James who? That’d be the likely response from many if the Green Party go for the bold and risky option tomorrow and elect the relatively unknown and inexperienced James Shaw, instead of Kevin Hague, as their new male co-leader.
The Green Party might be about to surprise us once again, electing a barely known or tested MP to replace Russel Norman as co-leader. Of course, this has happened before with Norman, himself upsetting the common assumptions in 2006 and beating the high profile and experienced Nandor Tanczos to become co-leader, despite not even being in Parliament.
The "Dark horse" Shaw
It's definitely a two-horse race for the leadership. This is best conveyed in Isaac Davison's excellent overview of the decision faced by Green Party members - see: Greens' co-leadership race: Sensible or flash - the Green choice. This article reinforces the notion that in order to prosper, "the Greens may need to take a risk, change direction, and pick a candidate with the X factor". In this regard, Davison labels Shaw as "charming" and "Bill Clinton-esque".
Clearly, no one should be discounting a Kevin Hague victory. But what is extraordinary is that this leadership contest started out with the appearance of being a foregone conclusion - it was widely assumed Hague would win it easily. James Shaw was a late entry to the race, after initially suggesting he wasn't interested in running this time.
When I last wrote about the contest - see: Greens battle over ideology and identity - I pointed out that the iPredict website was suggesting a 90% likelihood of Hague winning. Today, traders on the site give Shaw a 60% chance, and Hague only 40%.
There are other signs that Shaw has momentum. Certainly most of the public endorsements at the moment seem to be going towards Shaw. Even Metiria Turei, who can't explicitly endorse anyone, appears to be giving barely concealed hints that party members should vote for Shaw. Her preferences were reported today by Demelza Leslie: "She said she was looking for a running mate that understood that leadership was as much about forging a new direction as it was about being of service to the members and voters. "We know that people look to the Green Party for new ideas because we're a dynamic party, forward thinking and 21st century" - see Demelza Leslie's Radio NZ report, Greens to have new co-leader by Monday.
Shaw has been running on a platform of change, especially arguing that the Greens should be appealing to National voters rather than just those on the left of the Labour - see, for example TV3's James Shaw: I can take votes off National.
It's a long-running argument of his that the Greens need to target voters who are sympathetic to the Greens but end up voting National instead. This is well outlined in Nicholas Jones' Greens co-leadership contender pours cold water on Blue-Green. Here's the key part: "Mr Shaw has frequently spoken of research showing the high number of voters who considered voting Green at the last election but did not, including those who went with National".
The problem for Shaw is that this can easily be interpreted as him advocating for a future National-Green relationship or government. And while he's certainly on the right of the party, Shaw has been at pains during the leadership contest to assuage any fears amongst Green Party members that he's some "rightwing Trojan horse". Hence he has been distancing himself from any possibility of going into coalition with National.
Shaw's orientation towards the right is examined in an interview with Gordon Campbell late last year, which traverses notions that Shaw is a "Blue Green" - see: On Greens MP James Shaw, and the prospects for ecumenical politics. For example, Shaw explains why he uses the language of the political right: "Because over on the right, they don't give any credibility to left wing arguments. You can't use left wing arguments to reason with them. You've got to go into their territory, to engage with them."
He also explains why he's especially ambitious to get into government: "If we remain outside of government permanently, I can't see why anyone would want to continue voting for us. Like, I think it is now getting to that point".
For more on his ideological background, see Derek Cheng's post-election profile on the new MP: Suit turns to activism.
Endorsements for Shaw from left and right
Endorsements for Shaw have been a tricky issue for him - because they're mostly coming from the political right. So far, the list seems to include: John Key, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, Cameron Slater, and Rodney Hide. Shaw has dealt with this by arguing that National Party are scared of him winning, and are therefore deliberately undermining him with the "kiss of death" - see Hamish Rutherford's Green MP James Shaw claims National undermine him with love.
David Farrar's earlier endorsement of Shaw can be read here: Shaw runs after all. More recently he's blogged to say that he had "heard from a reliable source last week that in the voting to date, James Shaw has a narrow lead" in the race - see: Shaw leading to date. Also today, Farrar questions The non driving James Shaw.
Matthew Hooton's endorsement from late last year can be read here: A Green MP business can work with (paywalled). Hooton outlines some of Shaw's credentials: "He favours a carbon tax over an ETS and his policy thinking has been more influenced by the insurance industry, The Economist and The Financial Times than Paul Ehrlich or the Gaia hypothesis. While at PwC he finally graduated, from the University of Bath, with a business masters. Since leaving PwC, Mr Shaw has been involved in several start-ups including in the IT industry and international consultancy Future Considerations. His clients have included Shell, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Cadbury Schweppes".
A more recent endorsement was made by Rodney Hide in his column, Greens ponder blue and red choice. Arguing for the Greens to ditch their leftwing orientation, Hide said "Shaw, ex-PricewaterhouseCoopers, is Green through and through and is targeting middle New Zealand. He would sit happily with National in return for good Green portfolios and serious policy achievements".
Of course, Shaw rejected such unwanted endorsements - see his Facebook response.
But Shaw is also receiving plenty of endorsements from the left. Unsurprisingly, his blogger friend Danyl Mclauchlan has put forward his Pro-James propaganda pitch. More surprising, however, is an endorsement from Laila Harre. She outlines her idea of how the Greens could prosper from focusing on the "Generation Internet" constituency, and how Shaw is best placed to do this - see: Green Party co-leadership.
Kevin Hague may still win
But don't necessarily expect an upset - especially if party members have a last minute fear of Shaw's more corporate-friendly politics, and the risk that he might represent.
Kevin Hague has come out more aggressively against Shaw, being quick to highlight that Shaw is getting his endorsements from the political right. But Hague has also raised the temperature of the Green contest by attempting to undermine his opponents claims to be able to expand the appeal of the party. According to Isaac Davison, "Hague questioned whether Mr Shaw would be at home speaking on a marae, to trade unionists or to a group of farmers. He also said voters outside the capital might not relate to a metrosexual, Wellington-based MP who does not drive" - see: James Shaw rejects criticism.
In contrast to Shaw's supposed "metrosexuality", Hague "said he had a track record of campaigning in a provincial electorate (West Coast-Tasman) and speaking face-to-face 'with both Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird'." Also in terms of Hague's ability to relate outside the Wellington "beltway", Rob Hosking explains that Hague "sees his appeal as more among regional New Zealand, South Auckland and Maori and Pacifica voters" - see: Green Party leadership race 'neck and neck' (paywalled).
Hague's winning appeal might well be that he's seen as a continuation of Russel Norman's status quo. As Isaac Davison has said, "He does not offer a vastly different approach to Dr Norman" - see: Greens' co-leadership race: Sensible or flash - the Green choice. And Davison says, "With just a handful of local branches left to decide their vote, the contest appears to be close, with Mr Hague possibly holding a small lead".
Today Hague got the endorsement of Labour's Annette King - see Paul Henry's six-minute interview: Collins and King discuss Green co-leadership.
Finally, with the demise of Campbell Live tonight, the public can get ready for shorter, sharper coverage of politics - so here's Pippa Wetzell's 42-second argument that The Green's need to stop languishing on the far left, and Mike Hosking's one-minute Norman's replacement has a big job ahead.