Bryce Edwards: Why Marama Davidson is likely to become the new Green Party co-leader

Bryce Edwards: Why Marama Davidson is likely to become the new Green Party co-leader

Get used to seeing and hearing Green Party MP Marama Davidson – she looks very likely to become the next co-leader of the party, as she ticks virtually all of the boxes that Green Party activists are looking for in a replacement for Metiria Turei.

Although there’s two months of campaigning yet to occur, it will be incredibly hard for any rival woman in the party to knock Marama Davidson out as the clear front-runner. So, although Julie Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage are expected to also put forward their nominations, the race might well be rather one-sided. And I explained some of this on TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning – see: Marama Davidson in box-seat for Green Party co-leadership as nominations open – Bryce Edwards.

Campaign publicity for Marama Davidson

Despite a lower profile than many other female Green MPs, Davidson is an ambitious and confident candidate. This is reflected in her being first “out of the blocks” in setting up her campaign launch for this Sunday (despite party rules forbidding any candidate to make any statement prior to the opening of nominations today) – see her Facebook page: Join Marama for an Announcement. And way back in October of last year, some supporters even set up a Facebook page, Marama Davidson for Co-Leader.

As Henry Cooke reported last week, “Davidson has all but announced her bid to be co-leader. Davidson, ranked number 2 on the list but not a minister, is seen by many within the party as the obvious choice to take the top spot. She has set up a Facebook event for an ‘announcement’ in Auckland on February 4 but will not tell media what that announcement is” – see: Green MP Marama Davidson likely to announce leadership bid.

Similarly, see Anna Bracewell-Worrall’s report, The Green Party’s Marama Davidson is expected to launch a campaign to be the party’s next female co-leader. She backgrounds the ambitious MP, saying “Davidson has been in Parliament since 2015, when male co-leader Russel Norman’s resignation saw her enter on the Green Party list. She’s a vocal campaigner online, particularly when it comes to social issues.”

The fraught background to the leadership race

Although the Greens are now in Government – for the first time since entering Parliament 21 years ago – the party is at something of a crossroads. The future survival and direction of the party is being hotly debated amongst activists, staff and MPs. Some of this was discussed in my column earlier in the week – see: Will the Greens flourish or wither in 2018?

TVNZ’s Andrea Vance has also since published an opinion piece that delves into the divisions and dilemmas at play, which are bound up with the leadership contest – see: Green Party in a battle for its soul as members choose a new female co-leader.

Vance suggests there’s a strong tension – especially now that the Greens have entered government and “are now part of that establishment” – between the original activist and outsider values and the more moderate and professional direction the party has gone in. She asks whether the Greens can still be a party of protest: “Can you strive for a revolutionary worldview when you are regularly compromising to senior partners in Government?”

Vance also brings up the Turei factor: “Some members are still licking their wounds over the brutal felling of Metiria Turei.” Party insiders say the rift in the Greens over the downfall of Turei is still very present – and it will be the background to the race over the next two months. There is still a lot of bitterness over the perception that the party and leadership didn’t support Turei enough, and a belief that Turei was forced to resign prematurely.

What’s more, there seems to be a worry amongst activists that the “social policy” focus has diminished within the Greens recently. So, there will be a push for this to be reaffirmed by new co-leader, in the way that Metiria Turei fulfilled the role with her focus on inequality and poverty.

For these types of reasons, Vance says that “The only acceptable replacement will be someone in that radical mould such as Marama Davidson, the daughter of urban Maori activists and a human rights warrior.”

Additionally, some in the Greens are dissatisfied with the outright dominance James Shaw has asserted within the party since the election. There’s a perception that the party needs to elect a co-leader who will be a strong counter to Shaw’s attempts to reshape the Greens as a more moderate, centrist and professionalised party.

Part of Davidson’s appeal to party activists is that she is not only seen as “one of them” in terms of coming from the leftwing and activist side of the party, but she will be better able to operate as a more radical and independent balance to Shaw because she is not a government minister. Vance puts it like this: “In some ways that could work for the party. She would be the conscience of the party, free to criticise the Labour-led Government from outside the executive. Mollifying the grass-roots movement, while the others soldier on as the biddable junior partners in Government.”

This is why blogger Martyn Bradbury is also endorsing Davidson – see his post: Why Marama Davidson needs to be the new co-leader of the Green Party.

Not only is Davidson’s activist and leftwing status going to be useful in her campaign, but her ethnicity will be a factor that can’t be underestimated in the contest, because the Greens take race issues more seriously than any other political party in Parliament. Being Maori means Davidson is seen by many as the appropriate replacement for Metiria Turei, and providing necessary balance to James Shaw.

Some of this came up in RNZ’s Morning Report interview with two Green Party supporters and political commentators – Bronwyn Hayward and Morgan Godfery. They discussed what they wanted from the leadership contest, and Godfrey backed Davidson, warning his party against electing a pakeha: “imagine being whiter than the Act Party”. You can listen to the six-minute discussion here: Greens co-leadership contest begins – analysis.

The Focus on the three candidates

It’s generally assumed that alongside Davidson, there will be campaigns from Julie Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage. There have been plenty of good profiles on these three in the last few days.

One of the best is Henry Cooke’s The three main contenders for Green Party co-leader. He emphasises that Davidson would be a good balance to Shaw, and is the “heir to Turei”. But he also paints an impressive picture of Julie Anne Genter, and suggests that she is at the leadership of “a kind of culture war between the young urban New Zealand and older suburban/regional New Zealand”. But he concludes that, “If members want a balance to the somewhat business-friendly suited up version of the Greens Shaw represents, Genter will not be their pick.”

Cooke says that Eugenie Sage could still win as the compromise candidate as she has “a foot in neither of the big Green Party factions”. And another news report has Sage as the likely winner – see Newswire’s Sage tipped to be Greens’ co-leader.

Another good profile on the three candidates has been put together by Shane Cowlishaw, and he adds weight to a likely Davidson victory: “If you were forced to bet on one person, then it would likely be Davidson. Most political insiders have her as the most likely choice to join Shaw as co-leader. Intelligent, feisty and not afraid to speak her mind, she would appeal to the activist left of the party who feel uneasy with the shift to the centre and alliance with New Zealand First. She is also Maori, which would add diversity and a strong counterpoint to Shaw who would not look out of place at a National Party business function. This would allow her to act as a counterweight to Shaw in criticising the Government when needed” – see: Who will be the next Green co-leader?

Cowlishaw suggests that Genter has a different support base to Davidson: “A significant proportion of the party’s staff are believed to favour Genter, but there is less confidence of that support translating over to rank-and-file members”. Ultimately, she may not even enter the contest: “Genter may decide that her government responsibilities are enough to satisfy her for the time being.”

And Eugenie Sage is painted as the “true green” amongst the possible candidates: “Perhaps the purest green choice for co-leader, Sage would be the first option for members for whom the environment is a top priority. Now Conservation Minister, she has a long history of campaigning with Forest and Bird”.

All of these profiles show that both Genter and Sage are strong performers, who have achieved a lot as politicians. But when it comes to this contest, other factors are likely to overshadow their obvious abilities.

For another profile of the three likely candidates, see Isobel Ewing’s All bets are off in race to replace Metiria Turei as Green Party co-leader. In this, we find out which MP is “a huge fan of Netflix series Stranger Things”, who owns six bikes, and who’s been arrested in Israel.

Finally, hopefully the leadership campaign will yield plenty of much-needed satire about the Green-hopefuls, but in the meantime, it’s worth watching Tom Sainsbury’s impersonation of one of the candidates: Kiwis of Snapchat: Julie Anne Genter, Green party MP.