31 Jul 2022

Greens’ grass roots 'revolt' excites media

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 31 July 2022

Parliament’s press pack and political pundits alike made a big deal of Greens’ grass roots dissent undermining James Shaw’s leadership after last week’s AGM. But only a few of the many reports and commentaries sounded out the people at the heart of the issue. 

James Shaw

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“Greens co-leader James Shaw is fighting for his political life,” said Newstalk ZB news in the story leading the bulletin on Monday night.  

"James Shaw is fighting for his political survival," said Newhub Nation this weekend.  

He'd been forced to re-nominate himself for the job after failing to get the support of 75 percent of delegates at the party’s AGM last Sunday - but this week passed without anyone else declaring they want it.  

“There were members of the Young Greens mobilising to force this reopening of nominations,” TVNZ’s deputy political editor Maiki Sherman explained on TVNZ’s 1News on the day of the vote last weekend. 

“Today we spoke to one delegate who did have voting powers. They said that today was a sign of growing members’ dissatisfaction with him, adding that this vote is a call for other candidates to stand up well,” she added. 

But so far none have, and serious candidates from among the ranks of the party's MPs rapidly all ruled themselves out. 

But some in the media amped up the sense of conflict and crisis nonetheless. 

1 News on Monday called it “the Green Party bust-up” and “an uprising ... triggered after a third of the party said they don't back James Shaw.” 

Thirty-two of the party's 107 national delegates had voted that way, but whether they actually represented the party’s membership as a whole was really at the heart of this. And party members didn’t feature in much of the reporting and the commentary. 

James Shaw haltingly told reporters he wasn't expecting the slump in AGM support - and that prompted a slew of pundits and presenters to say he should have seen it coming - because they reckoned they had. 

On The Spinoff, Toby Manhire said the Greens leaders “need to do better at keeping the ears to the ground.” 

He pointed out that just two weeks earlier, Victoria University’s student magazine Salient had reported a post in a Young Greens Facebook group - only accessible to party members - indicating a vote of no confidence might be coming. 

“You'd have to be living under a rock in New Zealand if you haven't seen this coming,” said ZB’s Wellington host Nick Mills. 

“Anyone that follows any form of politics would know James Shaw's tenure was under scrutiny when the party changed that rules to allow two female co-leaders as long as one was Māori,” he said. 

“We all knew that this was gonna happen months ago,” said Newstalk ZB’s Heather Du Plessis-Allan, joining the chorus later that same day. 

“There have been blogs and there have been columns,” she said, citing a Matthew Hooton opinion piece for the Herald back in April warning that “the stage is set for Chloe Swarbrick to replace James Shaw.”

Hooton had even suggested James Shaw’s next job.

“If not headhunted by an international agency, he's a shoo-in to replace Rod Carr as chair of the Climate Change Commission if Chris Luxon becomes prime minister,” he wrote. 

This week, ZB’s Nick Mills also tried to head-hunt Shaw.

“James Shaw’s the past, I've got a great position for him if he does get voted out. He'd make a great mayor of Wellington,” he told ZB listeners. 

While he was at it, Nick Mills threw his own weight behind Chloe Swarbrick. The National Party’s pollster David Farrar also released old polling data to show how popular Swarbrick was with the public (last November). 

That's quite a chorus of commentators using the media to theorise the downfall of a party leader currently enjoying historically high levels of support - and who is also the minister of climate change. 

Clearly there is significant dissatisfaction among some Greens' members. To gauge the appetite for change at the top, the media also rang around former Green MPs.  

Sue Bradford told RNZ many people believed the Green Party had lost its way under Shaw’s leadership. 

Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking called up another former MP - Gareth Hughes, who is no longer a Green Party member - to ask: “Is this a small clique of radicals? Or is this the wider view of the party?” 

“You'd have to ask members of the party and delegates why they voted that way,” Hughes replied, assuring him there’s no shortage of them to talk to. 

Instead of that, Hosking told listeners his own view of the dissenters. 

“They're a sort of a movement, they're a grouping, they like to hold hands, sing Kumbaya and all's well with the world in their roman sandals. That's about basically all they ever wanted to achieve,” he said. 

“It’s often assumed the rebel rump of the Greens is much larger – because they are so much more vocal,” Andrea Vance pointed out in the Sunday Star Times last weekend. 

Parliamentary politics is the most intensely scrutinized subject and our news these days, but political party members are persistently ignored. 

Even at annual party conferences, you might get the odd voxpop from rank-and-file members in some of the news reports, but usually they are just the backdrop in stories zeroing in on what the party leaders have to say. 

TVNZ's Maiki Sherman did speak to delegates after the vote - and also to others in the days that followed. 

One told her on-camera James Shaw should be “moving further and faster in regards to climate change” and another told her they had just rejoined the party at the prospect of new leadership, another member told her the party has no shortage of leaders and a contest is a good thing.

The Herald's Thomas Coughlan outlined the aims of two significant sub-groups the Young Greens and the Green Left Network. 

Stuff’s Andrea Vance said the Greens members are mostly “quieter, dutiful stalwarts” and she estimated the dissatisfied amongst them would amount to roughly 15 percent of the party. 

“That’s about the same proportion as mutinous factions have and other Green parties around the world,” she added. 

“In an ideal world, this would be a healthy debate,” Gordon Campbell, a Greens staffer for a bit in the decade before last, wrote on Scoop this week. 

“It is completely understandable why a minority within a party that sees itself as a radical vanguard would want to be pushing things along at a faster pace, especially given the urgency of the climate crisis,” he said. 

But with no sign of any mutiny, yet the NBR’s ‘Right of Centre’ columnist Brigitte Morton said this “episode is likely to fade into The Greens history.”

This week's earlier reports about ‘Green blood,’ revolution, seething resentments and long knives in the back could be reprised at the party's AGM in 12 months’ time. 

Hopefully coverage of the scale and nature of the dissent will be more helpful.