A week ago Point of Order noted how James Shaw was fending off challenges, first from his political opponents on his climate change policies, and then against his co-leadership of the Green Party. He emerged unscathed from the first but then lost his co-leadership.
Yet beneath that quiet exterior lurks a man with intent.
He truly believes in what he is doing in shaping the country’s climate-change policy, and he is not blinking in the face of the challenge from within the party that he is not doing enough to stave off back the climatic apocalypse.
“I’m not done,” he told the programme.
Shaw made the announcement after failing to get the 75% of delegates’ votes he needed at the party’s online annual meeting at the weekend (a formidably high threshold) to be reconfirmed in the role.
Co-leader Marama Davidson was reconfirmed by delegates.
Before Shaw spoke to Morning Report there had been widespread speculation that the Greens’ rising star, Chloe Swarbrick, would stand for the vacant co-leader spot. Whether she will still do so adds to the eccentrically convoluted style of Green politics.
Meanwhile PM Jacinda Ardern is steering clear of interfering in the Green-style infighting, but she confirmed Shaw would retain his position as Climate Change Minister regardless of the leadership decision.
The internal ructions within the Green Party pose a problem for the Opposition parties. In theory a governing party suffering a struggle over its leadership should be a sitting duck, but in this case neither National nor ACT have framed their own climate- change policies into a coherent pattern that would enable them to offer an alternative to what the government is doing and so put them in a position to declare Shaw is out of court and out of time.
In the face of it all Shaw has said he would stay on as an MP.
“Being the co-leader of the Green Party is not the only way to make a contribution, my primary concern is that we do everything in our power to stave off the climate crisis and stop it from getting any worse and I will find any route that I can find to achieve that outcome.”
He hoped people would see it as a good thing that the party held its leaders to account.
“We are the only party that elects our leaders on a one-year cycle and that’s a very deliberate choice that we have made to stay as democratic an organisation as possible.”
The vote means any Green Party member can now put their name forward for the co-leadership job over the next week before another vote within five weeks.
Shaw spoke to his caucus last night but said he would not speak on their behalf.
“It’s entirely up to them and it’s their prerogative to make that choice for themselves and to make any announcement about that on their own time.”
Shaw told Radio NZ:
“The climate crisis is unabated and we have a lot more work to do as a country there. We have huge wealth concentrations and people who are locked out of housing … and as long as those kinds of challenges are there, they need the Green Party more than ever.”
He wasn’t entirely sure why people voted the way they did but said the conversation about climate change came up “a whole deal”.
As the Climate Change Minister, it was
“… not surprising that that frustration circles around on me.
“You have to understand that the Green Party comes from a very strong activist base, these are people who for decades bashed their heads against the brick wall of inertia in New Zealand calling attention to the climate crisis, and that crisis is now upon us.
“So there is a level of frustration at the slow pace of government and I share that frustration, it drives me absolutely wild. That is the pace at which government changes.”
Just why Shaw is having internal battles within his party was summed up by former Green Party MP and former member Catherine Delahunty who said:
“For me, the issue isn’t really James or who is the leader, the issue is how strong are these people going to be when they’ve gone in with Labour with overwhelming power of them…”
Delahunty said the Green Party needed to be strong because Labour may need it and Te Pāti Māori to form the next government.
The party needed to look at who would be best positioned as a leader to take it into government fighting for its values, she said.
“James is a good person for the Labour Party because he’s … taking small steps with them.”
Delahunty said New Zealand had not made progress on climate change – “this country is actually weaker”.
“We were embarrassed at COP this year, it’s not looking good. It’s not just that, there’s a deeper issue here that as a co-leader James is not connected to people who disagree with him, he hasn’t managed to achieve relationships across, the consensus within the party is not there, he may have a consensus with the right wing – the right wing love him.”
She didn’t believe the Greens were in Parliament
“… to be in the middle of the road where you get run over”.
We may suppose the Greens would rather be on the far left of the road where cycle lanes are being established to enable bikers to reach their destination at pedalling pace.
For a party pressing to have its climate-change programme implemented with great urgency, the conundrum is all too palpable.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton