Today's guest post is from one of the Green Party's young left tigers, Matt Selwood. With the approaching election of the Party's first ever leader Matt takes a look at what qualities the contenders should have.
As anyone with even a passing interest in the Green Party of England and Wales will have noticed, we have a leadership election coming up. Our first, as a matter of fact. After all the wrangling over whether to have a leader or not, we finally get to have a cathartic election to decide the people who are going to lead us over the next two years. Or, well – maybe not.
Because at the time of writing, there is still a question mark over whether either the Leader or Deputy Leader position will actually be contested. Caroline Lucas MEP (pictured), barring pigs flying over a hell suitable for ice-skating, has the former position in the bag – while Cllr Adrian Ramsay looks like runaway favourite for Deputy Leader, given the withdrawal of Cllr Darren Johnson AM and North-West MEP candidate Peter Cranie.
I suppose that this could be seen as a good thing. After all, following the storm of contention over having a leadership model, surely it is a good thing that the Party forms a genial consensus over the identities of our new leaders?
I don’t think so. Now, that is not to say that I don’t admire the two front-runners. Caroline Lucas was one of two people (the other being the late Cllr Mike Woodin) who inspired me to join the Party in the first place, while I know first hand that Adrian Ramsay is awesomely efficient and capable. Both of them have the ability to perform the roles that they are being tipped for. The problem is, of course, that their ability is not the entire point.
An internal election has the potential to generate much-needed debate about what the Green Party is about, where we are going, what our priorities should be, and what form of organisation is best able to deliver them. It is difficult to have that debate if positions are uncontested.
Recently, I became so concerned about the possibility of there being no serious discussion within the Party that I considered standing myself, as a ‘stalking horse’ candidate. Luckily, I have been saved from inevitable electoral humiliation by landing a politically-restricted job. However, someone needs to stand, if only to ensure that the whole Party is able to think about some of these important questions:
- What should the message of the Party be over the next few years? Are we looking to attract voters from across the political spectrum, or focusing on disillusioned Labour voters and those escaping the wreckage of the doomed RESPECT project(s)? How do we deal with the challenge of greenwash from the major parties, and how do we ensure that the achievements of our existing elected representatives are acknowledged and publicised effectively?Now, of course, it is still true that our leader and deputy need to be charismatic, eloquent and effective politicians. Having all the right answers for these questions won’t mean a thing if our new figureheads can’t communicate them to the party, and to the public at large. However, equally, having a charismatic leader will mean little if they have not done the required thinking about how the Party needs to change, and how to drive that change forward.
- How should the Party balance the challenges posed by the local autonomy of our decentralised model, and the need for firm strategy and central direction? How will we address the fact that the political and organisational experience of a local member can be wildly different depending on the local branch that he or she joins? How can elected representatives be held to account, without imposing the stultifying centralisation that has calcified the mainstream parties? Should our deputy leader take on a somewhat ‘internal’ role, or is that still a task for the Chair of the Party?
- Crucially, what steps will the central Party be taking to improve our logistical and organisational capacity? How will we improve fundraising, and move with the times to provide easy access to facilities such as online donation? What measures will we be taking to improve both membership recruitment and retention? Is our current ‘balance of power’ system, featuring GPEX, GPRC, SOC and other acronyms, really the best way to run a national political party – and if not, how can we do better?
A proper debate, as part of a contested election, would give the successful candidates that incentive to think about the real issues facing us.