The Green party needs a big debate about its direction


10:05 am - August 8th 2010

by Jim Jepps    


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It’s been a few years now since the Green Party made its decision to adopt a leadership model. At the time it was a hotly contested issue and, in a high turnout, the referendum resulted in more than 70% voting to reform the old system.

However, since then there has been little discussion of how to implement the new system, I believe in order to help heal some of the wounds and concentrate on politics, funnily enough.

That’s all very sensible but the fact is with poorly contested elections the party has essentially allowed inertia decide for it what we want from our leader.

I’ll get out of the way right now that Caroline Lucas is a superb politician and that I’ve taken a decision not to publicly back either deputy candidate (Adrian or Derek). So this post is not about them but about the roles they seek to fill.

What this post *is* about is whether our reluctance to talk about what we want from our leadership team has left us in a situation where we use the posts simply to raise the profile of our two candidates best placed to win a Parliamentary seat. I’m not sure that’s what they should be for.

Two years ago we elected Caroline and Adrian not just on the basis of their excellent personal qualities but also on the basis that we wanted them to become MPs and the added national media profile of these positions undoubtedly helped. We were right at the time, I think, but this shouldn’t be the ongoing model which would end up prioritising two Parliamentary seats above the rest of our work.

Now Caroline is elected, for example, there is a good case that she definitely should not be the leader so that we do not become a one person party.

Caroline’s role as MP gives her the highest profile in the Greens regardless of internal position and if Adrian had run for leader with a new running mate, for example, we’d have upped his media profile and given the job to someone with time to do it. Heresy you say!

The facts are that Caroline is a very busy person. She’s being excellent in her constituency, in the House, in the press, radio and on TV. As someone who provides inspiration to party members she is absolutely second to none. However, in terms of day to day party leadership we’re far less well served. Politically, organisationally and in simple terms of having time to just listen to party members across the country she just does not have the time.

I think it’s strange that we took such a radical shift in our structures and then devoted no time afterwards to making sure they actually worked for the party in practice.

Perhaps the bigwigs have discussed it, but not with us if they have. I think we need to start exploring some of these questions, although I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers.

Do we have a leadership model where local parties and activists think they are taken seriously? Has the role of leader and deputy changed in wake of the election? How do we support Caroline in her phenomenally difficult task? And of course how can she ensure that what she’s doing is what the party wants of her?

This is also a debate the Green Party needs to have right now.

——
A longer version is at The Daily (Maybe)

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Green party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Jim, it has been said on your blog but I’ll say it again here. Your argument for replacing Caroline as the leader is interesting but a bit daft.

We have an Executive and a Regional Council with chairs & other positions like Local Party Support to cover off the duties that you imagine the Leader might carry out.

If we voted Caroline Lucas MP out of office just for that reason, we’d rightly be laughed off the face of politics.

I think a much more interesting debate is whether we want a Deputy Leader who is equally media friendly and on the mainstream side of the party, or whether we gamble by putting a rabble-rousing deep green out there as our second major public face to shake things up a bit.

Hi Jim
I backed the leadership drive specifically in order to enable he party to have a recognisable public face. Happily, this has succeeded beyond expectations. However, the arguments of the anti-leadership movement in the party have validity. We must avoid any semblance of “following our leader”, or any kind of a personality cult. So, to balance the fact that we now have a leader, I feel that we should maintain the quasi-anarchist, decentralist, roots-up quality of the party, with policy still put forward by the membership. Maybe we should look to refining this process, drawing in more input than Conference attendees. Above all, we must avoid top-down party leadership in internal matters.

3. gwenhwyfaer

It seems odd, but somehow fitting, that the Green Party should exhibit tall poppy syndrome…

Surely, this is a case for applying the precautionary principle:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

The debate the Green Party needs to have is: how on earth do they expect to exert any real influence over British politics when it took them 37 years to elect 1 MP? How many more do they expect to win in the next 37 years? And won’t that all be a bit late, according to their own (and my) views on climate change, which requires action A.S.A.P.?

The causes the Green Party espouses are important ones, for certes. But they are too important to be the realm of such an insignificant political club. The best the Green Party can hope to achieve is to put pressure on the other parties to become more green, which must be a great motivator for Green Party activists: one can imagine the bearded chaps jumping out of bed in the morning, exclaiming: “Today I will do all I can to help Labour steal our core issues, because we are useless at actioning them ourselves!”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/jun/10/green-party-european-elections

“The European elections showed that, sadly, the Greens will always remain at best a tokenistic minority in party politics… I would love to see a Green MP – we might realistically get one in the form of Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Hove come the next general election – but I still struggle to see how this will come to be seen as anything more than a tokenistic presence at Westminster. We just don’t have the luxury of time for these small, incremental steps forward.”

@Blanco

It’s a long shot but if AV gets passed by this Govt the Greens might have a better chance next time round. People’s voting patterns will change methinks.

8. George W. Potter

I don’t see why Lucas can’t be leader. Cameron’s the leader of his party and Nick Clegg’s the leader of his. What you do need to do is to have a position of a party chairman who can take on a lot of the responsibilities of the leader at the moment. This model works well enough for other parties and it should work well enough for you. The important thing is that, whichever direction of reform you take, you must ensure that it is one where ordinary members still have a democratic voice. I personally think that something along the lines of the Lib Dem model could work rather well.

9. George W. Potter

@7 I agree with you there. My personal voting preference has always been: Lib Dem, Green, Labour, Independent/Minor Party, Tory, UKIP, EDP, BNP. In that order (and obviously I’d never vote for any of the latter ones on the list apart from to keep one of the ones I dislike even more out). I imagine that lots of people on the left are fairly similar so Greens could very well expect a boost from AV as you say.

At this point I’m not sure I share a decentralised approach in policy making etc – because you open yourself up to criticism if random fruitloops start making policy or decisions (for eg the science stuff). That could massively backfire in the party’s face.

I don’t think Jim’s point is that Caroline should be replaced, necessarily. It is that there hasn’t been a proper debate about policy making or the party’s direction in the mainstream.

Once Caroline got elected as leader I expected a slew of publicity grabbing ideas and policies. I expected a concerted attempt to raise profile then, and we got very little.

People within the party were telling me constantly that they were unhappy abt the fact that it seemed nothing was going on.

Now Caroline has been elected it’s slightly different, but nevertheless the point about Greens concentrating mostly on Brighton and Norwich stands.

You can’t pursue a ’50 state strategy’, agreed. But you still need someone (as the Labour party does) who concentrates on building a strong national network. And it doesn’t feel like there is one.

For Greens etc interested, some debates on similar territory have been going on over at Bright Green:
http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2010/08/democratising-and-professionalising-our-party-further

Its worth remembering that there is something of a crossover with the left of the Lib Dems and the Green movement. Take, for example, the 1989 European parliamentary election where the then nascent Lib Dems received a thrashing – 6% of the vote. However those votes did not filter through to the two main parties, but to the Greens who received 15%. The lowpoint of Lib Demmery was matched by the high watermark of British Green politics. It is possible that if the Lib Dems implode completely (which I don’t personally think is very likely at all, but I’ve been wrong before) then it will be the Greens who benefit most. Indeed if one looks at European Green parties (German Greens, Swedish Greens, French Greens, Irish Greens etc.) they increasingly look and sound like Lib Dems. AV should also benefit the Greens, but perhaps the great advantage will come from a future elected House of Lords, which, it seems, will be elected by STV. That should give the Greens seats and at least a reasonable voice.

8. I should clarify I’m not saying she *can’t* be leader – all I saying is that there is a case for us to have someone else.However, I like you’re ‘go round’ solution of beefing up other posts… the specific concern this post is attempting to address is that to the outside world the party is pretty much Caroline Lucas and this is a dangerous place to be – more importantly it could be that we become a CL supporters club *internally* too… although I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we need to be conscious of the tendencies.

I think Sunny’s point at 9 is an important one on this. Because while Caroline is universally adored in the party her formal party position means very little in concrete terms. I think the position of leader should have more traction than just boosting one person’s media profile – it should be a leadership role in my opinion.

However, I’m more concerned that these issues are actually debated by greens so that we’ve thought about them than anyone particularly agrees with my specific points.

The debate the Green Party needs to have is: how on earth do they expect to exert any real influence over British politics when it took them 37 years to elect 1 MP?

There was a time when you could have said much the same thing about the SNP.

The debate the Green Party needs to have is: how on earth do they expect to exert any real influence over British politics when it took them 37 years to elect 1 MP?

There was a time when you could have said much the same thing about the SNP.

There was a time when you could have said something similiar about Labour, and look at them now. All it takes is the right set of circumstances.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Louise Hazan

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  3. Ian Andrew Barker

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  4. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: The Green party needs a big debate about its direction: It’s been a few years now since the Green Party m… http://bit.ly/c4OHq8

  5. sunny hundal

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  6. SSP Campsie

    RT @sunny_hundal: Excellent point by @Jim_Jepps – 'The Green party needs a big debate about its direction' http://bit.ly/9WHy7a

  7. Bella Caledonia

    RT @sunny_hundal: Excellent point by @Jim_Jepps – 'The Green party needs a big debate about its direction' http://bit.ly/9WHy7a

  8. Steed

    RT @libcon The Green party needs a big debate about its direction http://bit.ly/9WHy7a

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