25 Jul 2022

Green Party members divided on co-leadership challenge

12:32 pm on 25 July 2022

Green Party members are expressing both delight and disappointment after James Shaw was ousted from his co-leader role at the party's annual general meeting over the weekend.

James Shaw

James Shaw (file). Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

James Shaw is yet to confirm if he will fight to stay on. Amid speculation on who else may challenge for the leadership, Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick's name is being thrown around by some pundits.

Thirty-two out of 107 delegates voted at the party's online annual general meeting to vacate Shaw's position, more than the 25 percent threshold necessary under the Greens' rules.

Green Party members RNZ has spoken to are divided on the result.

Green party supporter Nelson, who let his membership lapse under James Shaw, had signed up again after the weekend's leadership spill gave him renewed hope for the party, which had been heading in the wrong direction under Shaw.

"I believe in the Greens and I believe in their messaging and I believe in their values and I think that we haven't always been pushing for those values as hard as we could and Chloe Swarbrick is someone who can," Nelson said.

One delegate, who did not want to be named, said the challenge against Shaw was never about a personal grudge or a dismissal of what he has achieved.

"They need to ensure that the party can truly push for transformative and bold action that is sorely needed given the current challenges," they said.

But another member, who also wanted to remain anonymous disagrees and wants James Shaw to remain as leader.

"I think James has been a fantastic leader. I think he's inclusive and pragmatic and I would really like to see him stand again and completely back him to do so. I would love to see him hold onto his job. I think if the opposing faction had someone in mind they would have put them up," he said.

Former MP Catherine Delahunty said Shaw may have been voted out of the co-leader position for not taking a strong enough stance on climate change. She said dissatisfaction with Shaw may stem from his focus on consensus within parliament in his role as Climate Change Minister.

David Cormack, a former communications director for the Green Party, said the fact a minority group can shake up the leadership signals how committed the greens are to their democratic principles.

"Everything has got to be consensus-based which means when you get situations like this where it's only a small minority of people they can really cause serious ructions,

"I admire the campaign that they stitched together. They were able to get enough delegates to vote to reopen the nominations to the co-leader's role. I don't necessarily think it will be enough to roll James unless someone like Chloe Swarbrick puts her hand up to say she'll run and then it might get a bit tricky," Cormack said.

Political scientist Lara Greaves said while it was up to political parties to set their own rules, the Green Party system in which only 25 percent of delegates can trigger a leadership contest has its downsides.

"Any kind of dissatisfaction is likely to really show up for the Green Party,"

"Often we spend a lot of time talking about factions within the Greens and our research has shown there are not necessarily more factions within Green voters, but because they're quite upfront and transparent about a lot of their conflicts we often do see a lot of media about them being in conflict. It doesn't necessarily bode well when you are thinking about something like stability," Greaves said.

Greaves said a Chloe Swarbrick co-leadership could benefit the party.

"I think potentially if someone like Chloe Swarbrick was put into a leadership position that she would hold really quite wide appeal. Having won Auckland Central when I don't think very many people expected her to win shows that she is capable of mounting a really great campaign "

"She could potentially motivate turnout because the kind people that the Greens are trying to appeal to don't necessarily get out and vote. That's been a challenge for the left and a challenge for the Greens," Greaves said.

Swarbrick had not responded to an RNZ request for comment on the leadership.

The nine other Green Party MP's declined to comment.

In Swabrick's electorate, people had mixed views about their local MP making a leadership bid.

"I believe she is kind of destined for leadership. That being said I guess he [James Shaw] lends a wider kind of appeal to the Green Party," one man said.

"I hope that Chloe gets to run as leader. It's good to have someone young and fresh," one woman said.

For the sake of the party's image a year out from a general election, David Cormack hoped the Green Party settled on a co-leader quickly.

"It never looks good to have infighting so if they can wrap this up quickly and if at the end of the week James is the only candidate to stand and then the vote is held and he just becomes the co-leader again then you can kind of draw a line under it, and perhaps pitch it as it was tested and now we are now unified and stronger as we head towards the election," he said.

Nominations for Shaw's spot would be open for a week, with any election to be held in a month.