Two editorials praising Jeanette. First the Herald:
Jeanette Fitzsimons’ decision to retire from the leadership of the Green Party in mid-year signals the end of an unconventional political career. In any other party, her outstanding qualities – high intelligence, intense application to problems and solutions, fairness, integrity, compassion, always civilised in debate – would have ensured her senior ministerial positions.
But Jeanette Fitzsimons would not be in any party. She was an environmentalist before she was a politician and left academic life only to further the cause. As the founding co-leader of the Green Party she, perhaps more than anyone in the party, has kept it out of close coalitions that would have given her ministerial positions but would also have required compromises from the party and associations it might regret.
I think they regret that Helen chose Winston as a preferred coalition partner over the Greens! I wonder if Helen regrets it though?
Jeanette Fitzsimons and her initial co-leader, the late Rod Donald, built a party that seems to have a durable appeal not just for its environmental idealism but for the collegial, almost non-political, style of its organisation and campaigning. It has “co-leaders”, quaintly of each sex, and gives its MPs room to pursue their own priorities. Sue Kedgley has her food safety campaign, Sue Bradford her concern for the welfare of beneficiaries, Keith Locke his suspicions of security services.
And Jeanette was one of those rare Green MPs whose priority was the environment!
The Press is equally positive:
During her 14 years as co-leader of the Greens, Jeanette Fitzsimons emerged as one of the most respected political figures in New Zealand, writes The Press in an editorial. She did not achieve this by practising the politics of ego, abuse and bombast, which have been all too common in Parliament. Instead her political style was based on her ideals, her integrity, a reassuring rather than threatening manner, and her unfailing politeness. Even politicians from other parties who disagreed with her policies found much to admire in Fitzsimons’ approach to politics, and her impending retirement as co-leader leaves a big gap for her party to fill.
That’s a nicer editorial than most people get as their funerals!
A feature of Fitzsimons’ approach was that she worked as part of a team. This is a stark contrast to some other parties, notably New Zealand First, which rose to prominence on the back of the same cult of personality surrounding its leader, Winston Peters, which subsequently destroyed it.
The Greens were the first third party into NZ that did not depend on their leader for survival. NZ First, Alliance, Progressive and United Future all do. The Maori Party do not. The ACT Party are a bit in between. They have a genuine brand, but would struggle to survive without Rodney holding Epsom.
Having said that Jeanette’s going will not help the Greens, but it won’t destroy them.
Even as Fitzsimons must be praised for her role, the future issue for the Greens is who should replace her as female co-leader, with sitting MPs Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei both contenders. In the eyes of some sections of the public, if not Green members, an impediment for Bradford could be her sponsorship of the anti-smacking legislation. Turei is less well-known, yet this need not count against her in the Greens, as Norman was not a headline figure when he became co-leader. For Turei, being Maori and from the South Island could be assets for the party’s future. The only certainty is that whoever does prevail will find it a hard challenge to follow in the footsteps of Jeanette Fitzsimons.
Another factor is Turei is 38, and Bradford is 56. Now 56 is far from over the hill, but it does suggest a medium term leader rather than a long term leader.