The battle for the co-leadership of the Greens is largely a left-right fight for the future direction of the party. Kevin Hague, Vernon Tava, Gareth Hughes and James Shaw are all promising different versions of the future for the Greens. The struggle is also more than just ideological - it encompasses the candidates' personal backgrounds and demographics (essentially their "identity politics"). Such personal characteristics are important in any election, but in the Greens they always have heightened importance.
Kevin Hague: The safe pair of hands
Widely viewed as the frontrunner, Kevin Hague is seen as experienced, reliable, and representing a continuation of the "status quo".
In terms of ideological positioning of the Greens, a Hague win would mean little change for the party. According to Martyn Bradbury, Hague "Represents the status quo. The difficult balancing act the Greens currently face by trying to be all things to all people. Kevin won't make a call for either side of the ideological fencepost and will champion the 'Greens aren't Left or Right, we are forward' mantra that Russel Norman adopted to brush off questions about where the Greens stand. He has seniority but faces the challenge that members are wanting a definitive position" - see: Green Party co-leadership race a fight for ideological direction of Party.
Hague is possibly the more left-wing of the four candidates. The extent of Hague's left politics is not often realised according to the NBR's Rob Hosking, who says that Hague's strong realism and "reasonableness" mean that his essentially "solidly statist, and conventionally left wing" views are not appreciated - see: Kevin Hague's prospects (paywalled). Hosking suggests that as co-leader, Hague would be a formidable opponent for National, and would be "more likely to work out a way for the Greens to co-habit more effectively with the Labour Party".
National blogger David Farrar says there are good reasons "Kevin Hague would be an excellent choice by the Greens to replace Norman as the male co-leader". He lists seven strengths Hague would bring to the position - see: Hague announces candidacy. In another blog post, Farrar says Hague "is the safe choice, and would do better than Norman, in my view".
Farrar also believes "a Hague led Greens would be more likely to be able to have a constructive relationship with National, where they can work together in a few areas".
Andrea Vance's profile also stresses Hague's bi-partisan nature - and his finance skills - see: Hague puts hat in Greens leadership ring.
Hague himself is emphasising his experience and achievements. He has been quick to concentrate on youth or inexperience as factors against Gareth Hughes and James Shaw - see, for example, his comments in Brook Sabin's news report, Greens' James Shaw: Working with National a possibility.
Will safety win the day? In many ways, Hague is akin to Labour's Andrew Little. He's not fancy or charismatic, but is very plain speaking, competent and seems to be trusted by many.
At the moment, the iPredict website says that Hague has a 90% chance of victory.
Gareth Hughes: The new generation in the suburbs
Gareth Hughes promises a similar ideological option to Hague. In light of his political similarity, Hughes is drawing attention to demographical and personal differences in order to differentiate himself. You can read his official campaign declaration: Why I'm running for Green Party Co-Leader.
The shorter version would be: "I'm a young father living in the suburbs, with a huge background as an activist concerned with climate change. As leader I will keep the Greens in the same ideological position, but I can win over middle New Zealand, especially the young and those concerned with climate change".
In fact, in another statement, Hughes nicely sums up his approach: "I am standing for a new generation of Green leadership representing Kiwis like me who grew up with the internet, burdened with student loans and who are raising a family and struggling to get into their first house" - see Isaac Davison's Hughes joins contest for Green's leadership.
Hughes main attraction is his youth and ability to tap into younger voters. Martyn Bradbury says "Hughes appeals to the large chunk of Green Party members who are Gen Xers and Gen Y" - see: Green Party co-leadership race a fight for idealogical direction of Party.
Unsurprisingly Hughes makes regular use of the term "generational shift" in his campaign.
As David Farrar points out, "the fact that Hague is seven years older than the retiring Norman may be a factor - hence why Hughes is talking generational shift" - see: Hughes standing for co-leader.
Farrar also points to Hughes' strong credibility on technology: "he has done a lot of good work in the Comms/ICT sector and has built up a lot of respect for his approach to issues in this sector - even by those who disagree with him."
But it's Hughes' campaigning and activist background that also separates him out - see Andrea Vance's Gareth Hughes 'underdog' for Green Party leadership.
At the moment, the iPredict website says that Hughes has a 5% chance of victory.
James Shaw: The "John Key of the Greens"
If the Greens really want to experiment with significant change, then James Shaw appears to be their best bet. Often viewed (perhaps unfairly) as a "Blue Green", Shaw is certainly on the right of the Greens, and would take the party further towards the centre of the political spectrum.
As a moderate, pragmatic politician with charisma and freshness, he's akin to the "John Key of the Greens" - someone who might be able to transform the party into something less scary to centrist voters. With a successful background in the business world, he would have more appeal to what he calls "middle New Zealand" - see Nicholas Jones' Former management consultant joins race for Green Party co-leadership. As this article explains, Shaw is keen for the Greens to have a closer working relationship with National.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, pundits of the right are championing Shaw. See, for example, Matthew Hooton's NBR column from late last year: A Green MP business can work with (paywalled). Hooton says "In his maiden speech, National MPs were startled by him quoting Margaret Thatcher, apparently approvingly although possibly more ironically, and declaring his support for markets in setting prices and allocating resources".
Of course, such endorsements could well be the kiss of death for Shaw's chances. David Farrar makes an even stronger case for Shaw as Green co-leader: "I think he is the candidate most likely to grow their vote and smash through the ceiling of 10 per cent they seem to have hit. The current leadership and strategy of the Greens couldn't exceed 10 per cent despite Labour hitting an 80-year low of 25 per cent. It is hard to see them doing better by staying on the current path. Shaw has the ability to change the brand of the Greens as extremists and anti-business. He has the potential to allow the Greens to break through 10 per cent. Even if Labour wins in 2017, the Greens may still be shut out of Government by NZ First. To avoid that fate they need to grow their vote. Shaw offers them that option" - see: Shaw runs after all.
Shaw's "green growth" abilities are already evident, according to Danyl Mclauchlan, who is "helping him with his campaign" and has published a chart showing how well Shaw has done in his electorate of Wellington Central - see: Shaw up the Greens. David Farrar has responded to this, with some disagreement, but essentially confirming the argument - see: Which Green candidate has been best at growing the party vote?. Farrar points out that in Wellington Central, Shaw increased the party vote in by 7.1 per cent in 2011 and 1.7 per cent in 2014 - which was much better than the national average.
Shaw's strength in Wellington Central could well be his weakness too. Perhaps in order for the Greens to grow, they need to stop looking like a "beltway party of Wellington". This is a point made in Martyn Bradbury's Green Party co-leadership race a fight for idealogical direction of Party.
The point is elaborated on much more strongly in Oliver Chan's blog post which evaluates the "Shaw option" in detail - see: Green Eggs and Mock Ham. Chan says: "the Greens must appeal also beyond the inner city core, and especially beyond their Wellington-centric image. It's no coincidence that the strongest Green party vote was in Wellington Central at 27 per cent - where the electoral candidate was Shaw. Wellington-based MPs make up 4 out of 14 caucus members compared with two Auckland-based MPs".
Chan suggests that Shaw will be unpopular with Green Party members suspicious of a "a Thatcherite Trojan horse", but that "The Greens need the Aro Valley resident who works in the corporate sector and does yoga and attends weekend protests".
At the moment, the iPredict website says that Shaw has a 5% chance of victory.
Vernon Tava: The Green-Green candidate
The wildcard candidate who is obviously running in order to foster a debate about the future of the party (rather than having any chance of winning) is Auckland local body politician Vernon Tava. You can see his arguments in the blog post, Why I Am Standing for Green Party Male Co-Leader.
Tava says that he wants the party to move out of its left-of-Labour ideological positioning, and be more politically independent. This, he says, "is not about Blue-Greens or Red-Greens but Green-Greens". He asks: "Are we a party of the Left with environmental credentials or are we a true party of sustainability - environmental, social, cultural and economic - willing and able to be an independent entity with a decisive influence on government policy?"
For more discussion of the Greens future as a party "able to work across the political spectrum", see the case for a "green-green" approach on The Standard: Time for the Greens to transcend left vs. right.
At the moment, the iPredict website says that Tava or any "Other" candidate has a 0.1% chance of victory.
Green economic credentials
The next Green Party co-leader will be expected to have a strong focus on economics, in light of Norman's legacy in making the Greens more economically credible and mainstream. For this reason, TV3's The Nation put particular stress on economic questions in their candidates debate last weekend - watch the 12-minute debate Part 1 - Who wants to be the next Greens co-leader? and then the 14-minute Part 2 - who wants to be the next Greens co-leader?.
The poor performance of the candidates was reported in the TV3 item, Green candidates fumble financial questioning, which said that "Three of the four candidates for the Green Party leadership have failed to answer general knowledge financial questions", and that "The show's political commentators were incredulous".
For more extensive detail of this, see the NBR's What's the OCR? Three of four Green leadership contenders fumble quiz on basic economics. Following up on this, John Armstrong labeled the event, "the Greens' horror story on TV3's The Nation" - see: Greenness aplenty in Norman's heirs.
But Green blogger David Kennedy questioned the approach taken by TV3: "Economic facts and figure can be quickly learned (and probably should have been) but surely it is more important to have a deeper understanding of how economies operate and how they can best be managed?" - see What Should Our Politicians Know?.
Finally, in helping decide the future leaders, some traditional Greens might want to consult "the stars" for advice. Astrologist Tamzin Kay has helpfully obliged, with information that "James Shaw's best career highlight in the coming years - and arguably his life's main achievement is when Saturn is at 9 Capricorn sitting conjunct his north lunar node", and that "Hague looks more likely to be ready for leadership into the next election cycle heading to 2017" - see: Kevin Hague or James Shaw - NZ Greens consider.