It is 40 years since the Values Party, one of the first
political parties in the world which had at its core an
environmental focus, was launched in this country.
At its first election in 1975, it won 5.2% of the vote.
Today, under the MMP system, that would have brought it into
Parliament with a handful of seats and perhaps allowed it the
standing, influence and political experience to evolve.
As it was, by a couple of election cycles later, it had
Its philosophical successor, the Green Party, shows every
sign of fulfilling that early promise.
If it can avoid the compromising embrace of power in the
shadow of a larger party, it could become a permanent
This is partly a result of some careful rebranding of the
party itself, partly a result of the national political
milieu, and partly a reflection of a broad mix of other
sociological, economic and demographic factors.
Today's Green Party - which convened last weekend in the Hutt
Valley - under the leadership of Dr Russel Norman and Metiria
Turei has shrugged off the sandals-tofu-and-dope image which
provided its opponents with a convenient stereotype in the
Gone are the dreadlocks of Nandor Tanczos, the rabble-rousing
of Sue Bradford and the vandalism of the Wild Greens.
Russel Norman is a doctor of philosophy in political science.
Metiria Turei is a former corporate lawyer. They are smart,
well-dressed and articulate.
While their core policies will continue to be anathema to
many, their general presentation and force of argument demand
With polls indicating a following that fluctuates anywhere
between the 12% party vote they won at the last election and
up to 17%, growing numbers of people are evidently listening.
Such numbers, were they confirmed in an election tomorrow,
would cement the Greens firmly in the mainstream.
With such status comes a requirement for a party to position
itself on major issues of the day.
Dr Norman and Ms Turei have both been forceful in doing so,
whether proactive or reactive.
Thus, Ms Turei has led the charge against the Government's
welfare and education policies, accusing Social Development
Minister Paula Bennett and Prime Minister John Key of
presiding over the loss of essential infrastructure which,
she argues, gave them the start in life that helped put them
where they are today.
Dr Norman has been assiduously cultivating for the party a
"responsible" economic platform, criticising the Government
for its $14 billion tax cuts on coming into office, promoting
its own vision of a green economy while at the same time
softening on mantras heard in the past.
He appears to accept, for instance, that some mining is
inevitable. In such repositioning, it is possible to see a
party readying itself for the realities and compromises of
Its rise has in large part been at the Labour Party's
expense, and since last year's November election it has
continued to make ground; reinforcing, reshaping and
presenting its political brand.
In contrast, Labour - in search of a new brand of its own and
as yet unable to identify or articulate one - has languished.
The Greens' elevation coincides with a growing acceptance on
the part of a significant proportion of particularly younger
voters that the world's resources - food, water, land, energy
- are finite and must be managed with greater care than has
hitherto been the case.
Renewable energy (wind turbines for instance) was considered
marginal just a generation or so ago. The concept of peak oil
has impinged on the public consciousness.
The degradation of the country's waterways and rivers as a
result of the dairying boom is hitting home.
In a globalised, connected world, the reality of global food
shortages is more readily understood by tomorrow's voters.
These are powerful, emotional triggers for many people.
It is possible to overestimate their influence, but political
parties of today ignore "green" politics at their peril.
And a party with such values at its core, while at the same
time articulating credible economic and social positions, may
come to look even more attractive than it has done to date.