Metira Turei has quickly become the front-runner for the job of replacing Jeanette Fitzsimons as the Green Party’s female co-leader. This blog post details the three main reasons for why Metira Turei is likely to win:
- Turei has the attributes of being perceived as extremely ‘nice’ and non-threatening, which will be seen as the necessary characteristics of anyone replacing Fitzsimons.
- Turei’s youthful and Maori identity will win many votes amongst party delegates because ‘identity politics’ is very important within the Green Party.
- She will win because Turei better represents the Greens’ ongoing evolution towards the centre of the political spectrum.
So although ex-parliamentary spin-doctor for the Greens, Gordon Campbell, has written a blog post on the succession struggle – see: Who May Succeed Jeanette Fitzsimons – saying that he hopes that ‘the contest will not be dominated by the fact that (a) Turei is Maori and (b) Bradford sponsored the Section 59 Bill’, this will in fact be entirely what will happen. [Read more below]
Sue Bradford vs ‘the John Key of the Green Party’
Sue Bradford is very unlikely to be voted leader, mostly due to the fact that she is - for better or worse - very strongly associated with the so-called anti-smacking bill and the public perception of her elitist style of process for pushing forward this social change. She has effectively been typecast, and the wider Green Party will be wary of electing someone that is associated with the public’s fear of the Green ‘extremism’. And as Audrey Young writes in today’s NZ Herald, Bradford ‘is definitely more "scary"’. Young has plainly pointed out, ‘the key question for the party is whether Bradford or Turei is the most likely to increase support (votes and membership) for the Green Party’.
The parallel case can be found in the election of Russel Norman as male co-leader over Nandor Tanczos following Rod Donald’s death. Although Tanczos was well-liked within the party, and had a very high profile, many party members felt that he was too strongly typecast as a ‘dope-head’ and a ‘drug legaliser’ to be the main public face of the party. They therefore went for the pragmatic, safer option of Norman, who was (correctly) seen as being able to present a more mainstream image to potential Green voters.
In contrast to Bradford, Metira Turei has the potential for widespread public appeal. In many ways she is the ideal ‘New Green’ associated less with protest politics and unpopular ‘nanny state’ ideas. She has already been campaigning since Sunday on the basis of widening the appeal of the Green Party, and is now constantly emphasising her desire to make the party a ‘broader church’. Ex-Green MP Mike Ward has already been reported as championing her co-leadership for this reason: ‘She is young and she is intelligent. This is her third term in Parliament and she comes from quite a different background, so she definitely appeals to many people’.
Look out therefore for Turei to campaign over the next few months as a moderate and inclusive leader. She will essentially be selling herself as ‘the John Key of the Greens’ – someone who is centrist, pragmatic, and can work with anyone.
An appealing face for the Greens
Jeanette Fitzsimons’ great strength was that she was ‘the appealing face of the Green Party’. Yesterday, Gordon Campbell called her ‘The Granny of Green’ – as voters saw Fitzsimons as ‘this nice, twinkly-eyed old lady… too nice to play rough’. Within the party, too, ‘niceness’ is seen as one of the key attributes that candidates and leaders are required to possess. And Turei is definitely perceived as being ‘nice’. According to Campbell, Turei ‘brings some of the Donaldian warmth and charm to the equation that the party ( and Norman) sorely need’. In contrast, Campbell says that Bradford fails in this vital area:
Turei’s appeal to identity politics
Regardless of her intentions, it will be Turei’s ethnic identity that will possibly matter the most in getting her elected. As Anthony Hubbard of the Sunday Star Times simply said in the weekend, ‘Turei has the progressive appeal of being a Maori woman’. Likewise, Audrey Young says that ‘Turei is young, talented, non-scary and Maori. The latter may be the most important factor for a party that has the chance to pay more than lip service to its active support for principles of Treaty of Waitangi partnership’.
All Green MPs famously have their own special policy or population identity (or ghetto?), and Metira Turei has tried hard to make hers the fact that she a Maori nationalist and generally specialising in Maori politics. According to one profile of Turei, she ‘has worked hard since she entered Parliament in 2002 to raise her profile among Maori’. She's stood in the Maori seats of Tamaki Makaurau and then Te Tai Tonga, before making the ‘concession’ in 2008 not to stand in the Maori electorate of Te Tai Tonga in order to help the Maori Party win the seat.
Turei has very close links with the Maori Party, and has made it her mission to bring the parties closer together. But is this an attractive goal for the Green Party members? Gordon Campbell says ‘no’ – because her close alignment with the Maori Party has proved politically fruitless:
Nonetheless, many party members will be very taken with the prospect of having a 'bicultural leadership' model to promote, which ties in with their advocacy of Treaty partnerships. Accepting that Turei has the merit to be co-leader regardless of her skin colour, party delegates will be highly tempted to vote for a new leadership 'brand' that incorporates not only male and female, but also uniquely, Maori and pakeha.
Youth and rejuvenation
As well as her gender and ethnicity being crucial to getting the co-leadership, Turei’s other major ‘identity politics’ asset is her age of 38. She is currently the youngest Green MP, and part of her campaign strategy is likely to revolve around the role in rejuvenating the Greens, and hence drawing attention to her youth. Such a rejuvenation pitch will resonate with members. For despite the myth that the Green Party is full of ‘youthful exuberance, reckless idealism and what might almost be called political gaiety’ Chris Trotter pointed out last year that ‘the Greens have taken on a distinctly middle-aged appearance’, backed by the fact that the average age of those at the top of the Green’s 2008 party list was 52 years. Trotter said that the Greens are fading to grey. Turei will be able to push this point to her advantage.
Audrey Young has also pointed this out in her column today:
Ambitious? Or radical?
Some commentators have been inclined to label Sue Bradford as the likely new leader because she has more experience and ambition. This might not actually be quite true. Metiria Turei has long been pushed as the future co-leader of the party. As early as April 2006 – when the party was selecting it’s replacement leader for Rod Donald – Vernon Small pronounced ‘Metiria Turei the front-runner as heir apparent’ to Fitzsimons. Small even went so far as to suggest that Green Party members might even have been making their decision on which male Green to replace Donald with on the basis of ‘who would be the better choice to complement’ Turei as the future female co-leader (Small, 20 April 2006). Again, during last year’s election campaign, a NZ Herald profile on her revealed that ‘One day, she plans to take a tilt at party leadership - once Jeanette Fitzsimons retires as co-leader’.
It is also worth noting that Turei has gone from number 8 on the Greens' list in the 2002 election, to number 6 in 2005, and then number 4 last year – only one place behind the much more known Bradford, giving an indication of how well regarded she is within the wider party.
But is Turei too radical to be leader? Doesn’t she have a extremely radical background? According to her Wikipedia entry:
In addition to running for Parliament for the McGillicuddy Serious Party and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, Turei has a bit of an anarchist past. But that was then, and this is now. Turei has largely jettisoned her radicalism. Audrey Young says that Turei ‘has moved well beyond her anarchist past’. Likewise, David Farrar of Kiwiblog says – ‘while she is a radical (former anarchist), she has been pretty restrained as an MP’. One blog commenter on Kiwiblog has also usefully noted that, ‘Turei has gone from an anarchist to an authoritarian. One minute she wants to smash the state. The next she wants the state to stop us eating potato chips and drinking cocacola’.
So while the ‘old Metiria Turei’ said some fairly radical things, the ‘new Metiria Turei’ is actually quite a bit more mainstream. She has pretty much made their peace with mainstream politics and jettisoned anything too radical. There’s certainly nothing ‘far left’ about Metira Turei either. ‘Maori nationalist’, maybe; ‘radical’, maybe, but her whole time in Parliament has shown her to be somewhat neutered in terms of radicalism. She might have once said that, ‘My personal political journey has led me to the reasonable conclusion that the present state has no legitimacy and that it must ultimately be transformed into a system which implements Te Tiriti o Waitangi’, but her focus seems someone different now.
Turei’s campaign will be highly ambitious and ruthless. She has already announced that she’s giving up her role as caucus ‘musterer’ (ie ‘whip’) in Parliament so she can campaign around the country. And she is already proving that she has a number of ways of blunting Sue Bradford’s selling points. In announcing her candidacy for leadership, Turei stated that she has worked as an advocate for the unemployed (to ameliorate Bradford’s activist history in the unemployed rights movement) and that she has similarly levels of parliamentary experience (to discount the fact that Bradford is already pushing the fact that she has ‘nine and half years of experience in Parliament’) – Turei says that she is now in her ‘seventh year’ as a Green MP.
The ‘New Green’ rightward trajectory
A key reason why Turei is likely to win the leadership position is because she is essentially a ‘New Green’. She is from the environmental and rightwing side of the party, and history is therefore on her side. Despite the paranoia and rhetoric of many rightwingers, the Greens have actually been on a clear ideological moderating trajectory over recent years.
Although the Greens ruled out the National Party during the last election, this was actually an exception to their general shift towards the right (and I’ll explain the unpublicised and rather interesting reason for this decision in a future blog post). During the whole previous parliamentary term the Greens made a number of explicit statements to say that they could go into a coalition government with the National Party. Fitzsimons was keen on negotiating a deal with National and publicly stated that the party wanted to 'leave the door open' for a blue-green coalition.
Fitzsimons believed that the party could reposition itself in the middle of the political spectrum and thereby encourage a ‘green-off’ between National and Labour to win Green Party allegiance. This was a policy also endorsed by Russel Norman, who set out selling such a position with his ‘Coke and Pepsi’ cant. To justify why the Greens might not prefer the Labour Party over National he had to paint Labour and National as being essentially the same. Norman made this his duty, coining a line that the two parties were ‘Mother Coke and Father Pepsi’.
This shift to the right has been happening on and off since the party departed from the Alliance. The Greens’ departure from the Alliance in 1997 saw the re-emergence of many of the more conservative Green supporters and members who had been alienated from the Green Party’s involvement in what they perceived as a hard-left and socialist Alliance party. The re-involvement of the mystics and pragmatists led, on the one hand, to a more mainstream and liberal political approach and, on the other hand, to a concentration on issues such as genetic modification and environmentalism. The policy developed by the now-independent Green Party was mostly – but not consistently – to the right of what the Greens had stood for as members of the Alliance.
Colin James has argued that the Green Party had moved away from a hard-left political position, wanting ‘a new paradigm, marrying middle-class social conscience and communitarianism to a spiritual respect for the natural environment. This is not the stolid "red-green" revisionism of 1980s marxists, still championing a disappearing proletariat’ (James, 2001).
The Green vision of society was also becoming more compatible with the neo-liberal economic framework. After leaving the Alliance, the party gave away its more state-centric, collective, leftist policies. Even the progressive tax policies that Green MPs used to promote are being replaced by regressive pollution and consumption taxes that hit the poor the hardest.
A sober reading of the political history of the Green Party will suggests that they're doing their best to de-radicalise. Their future is as a centre party that focuses more strongly on environmentalism. Even an ex-radical like Norman can see that and hence has probably pushed the party more than anyone else towards the centre and towards adopting market-based mechanisms for dealing with environmental problems.
Bradford definitely doesn’t fit this new direction. In fact Bradford is one of the key barriers to the ‘New Greens’ strategic direction of being more of a centrist environmentally-oriented party. This makes Bradford’s election very unlikely. And this is why Turei is now campaigning on making the Greens a more ‘broader church’ party. Tellingly, the Otago Daily Times has reported her saying that ‘The new co-leader would have to deal with the growth and changing nature of membership, she said. There could be a move towards the middle of the political spectrum and those political tensions would need to be managed’.
Predictions of Turei’s success
Gordon Campbell has declared that the current Green Party leadership support Turei, and that this support counts strongly in the Greens:
Already the iPredict website is signaling a clear advantage to Turei over Sue Bradford. iPredict launched its ‘shares’/prediction for Turei winning at only 40 cents, but within minutes the price rocketed up to 90 cents, as the politeratti brought up large.
Even David Farrar of Kiwiblog is picking Turei as the Green’s ‘best bet’. And today, Farrar has reflected on the latest iPredict leadership prices, saying, ‘Bradford is at 28c and Turei at 79c. That seems about right to me’.
But it’s the local delegates – not members, by the way – that will ultimately decide. The first region to declare it’s preference has been the Nelson Greens – see: Turei tipped as Green co-leader, in which it is reported that ‘Nelson Green Party candidates are picking Metiria Turei as their next co-leader to replace Jeanette Fitzsimons’.