The Green Party AGM and three day conference finished today and a single word dominated the conference screens for most of the time: Forward. The word successfully summed up the content, deliberations and decisions that came out of the meeting. While we did celebrate our beginnings in 1990 (twenty five years ago) our real focus was on the development of a new strategic plan, launching two new campaigns and electing a new male leader.
The Green Party does leadership change with less collateral damage than most other parties but that doesn't mean that the process isn't intense or emotionally bruising for the candidates and their supporters. We had four incredibly talented and competent men put themselves forward. As they presented themselves in a range of forums, both together and individually, appreciation for their abilities was enhanced rather than real weaknesses being revealed.
As someone who has been involved with the party at a leadership level for some time I thought I knew the candidates well and supported Kevin Hague in his nomination early on. I have worked with Kevin on a number of issues in Invercargill and in Green forums over the years and and know him to be highly astute and an effective communicator. Kevin's speech to a Grey Power AGM in Invercargill was very well received and lifted the Greens credibility within that organisation. He has also had a leading role in strategic planning in our caucus and for the party as a whole. Kevin would have made an excellent leader and, when we get into Government, he will make a strong Minister. I can imagine how disappointed Kevin will be at missing out on the opportunity to use his undoubted skills in the leadership role.
I was really pleased that Gareth Hughes also threw his hat in because he is one of our most media savvy and effective MPs. During our battles to stop lignite mining in Southland and oil drilling in the Great South Basin, Gareth has been one of our strongest supporters and is a hero amongst those fighting against further exploration for new reserves of fossil fuel. Gareth's credibility in the IT community is very high and he connects well with our younger voters. I have witnessed Gareth's growth in confidence and knowledge from my first contact with him as Russel's EA many years ago and my respect for him continues to grow.
Vernon Tava never expected to be a serious contender for the leadership position but he wanted to use the campaign to promote his vision of a Green Party that could capture the centre of the political spectrum. It is his view that by promoting ourselves as the party of sustainability (economic, environmental and social), we would be considered as more centrist and therefore enable us to have influence on the right as well as the left. Vernon presented his case well with energy and commitment and proved to be a very articulate communicator.
The eventual winner, James Shaw, has had a long history with the Green Party and, while he hasn't had the parliamentary experience of Kevin, he has been a leading light in membership organisation for many years (he first joined as a teenager in 1990). James' business management and system skills saw him planning and facilitating a lot of our party training. He has also been one of our most successful candidates, leading exceptionally strong campaigns in Wellington Central for two elections in a row and winning over commentators across the political spectrum. James' leadership saw the Green Party vote surpass Labour's in the political beltway, while up against the formidable Grant Robertson, in 2011 and 2014. I regarded James as a future leader and originally thought that more time in parliament would be useful preparation.
James ended up staying with me when he visited our branch during the leadership campaign. After impressing the branch over an informal meal we returned to my house and ended up talking into the early hours. Despite being in Parliament for a short time it was clear during our discussions that James was no ordinary novice, he already had an excellent grasp of the place and its inhabitants. His maiden speech was widely praised and he is already a strong performer during question time asking probing questions and using humour with a quirky sophistication that Key rarely achieves.
Our membership driven process has ended up electing less experienced contenders before. Metiria was voted in ahead of Sue Bradford and Russel Norman wasn't even in Parliament when he beat MPs Nandor Tanczos and David Clendon for the leadership. In both cases we ended up with leaders who have added considerably to a growth in voter support and increased political credibility. While some may believe there is an element of risk in electing James Shaw as our Co-leader, those of us from within the party know that the risk is minimal and his potential is considerable. The Green Party moves forward again.