Gordon Campbell on the Greens election campaign launch

Images Simon Scott

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Hard to credit such a thing from the Green Party, but their television ads were the star turn at the Greens campaign launch at Te Papa yesterday. For years to come, those “Vote For Me” spots with the child on the wharf will be cited as a model of good political communication – fresh, direct and conveying an emotional message utterly in sync with the Greens’ altruistic political brand.

As Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said dryly at one point, that young girl in the ads is not asking which party will be delivering her the biggest round of tax cuts this election. Larger issues are in play at this election.

The Greens’ dis-interest in playing the immediate games of political advantage has always been part of the party’s appeal to young voters. Equal shares of idealism, vision, contrariness and naffness are evident within the Greens’ image.

Yet the party’s proven clout with young voters has been achieved by a caucus that is the oldest on average – if you ignore the one man band parties – of any party currently in Parliament. “Why would you change from grey to grey ?” Fitzsimons asked rhetorically in a reference to Labour and National, while jauntily oblivious to the grey hairs evident in her own ranks.

Below the political radar, the Greens are experiencing a slow but inexorable changing of the guard. This will be Fitzsimons’ last election as Co-Leader. There is an expectation she will step down during this next term, under a timeframe likely to be revealed at the Greens annual conference next June. The contest to replace her is likely to be between Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei – one of whom should be installed by June 2010 at the latest, within sufficient time for the 2011 election.

The changes may not stop there. Of those MPs onstage with Fitzsimons at Te Papa, two other MPs central to the party’s public identity – Sue Kedgley and Keith Locke – are now in their 60s. Neither have given any sign they are considering retirement or that their interest in their work has dimmed. Yet the same issues – of when and how to best move aside – will probably become a concern for them as well, during the next term. In other words, voters should be paying some attention to the names on the Greens party list that lie just below the line likely to be elected in November.

Right now, the Greens have more pressing things in mind. Later this week, the party will announce the ‘principles’ it will be using to measure the policies of its prospective partners in government. These principles will be an extended rewrite of the party’s four guiding principles of ecological wisdom , social responsibility, appropriate decision-making and non-violence. It should be relatively easy for the public to then work out which major party the Greens would prefer to co-operate with in government – and which it would prefer not to.

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Even so, the Greens will be making this preference specific, Fitzsimons told Scoop, in a further statement a week further down the track. This will be a preference only. Conceivably, the election outcome could still land the Greens in the position of trying to make the best out of preference B.

On stage, Fitzsimons and Russel Norman have developed into a reliable tag team – she with the solid overview, he with the more aggressive, rally-the-troops message. In her speech, Fitzsimons turned Helen Clark’s claim that this election was all about “Trust” to good effect for the Greens :

“Who do you trust to take urgent action on climate change and to prepare for rising oil prices? To get our cities moving with a functional public transport system before they build yet more motorways? Who do you trust to give you the right to know where your food comes from ? Who do you trust to keep New Zealand GE free? Who do you trust to invest in preventative healthcare rather than waiting til you are sick…?”

At the same time, the launch at Te Papa also unveiled a four minute excerpt from the Greens’ upcoming election broadcast. While this looked handsome enough, the excerpt seemed unlikely to convince the unconverted – if only because it seemed somewhat out of sync with a domestic economy headed into recession, and an international financial system in crisis. Saving the Overlander, buying back rail, building a public transport system, committing a billion dollars to compensate for the Emissions Trading Scheme etc etc seemed to belong to a different, more affluent time. Some hints about the Green policies for ( sustainable) wealth generation might be a welcome addition, for the rest of the broadcast.

Still, the extent to which reality will be allowed to intrude on this election campaign will be one of its interesting features. To date, National’s economic policies have also seemed to have been kept in a hermetically sealed flask for months, impervious to the changing economic circumstances in the world.

In fact, the crisis on Wall Street is a genuine godsend for National. After months of talking up its tax cuts, National has now got itself into a position where it cannot outbid Labour. Just in time, the bailout on Wall Street has bailed out National as well. As it unveils its tax policies this week, National can now make a virtue out of under-delivery. You can hear the pitch already : National asks you to be patient in these uncertain times – but vote for us, and if things get better, we’ll give you more later, when we can do so, responsibly. This is the sort of luck that wins elections.