John Roughan meets the candidates on the way up

Key Points:

Number 9 on the Green Party list is not a bad place to be. If the Greens win that many seats on November 8, they are likely to figure in a Labour-led Government. If they do not, National will probably form the Government.

And Ken Graham will not be in Parliament to watch it.

But this week his chances look brighter than they did at the campaign's start. Two polls last week gave the Greens 9 per cent and 11.5 per cent. Suddenly and inexplicably, they have momentum.

If this continues, Graham will be giving up his lecturing post at Canterbury University and coming to Parliament where his older brother, Sir Douglas, was a National Cabinet minister through the 1990s.

"I didn't anticipate being an MP from this position but it does consume you a bit," he said. "The adrenalin kicks in."

Kennedy Graham, to use the name on his academic publications, is standing for election at the age of 62 after a career devoted to the practice and study of politics, international relations and global concerns.

Born and raised in Remuera, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1972, was posted to Canada the following year and the first job he was asked to do in Ottawa was to phone the head of Greenpeace to convey the Kirk Government's support for its protests against French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific.

Nuclear diplomacy was to be a career specialty. Returning to Wellington, Graham did a doctoral thesis on nuclear weapon-free zones and, under the Government of David Lange, he was on the Foreign Affairs team that negotiated the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone.

In 1986, he received a fellowship to travel to the Soviet Union and the United States to research the impact of nuclear-free zones on global security thinking.

"Perestroika was under way. They [Soviets] thought New Zealand was wonderful. They were trying to get me to say something to justify Soviet security policy. I was long enough in the tooth to avoid that."

He does not look like his brother, but the voice is identical.

In the US, he found policy institutes in New York more amenable to nuclear debate than was Washington. "I wrote an article that Carl Sagan picked up, basically saying it was a misperception that our nuclear policy was on cloud nine. It was a rational take on nuclear deterrence. You could show that New Zealand's security was diminished, not enhanced, by nuclear weapons.

"That was what Lange picked up on and ran with. His oratory made it world famous but it had a rational underpinning."

Asked for it, he says: "There was a United Nations study that employed two professionals to study the risk of accidental detonation and they calculated the risk of accidental nuclear war was 5 per cent.

"I went to a mathematician at Victoria University who extrapolated that out to something like 82 per cent over 100 years."

His enthusiasm for the nuclear cause would not have been welcome in Foreign Affairs at the time. "It was a minority view but I was not totally alone. And it was embraced by the Cabinet."

At the end of 1986, Graham was posted to Geneva, where the UN has its disarmament machinery. Around the same time, he wrote a book on New Zealand's nuclear-free zone and its strategic implications.

Within a few years, Sir Douglas Graham was National's Minister of Disarmament. "We had articles in the same journal once." But he never had to offer him advice? "No, never directly. We did talk though."

Ken Graham left Foreign Affairs at the end of 1988 and went to New York to work for an international parliamentary organisation across the road from the UN.

There he turned his attention to other global concerns, such as ozone depletion and a growing worry about a build-up of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere.

In 1995, he went to Cambridge on a grant to study the cognitive dissonance between national welfare and global problems, which resulted in another book, The Planetary Interest.

Then he became director of planning for a Swedish institute on democracy before taking charge of a UN leadership programme based in Amman, Jordan. He was there when the twin towers fell in New York.

He said the UN had been "my mother's milk in terms of a philosophy" and his faith in it had not been cured - even by working there as an intern during his university years. "I'm one of these unrepentant UN-philes. You can belt the UN, I'll get up and defend it for all sorts of good reasons."

It wasn't until Graham came back to New Zealand in 2005 that he decided to get into active politics. He had been offered a fellowship at Canterbury to complete another book and felt free for the first time to join a political party.

"Having devoted 30-odd years to intellectually wrestling with these problems, you could retire on that and gnash your teeth, or you could pitch in and give it a shot. I hesitated, then decided to do it.

"During the last part of my career I'd not been closely following New Zealand politics. I'd followed Doug's career and met visiting politicians at times, but it was relatively disengaged."

His choice of party was careful. "I hadn't had a personal association with Greens in New Zealand though I had with European Greens. I studied the party here and decided this was the one for me."

He joined from New York, online, and started an email dialogue with co-leaders Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald. He returned just weeks before the last election and took no part in it.

It was the sudden death of Rod Donald the following year that galvanised him, he says. "It left such an obvious gap. There were people who joined the party over that. There was an alarm that a gigantic figure was no longer there."

Fitzsimons nominated him for the national executive and he revived a party branch in the Ilam electorate, where he is standing at this election.

He was also on the party's strategic planning group, working out the philosophical principles from which a leadership group developed 12 criteria for deciding its relationship with the major parties.

On each of the criteria - climate change, peak oil, healthy food, public transport, child poverty, clean water and so on - three questions were set for assessing Labour and National.

Out of the 36 questions, Graham recalls, Labour scored 16 and National two. "So we are nothing if not methodical."

He insists, however, that the decision to prefer Labour has been misinterpreted.

"What we say is that Labour is our preferred partner.

"However, on the basis of the analysis it might not be possible to form a partnership with either, and instead work on a policy-by-policy basis with anyone, including National, for gains on our platform.

"We are not tooth and claw against National."