Green leadership struggles

The Greens' choice for its next co-leader will have interesting implications for the future of the party, in terms of its political positioning. But the process of leadership change call into question its ability to survive in government, and its viability in future. 

The focus of the upcoming leadership will be on weho wins, and what that means for the party's image and performance in parliament.  But the process by which it changes its leadership tells us a great deal about the integrity of the Party, how it has operated in the past, and its sustainability into the future.

When Metiria Turei announced she would stand down as party co-leader, the party was unable to quickly and smoothly replace her.  That's because the party rules allow for any party member to challenge an incumbent co-leader, at any Annual General Meeting of the party. The rules create an order of succession allowing the second (or subsequent) highest-placed candidate in such a contest to step into the co-leader position, should a co-leader step leave office.

But those annual co-leader elections never take place, which is why there was nobody waiting in the wings to take Ms Turei's place when she stepped down.

There has been one exception. In 2013 I challenged Russel Norman to the male co-leadership. I was promptly subjected to a "kangaroo court" and expelled from the party, some months before the AGM took place.

So there are never any leadership challengers because nobody had been bold enough to challenge an incumbent co-leader until I did - and nobody has been foolish enough since.

So the party's rules look very democratic in principle, but they are unworkable in practice, and in reality the party executive (on which the co-leaders sit, and may participate in it consensus decision-making process) can prevent any challengers from mounting a successful challenge.

Which all raises some concerns about the Greens.  In particular; why would you trust a political party to make laws and regulations for New Zealand society as a whole, when they can't make rules for themselves that are sensible, effective, and fair?

There have been ample opportunities for the Greens to review and revise their leadership succession rules. After the introduction of of MMP, the party adopted a list-ranking procedure that allows the entire party membership to vote on ranking their candidates. That procedure creates a very simple and democratic order of succession, which would allow another co-leader to be appointed immediately - even on an interim basis, until the next AGM.

After my failed attempt to challenge Russel Norman, the party might have considered when, and under what circumstances, challenges for party co-leadership positions should be permitted. And by whom: why would the party allow any member, including one who had not been screened and approved as a parliamentary candidate, and ranked on the party list, to stand for a co-leader position?  Why would it allow a member who had not been elected to parliament to stand for a co-leader position?

But that didn't happen. The reality is that, under the party's current rules, the Green leadership will only change when an incumbent leader dies, or voluntarily steps down.

The party does not tolerate criticism or dissent of its leadership, which is arguably a good thing inasmuch as it creates an image of cohesion, stability and unity of purpose.  But it also stifles change and renewal, suppresses opportunities for new talent to rise through the ranks, and protects under-performing and self-satisfied leaders from competition for their positions.

After decades of sitting on the sidelines, the parliamentary arm of the Green Party has a big job to do, in a high-stakes game - they finally have a hand in governing Aotearoa New Zealand.

The party's Executive arm has a big job in front of it too. Because the way the party organises itself is one of the biggest risks to the party's success in this term of government, and its ongoing viability afterward.
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