It's not only National that's a bit rich

Whose slogan is this: “For a richer New Zealand”? Not ACT’s. ACT’s is “experience that counts”. Not National’s. National’s is “brighter”, not “richer”. It is the Greens’. It shows how far the Greens have come.

A measure of that is that co-leader Metiria Turei, whose brief is social policy, started a radio debate talking of a green economy. Rivers and poverty came later. Co-leader Russel Norman has made it his mission to reposition the party as promising economic development.

Turei and Norman bang on about green jobs. One flyer at Sunday’s launch headlined its front page: “A smart economy is a green economy.” The other topped its front page with “The Greens mean business”, put its second target as “Jobs that work for our environment, our economy and our people” and headed its second page with “Smart green economics in action”.

Norman at the launch: “If we don’t protect our environment, we damage the economy”. He got the good-humoured crowd jammed into Wellington’s Boatshed chanting: “No environment, no economy”.

This is smart politics and smart campaigning. In 2008 the Greens featured a child in advertisements, thereby extending saving the planet to saving humanity. Adding “richer”, a word rich in meanings, one of them material wellbeing, reaches out towards the mainstream.

Wellington Central candidate James Shaw is a management consultant. Rimutaka candidate Tane Woodley is a territorial soldier.

The result is recent poll readings averaging close to 10 per cent and a distinct “medium” place among parties. For the small parties recent averages up to Sunday were New Zealand First 2.1 per cent, Maori party 1.4 per cent, ACT 1.1 per cent , Mana 0.5 per cent and United Future 0.2 per cent.

Some of the Greens’ support is slippage out of Labour: people who figure Labour can’t be the government, lean a bit greenwards anyway and know the Greens have got some things done with John Key.

Norman’s repositioning has eased that slippage. While mainstream economists pick holes in the economic policy, it is not as far left of Labour’s as it was and in some respects Labour has edged closer to the Greens.

This is a minus and a plus for Labour.

The minus: the stronger the Greens are, the wider the deficit with National — and, come 2014, the harder it will be for Labour to get more votes than National. Labour’s alternative to National is actually Labour-Green. That is likely still to be so in 2014.

The plus: Labour has a ready-made support party that can win a big tranche of votes and National doesn’t. Turei was blunt on Sunday: “We prefer to work with the Labour party.”

National has tried to bolt on the Maori party but that party is struggling and next term loses its two leaders with no credible successors. (Two bright younger candidates top the list but they will not be in Parliament.) ACT is bolted on but National cannot work out whether to tell its Epsom voters bluntly to vote for John Banks if all it gets thereby is two old codgers — a point of interest for late in the campaign. Peter Dunne is bolted on but surely cannot survive 2014 if he survives 2011.

It doesn’t help that National’s high poll ratings squeeze not only Labour but also its own small partners. If National gets enough to rule alone, that leaves less space for ACT, the Maori party and United Future. If MMP survives, that leaves National vulnerable in 2014 — the more so to the extent that this time some may be voting for nice, friendly, blokey John Key rather than the policy line and the party.

Actress Robyn Malcolm, MC at the Greens’ launch, and Turei had a lesson for Labour in how to tackle this Key-personality factor. They made fun of him, in a jokey middle-class way that exactly reflects the membership and Sunday’s crowd.

Malcolm: Key had “a total lack of interest in leading us into the twenty-first century. But what a nice guy he has been”. Turei (on the home insulation programme): “We’ve shown you the money”. That made fun of Key’s jibes at Phil Goff on Wednesday that Labour had not released policy costings.

Goff to Key in last Monday’s debate: “You lied” (in 2008 about not raising GST, which Key did in 2010). That stoked a debate about whether Goff had overstepped some mark — which he had, but that mark was not whether his accusation was right but whether it offended the majority who want to think nice John Key wouldn’t lie.

Turei’s jibe was also at Goff. He should have been ready for the Whrsthmnycmngfrm line. Waiting till Friday, whatever the time needed to get the fine points sorted (in, by the way, a commendably detailed costing, far more than any opposition party has done in the past), was a tactical failure. Steven Joyce’s imaginative numbers won the second week.

For this week the question is whether Labour’s seriously evidence-based and, importantly, future-oriented get-every-child-a-good-start policy, released after this was written, can regain the initiative.

If not, perhaps the Greens could offer some tactical advice.