Monday, September 17, 2007

Does the Green Party need a leader?

Doesn't it already have one, you might be wondering? Well actually, no, it has two principal speakers, one male and one female, who are the 'mouthpieces' of the party but don't have any executive powers. Currently, these are Sian Berry, who is also our candidate for Mayor of London, and Derek Wall.

However, following a motion passed at Spring Conference, there is soon to be a members' referendum on whether or not to change the party's structures so that there can be either co-leaders or a leader and deputy leader. These leaders would have a vote on the party executive (which incredibly the current principal speakers don't), would have to be re-elected every two years and could also be subject to a recall vote at any time if 20% of local parties requested it.

There is an ongoing debate on the issue within the party, with very strongly-held views on both sides (including in Lewisham). A number of Green bloggers have already posted on the subject (including Leila, Caroline, Peter, Derek, Jon, Jim, and Paul), there have been several articles in the Guardian, the BBC, the Independent (Jenny and Caroline), and the New Statesman on the subject and other greens in the wider environmental movement have also waded into the debate, including Tony Juniper Director of Friends of the Earth.

Those in favour of a leader or leaders argue that we are missing opportunities to get our policies across in the media because journalists struggle with the term 'principal speaker' and either ignore us or spend most of the time asking what the title means rather than focussing on our policies. They argue that an elected leader is more accountable than an unofficial, unelected leader, which is what we might end up with if we get an MP in Westminster who is not the party's elected leader. They say that voters need a clear, recognisable public face of the Green Party and if the Green Party doesn't trust one of its own to lead without forming a dictatorship, how can we expect others to vote for us.

Those on the no leader camp (or Green Empowerment as they would prefer to be called) argue that the Green Party's strength is that it is different to other parties and that we shouldn't be trying to be more like other parties at a time when the electorate are crying out for an alternative. They say that the Green Party needs to empower more of its members, from the grassroots up to be leaders and that we shouldn't be concentrating too much power in the hands of a few because an elected leader will be less accountable than our current structure.

One thing that both those for and against a leader are in agreement on is that we don't want a leader with such strong powers and lack of accountability to the membership that s/he could, for example, support a war against the wishes of the majority of party members. The referendum takes place in November and the proposals need a two-thirds majority of the membership to change the existing rules. It's going to be close and whatever the result, a good chunk of the party will be annoyed with the outcome. However, I'm hopeful that most members will accept the decision, whatever it is.

As to who the leader of the Green Party might be, if the motion is passed, I think the clear favourite is Caroline Lucas, MEP for the South-East and Green Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion, with Lewisham councillor and London Assembly member Darren Johnson a possible contender for co-leader or deputy leader. Then again, Jean Lambert MEP or Jenny Jones AM would also be strong candidates.

I'm in the Yes Camp, because I think we don't have time to faff around explaining what principal speaker means and why we don't have a leader, we need to focus on getting our message across and getting more people elected. We are already a far smaller party than the main three, with limited money and resources; why hold ourselves back even further by refusing to acknowledge that personalities do play a part in politics and many people identify firstly with individuals and then with parties and policies? Having a leader won't result in a huge shift in our fortunes overnight, but it may well help.

Anyway, I'd be keen to hear local residents' views. Does it matter to you whether a party you vote for has an elected leader or not? Would it affect whether you voted for the Green Party at a local or national level? Is the call for a leader or leaders a sensible, pragmatic step or a sell-out?

Oh, and in case you think we spent the whole conference navel-gazing, check out Sian's keynote speech to conference.


Brockley Nick said...

Yes, of course it does. Not only does the lack of one prevent you from effectively communicating your policies but it also suggests that to be "green" you have to buy in to some sort of anarcho-syndicalist view of the world.

Inspector Sands said...

Agreed. It's a nice idea to have "principal speakers", but frankly, if you're in the business of getting votes, then you need a figurehead on the telly delivering some blows against the complacency of the other parties. And someone that my mum might recognise, because she hasn't got time to faff around either.

The "no leader" stuff reminds me of old indie bands who used to think that persuading anyone to buy their records marked a sell-out.