Julie Anne Genter has just added her name into the Green Party co-leadership hat, as many have anticipated. As you will likely have heard, Marama Davidson announced her campaign first, and there is also a possibility that Eugenie Sage will decide to run, too, or that we may have a nominee from outside of caucus again. It is unlikely any of the remaining eligible MPs in caucus are going to put forward a leadership bid, so I would definitely dismiss talk of Chlöe putting in a back-bench leadership bid- she’s got enough on her plate as a first-time MP.
There are some suggesting this contest highlights factionalism and division within the Greens, however there has been clear support for Genter entering the contest on social media, even from fervent supporters of Marama’s own bid to be co-leader. I think we would be lucky to see either of them as a co-leader, and we’re spoiled for choice, although for full disclosure purposes I am admittedly in Marama Davidson’s camp, Julie Anne Genter is highly qualified, and has excellent Green credentials, and a great record as a social liberal which is reflected in her role as Minister for Women.
There are lots of sub-groups among the Greens, both official and unofficial, but much of the media commentary about this has actually relied on sources that aren’t part of the Green Party, and don’t represent it in any way. Unlike die Grünen/the German Greens, you won’t find anyone seriously identifying themselves as a “realo” or “fundy” in the New Zealand Party. (although some people have started doing so ironically thanks to some viral commentary I am informed originated with Young Labour) In many ways, the three prominent caucus members who were rumoured to be considering leadership each represent an ideological emphasis1, but there are difficulties with this narrative of a faction war over who gets to be co-leader.
Firstly, all of the “factions” actually generally agree that each others’ goals are important, so any “argument” going on here is one of emphasis, not one for the soul of the Party.
Secondly, the Green Party runs on consensus decisions, and largely resorts to super-majority votes when consensus can’t be meaningfully reached. It’s hard to form bitter factional divides when 75% of the party has to agree to get anything done, and they still try to listen to and address the concerns of the remaining 25% even when they have to make a decision. It’s made especially more difficult in this model to divide your factions when you have more than two factions, which the Greens certainly do.
Thirdly, everyone involved is respecting each other and glad that there is a public contest and that members get to have their say in supporting candidates- the tenor of the conversation, both public and private, doesn’t support a view of factionalism, even if that is usually the narrative about leadership contests. This isn’t to say there aren’t factions, of course there are, just that they don’t yet seem to be at war the way you would typically expect if there had been a spill going on. The party’s processes and culture are, in fact, explicitly set up to prevent and oppose spills and hostile leadership contests.
We should also take this opportunity to say that people’s feelings outside the Green movement shouldn’t influence us about any of the candidates, one way or the other. I know there have been some National Party-aligned figures publicly endorsing Genter as their preferred candidate. That doesn’t make her a blue-green, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have some nefarious plan, and we should make our own decisions for our own reasons. The feelings of our allies in Labour might be more relevant, but I think they’ve been wise to stay silent on the contest, because being seen as interfering with the internal democracy of their confidence and supply partner could be very shaky political waters to be sailing on. Julie Anne has amazing credentials, was actively debunking the possibility of a so-called “teal deal” after the election, and we are lucky she is an option.
There’s also been some suggestions from certain commentators that Marama Davidson is less qualified to be leader, and is simply riding on identity politics in terms of her campaign. This is simply wrong. Activism for political causes before becoming an MP is considered a qualification by any self-respecting Green Party member, and Marama not only has a history of activism against poverty, and lived experience in that area, too, she has continued her good work on the ground while still maintaining her duties as an MP. When Metiria was talking about the very real experiences of beneficiaries in New Zealand, Marama was showing up at lines outside WINZ offices to hear and tell their stories, and if there is arguably an heir to Metiria’s work in that respect, it is definitely Davidson, and that’s certainly enough qualification for anyone who takes the Greens’ issues seriously. This isn’t to say that Marama’s identity as a strong Māori woman is irrelevant to the leadership race- there is importance to having a Māori perspective on the leadership team, especially as every Party in Parliament currently does, (even Seymour has Māori ancestry) but it’s not going to be a trump card over all the other factors in consideration, either. We are very aware that in a caucus of eight, Marama is the only one holding that mana, and there have been good efforts to encourage others to join the Caucus that were only really impeded by ending up having to fight for the Greens’ core support to stay with the party in this election. Jack McDonald and Teanau Tuiono realistically might have both joined the Caucus when polling was at 15%.
It’s a good thing that this contest has been brought forward- it not only brings it out of the realm of speculation, but even enthusiastic supporters of Shaw as half of the leadership team like myself have been uneasy about leaving him as sole co-leader when the Party is in an important transition to its largest role in government yet, and also because the co-leadership issue could potentially become a distraction from Green policy.
With all the more general talk out of the way, let’s talk some details.
All existing members of the party will get to be involved in the selection process. Unlike the Party List, co-leaders aren’t voted on directly by Members, instead branches will meet, and send delegates to interview the candidates and vote on behalf of those branches. The delegates are instructed by the Branches on what to consider before they vote, however, so it’s a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy, and the candidates do have to do well enough that there’s not a significant (25%+) move to re-open nominations. I think with two (or potentially more) candidates of such high quality, that’s now unlikely, however.
Party registration is always open to new members, and if you register as a new member soon, you will be able to participate in those branch meetings to instruct delegates, and have your say on co-leadership2. There is a small, two-tier fee of $20 in general, but $5 for those who are in a low-income situation, which to my understanding goes to deferring administration costs, running the party magazine, and maybe also to supporting Green campaigns for the $20 tier.
It’s also worth briefly talking about the fact that being a co-leader is not like being a leader in Labour or National. They are chief spokespeople to the media, expected to be generalists in party policy moreso than other MPs, and leaders of Caucus. But a lot of the decisions that a party leader might make on their own in other parties are made instead by consensus of the Caucus, by the Green Party Executive, or by delegates from the various branches at significant meetings or via “phone”3 calls. Whoever wins this contest doesn’t get the ability to unilaterally kick people out of caucus. Even if the Greens do support the waka-jumping bill through Parliament, that’s not something a co-leader will be able to do on their own, as they have to follow their own party’s procedures under amendments secured by the Greens. They don’t control party policy- the Green Party’s formal roles are divided into three branches, executive, caucus, and policy committees, which each have representatives to each other. The co-leaders only lead one of those branches. What we’re voting for here is more of a representative to the media than actually a formal leader as such.
There have also been typical digs at the Greens for not having a typical leadership structure of a Leader and Deputy. Firstly, I will remind people that the Greens aren’t actually the only Party with a co-leadership model- the Māori Party also does the same thing, and it worked well for them, too. Secondly, to contextualize the decision- the other option was that the Greens wouldn’t have any formal leadership role in the Caucus at all, which I think we all agree would have confused the media and the public far worse. The reason we also mandate that one co-leader must be a woman is to acknowledge the importance of diverse perspectives, and the historical disadvantage that women have faced being represented in Parliament, and to show our commitment that the Greens want to be different, and that we are a feminist party in both action and rhetoric, and this stance is unlikely to ever change. None of these things reduce Shaw’s mana as the other co-leader: he is exactly as supported as he always was, and will have as large a part of the leadership as he did when he was sharing it with Metiria.
1 Arguably, Marama Davidson represents the Green Party’s focus on economic justice and its value for activism, and as a candidate who’s not a minister would also have slightly more constitutional freedom to be a critic of the government.
Julie Anne Genter represents the party’s focus on social justice and marries public enthusiasm with a long list of Parlimentary qualifications, including arguably being Parliament’s strongest expert on Transport issues, a key Green priority.
Finally, Eugenie Sage has a more direct environmentalism focus that is reflected in her ministerial roles without being seen as overtly taking sides between the other two focuses, also has a strong Parliamentary record, and I would certainly say she has value as more than a compromise candidate if she chooses to join the contest, as she has been a high-performing member of caucus despite a relatively lower public profile than Davidson or Genter. However, the rumours of her running are currently just rumours, and even if she was considering doing so, she might have decided not to join the contest. I hope commenters here will respect whichever decision she chooses to make.
2 It’s up to your local branch when those meetings happen, but I would suspect they’ll probably be in March for most branches. I have confirmed that there is no additional cutoff for new members, so it’s just about making the deadline of when your branch discusses its stance on the female co-leadership. I would suggest people who chiefly want to become members to decide the new co-leader do so within the next two weeks, just so that everything is squared away for you in late February, in case your branch will meet too late in March to instruct its delegate. If you’re unable to make a physical meeting for any reason, you can still discuss your views with either of your branches co-convenors. (that’s the equivalent of a branch Chair or President)
3 Actual phones may or may not be involved.