In the middle of 2016, Labour announced its "memorandum of understanding" with the Green Party, and this week Andrew Little appeared to be drafting up something similar for New Zealand First, in the form of a Memorandum of Bootlicking.

The Labour leader was delighted to see Shane Jones nestling into the bosom of Winston Peters. All hail the "intellectual giant" and "a good friend of Labour".

Never mind the fact that Jones's journey had begun by quitting Labour for a Pacific sinecure courtesy of the National government, "we have a very strong relationship with New Zealand First right now," said Little, teasing the shoelace from his teeth.

"Shane Jones's presence can only strengthen that."


With 11 weeks till polling day, New Zealand First's footwear could hardly be shinier. The battle bus, emblazoned with "campaign for the regions" and Winston Peters' grin, is up on its foils, propelled by nothing but adrenaline and the global winds of voter insurrection.

In recent campaigns, New Zealand First has scored at least 50 per cent more than their polling numbers from this distance. Today they're averaging just under 10 per cent.

It is altogether less easy, however, being Green. The party enjoyed a burst of good press around its list announcement, which revealed a healthy rejuvenation, but since then they've been missing in action.

When Bill English was bumbling his way out of the Todd Barclay fiasco and Labour hobbled by its own imported intern cock-up, where were the Greens?

Former co-leader Russel Norman would almost certainly have leapt into the vacuum to pin the Southland-Gore soap opera to the prime minister's door. But not this time - instead, Winston Peters had the stage largely to himself.

Currently polling around 12 per cent, the Greens are pretty much where they were at this point in 2014. Then, they finished on 10.7 per cent, however: a far cry from their aspired heights of 15 per cent.

Bruised and deflated, they pointed the finger at the Internet Party, which dissolved some of their support into wasted-vote air and fed the National Party's rabble-in-a-row-boat message. Labour hadn't helped, either, they grumbled, by spurning the offer of a pre-election Labour-Green pact.

Some similar dangers are in the water in 2017. The Greens loathe Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party, which has stolen some of their thunder on issues including drug reform and water, and has even attempted -audaciously if not hubristically - in recent weeks to steal very senior sitting Green MPs by unsuccessfully attempting to lure them into the big TOP.


The Labour pact is this time in place, meanwhile, with that MOU backed up by a BRR, the budget responsibility rules jointly announced earlier in the year.

Desperate to shed an image of permanent oppositionalism, the party has been straining to project fiscal prudence and moderation. That mission, fronted by co-leader James Shaw, is regarded as a success. Business audiences are, we're told, no longer regard the Greens as economic devil-beasts. And yet government still looks a long shot. The Greens are going nowhere.

Unless something dramatic happens in the coming months, NZ First will be kingmaker on September 24. Their likeliest choice is National.

The alternative portends a three-way handshake: it would take a miracle for the left to do it without Winston, as Little acknowledged this week when describing Labour's "potential coalition partners" as "naturally the Greens, obviously New Zealand First as well".

But for the Greens, the ghosts of 2005 are a-haunting. Then, despite chumming up with the Greens through the campaign, Helen Clark snubbed them in favour of Team Peters.

With the MOU expiring on election day, there is an entirely plausible scenario in which
Labour and New Zealand First establish a minority coalition and seek support, with a few sweeteners, from the Greens.

What are you going to do, the challenge would be, prop up another National government? Should NZ First gain further in the polls, and sail past the Greens to become third biggest party, that likelihood only grows.

While it is true that the Greens would have greater negotiating power had they not hitched their wagon to the Labour jalopy, the idea of a Blue-Green government is anathema to the great majority of their party's membership.

If it all turns to custard, that discussion will need to be a serious one. For now, however, they might as well hoist up a more radical sail, in the hope of catching some of those global winds.

The mood for upheaval in New Zealand may not be as great as Britain or the United States, but as Peters and Jones have been so keen to point out, there is "something in the air".

And the Greens have the best, most charismatic candidate to channel that energy on the left of New Zealand politics. Metiria Turei, who came close to chucking it in after the disappointment of 2014, is a 15-year parliamentary veteran, a firebrand from way back.

She should be front and centre, thumping the tub, making the progressive case for the environment, the economy and society.

Who better than Turei to bellow that the idea that there is a live conversation about tax cuts, as greater-than-expected surpluses flow in, while, for example, child poverty remains so acute and mental health underfunded, is kind of grotesque. There's budget responsibility, and then there's basic human decency.

The Greens would no doubt insist that they're making those arguments already. But it's no use preaching to the converted. When I interviewed the co-leaders earlier this year,

Shaw told me, "We're really committed to not saying crazy s*** just for the sake of getting headlines." They would attempt to come across "as a kind of responsible, sober party that is committed to achieving big policy gains".

That just sounds like a recipe for getting ignored. Be a bit crazy. A bit less sober. Fire up the old radical in Metiria Turei and let her rip - the Bernie Sanders of Palmerston North. That, and get a battlebus.