For someone who just had to convince his own party membership to reinstate him as co-leader, James Shaw is riding a wave of optimism. He told political editor Jo Moir he’s feeling more confident than ever about the Greens’ chances at the next election.

The Green Party vote continues to hold up well in Government – not even the instability woes of turfing out one of its co-leaders has impacted its support.

James Shaw was convincingly reappointed into the leadership role earlier this month, after spending six weeks on the road speaking to the membership about how he would turn things around after admitting to neglecting his co-leadership responsibilities.

In Tuesday night’s 1News Kantar Public poll the Green Party was steady on 9 percent, which would give it 12 MPs in Parliament – two more than it has currently.

Shaw doesn’t like making predictions about elections.

“If anything, what the last few years have taught me is that absolutely anything can happen in a year.”

It’s unclear if Shaw is referring to single-handedly leading the party through the 2017 campaign after Metiria Turei’s departure, being in government with New Zealand First, being caught off-guard when his own party got the numbers to dump him as co-leader, or any other number of things that have happened in the past eight years.

While he won’t predict the result, Shaw says he’s more confident than ever in the campaign the Greens will run next year.

“Our campaign machinery has got better each election … we’re getting quite good at winning as well,” he says.

The party’s result in recent polls hasn’t been dented by the internal ructions of the co-leadership vote and Shaw attributes that to the way in which the party dealt with it.

“It wasn’t a sort of National Party-style knives out kind of a thing. It was just a process that we went through, and our supporters saw it didn’t represent any great falling apart of the party or anything.

“I quite like being a member of a party that is uncomfortable with power, and that’s constantly questioning whether it’s doing the right thing, and agonising over the compromises that come with being part of a government,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s okay to do a u-turn.” – James Shaw

There’s a new political landscape brewing, Shaw says, and he expects it will have a massive effect on next year’s election.

He points to “social bifurcation driven by toxic social media” as a frightening challenge that needs to be dealt with.

“That splintered realities thing that we’ve seen in the US, Australia, and Canada already – that worries the hell out of me because the logical conclusion of that is the end of democracy and our social fabric as we know it.

“That thought appals and terrifies me, and I’m not sure we’re dealing with it very well.”

Despite those “vile circumstances” at play, Shaw tells Newsroom Labour is “doing a pretty good job to be performing as well as they are under those sorts of circumstances”.

“That gives me some hope, because things would only need to marginally improve to tip the balance in favour of retaining the current Government.”

Greens’ co-leader James Shaw has no hesitation pointing out where Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has got it wrong. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Greens are relying on Labour doing its bit to get both back into government, but Shaw is also happy to point out where Labour has got it wrong.

“I think they could be bolder on climate change, on housing and poverty, and on protecting nature, because they have no excuse not to frankly.”

Labour won a single-party majority at the 2020 election resulting in the Greens only being able to sign a cooperation agreement, and its two ministers (Shaw and co-leader Marama Davidson) being outside Cabinet.

At the time of the election win, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to “govern for every New Zealander” after winning so much of the centre vote.

“I know that in MMP the conventional wisdom is that you play to the centre and look for incremental change to bring people along with you, but I also think that when governments do act with boldness and vision, they can lead the public and that has happened before,” Shaw says. 

“Things like homosexual law reform wasn’t popular at the time, or the anti-smacking bill. But there are times when governments say we’re going to do things because it’s the right thing to do.

“One of the biggest mistakes of Labour was not just saying they weren’t going to introduce a capital gains tax in their first term, but that they were never going to introduce it.”

By that point Shaw says the majority had been convinced and it had the support, but instead the policy was killed off forever under Ardern.

“Sometimes it’s okay to do a u-turn,” he said.

“One of the unhealthiest things in politics is that we flagellate politicians for changing their minds when the circumstances of the data changes.

“Sometimes policies have unintended consequences that no one foresaw – you have to be able to roll with the circumstances.”

“Chlöe generates her own resource base because of who she is, she attracts volunteers who would not necessarily otherwise come forward and attracts money for her campaign that wouldn’t go anywhere else.” – James Shaw

It was New Zealand First who claimed victory for Ardern ruling out a capital gains tax so definitively.

Asked if the Greens were worried about what a truly tight MMP race next year could mean in terms of New Zealand First and a potential return to Parliament, Shaw said he wasn’t worried by it.

“I think that the chances of them getting back in is infinitesimal, and if they did get back in the system would respond appropriately – we’d find a way to not have to deal with it,” Shaw said.

The Green Party’s campaign team is only just being formed and the strategy is still a bit skeleton.

Campaign director Chennoah Walford, who was deputy at the 2020 election, has been hired, and while it’s certain Chlöe Swarbrick will concentrate on winning Auckland Central again, no other decisions on seats have yet been made.

“Chlöe generates her own resource base because of who she is, she attracts volunteers who would not necessarily otherwise come forward and attracts money for her campaign that wouldn’t go anywhere else.”

For now, the strategy is “do what we did last time but even better” Shaw says, only half jokingly.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

Leave a comment