It’s Green Party of England and Wales internal election time again, and I’ve been thinking about a contest between a 20-year-old undergraduate student and a 47-year old man with a track record of being responsible for multi-million pound budgets. The student has little significant paid work experience and is up against an opponent with experience of organising huge election campaigns and countless hours of national media experience as a front bench politician.

I’m thinking, of course, about Mhairi Black’s unseating of Douglas Alexander as MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. Of many remarkable things about that result, it is striking that the people of that constituency, in overwhelming numbers, showed trust in the power of potential over experience. The unpopularity of Alexander’s party was the biggest factor in this, but fact remains that 23,548 voters (50.9%), put their trust in a 20-year-old. Had the electorate taken the role of shortlisters sifting through CVs, millions would not have had the chance to see Black’s inspiring maiden speech, and will not get the chance to see many more that follow.

Yet for many the task of voting for committees within the Green Party comes down to CV analysis. Could we be losing our own Mhairi Blacks? And in the context of young people being disproportionately hit by the onslaught of tuition fees, benefit cuts, low pay and low quality jobs, could we be contributing to the oppression experienced by young people in Cameron’s Britain? Treating elections as job recruitment gives a nod to a system that has been working unjustly against women, disabled people and black people.

The other key reason why we shouldn’t treat a GPEx election as job recruitment? GPEx is not a job. It’s a massive voluntary commitment. Those putting themselves forward are doing so to make great sacrifices for the common GPEW good, and it’s to the party’s credit that there are so many people prepared to do this. As a bottom-up party, it is the grassroots, rank and file members who lead, and GPEx are our front-line of volunteer activists. It plays to the Green Party’s strength for day-to-day direction to be given by activists rather than managers, and GPEx members need to show strong awareness of this, and be mindful that their own political values and priorities are instrumental to the direction and fortunes of the party.

The history of the Green Party, as with that of most political parties, features a great many activists with impressive track records who took on a role that was just too much extra for them. This results in those members failing to reach potential, suffering from stress and/or having to stand down before their term is complete. If members were selecting candidates for a full time paid role this is rarely a factor to consider, but as electors it’s a consideration to which we need to give great weight. In the medium term, it’s heartening to see that there are options emerging from the governance review that allow for a greater number of flexible roles on our executive, but for the time being, I would encourage voters to make sure they are supporting candidates who can manage the role, and note that some are making use of their freedom to stand as a job-share.

Electing an Executive and members of other committees is an important part of being an active GPEW member. It would be heartening to see the party raising the profile of these contests by improving information flow between candidates and the rest of the membership. For now, I encourage members to take their roles seriously and think carefully about their choices, while remembering that candidates are limited in how they can campaign. Contact them. Ask them questions. Test their politics. Think about what they can contribute. And then, once the election is over and the winners are announced, keep talking to them, take an interest in what they’re doing, offer help and support if you can, and maybe in five years time Greens could be overturning majorities like Douglas Alexander’s.

Voting in the Green Party Executive (GPEx) elections closes on Friday, 28 August (with the last post for postal ballots, and by noon for online ballots). You can find Bright Green’s guide to the GPEx elections here.

Chris Cotton

About Chris Cotton

Chris Cotton has been a Green Party of England and Wales member for 14 years, was a founding member of Young Greens in 2002 and a European Election candidate in 2004.