Green shoots of a different kind
This is a guest post from Norwich Councillor Rupert Read on the challenges and opportunities facing the Green Party of England and Wales, which raises issues of importance also to other Green Parties. Dr Read blogs at Rupert’s Read and is a regular contributor to ourKingdom.
The Green Party of England and Wales has been experiencing huge growth in membership – 57%, in less than two years, and still rising*.
We have grown way past the crucial 10000 members barrier – meaning that we will be moving soon to having delegate conferences, as other (bigger) Parties in this country already do.
This is an exciting moment for the Party – a moment in which we could become a much more dynamic and democratic organisation. A moment in which we could step into the tremendous opportunity offered (in a positive way) by the political and electoral reforms that the LibDems are hoping to steer through Parliament and the country, and (in a ‘negative’ way) by the LibDems being no longer identified as a left-of-centre Party, thus leaving much more space for us to succeed in.
Not coincidentally, we have finally succeeded of course in getting ourselves an MP at Westminster, even under FPTP. Respect, UKIP, the BNP – none of these Parties have achieved what we have. This is of course a truly historic achievement.
These two crucial facts alone – huge membership growth, and elected representation at Westminster for the first time – imply directly that now ought to be a time for the Party to be having a discussion about its future.
We must rethink our structures: The Party’s Constitution compels us now to plan to set up a delegate conference, and this is welcome, as it will greatly increase the number of Party members able to have a say over what happens at Conference (Only about one member in twenty goes to Conference and has a direct say in what happens there, at present). And being a Party that is growing in terms of our closeness to power – with an MP, and perhaps even running a Council soon (in Norwich) – being a democratic party with mass participation and involvement is more important than ever.
We need to review our policy commitments to ensure that there is nothing there to embarrass us, because our policy commitments are going to come under more scrutiny than ever before, now that we have an MP casting votes on every bill that comes before Parliament.
We need also to ensure that we have the research capacity and intellectual strength to be ready and able to explain and justify flagship policies that are open to misunderstanding or spinful denunciation. Among the policy areas that require such attentions are: our policies on migration, on population, on decriminalisation of various currently illegal activities, and on citizen’s income.
We need furthermore to look again at GPEx (the Green Party Executive) and at GPRC (the Green Party Regional Council) – It is not a good sign that, at this very moment of huge promise for our Party, there are multiple vacancies on both these bodies, not enough people standing to be part of them. Both GPEx and GPRC need to make themselves understood better to members as representative bodies, as really representing members.
GPEx members need to be elected for longer terms, so that they can do their jobs properly, and not be subject to the ‘churn’ that currently drains so much of their collective time and deprives them of collective memory. GPEx has gradually grown in size over the years; needs to be slimmed down, so that we don’t have ‘government by (unwieldy) committee’.
And if GPEx is under review in this way, then so should be GPRC, because the two were designed to stand or fall together.
Looking ahead, the Party needs to think together about how to grow our numbers of elected politicians. What Councils are we looking to become the largest Party on? How many Euro-seats are we looking to gain in 2014? What plans are we putting in place to generate sufficient momentum (in these and other ways) such that we grow our numbers in Westminster in 2015?
I hope that discussion of the various dimensions of the challenges facing us in these exciting times for the Party will flourish within the Party and across the blogosphere, over the coming weeks and months, as we experience a contested election for the Deputy Leadership of the Party, and a very important Party Conference: our first since Caroline was elected in Brighton, and one of our last before we switch to the new delegate conferences.
The Labour Leadership campaign is of course a matter of general national interest – well, so, increasingly, should be the positive changes occurring to the Green Party, for we, unlike Labour and the LibDems, are on the up at this time.
If we rise to the challenges indicated above, and make good choices, then we will flourish; and there is little chance indeed of this country, this continent, and our climate flourishing, unless we do…
*This growth is partly a result of a massive increase in membership applications recently, and partly of much better membership-retention. The latter is, I’m proud to say, partly a result of our move to direct-debit as a payment mechanism for members, a move that was formally initiated by a motion that I proposed at Conference a few years ago now.