James Shaw thinks that a Green Party under his co-leadership could win 20%, run a two-tick campaign and even break into local government. He would make local body politics a personal priority of his, and encourage local groups to push for fossil fuel divestment.
This is the second of a possible three interviews with James Shaw, candidate for Green Party co-leader. In the first interview , we spoke over Skype about his reasons for running, his background in business, and his position on doing a deal with National. In this interview, we met at a Christchurch hotel for a more strategy-based, “show me the plan” type of interview – focused mainly on strategy and vote winning. The third and (probably) final interview in this series will take place if he wins the co-leadership election.
I arrived slightly early to the interview, though this didn’t seem to throw him. After a (very) brief wait in the lobby, James came down to meet me. After moving into the restaurant-y area of the hotel and finding a table, he ordered a long black, and I a tea. Following a brief discussion of his musical and literary tastes (his favorite album is Purple Rain by Prince, and his favorite book The Secret History, by Donna Tartt), I pulled my rather battered old laptop out of my bag, and began the interview.
What is the main theme for your campaign?
The main theme for my campaign is that with me, you get to grow the vote
What is your vision?
My vision for the Green party is that we continue our transformation into a broad-based political party, that we significantly increase our vote and number of MPs, are seen as competent managers of the economy and environment, and that we’re a strong progressive force in the next government.
How would you say your campaign is going? Does it have momentum?
I’ve got momentum, but Kevin is the clear frontrunner. He started weeks earlier than the rest of us, in February. But the feedback that I’ve been getting shows that I’m making it (the competition) much more competitive. Over the course of the campaign I’ve been getting more people saying they’re going to vote for me, and I think it’s going to be a very, very close election.
How confident are you that you can win?
I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t think that I could win. It was always a long shot, what with me being a relative newcomer to Parliament, however it’s a shorter shot than it was at the start of the campaign! If I’m going to win, I’m going to need all the support and help I can get from my supporters.
If you become co-leader, will you stand in Wellington Central again? And will you aim to win?
The decision on who is the candidate is up to the branch. I’d like them to reselect me, but as co-leader there might be other things that are more important, and take me elsewhere around the country. As for the question of whether I’d run to win, I think we’d have to talk more about which electorates we should target to win, and not just concentrate on Wellington Central. Rongotai could be a target seat for example, now that Annette King stepping down seems to have become a real possibility. My opinion is that it’s time to start thinking about taking electorate seats, but Grant Robertson in Wellington Central would be a big obstacle, as he’s a hugely popular local candidate. But if we are seeking to be a broad-based political party, a two-tick campaign would show that we’re serious, so that’s my thinking around that.
Do you feel the Greens have missed a big opportunity down here through not making a sustainable rebuild of Christchurch a major priority?
I think that it may have tailed off, but that was a huge thing for us for a few years. We had Kennedy, Eugenie, and Mojo based down here, so they really advocated for it initially. It was actually a big part of the 2011 election campaign, but more recently it’s transformed from a public campaign to a back room lobbying campaign. I really think it’s a tragedy that you’ve ended up with a city full of concrete and glass though, I find it really disappointing.
Can you name three key policy areas you’d like the Green Party to concentrate and campaign on over the next term and election?
Well, it’s not up to the co-leaders, but the two themes we’ve been campaigning on recently are climate change and inequality. On top of that I want to add the idea of the alternative budget, which I talked to you about last time. I want to bring our ideas together, and show voters that there’s a real alternative here.
What can you bring to the role of co-leader that the other candidates can’t?
One thing I’ve realized by travelling around the country with these three guys is that all the candidates have a mix of different strengths and weaknesses. I think what I have is a broad electoral appeal. There’s a significant portion of the electorate who connect with our values, but they’re voting for National, Labour and New Zealand First because of their leaders, and the fact they think that they have a better chance of achieving stable government through that vote. I also think there’s a significant portion of voters who are currently voting National because of John Key, who would vote for us in 2017 if I was co-leader.
What would be your target for the Greens to achieve at the 2017 election? 15%? 20%?
Personally, I’d say at least 20%. And again, there’s quite a science to how you put these things together, but my gut tells me that there’s a lot of different voters who connect with us on a values level, but are not yet actually voting for us. With the right circumstances and co-leader, I think they would vote for us. I believe I would be the right co-leader.
With that in mind, at what point would you say the Greens become a major party? Would you be able to lead in a potential three (major) party system?
I think that if we get within the 20% ballpark, we could be perceived as a major party, and that would enable us to break the duopoly, which is the main aim. If National got around 35%, Labour 35%, we got 21%, and New Zealand First got 8%, then we’d be a major party. In my ideal world, there’d be 4-5 parties on around 20-25% each who could all work together, and thus shift the binary a lot.
Can you confirm or deny the rumours that the Greens will be running a full-scale campaign in the Local Body elections next year?
I know that we are intending to run a significantly bigger one than in 2013 and 2010. I’m not sure about a full-scale campaign, but we are shifting our resources to the Local Body campaign. In some places we’d rather run on joint tickets, like City Vision in Auckland, not necessarily on a Green ticket. There are different circumstances in each city and ward, which we need to consider, for example in Auckland they use the First Past the Post electoral system, so that’s one major factor which makes us prefer to run on a joint progressive ticket up there.
Would your co-leadership style include support for Green members on Councils and Community and Health Boards?
Yes. Absolutely. It would be a focus area of mine to make sure we had funding, strategy and strong candidates in Local Authorities. Local Authorities are where many of our policies actually get implemented. Public transport planning, cycle lanes, pollution permits and resource management at largely takes place at a local level. Having Parliamentary and Government representation is great, but we need more attention on local politics. I ran the Wellington campaign a few years ago, all five of the candidates we ran were elected, but it took a year just to find our candidates, and those five were the only ones out of forty-seven possible candidates we approached who would run. So it’s a very labor and resource intensive job.
Would you campaign on the theme of divestment from fossil fuels for a local body campaign? Would you make it a local bodies priority?
That’s a really interesting idea, though I’m not actually sure if I would run it as a major issue. I’m a big fan of divestment, but voters are more concerned about stuff like roads, water supply, and rates. You need to address these kinds of issues for the voters to have confidence in you, but I don’t see why divestment couldn’t be a part of our wider platform and over-arching vision. The decision would have to be up to local teams, of course, but I’d like it to be a part of things.
How would you reach out to different groups of the community and persuade them to vote Green?
This is not the only thing we need to do, but we need to have MPs from different demographics. We need to have people from different ethnicities, geographical locations, and professions. I’d like to run a shoulder tap campaign through social media. Get people to nominate people they know who might be interested in being a Green MP or Local Bodies member. They’d have to meet certain criteria, for example obviously they’d actually have to want to do it. That would be one great way to grow, to reach out to the public and lift participation. We need to reach out to certain demographics though, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve had three attempts to reach out to Pasifika voters so far, and they’ve all failed. On the map of the party vote we received that you showed me (included in the image gallery down the bottom of this article), we had below 5% in all the major Pasifika electorates. We need to reach out to demographics that have a foot in Pasifika culture as well as Green culture, for example young Pacific Islanders could be a good place to start. This is really a job for the co-leaders though. We usually say it’s all up to the members, but we need to make sure the co-leaders have more to do with it. We need to send a message to members about their thinking process for criteria on our list building, like the stuff I said before about different demographics needing to be represented.
Can you name any population demographics you think the Greens have real potential to grow their vote in?
The under 40’s are our strength, but they’re also the most available to us as many of them don’t vote. Students, professionals, young families, there’s a real solid group of available voters there. I’d say that’s the best potential we have, though also the South Asian community, philosophically their culture has strong links to Green values. I do think we can do better in the provinces as well. We need to take lessons from the New South Wales Greens, who recently won some rural seats off the Nationals in their state election.
You said at the Aoraki Provincial meeting that you had a side-project studying the effects of inequality. What does this project involve, and could it be relevant to formulating Green Party policy?
Well, that’s the alternative budget project. It’s really early days. Because inequality is one of our main priorities, we have a lot of reactionary policies. But in the economy, we have to look at what causes the inequality and grinding poverty. We need to look at taking action on the cause, not just the effect. I think some of the best work that’s been done recently is on housing poverty and that kind of area was done in The Big Kahuna, by Gareth Morgan and Susan Guthrie, so I’d like to see those kind of ideas incorporated into it.
Below is an image of the Green Party Vote by electorate.
In James’ campaign video Green Party candidate John Hart mentioned that James was a “natural leader with a great strategic brain”. After this interview, I’m inclined to agree. His work on getting councillors elected in Wellington, his grasp on different population demographics and how to appeal to them, and in particular his recognition of the role Local Body politics could play in implementing Green policy all say to me that he has the knowledge, he has the strategy, and he has the ideas. All he needs now is the votes. And I am confident he can get them.
Full disclosure: I am now a Green Party member and supporter of James. I will be voting for him during the leadership election, and am actively campaigning for him. My views on James’ statements and leadership capability may or may not be shared by the wider Party (we’ll see on May 30th), and should not be taken as the official party view. My support of James did not result in me giving him what I considered easy questions, nor did it result in me polishing up James’ answers or any details of our meeting to give a better impression of him.