Labour and the Greens have always had a relatively brittle relationship. No matter how close they may occasionally get, both parties have always been well aware that they are in direct competition for votes. Plus, from the Greens perspective, there’s that small matter of Labour having jilted them in the formation of every one of Helen Clark’s three governments. The problem for the Greens was simple – when Labour was their only possible coalition partner, that left them with zero leverage.
Thus, in 2009, I applauded the Greens when they signed their Memorandum of Understanding with National. It was a statement that the environment was an issue that transcended the political divide. You didn’t have to be left-wing to be an environmentalist.
I had always been of the opinion that the Greens should have been aiming to act as the Maori party have done, being able to work with National despite being rather more left than right. I saw that as the way for the Greens to grow their vote by keeping their left-wing supporters, but gaining the support of those centre-right liberals who would be unable to stomach voting for a firmly left-wing party.
Whether that approach actually works now seems to be debatable. The Maori party appears to have irretrievably damaged itself through its almost six-year relationship with National, as its supporters question more and more just what the party now stands for. Likewise, United Future, after having jumped ship from Labour to National, now relies purely on National gifting Peter Dunne the seat of Ohariu, thus preventing Dunne from easily transferring sides again.
Regardless, that option now no longer exists for the Greens. In 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding was not renewed, and the Greens hitched their wagon firmly to Labour. That approach seemed to have paid dividends, as the Greens hit an-time party vote high. Rhetoric began to flow that the Greens were looking to topple Labour as the main party of the left, setting up a one on one fight between National and the Greens.
Of course, with the Greens abandoning any meaningful stab at the soft-liberal-right vote, the maths was always going to be about the Greens battling to cannibalise soft Labour voters. Unfortunately for the Greens and their rhetoric, Labour was not going to remain weak forever. The Greens’ vote has plateaued and even (according to the recent Colmar Brunton poll) dissipated somewhat. (My Poll of Polls puts them on a relatively healthy 10.5%, slightly down from its 2011 election result of 11.1%.)
And so, as the 2014 general election approaches, the Greens find themselves in a familiar situation. Labour is giving off lukewarm signals about coalition arrangements, as Winston Peters sends off broadsides against the possibility of being part of a Labour-Greens coalition.
And the Greens have nowhere to go. They can’t be under any illusions that if necessary, David Cunliffe will form a minority government with NZ First, with the Greens expected to provide support on confidence and supply from outside of government. Their only alternative would be to hand National a third term on a plate, with a National-NZ First (and possibly ACT and United Future, depending on the numbers) alliance being the only other governing option. Which would surely see the Greens crucified by their own supporters…