Saturday, July 05, 2008

Guest Post: Opportunities for Change

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?

- 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?
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.

A proper debate, as part of a contested election, would give the successful candidates that incentive to think about the real issues facing us.


Jim Jay said...

Now, would I be entirely out of place in saying at this point "Ashley Gunstock, your time has come!"

Matt Sellwood said...

Young left tiger? Intriguing! :)

Anyone have any news on who is definitely standing?


MikeS said...

The discontent in parts of the party over this whole leadership thing is a worry. Many, if not most of the activists were against moving to having a leader, and this feeling is still festering away. The leadership faction should be wary of the New Lab example, too many chiefs and not enough indians.

Green Socialism @ Red Pepper

Jim Jay said...

Well the people who were for the leader were in the clear majority as the vote showed. I don't think the no vote people can hold the yes voters to ransom.

If people are offended by discussion of the leadership election that we are bound by referendum to have (and it seems some people are, I'm not refering to you Mike, of course) then actually it's their problem and they should grow up.

It is politically very important who the GP leader and deputy will be - and I hope the discussion will be as extensive as possible without any walking on egg shells because a very small number of people cannot accept what has happened.

The election process has started - we're not re-running the referendum which has taken place. i hope that doesn't sound too harsh, I just think it's best to be as clear as possible as early as possible on this.

MikeS said...

I don't want to rerun the leadership referendum issue, Jim. But more than a quarter voted against, so it is not that small. And my point is, in the main, these were activists, rather than passive members.

The Labour party in my area find it very difficult to get activists out canvassing etc. One activist in my local Green party resigned his post over this.

Jim Jay said...

I'm not saying you do Mike, not at all. There *are* some who do though and haven't been able to accept the change - I'm not numbering you among them.

I don't accept the idea that it was passive members who wanted a leader and activists who were opposed (nationally) I do think different areas seem to have different ratios so that may be true in your local area. Nor do I accept that activists are more important than less active members anyway as these are not facts that are set in stone.

But the key point is what do those who don't/didn't want a leader want the party to do about that? Not have the election? Not discuss it? Not have internal campaigning? I don't think any of that would be reasonable.

The structural change has been decided on, it is not insensitivity to crack on with elections to the national executive. I think the most useful discussion we should be having at the moment is the politics around who to elect and why.

scott redding said...

One of the reasons why Gordon Brown is in a democratic deficit pickle is that he was uncontested as leader. Even folks like Callaghan and Major (pre-1992) had more legitimacy, due to leadership contests against big beasts within their party. It would not be healthy to have an uncontested Lucas/Ramsey ticket at our first leadership conference.

Aaron said...

I do hope that there is real choice between the candidates. I was not in the party at the time that there was the move to have a leader, but personally I feel like it was a bad move. I can see the arguments from both sides, but I am inclined to go with how it was before. However, I will positively engage with what the majority of the party freely voted for.

Anonymous said...

Wot no Sian Berry?

weggis said...

Jim said 'Now, would I be entirely out of place in saying at this point "Ashley Gunstock, your time has come!"'

He could be right!