Thursday, August 14, 2008

You ask the questions: Green Party Leadership

Thanks to everyone who contributed questions to this online hustings. I've put your questions to the contenders for the Green Party leadership post (and also deputy leadership, although those responses are to follow), Ashley Gunstock and Caroline Lucas.

Readers should note that the candidates will not be monitoring the comments box for additional questions that you might wish to put.

Q1. What are the candidates' own personal experiences of leadership in the Party, both in themselves and of others in the Party. - Gordon Hodgson

Ashley Gunstock: In my experience being the Leading Spokesperson for my local party carries a great deal of responsibility. Therefore I have found that the best form of leadership is conducted by adopting a ‘hands on approach’ which encourages those better equipped, in certain situations, to take the lead. Sadly some of the ‘leading lights’ of our Party consider their positions as those for the use of control.

Caroline Lucas: We’ve all been inspired by others in our time in the Green Party. Jean Lambert’s record on fighting for human rights for the Kurds, for instance, is exemplary, while Jenny Jones’ work in London on promoting healthy local food is remarkable. Then there is leadership by example, with Darren Johnson in his role with the AGC supporting efforts to get Green councillors elected not just in Lewisham, but across London and beyond.

We are at the forefront of a battle of ideas between the reality of Climate Change and the huge and devastating impact it will have on poor communities around the globe, and a political and economic system that - through inertia and a lack of leadership - has missed opportunity after opportunity to address this crucial issue. We need Green leaders in every local council area in Britain, and I hope to help support that effort by providing a national profile that will promote the excellent work being done by our local councillors and local election candidates. In my role as MEP, and Principal Speaker, I've tried my best to give leadership, for example by showing that I will participate in peaceful direct action events, and by forcefully arguing for opportunities to put forward Green ideas wherever possible.

Some of my best experiences of leadership in the Party have been at local level, where local parties and their officers have been very clear about their roles and objectives. The people in question generally know each other well, meet one another often, and have time to agree the best way forward. Leadership at national level is often hampered by the fact that different roles aren’t always clear, we have little time to make good decisions, and people are often less familiar with one another.

Q2: If you had to choose between spending £500 on placards for a big national demo (which may get TV coverage and we wouldn’t want to be outplacarded by the SWP) or £500 on a newsletter for a winnable target ward, which would it be and why? - Sue Luxton

Ashley Gunstock: A newsletter for a winnable ward, in keeping with my belief that longer lasting change is better achieved by a bottom up, rather than a top down, approach.

Caroline Lucas: A big national demo is a great arena to show that Greens are involved in important campaigning. Visibility helps raise the profile of the Party, associates us with key ideas, but it doesn’t always mean change.

However, a good Green councillor, particularly one that gets elected as the first Green councillor in a Local Authority, can have a huge impact in terms of policy and public perception.

So, while I’d like to do both, if forced to choose, I’d definitely go for the newsletter for a winnable target ward. I believe our priority absolutely must be to increase our number of elected representatives – that way we build credibility, authority, and influence – all things that would set us apart from the SWP even more effectively than our respective number of placards!

Q3. Did you support our candidacy in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election? Please explain why you held your position. In what circumstances do you believe that the national party should have the right to prevent a local party from standing in elections? - Matt Hodgkinson

Ashley Gunstock: I believe in the autonomous right of all Local Parties to conduct their own affairs, to best serve the constituents of their area, as they see fit. The national Green Party should only intervene in such actions that would, in any way, bring it into disrepute.

Caroline Lucas: As I understand it, the national party doesn't currently have the right to prevent a local party from standing in an election. But that doesn't mean that the nationally elected committees should simply abdicate from making recommendations when there is a political judgement call to be made. In future, I think we need to agree a clear process whereby both the national and the local party are involved in the decision-making, which should be guided by our overall democratically-agreed election strategy.

I didn't think standing in Haltemprice and Holden was the right decision from a national perspective, since it was clearly outside our election strategy. We have had no candidacies at General or Local Election level there for at least 20 years, and no local government target ward, existing or imminent. As I expected, the media treated the campaign as little more than a media circus and our hard working candidate was excluded from the chance to engage in real debate with David Davis. We were in fact lucky that neither the BNP nor UKIP contested the seat and, as it was, we were very nearly beaten into an embarrassing 3rd place by the English Democrats.

An important contrast can still be drawn between our democratic decision making, and those of the other parties. Nick Clegg, for example, simply announced the Lib Dems wouldn't stand on the basis of a few phone calls and his own decision. That is the difference between us as Greens and the other parties.

Q4. What policies would you support to address issues of domestic violence? - Natalie Bennett

Ashley Gunstock: Policies which would, in the short-term provide more state funded refuges for victims of domestic violence and, in the long-term, an holistic education for would-be and existing partners to learn how to make the correct choices of and with each other and respect each others differences.

Caroline Lucas: Domestic Violence continues to be one of the most insidious and overlooked forms of violence. Two women are killed in domestic violence incidents every week in the UK. Research has shown that the criminal and justice systems consistently fail to recognise the complexities of domestic violence, and do not address the safety of the victim or hold offenders properly accountable.

Essentially, we need better protection, provision, and prevention. Stronger measures under the Domestic Violence Bill will ensure fewer perpetrators go unpunished. Abused women need a range of services, and we need to ensure additional funds are channeled into more services which recognize women’s varied needs. And we need to raise awareness among all ages that violence is unacceptable. We also need to make sure that existing legislation is properly implemented. For example, the government still hasn’t implemented the domestic violence restraining orders that were promised four years ago. I think it would be helpful if Greens supported groups like Refuge, which is launching a poster campaign this month to highlight the early-warning signs of abuse. Research shows a worrying lack of awareness among women of the techniques used by violent men to control women - eighty-seven per cent of women said they received no information about domestic abuse when they were in school, and yet nearly all the women questioned say they would have liked to have.

As an MEP I have been pushing the EU to take action to eliminate violence against women by making sure the issue is on the agenda for bilateral meetings with other nations, drawing up an action plan for tackling the problem, and pushing member states to make good their commitments under international agreements to eradicate domestic violence in all its forms. Greens in the European Parliament have worked tirelessly with the police, home office officials and other EU governments to stamp out 'silent slavery' by arguing trafficking victims should be treated as victims rather than punished as illegal immigrants.

Q5. Will an academic and cultural boycott of Israel speed up or delay a settlement? - Alan Howe

Ashley Gunstock: An academic and cultural boycott of Israel would delay a settlement as there would be no dialogue between (and with) groups, existing on both sides of the divide, who wish to broker for peace. More is to be gained from speaking with your enemies than just simply talking to your friends.

Caroline Lucas: Israel/Palestine is one of the most complex foreign policy issues which the international community faces. The ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza, and the continuing house-building programme by the Israeli government on West Bank territory, makes an academic and cultural boycott a legitimate proposal – my position has always been that it should be debated. But clearly it must also be weighed up against other tactics, and assessed in the context of the current political climate.

My own position is that while I support calls made by Palestinian civil society for an economic and cultural boycott – since diplomatic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories has manifestly failed - more thought needs to be given before extending it to an academic boycott. Academic freedom and independence is a long-held fundamental principle, and there is a strong argument that jeopardising it would be both wrong and counter-productive. Some would also make the case that, if we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've seen the most progressive pro-peace views, and that therefore this sector should be the last one to be approached.

Boycotts are never the tool of first resort. But after so many years of occupation, I believe it is entirely legitimate to search for other peaceful means of resisting it, including boycotts. We all want to see a genuine push for peace on all sides – the question is how best to help achieve it.

Q6. For a number of years, the Green Party's membership was growing, albeit from a low base. Over the last year or two, this trend appears to have reversed. What, as part of the leadership team, would you do to address this extremely serious issue? - Matt Selwood

Ashley Gunstock: In my opinion the membership has recently dropped due to the ever more centrist attitude adopted by the Party over the last few years. Our membership steadily rises when we employ our traditionally strong grassroots strategy, which is sadly being abandoned of late. I would address this issue by ensuring that all Local Parties were party to decisions made by any leadership team of which I was a part.

Caroline Lucas: Membership has been roughly stable, despite nearly 1,000 totally new members being inspired enough to join every year. The problem has been that new people join, and then lapse, after only a year or two. A lot of this has been about our administration being overstretched and a lack of capacity for good management. But with over 20% of the membership now on Direct Debit, and over 65% of new members joining by Direct Debit, they should stay members longer and we should see both membership and income increase.

The challenge will be to turn these new members into activists. We need to create a welcoming, energising and proactive atmosphere to encourage them to stay and be active. We also need to support new members and new parties with the resources to put Green ideas into practice.

If the party elects me as its leader, I hope that I can reach out to all potential activists, who in turn can help build the Party.

Q7. I voted for a leader and I meant a green, enabling leader. How would you ensure you were an enabling leader? - Shan Oakes

Ashley Gunstock: By ensuring that all Local Parties were offered the opportunity to seriously have an input into Green Party policy and rule making.

Caroline Lucas: I don’t see the role of leader to be to sit at the top of an imaginary pyramid, but to inspire and enable others. If elected, one of my priorities would be to continue to support the good work being done up and down the country by local Greens. For example, enabling the target candidate in a marginal council ward to show they have the backing of an identifiable Green figurehead, someone who voters will recognise at a national level, should help to raise our vote. This is something that, as one of the current Principal Speakers, I have tried to do wherever possible.

Secondly, a Green leader should be using their profile to reach out to other campaigning organisations, NGOs and Green groups, to enable us to engage and agree on joint campaigns that increase our collective effectiveness. I've seen just how powerful this can be during my time at the Kingsnorth protests, and it’s something which we as the Green Party really have to improve.

Finally a Green leader has to lead the way forward electorally. Unless we get Greens elected to Westminster, we will remain a party consigned to the margins of British politics. As the candidate for Brighton Pavilion, I am putting everything I can into the efforts we need to make to get that breakthrough moment in British politics, when we win our first Westminster seats. If we can contest many more parliamentary seats at the next General Election, hold many more deposits, and improve our results in many of the other constituencies, I hope that Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford will become the first of many Green held seats in the House of Commons.

Q8. Everyone has a sense of humour - how would you describe yours? - Douglas Coker

Ashley Gunstock: Satirically, sardonically and occasionally (I must confess) sarcastically dry.

Caroline Lucas: I’d like to think of it as sharp and witty….but my children might not be so kind about it!

As part of this "series" on Sunday I'll have an interview with both candidates for chair - so watch this space. You might also like to check out who have interviewed both Caroline and Ashley.


Anonymous said...

Caroline's a bit negative about the H+H bye election, our highest percentage ever in a bye election!!

Matt Sellwood said...

Not exactly difficult though, eh, since its also the only by-election we've ever contested where only one mainstream party was standing....!

NB - I supported standing, and think Shan ran a good campaign, I just don't think that we should kid ourselves and think that the H+H result is indicative of a great deal.


weggis said...

I’ve not seen much of Caroline in action. I don’t go on marches and demos and I don’t normally watch TV, except for the really important things like football.
However, I did catch her late one evening on, I think, Westminster Hour, where she was “debating” with Derek Wall over the leadership issue. Poor Derek hardly got word in, so I am not surprised that Caroline’s replies are somewhat more lengthy than Ashley’s.

Anonymous said...

nothing wrong with brevity!

Peter Cranie said...

On membership numbers, it is always difficult to get a snapshot picture midyear, but end of year accounts show the picture for the last four years:

end 2007 - 7,441
end 2006 - 7,019
end 2005 - 7,110
end 2004 - 6,281

A surge around the time of the General Election is expected, and we have done well to hold those numbers. I think the growth in 2007 is an indication of the success of direct debit.

What is more disturbing is that as a party we only have a turnover of £400,000 compared to £660,000+ for the BNP. That means growth in finances and membership is an urgent requirement, otherwise we will be outspent by a racist, far right party at the next Euro and General Election.

We need a new Leadership team and the new GPEx to show real progress on this. Continuing along, as we were, simply isn't an option faced with the rise of the far right in British politics.

Green Gordon said...

Thanks for this, Jim I thought it was excellent.

Good news, Peter, the BNP may shortly go bankrupt, as long as we came Nick Griffin out of Europe...

Douglas Coker said...

Yes - this is really useful Jim. Well done. I'm looking forward to hearing what the enigmatic James Humphreys has to say.

Douglas Coker
Enfield Green Party

Derek Wall said...

Weggis, I am a hombre of very few words as you know...although I did have to use some of them up arguing for H and H to have the right to stand, I was broadly against them standing but I think it should be a local party decision....Ashley is impressively concise...

Douglas Coker said...

"Ashley is impressively concise". Careful Derek ... your sense of humour is showing ;-)

Douglas Coker
Enfield Green Party

jean said...

I am really pleased to see that Caroline, in her answer to the question about an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, recognises the importance of academic freedom and that 'there is a strong argument that jeopardising it would be both wrong and counter-productive'.

But I am disappointed that she supports 'an economic and cultural boycott'.

Anyone who heard last night's wonderful Prom by the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said, must have wondered what exactly would have been achieved if it had not been allowed to happen.

Rayyan said...

I found Question 6 (about the decline in GP membership) intriguing as I had just read this post on Jim Killock's blog about how the membership seems to be growing again:

Jim Jay said...

And indeed Peter further up the thread has some interesting stats.

I think this is a useful discussion to have as I'd heard a number of people talk about declining membership recently so it's good to have the figures in the open.

I am worried though that for the level of support we get that we are a disproportionately small party and we really need to find ways of retaining the members who join and enthusing others to get involved.

If we were ten times our current size we still would be a small party

Anonymous said...

Can I ask the canidates what they would do to A, strengthen the trade union group

B,encourage labour and TUC affilated unions to leave labour and develop a relationship with the Green Party. The GS of the affilated unions remain in love with Labour but the membership dont and are denied the chance to have a say in their unions affilation to Labour, how can we turn that around and give TU members a much more enhanced say over their union affilating to Labour and letting them have the chnace to to develop a relationship with other pro trade union parties?

C, do the canidates support scrapping the very peculiar 10 year rule of TU'S having to ballot to retain their political fund, after all that costs money and that money comes from the members and im sure they want their money spent on better things that a pointless ballot every 10 years. PF's are optional so as long as members can join/leave with relative ease whats the point of the ballot every 10 years.

D, do you support a massive membership recruitment drive in areas where there is a local party, when i say massive i mean every household within the local party area.

E,is the tory policy of breaking the link between Labour and its 15 unions a waste of parlimentary time, surley each union should adopt the unison model of a political fund so its members have a choice as a democratic alternative?

F, given that and I quote Dave Joyce of the CWU here, "These people who rubbish health and safety when it suits them should be reminded that there's 140,000 serious workplace accidents and 1,250 people killed at work every year, so there's a big responsibility to reduce the risks." do the canidates support more rights/powers for trade union safety reps?

G, how would you help new members such as myself 1 week today no less since joining, who are active within a TUC/Labour affilated union to sell the case for GP involvement to their comrades.

H, do you support a pubilily owned fully intergrated Royal Mail Group fully restored to good health and providing meaningfull employment to its staff?

I, should Royal Mail have its monoply restored?

F, Is the euopean open postal market project destined to fail?

In my town it is the largest in the county and is a Fib Dem/Tory stronghold, Labour virtually dont exisit therefore there isnt any other party in local politics in my town. Turn out in local elections in one ward is down to 25%. This gives the green party a big oppurtunity to step into the void in time for 2011 town council elections, would you support extra resources being put in to ensure that the GP fills the void left by the local labour party crumbling away to nothing?


A week long new member

Jim Jay said...

Hi new member.

Whilst the candidates can come back on these questions if they want I want to point out they may well not be checking this post every moment so you shouldn't expect them to come on this necessarily.

Personally I would say that trade union work should become more central to party life. Jean Lambert, our London MEP, is really excellent on TU issues and I'd like to see her profile raised on this.

I think that probably invovles the TU group becoming much more a part of the party - like policy and ext. comms - to tighten communication between it and the party. Maybe even having its convenor elected by conference as other positions are rather than this being settled inside the group - to give it more serious thought on the part of the wider membership.

Just my thoughts off the top of my head.