The split in the Green Party over Metiria Turei’s benefit confession and campaign is hardly surprising. The party has always contained an array of very different views and ideologies, which have co-existed under the broad banner of environmentalism. What is surprising is that it’s taken until now for the tensions to boil over. There are splits and deep divisions in every political party, and this one has always been inevitable.
Bryce Edwards Analysis: The Inevitable split in the Greens
For details of the current divide and the reactions of Green MPs, the best item to read is Isaac Davison’s Greens in crisis: Two MPs quit over Turei. He says the party “has been plunged into unprecedented disarray and disunity”. And for details about the rebel MPs, Kennedy Graham and David Clendon, see RNZ’s The dissenting Greens: Who exactly are they?
Divisions in the Greens
The bitter divisions in the Greens are stressed by Audrey Young in her column, Crisis unprecedented for the Green Party. She says it took a while before the impact of Turei’s benefit bomb was truly felt within the party: “It seemed too good to be true and it was. The apparent solidarity behind Greens co-leader Metiria Turei masked bitter divisions, just like other parties have… Turei’s handling of historic offending has lifted the lid on turmoil in the Greens.”
Young is particularly critical of how the party has handled the departure of MPs Graham and Clendon: “The party establishment moved to contain the fall-out in the way that other parties do – to criticise the two rebel MPs as pretty useless and lazy, which is particularly unfair on Kennedy Graham who works his butt off in strange areas of international law.”
She paints the picture as incredibly serious for the party: “The crisis is unprecedented for the Green Party. At its best it has been the conscience of the Parliament, at its worst its holier than thou preachers. Now it appears like all the rest.”
It’s not only the departing Green MPs who are calling for Metiria Turei to quit. Today, Fairfax political editor Tracy Watkins says its time for her to go: “Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei should resign before she tears the party even further apart. The way the Green Party has flaunted Turei’s benefit fraud admission has polarised New Zealand, and now the party. The ugly infighting has exposed real divisions in the Greens – and those divisions are not just over Turei, but about what the party stands for” – see: Metiria Turei should quit.
The Greens aren’t green enough
Watkins is very critical of Turei, saying her “preening at the attention” is “a big turn off to many” potential Green voters. But her more important criticism is that the Greens aren’t being green enough: “The Greens have for years leveraged off the Green ‘brand’ and all that stands for – sustainability, the environment, clean green New Zealand – while spending much of its time talking about anything but.”
The charge that the Greens have ceased to being a “real environmental party” is central to commentary on the party at the moment. There are certainly tensions in the party about how much focus should be put on social and economic issues versus a concentration on the environment. Newshub’s Lloyd Burr has put this best, with his column, The Greens have lost their way.
Here’s his main point: “Thanks to Metiria Turei, the Green Party is in the midst of an identity crisis. It’s a crisis that cuts to the heart of what the party stands for, and what its priorities are. Just as importantly, it cuts to the heart of its name: The Greens. The party doesn’t look like the strong, unwavering voice for the environment anymore. It is not focussed on forests and rivers, or climate change, or conservation underfunding, or waste and pollution reduction. It is now a party focussed on fighting for the rights of beneficiaries. It is focussed on legitimising benefit fraud, boosting welfare payments, and removing welfare obligations.”
Burr rightly points out that “The struggle of the environment vs social welfare isn’t new to the Greens – it’s been simmering away in the background for years.” And this tension hasn’t been resolved for the upcoming election, which means “There is a big pool of them who want to prioritise the protection of the environment, cleaning our rivers, combating climate change, and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans. These voters may will be put off by the Green Party’s new direction – and they’ll look elsewhere.”
Some similar points were recently made by Shane Cowlishaw in his article, Making the Greens green again. He says “You could be forgiven for wondering if the Greens have forgotten their own name.”
Should the Greens ditch the red politics?
The strongest argument for the Greens going back to being a more focused environmental party are put by Alex Tarrant, who recently wrote that “The Metiria Turei covfefe over the past few weeks has laid one thing bare above all others: The Green Party needs to take a long, hard look at itself and then split or grow up and focus purely on environmental issues. This election and the next more than any before are screaming out for an environment-focussed party to hold the balance of power” – see: The Greens need to split or grow up and focus only on environmental issues.
Tarrant wants to see the Greens focus on pure green issues: “Swimmable rivers, water pricing, criticism of the government’s climate change policy, the rise of electric vehicles, synthetic meat and milk, Trump’s anti-Paris Agreement stance, polluted drinking supplies in rural towns, Auckland public transport. Sure, they’ve made noises on all the above. But what has had them leading news cycles in the lead up to the election campaign? Turei on social welfare, and the Party’s decision to back National’s families package.”
He also points out that Gareth Morgan’s “TOP is quickly making inroads into some of its liberal urban voting base… The best defence would have been for the Greens to be an environment-only party.” And he concludes that “It is time for the Greens to plant some organic fertiliser and grow up.”
There is a chance that Morgan’s TOP will be one of the main winners from the Greens current crisis. In the past TOP has apparently unsuccessfully tried to recruit Green MP Julie Anne Genter, but has had more success with other former candidates – see Henry Cooke’s Greens candidate defects to Gareth Morgan’s TOP party.
Losing Green votes – how low can they go?
The consensus seems to be that the Greens will bleed votes over the current controversy, and Toby Manhire asks how low they might go: “Double figures already feels like a stretch. If they slip below 7% – and that’s entirely plausible; in 2008 they were 6.7%, in 2005 5.3% – the two young women who in many ways represent the future face of the Green Party, Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman (8 and 9 on the list following Graham’s departure) may not make it to parliament. Mojo Mathers, at 10, would be out. Other young talent such as Jack McDonald and John Hart (12 and 13): toast” – see: The Greens are in disarray, leaving the left resurgence hanging by a thread.
And certainly, the next Green Party caucus is going to look quite different, after the departure of the two candidates. As blogger Pete George points out, the party list will be affected: “In the past the Greens also promoted their principles of gender balance. Of the top 10 on the list, eight are female… If they get the same number of MPs back into Parliament (this now looks unlikely) 9 of 14 will be female, 5 will be male” – see: Green list more dominated by females.
Finally, for the most colourful critique of what’s happening in the party, see Patrick Gower’s Metiria Turei is causing the Greens to self-destruct. He says: “Metira Turei has switched the Green Party into a meltdown mode that it refuses to switch off. The Greens seem to be in pathological denial about the damage that Turei’s benefit fraud admission is doing. If Monday’s double resignation of two senior MPs isn’t enough to send the message ‘enough is enough’, then what is?”