The Greens have been in Parliament for more than 20 years and our third largest party for nearly a decade. But they’re still regularly pigeonholed as loony, lefty, so far out on the fringes they’re out of touch. The tired old jabs are repeated, about them being wacky, smoking dope, hugging trees and eating lentils.
As far back as the 1990s, in an effort to keep them out of Parliament, the National Party was branding the Greens as saboteurs, communists and unemployed. And even today, in an effort to keep them out of government, Prime Minister Bill English says they’re nasty and part of a far-left alliance with Labour.
But how true are these stereotypes? Do they really stack up when you look at the Greens in 2017? And perhaps more importantly, how far have the Greens gone in an effort to distance themselves from the caricatures that have dogged them for so long?
As political commentator Matthew Hooton puts it: “Beginning with Russel Norman and Metiria Turei, the men have worn suits and ties and the women have worn Jenny Shipley-style suits. So they’ve worked hard at that.”
But we discover the Greens’ efforts to appeal to the middle ground, middle-New Zealand, have gone far beyond what they wear. And the reason they’ve been so determined to change how they’re perceived is because they’re determined to get into power by being part of a government.
Despite being our strongest minor party, the Greens have never been part of a coalition government – continually spurned by Labour and scoffed at by National, while many smaller parties and some which have long-since disappeared have been chosen ahead of them.
So this year is in many ways a make or break election for the Greens. Will they finally become part of a government with Labour, with Cabinet posts and the ability to implement their policies, or will they yet again be consigned to irrelevant Opposition?
They have a strong lineup of potential MPs, including the likes of Auckland mayoral candidate Chlöe Swarbrick and human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman. They have a business friendly co-leader in James Shaw. They have policies appealing to those Hooton crudely describes as Remuera housewives and those living in Grey Lynn with million-dollar villas, as well as their traditional environmentally-focused supporters. And they’ve gone to great lengths to show they can be trusted and are financially responsible.
But what is the price of becoming mainstream, becoming part of the “liberal establishment” as political commentator Bryce Edwards puts it?
It seems some feel the Greens have sold out while trying to achieve power – including a former Green MP who now can’t bring herself to vote for the party. So in their efforts to prove they’re not scary, have the Greens gone too far, strayed too far from their ideals, become too safe, too scared of being controversial or upsetting anyone?
Read the full story In North & South’s May issue, out now.