Biggest caucus ever, but it still isn’t easy being Green

The Greens have dominated this term with the Mayor settling into her role further, made easier by having a whole caucus of Greens. We’ve had a bit of a look at Labour in the last week, and while its light may be dimming, it is time to get our birkenstocks on and go Green watching.

Lambton Ward councillor Iona Pannett is effectively chief musterer, driving the policy programme. She is regularly seen stomping around the office corridors demanding committee reports are changed to be in line with Green policy. Plannett’s such a regular in the Mayor’s office she has her own side entrance (sadly without a bead curtain), and the bizarre ‘mother-daughter’ relationship with Wade-Bicycle is often the subject of comment around City Hall.

But while Pannett’s policy influence has been obvious, unfortunately that particular brand of policy incense doesn’t always smell good… for example, take a look at an email she sent earlier this month:

Given we all attempted to deliver a balanced budget earlier in the year, why is there such a strong focus on economic development? As you may recall at the time, I did feel that there was too much of an emphasis on economic development at the expense of climate change. Others may feel that other areas of council require a stronger focus too. Is it officer advice that we should continue this strong focus on economic development?

Wellington’s economy is grinding along in first gear, and Pannett’s priority is to wring her hands about climate change. Really? It is a strange world when a local councillor thinks a global environmental issue being handled by governments should take up more time and be a higher priority than local economic development. How deluded can you be to think that the City Council is anything more than just that.

But even though climate change hasn’t been reversed despite all the important bullet points Pannett’s had inserted in policy papers, word is this may be her last term. Pannett’s always said she’d only do three terms, which means she’ll be looking for new (organically fertilised) pastures next year; Paris has been mentioned, although getting there would consume a huge amount of carbon credits, and could impact her income – she was on Newstalk ZB telling Tim Fooks that her councillor salary isn’t ‘extravagant’ (and we do recommend listening to her rambling interview here).

While Pannett’s been the dominant figure in the Green caucus, the rest of the team have barely registered. Invisible Southern Ward councillor David Lee is understood to be eyeing a place on the Green’s List for the 2017 General Election, despite his lack of effort as a councillor over the past two years. Green Party Leader, James Shaw, is keen to have an Asian in the Caucus to reach out to the growing Chinese electorate and David Lee represents a nice quick fix.

Lee’s political charms were on full display recently when he apparently teamed up with the nasty arm of the Green Gestapo, the cycling fundamentalists, to bully Island Bay shop-owners: one trader was so intimidated, he was seconds away from calling the police.

The Green’s list would be a great fit for the former Young Nat, as he’s stated that the people side of politics is a “total waste of time when I could be drinking coffee or managing my parents’ property portfolio in Christchurch”. The good news is that his golf handicap has improved considerably; the bad news is he dumped on his Southern Ward colleague Paul Eagle with indecent haste after election night in 2013 It’s thought Eagle is biding his time in giving Lee a lesson in Maori culture – utu. The first (and only) lesson will be about Bad JuJu.

We remain doubtful of Lee getting a place high enough on the Green Party List to enter Parliament though: what he gains in being NZ Chinese, he loses in being absolutely invisible.

And where do we start with NZ First-reject Sarah Free? Full marks for moving into her ward (something David Lee and the Ritchiesaurus should do) she’s just proudly bought a house in Seatoun Heights recently, proclaiming it’s ‘really Strathmore’ making sure she was seen to be on the right side of the street, if you know what we mean. We’ll believe her when she mods her orange Subaru SUV with some sick bass bins.

If you’re planning to talk with Free, bring a box of tissues, as most discussions end in tears (hers). Wakefield Street insiders tell us the formerly Reformed Baptist and now member of the Open Brethren gets upset when she isn’t consulted over the smallest of things, such as the paint colour in any community centre renovation – Wakefield Street staff are often seen darting for cover as Free heads down the corridors armed with a fresh shopping list of neediness. She’s an ineffective speaker at council, getting tied in knots over the difference between the substantive and an amendment, and making irrelevant points like ‘I don’t like the barrier arms at the airport’ when discussing waste water infrastructure. Worst of all, her colleagues report that any conversation when Free’s within earshot can be dangerous – she’s a self-confessed eavesdropper.

Next year the Greens are planning to run two candidates in the Lambton, Southern and Eastern wards – historically Labour’s hunting grounds – if they can find enough candidates. This is smart, given the way STV ranks preferences, and could send Labour into its final Wellington City Council death spiral. Names being touted include George Darroch (who ran James Shaw’s leadership campaign and works for the Problem Gambling Foundation), Rick Zwaan (the outgoing president of VUWSA) and Asher Wilson-Goldman (a union media officer and cat-lover).

If successful they’ll join Free, Lee and possibly Pannett in the Green’s WCC caucus along with the lowercase g greens such as Andy Foster – Wellington City Council will be one step closer to killing the local economy, ridding the world of nuclear weapons, roads and cars and making sure the only items on the agenda are cycling and climate change. Hooray!

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