Labour-Greens post-election deal still not Shaw bet

6:45 am on 3 June 2016

The Green Party goes into its annual general meeting this weekend static in the polls but, after 17 years in Parliament, finally with a formal nod from Labour.

James Shaw (left) and Andrew Little at a climate march in Auckland

Green Party co-leader James Shaw, left, and Labour leader Andrew Little at a climate march in Auckland (file). Photo: RNZ / Alex Ashton

This weekend's gathering marks a year since James Shaw was voted in as the party's new co-leader, narrowly beating his colleague Kevin Hague for the top job.

The loss hit Mr Hague hard, and it's understood the mood in the Green Party caucus for the remainder of last year was 'difficult'.

Most of the party's MPs voted for Mr Hague, so the parliamentary wing of the party has had to fall in behind a new leader they did not back.

It's been a tough run for Mr Shaw - he has had to try to win the confidence and respect of MPs more seasoned and experienced than he is, plus he has had to follow in the footsteps of Russel Norman.

Dr Norman was an extremely confident co-leader and got more than his share of airtime because he delivered thumping soundbites.

While David Cunliffe was Labour's leader, Dr Norman grew the Greens' coverage to the point where many in the media were calling him the real opposition leader.

Mr Shaw is certainly taking time to hit his straps and, in contrast to Dr Norman, he is far more cautious and clearly conscious of not wanting to appear too negative.

But that too may be his strong point.

In order for the Greens to help present a government-in-waiting, the party has had to shake off its woolly image, which to its credit it has been doing over time.

Mr Shaw's ability to speak the language of business and his corporate credentials could be just what the party needs if it is to gather more support in the centre.

His careful nature might also hold more appeal to the centre as he is less likely to say something ridiculous (like 'let's fight Ebola with homeopathy'), which will help to shed the accusations from the right of being a hippy in a suit.

While Mr Shaw might struggle as yet to deliver a zinging soundbite, these things come with time, confidence and some serious media advice.

He also has the good fortune of having Metiria Turei alongside him, who is a likeable, competent and respected politician.

Labour and the Greens: It's complicated

The Greens have long struggled with their relationship status with Labour.

There were plans at the beginning of this year for the two parties to announce a preferred partner status, but it's understood Labour got cold feet at the last minute and the announcement was canned.

This week the deal was finally unveiled in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties.

This will be a relief for the Greens who remember keenly the rejection of 2005, when Helen Clark chose New Zealand First over them as Labour's confidence-and-supply partner in government.

But this week's MoU, while welcomed by the left, does not guarantee the Greens a position at the cabinet table in a Labour-led government.

It only lasts until the election and, after that, all bets are off.

Given New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' current polling, it's possible Labour could be keeping its powder dry by not committing fully to who one Labour MP calls their "furry friends".

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The relationship between Labour and the Greens appears to depend on the result of next year's election. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Greens have been in Parliament since 1999 and have proven themselves to be calm, committed to their convictions but also effective at working across parties.

The fact that they had a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Party for five years shows they are willing to work with parties whose ideology they might not agree with, but will do so in order to make what they call 'Good Green Change'.

Questions after Tuesday's announcement of the MoU with Labour about whether the Greens could give National support to form a government are barking up the wrong tree, as the chances of that are extremely remote.

While it makes no promises about post-election deals, the Labour-Greens MoU is a pragmatic move by both parties to provide voters with a taste of a potential Labour-Greens government.

The MoU binds the two parties to a "no surprises" policy so they have to let each other know about major announcements and speeches - but they are still free to criticise each other and they retain their own manifestos.

They might share a platform for some policy announcements and campaigns, but this deal is not a coalition.

Mr Little will speak at this weekend's Green Party AGM - the first Labour leader to do so.

He is also the first Labour leader to take the Greens seriously, which is long overdue.

Read the MoU between Labour and Greens (PDF, 1.6MB)

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