Soul-searching for the Greens

While the focus in the aftermath of the election rout has been on the woes of the Labour Party, the Greens should also be soul-searching and contemplating where to from here.

Despite brave words from co-leader Metiria Turei about the Greens doing well and holding their vote, the results must have been disappointing.

First, there is bewilderment that left-leaning parties were thrashed.

If you add the 4.1% of the Conservatives to National's 48.1% (the Act and United Future party votes were only just worth counting), the ''right'' trounced Labour's 24.7%, the Greens' 10% and Internet Mana's 1.3%.

New Zealand First (8.9%) is all over the place in its policies and attitudes and impossible to characterise.

Both the Greens and Labour, often competing for the same voters, would have been expecting losses from one to flow to the other.

Given they would have formed a government together, a stronger vote for the other party could have provided some solace for supporters, even if it meant serious anxiety from the parties' hierarchy.

The Greens tried assiduously not to scare the horses, with both Russel Norman and Ms Turei always appearing reasonable and well presented.

The co-leaders also argued for balanced, responsible budgets and consistently pushed the ''fairer, cleaner, smarter Aotearoa'' line, although policies like the jump in the minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2017 defied common sense.

Surely, in the absence of large economic productivity gains, that would have caused job loses and increased costs for everyone.

The campaign seemed to go smoothly and the Greens - while like most other parties pushed to the background by the focus on ''dirty politics'' and the ''moment of truth'' - overall received a generous share of media publicity.

So they must have been disappointed when they thought 15% was realistic.

The Greens made no gains from 2011, being (before the counting of special votes which can boost the Greens) 1% and one seat (to 13) down.

They can, at least, reassure themselves they have settled above the 2008 figure of 6.7% and that the dreaded 5% hurdle is once again cleared with ease.

Although the Greens are ''red-green'', with most policies well left of centre, they continue to fail in the poorest electorates.

In South Auckland's Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa they could not even muster 900 votes per electorate.

Go to highly educated Wellington Central, and they won 8627.

Next highest was Rongotai (Wellington) with 8230 and then Dunedin North 6718 and Mt Albert (Auckland) 6205.

The dominant appeal is to the liberal middle class with, one suspects, a large number of socially and environmentally concerned middle-aged among those who ticked Green.

Philanthropist Gareth Morgan this week floated the idea of a ''blue-green'' party, arguing middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just ''lefties'', are ripe for strong environmental messages.

He believes National, despite its Bluegreens Advisory Group, is falling short environmentally.

A blue-green party could focus on the environment and back either main party, leaving National and Labour to fight out how social justice was best promoted.

It is doubtful, though, that there is room for two Green parties.

When, for example, the Progressive Greens split off in 1995 they could only manage 0.26% of the vote the following year (the first MMP election) and disbanded.

Fundamentally - whatever the claims about smart, green jobs - it will require significant economic intervention to tackle seriously the really big environmental issues, notably climate change.

That will impact on current standards and styles of living, and most people, whatever their general sympathies, are unwilling to give up privileges.

To the true Greens, power for power's sake is not the aim; rather saving the planet and changing attitudes and policies.

Thus, even if the Greens cannot grasp the levers of government - and they are a long way off given Labour's troubles and their own lack of progress - they can at least keep driving their causes and trying to convince New Zealanders of all backgrounds about their principal messages.

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