Scars likely to linger for Greens

10:21 am on 9 August 2017

Power Play - The wound that threatened to split the Green Party has been cauterised, but the scars will linger.

Metiria Turei and James Shaw after Greens caucus. Two Green Party MPs, Kennedy Graham and David Clendon have withdrawn from their party's caucus, following their criticism of co-leader Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei, centre, speaks to reporters after the Greens caucus that saw MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon withdraw from it. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Just as politicos were recovering from the shock of the dramatic change in the Labour leadership, the Green Party looked in danger of imploding in full public view.

Two of the party's senior MPs, Kennedy Graham and David Clendon, broke with party protocol and made an extraordinary public declaration that they had lost confidence in co-leader Metiria Turei primarily because of her stance on benefit fraud.

WATCH: 'I've never asked anyone to agree with what I did' - Metiria Turei on Morning Report

With a rush of blood to the head, her co-leader James Shaw told reporters in a late-night media conference at Parliament he would seek to suspend the MPs from the caucus and then have them thrown out of the party altogether.

Kennedy Graham, left, and David Clendon.

Kennedy Graham, left, and David Clendon Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

In shock, high-ranking officials trashed the two MPs before logic prevailed and it was shut down quickly.

But not before the Greens' conflicts had been laid bare, an unusual sight for what is usually a highly disciplined party.

That was clearly part of what stung Green MPs as they grappled with what had happened.

The two renegade MPs emphasised they had acted in sorrow, not in anger, but that did not diminish the sense of betrayal and anger among caucus colleagues.

With emotions in check, the caucus met at Parliament and reached a compromise that will see the party through to the election without bloodshed.

Dr Graham and Mr Clendon will stay on as Green MPs in the eyes of Parliament, but will be excluded from confidential caucus discussions and any campaign talk.

Setting in motion a suspension from the caucus may have satisfied MPs' desire for retaliation, but this close to an election the continued focus on party divisions would have caused further damage.

Mrs Turei had been at home in Dunedin when this story broke and it was Mr Shaw who initially fronted to the media.

She flew to Wellington for the crisis caucus meeting, and emerged looking exhausted and emotionally bruised.

With her chin up, she asserted her intention to stay on as leader and fight the election. While acknowledging she had herself opened this political Pandora's Box, she is now trying to shift the focus, blaming the sustained attacks as opponents seeking to bring down the Greens.

"We have to be careful this doesn't turn into witch hunt."

For now the matter has been put to rest - publicly at least - and the fact the House is sitting for just over a week before rising for the election will work to the Greens' advantage.

Once on the campaign trail Mrs Turei will not present such a direct target for those keen to continue questioning her integrity and her support of beneficiaries who are breaking the law.

But Labour has also been dragged into this: in the days before he quit as leader, Andrew Little danced around questions about whether Mrs Turei would have a place in a Cabinet he led.

His successor Jacinda Ardern, armed with further revelations about registering a false address on the electoral roll, did not hesitate to rule Mrs Turei out, in an attempt to mitigate the damage by association.

After Mrs Turei's first admission, of benefit fraud, the Greens were emboldened by a bump in the polls, but that was before her comments about her support for people breaking the law now, and the false statement on the electoral roll.

Since then there has been the change in Labour leadership so it will make it difficult to judge the impact of her subsequent actions, as opposed to voter response to Ms Ardern.

Mrs Turei says there are no more skeletons in her closet and she is as confident as she can be that she has the full backing of the party and the caucus.

She is safe as leader for now.

However, if Labour cannot form a government after the election, will she relish yet another term in opposition? Mrs Turei has been unequivocal about her intention to stay on as leader until the election, but her resolve is nowhere near as strong when asked about her plans for the months and years after 23 September.

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  • Greens' Shaw refuses to give answer on benefit fraud