In the aftermath of this election - and regardless of the outcome - one political party is going to have to do some very hard thinking about where it goes from here.

This election was supposed to be the one which saw the Greens finally shed the mantle of Opposition and become the minor partner in a coalition Government with Labour.

The Greens have instead found themselves unwilling hostages to Labour's misfortune. They are now staring at another three years in Opposition - something they have endured since entering Parliament in 1996 as part of Jim Anderton's Alliance.

If things had played out the way the Greens had been expecting in the current election, a handful of the party's senior MPs would be poised to fill seats around the Cabinet table holding portfolios which would advance the party's environmental and social agenda.


And for a while after the last election such a scenario was more than a distinct possibility. Under David Shearer's leadership, Labour was polling at around 35 per cent while the Greens were registering between 12 and 14 per cent support - enough to make for a close race.

But then Labour started flirting with the idea of governing with New Zealand First, thereby shutting out the Greens, who, having nowhere else to go, would still be obliged to enter a confidence and supply arrangement.

While the move was clever in potentially denying National a coalition partner, it left something of a vacuum on the centre-left as to the form and shape of an alternative Government.

Worse, since David Cunliffe replaced Shearer a year ago, support for Labour has tumbled by around 10 percentage points. That has effectively made it impossible for Cunliffe to form any sort of viable Government.

The Greens face an old dilemma: remain pure but powerless. Or go centrist and compromise and get things done.

If the Greens want to be able to negotiate with National as well as Labour, they are going to have to compromise by putting much of their social justice agenda on the backburner and pushing their environmental credentials harder.

One possibility would be to move to the cross benches and abstain on confidence and supply motions, thus possibly making National less reliant on Winston Peters and New Zealand First.

What the Greens cannot afford is to be sidelined again in 2017 in the way they have been in 2014. Tough decisions lie ahead.


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