James Shaw co-leadership vote could signal Green Party's want for 'something really new and different', former MP Sue Bradford says

The Green Party's James Shaw failing to be reconfirmed as co-leader could be an indicator of where the party is at and that it's a signal for "something really new and different", former Greens MP Sue Bradford says.

Green Party members voted at their annual general meeting on Saturday and failed to reconfirm Shaw as co-leader. They did, however, re-elect co-leader Marama Davidson.

The Green Party's constitution allows for nominations to be reopened if at least 25 percent of voters choose that option, meaning Shaw can be challenged for his position.

Bradford, who was a Green Party MP from 1999 to 2009, said she was surprised that the "Young Greens and the left greens had finally got it together" to win the vote.

"It could be the signal for something really new and different, breaking the logjam the Greens have been in for the last six or more years under James' leadership," she told Newshub.

"The big question I have is whether the people that got this vote through yesterday have got a candidate that's ready to stand and whether they've got a strategy that's behind it that's capable of winning over more people from the party."

The "dissatisfaction" towards Shaw has been growing for some years, Bradford said, and comes down to him being from the corporate end of the Greens. She said he sees the solutions to climate change lying with winning over big business and working with farmers, rather than taking a radical stand on climate justice that those in the party and activists outside Parliament would hope the Greens would take.

Bradford added that Shaw has been Climate Change Minister through two Parliaments and has taken a "very moderate" position on the climate, almost playing the role of giving the Labour Party "green cover" for taking a conservative position on steps to deal with climate change.

"It's an indicator of where the party is. Do they want a James Shaw leader, do they want this greenwashing conservative style of leadership, or would they prefer a more radical leadership which actually put climate and economic issues together and really challenge the Labour Government," Bradford said.

Shaw indicated he was "inclined" to put his name forward for the co-leadership position, but would talk to party members and caucus first.

Bradford said Shaw's "obviously very keen" on keeping his post as Climate Change Minister, but wondered how much his power would be diminished.

"The problem is the Greens went into this cooperation agreement at a time when Labour didn't need them and they signed away their ability to speak on climate and housing, and they never seemed to understand how much they were weakening the Green kaupapa by taking these ministerial positions," Bradford said.

"I think the debate over the style and nature of James Shaw's leadership is not just about his weak stance on climate issues but it's also about whether the Greens wish to be a truly independent party that's not about constant compromise."

She also wondered whether the Greens would rather take a similar position Te Pāti Māori has and carve out a new position in politics.

"The Green Party has lost its way - I'd love to see it find its way again. This is an opportunity for the Green Party members to shift their stance quite substantially," Bradford said.

"But they need a leader, someone who stands for leadership the party will vote for and the public will vote for and a clear strategy forward."

James Shaw.
James Shaw. Photo credit: Getty Images

Bradford was unsure who the best person to replace Shaw would be, saying that they need someone who actually wants the job since leadership doesn't work unless someone is ready to take the reins and genuinely co-lead the Green Party into the future.

"If it plays out with a new leader who is willing to take an independent line, who is willing to campaign strongly on the issues the Green Party should be caring about, I think it would be a great step forward for the Greens in that they'd build a support they've lost over the past five or six years or more," she said.

"If they stumble around with James continuing as a weakened leader or with someone who doesn't want to be a leader and someone who's found their way into that position without really wanting to do it, I think they could be really weakened by it."

'You're not here to placate Labour'

Another former Green Party MP, Catherine Delahunty, also said the dissatisfaction towards Shaw had been growing for some time.

"It's really about the fact that some of the members - not all, but some - are very concerned about his performance. Not his work ethic on climate change, but his performance on climate change when he's supposedly the leader of the strongest, most committed party which should be calling for the proper solutions to climate change, not tokenistic ones," she told Newshub.

With Shaw not reconfirmed as co-leader, it shows him that he can't just be a minister in a Labour Government, Delahunty said, but that he needs to keep in touch with the membership base.

"As a minister, you have to remember you're in the Green Party - you're not here to placate Labour and necessarily stay in power for the sake of it. You're here to do more and present the most robust challenges to Labour so that they will move faster on climate change," she said.

"The step-by-step approach when the world is burning and underwater is not the step the Greens should take. They need to pressure Labour to do more faster."

But Delahunty doesn't believe this leadership vote reflects deep divisions in the Green Party.

"I think the party has always been on a continuum of values and strategies, but I think the leadership, once they get into positions of power, often risk this gap between themselves and the members," she said.

"I think everyone in the Green Party cares about climate but there are differences of opinion about how that can be done

"I think a lot of people are quite politically naive and think just doing what Labour wants is as good as it can get. We need to fight harder."

On what the next co-leader should be like, Delahunty said it should be someone who has a vision that makes the Green Party different from the left of Labour, who supports Treaty justice more strongly than Labour, and supports a radical stand on the economic drivers of climate change rather than business as usual and technofix.

Nominations for Shaw's co-leadership spot will be open for a week, allowing another candidate to put their name forward.

Recent changes to the Greens' rules mean while one co-leader has to be a woman, the other can be any gender. There's also a requirement that one of the co-leaders be Māori.