Elections within political parties provide a good insight to their character at the time. All parties are coalitions of interests and values that do not always sit easily together and compete for dominance. The National Party combines rural and urban interests and liberal and conservative values. Labour has to reconcile the liberalism of academics with more conservative manual workers. NZ First has appealed to grey power and Maori aspirations. The Act Party has often campaigned on law and order and race rather than its economic liberalism.
The Green Party, as often observed, cares for social issues as much as the environment. The contest for its female co-leadership has been a battle between those priorities. The fact it has proceeded without public rancour is a tribute to the two MPs competing for the role and to party members, but all would have understood what was at stake.
Their choice of Marama Davidson over Julie Anne Genter is a statement from the members that they do not want the Green Party to be less red, so to speak. Since its troubles last year with the previous co-leader, Metiria Turei, the caucus has appeared more distinctly green. Given three ministers in the new Government, it choose Genter and Eugenie Sage along with surviving co-leader James Shaw. All three seem to put the environment uppermost in their priorities.
Davidson represented a reinforcement of social priorities. She also argued that not being a minister would make her better able to help the party distinguish itself from the other parties in the Government. In other words, she has undertaken to be more critical of the Government's policies and performance than Shaw may be.
This is not the result Labour would have preferred. Labour can live with criticism from an environmental viewpoint; it has much more to lose to criticism from its left. The troubles of Turei last year obscured the fact that she made her personal admission of deception of social welfare while announcing a policy that proposed to ask almost no questions of anybody seeking a benefit. And Turei received so much sympathy at first that the Greens went up in the polls at Labour's expense.
Labour will not have forgotten that. It's polling went so low that Andrew Little handed the leadership to Jacinda Ardern, who then got a boost when Turei was discovered to have also deceived the electoral office. But as the election of Davidson now demonstrates, the extremely generous social welfare Turei was promoting will remain a challenge to Labour.
The Greens are the only party in Parliament with co-leadership now the Maori Party has gone. It is remarkable the party can make it work. Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald seemed equally red-green but Russel Norman was more green, Turei more red.
Shaw is definitely more green. The portfolios Greens have gained in this Government (climate change, conservation, associate transport) suggests Labour wants them to stay in green territory. Clearly the party members have other ideas.