Kevin Hague is a clear favourite in the Green leadership contest (in May, nominations don’t close until mid April). James Shaw is a newbie MP who will interest some, but may struggle to get support from party faithful.
Vernon Tova is prepared top argue outside the Green square – this may appeal to the wider voter base Greens desperately want but is unlikely to win him Green backing.
Gareth Hughes is as party faithful as you can get. He knows how to pander to the Green-wow crowd.
All four current leadership contenders were in a panel interview on The Nationa.
And Hughes has a Fairfax journalist fan, Andrea Vance. She praised his chances on The Nation panel in the weekend, although inadvertently highlighted a significant anomaly.
You’ve got Kevin and James who are considered the front runners. I was actually very impressed by Gareth Hughes because, as you say he lacked gravitas, but he actually has probably the best message to win over new voters.
I thought Hughes would appeal more to the party faithful than new voters, being one of the party faithful himself. But Vance echoed Hughes’ introduction.
Hughes: I want to be part of the most progressive government this country has seen in generations.
That doesn’t sound like winning over middle New Zealand voters.
Hughes: The Greens under my helm would be larger. My mission is to excite and inspire, to reach out and represent a new generation of voters. We’d be making sure we’re seeing action on climate change. What I want to see is a bigger, more powerful, more influential Green Party, because the issues we work on, they’re more important than ever.
Do you have the gravitas, the credibility to be a co-leader?
Hughes: This is my opportunity over the next two months to stand up and show the members of my party what I know I have inside, which is I know who I am, I know what I stand for, I know where I want to go. This is my opportunity, and the members have a fantastic choice. I’m standing as someone who’s been a campaigner for 15 years. I’ve got the experience, I’ve got the wins under my belt, and I want to lead our party to a bigger Green Party.
He may have a job to convince that he can lead.
We’re something new, we’re something different, and we’re something better.
I’m a Green because I support our new, different, independent party.
And he has to think up some convincing slogans. He repeated the ‘new’ theme – Greens have been around since last century.
Hughes showed a number of times how entrenched in Green procedure he is.
I stand by our party’s decision.
I’m stuck on the green.
I support what the members want. They make the decision, not the leader.
Our members look at what’s the level of agreement…
Well, I support what my party’s policy is.
Well, Lisa, in my party the leader and the caucus do not decide the policy. It’s our members.
Give me your opinion.
Hughes: I would have a discussion with our members…
Bit of philosophical discussion, but I think what voters and our members want to see from us is pragmatic solutions.
Greens have an admirable system of party wide decision making. But most people look to politicians to lead, and especially to leaders to lead, not just follow the crowd.
The Hughes approach will please many Green members, but it is unlikely to enthuse more voters. But Vance wasn’t enthused by Hughes’ lack of knowledge.
Now, coming to you, Gareth, what about the rate of inflation?
Hughes: It’s less than 2 percent.
Would you like another crack at that?
Hughes: Well, it’s around 2 percent recently.
I mean it’s basic 101, you do your prep if you’re going on the telly to give your first national pitch.
An MP knowing the current inflation rate should require any prep, it’s something they should know.
You know you’ve gotta know what the inflation rate is, that was just appalling.
And on party renewal:
I think that also Green members have gotta look for someone who’s gonna be a little bit ruthless in terms of cleaning out the Greens. There’s definitely, in the way National has, and Labour might well start to. There needs to be renewal in the Green party for them to move forward.
It’s hard to see Hughes being ruthless. He seems very committed to discussions and listening to party members. The party members have a lot of say on the green list, and therefore on renewal. There was little sign of this in their last election list.
But despite these obvious drawbacks to his leadership ambitions Vance closed with more praise of Hughes.
I think that Gareth Hughes, and perhaps it didn’t come through quite as well today…
As well as what?
…but I think he has got quite an appealing message to middle New Zealand. He’s talking about people in the suburbs, he’s talking about people with young families that are you know sort of struggling day to day.
You know he’s pitching to that. He’s not talking about macro economics and sustainability, he’s actually talking about back pocket issues. And I think that would actually have a lot of appeal.
It’s just that Gareth sort of needs to work on his image a little bit I think.
So she twice singled out Hughes above the others for praise, despite several shortcomings. I’m not sure how well in tune with middle new Zealand Vance is.
I’m fairly sure Hughes will appeal more to Green Party faithful far more than wider voters.
And even they may prefer someone with some sign of leadership.
Hughes can’t always ‘Hey party/Clint’ at a leadership level.