get winnable list places if the party follows a similar pattern to the 2014 rankings." Davison also points out that "risk-averse approach was evident" in Auckland Central where the party chose incumbent candidate Denise Roche over the challenger Chloe Swarbrick. He says "the selection of Roche could be viewed as a lost opportunity to put up a young, higher-profile candidate against National's Nikki Kaye. Swarbrick has momentum".

According to Davison, "There is now simmering discontent among some parts of the party about its members' preference for experienced but unremarkable candidates." He suggests that "the party could be more ruthless" in letting challengers in.

New talent and potential

Some of the up-and-coming Green candidates have been receiving good media coverage. Stacey Kirk profiles three of the young women standing in her article, 'I couldn't work for McCully any longer': Greens add three more high-profile names to books. One, Bridget Walsh, is a Birmingham-based singer who will be campaigning from the UK. The article draws attention to her cover of a Spice Girls song - see: "Say You'll Be There".

Vernon Small profiles human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman in his article, Green lawyer hopes to be first refugee to win a seat in Parliament. See also Cullum McGillivray's Holt heading to Helensville.

It's notable that much of the new talent are women, which could be a problem for the Greens with their strict gender rules, in which the party list must alternate between male and female. Therefore women will be restricted to only five in the top ten, regardless of merit.

Fallout from the poor Mt Albert by-election result

Green party candidate Julie Anne Genter. Photo / Dean Purcell
Green party candidate Julie Anne Genter. Photo / Dean Purcell

Julie Anne Genter's place on the party list may well be affected by her poor showing in the weekend's by-election. Gaining only 1,489 votes (or 11.5 per cent) would have been very disappointing for the party in what was effectively a two-horse race. Prior to the election, Simon Wilson stressed how important the result would be for Genter, saying "She's a senior, high-profile member of the caucus and as such is expected to demonstrate winning qualities of leadership. She's in the same boat as Jacinda Ardern: a poor result on Saturday will damage her personal credibility badly", and that she "should expect at least 30 per cent. She could go over 40" - see: The nailbiter in Mt Albert! Or, why the by-election on Saturday is more important than you think.

Genter's judgement will also be questioned over a strange post-byelection swipe at National for not putting up a candidate - see: TVNZ: Julie Anne Genter labels National's Mt Albert by-election no show lacking 'respect for the democratic process'.


Of course, as Genter knows, her own party has recently announced its withdrawal from the Ohariu race, and in recent times decided not to put up a candidate in by-elections in Mt Roskill and Northland.

The MP has incurred other recent embarrassments - such as having to publicly apologise for criticising Laila Harre on Twitter - see Isaac Davison's Green MP apologises to former Internet Party leader after public spat.

Whereas once Genter might have seen herself as an eventual replacement for Metiria Turei, there is likely to be greater questioning of her achievements and performance.

Finally, there's one former Green Party candidate who isn't looking for a place on the party list, because he's decided the party has given up their focus on environment. Richard Harman reports on the decision of former office holder and candidate to be co-leader, Vernon Tava, to leave the party and raise questions about its ideological direction - see: Top Green resigns and says party has become socialist.