leaders-2014

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, with deputy leaders Amelia Womack and Shahrar Ali. Photo: Yorkshire and Humber Green Party.

Vote in the prioritisation ballot for Green Party conference here

In 2012, the Green Party made what now seems like a small, but crucial, change. Four years after the establishment of the leadership position, we voted to pay our leader.

It wasn’t a lot – Natalie Bennett is famously the lowest-paid party leader, taking home a living wage of less than £25,000 a year (not a massive amount for London). It equates to around 800 of our members’ standard subscription fees – out of 67,000. Or to put it another way, if everyone in the party paid standard membership prices, 0.1% of all party subs. The payback from having a full-time leader has been far greater than that. It kind of goes without saying when you think of the progress we’ve made.

There was another crucial element, too, though: in paying our leader, the position was opened up to non-rich people – or those who didn’t have to hold down another job – for the first time.

You only have to see the huge growth of the party over the past three years since that move was made to see what a difference having what is essentially a full-time organiser and spokesperson at the top of the party can make. The leadership position is a vital strategic and public-facing role – it needs someone who can commit to it. And it needs to be open to working-class people if we are to call ourselves a diverse party.

Having gone from around 10,000 members to nearly 70,000 in the space of just over four years, the time has come to take the next step: we need an allowance for the Deputy Leadership roles, too.

It’s not just about how much our membership has grown – although seven-times membership growth should of course be met with an increase in leadership capacity. It’s about our support among the public surging, the huge boost in demand for media appearances, and the need among local parties for real campaigning figures at the helm who can rally the troops both inside and outside of elections.

And it’s about access for members – if we want to be an open, democratic party, members need to be able to reach their leadership team. To know that someone will be able to speak to their local party. To know that their committee can meet up with a deputy leader to discuss election plans. To know that the rally they’re planning will have a high-profile speaker. And even just to know their email or text will get a speedy response. If our deputy leaders go unpaid while we continue to grow, the likelihood that all this is possible declines significantly. We’ve progressed so much as a party because Natalie Bennett is on call to members. She can only do that because she is full-time.

The party is currently recruiting staff at a cost of £350,000. Our membership surge has given the party a lot more resources – and the need for committed leadership at the top. It’s shown by the enormous growth of party HQ (who have recently started renting out an extra office, as well as extra floor space in Development House). £50k to pay two Deputy Leader roles is a small investment for the accompanying increase in time able to be spent on building the party.

If we can splash out £350k on new staff, we can spare a fifth of that on the figures who will take our party forward.

There’s another point as our administrative capacity grows. The ‘iron law of oligarchy’ which entrenches as parties get bigger (i.e. the big expansion in staff power at the cost of democratic roles) has to be met be strengthening our leadership roles. It’s essential that our deputy leaders are not only accountable – but that they have the time and resources to fight our corner as members.

Our senior elected positions need to have the confidence and security to keep up with this if we don’t want to bureaucratise as a party. They shouldn’t have to juggle jobs – they should be able to be 100% dedicated.

Finally, this is about equality. As Gary Dunion noted in a piece for Bright Green in advance of the vote on whether to pay our leader two years ago: “The Chartists, Britain’s first modern workers’ movement, published six demands of which the fourth was: ‘PAYMENT OF [ELECTED] MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.” Bar the sexist language, this demand still stands today.

There are just four days left to vote in the ballot that decides which motions are heard at Green Party conference in the Autumn.

Please put motion D ß 9 ‘Pay the Deputy Leaders’ at the top if you want a party that practices what we preach when it comes to diversity and equality – and to give us the leadership potential needed to go forward as a party over the coming years.