Leadership in the Green Party: a dangerous new approach
There is much writing about leadership theory, almost all of it a built on assumption that the leader of an organisation has significant individual (or dual, in the case of co-leaders) agency in pursuing their particular agenda. The leader has been appointed or elected, and as such, they are free to do as they wish.
This is not the case in The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW). The Party outlines very clearly the position of the leader in the constitution, it sets out the bounds of what they can, and cannot do. It sets out the decision making process for leadership decisions. All in all, the constitution of The Party, not to mention the internal culture of The Party, sets out very clearly the style of leadership that the elected leader is able to pursue.
If we were to pin down the leadership style open to the leader(s) of GPEW, then it would be a consensus leadership. The leader(s) of the party have equal authority in decision making with the rest of the executive. The leader (or co-leaders) only gets one vote, just like everyone else. They don’t get to exert their authority on the executive or the party: they simply don’t have that opportunity, or at least shouldn’t.
This situation, built on the constitutional and cultural approach of The Party, seems under threat by the newly elected leadership team. There seems to be, based on what we have seen so far, a wildly different approach to leadership. Their approach seems to be an almost vanguardist approach: a chosen policy is paraded out by the leadership to the press first, then The Party decision making process is left to pick up the pieces, scrambling to try and come to decisions on what The Party position should be. All the while, a position has already been presented in the press as representing the party, despite it being nothing of the sort.
We can see this approach in action recently in three key areas. Firstly, with regards to “progressive alliances”, then with the announcement of the party supporting a snap general election, and finally, most recently in support of a second EU referendum. In each of these cases, there is no evidence that the policy making processes which are set out for such decisions has actually been followed, leaving many members bewildered at how The Party arrived at these positions.
Calling for a progressive alliance is something that should have been undertaken on the basis of a policy statement. This is either approved by conference or Green Party Regional Council (GPRC). Yet no such statement was made. As far as we can see, it exists as a policy principally on the basis that it was one of the Lucas/Bartley election pledges, and little more. Even though progressive alliances have little if any formal support from The Party, it has come to dominate the discussions around our electoral prospects for the future.
The calls for a second general election are similarly structured. The call was made in the press regardless of whether the most basic of requirements could possibly be met by The Party – for example, The Party finances as published, make it quite clear that the party could not afford to fund it, and our own selection processes require weeks in order to identify candidates, something which a snap general election would not provide.
More recently, the leadership has been vocal about support for a second EU referendum – it even made it into the pages of Bright Green as something that is “sort of – party policy” when it is nothing of the sort. In fact the opposite is true, if we read through the PfSS section on public administration, then almost every section on referendums are clear that the outcome of the decision should be respected, that we should accept the results of them. This is a far cry from calls for a second referendum. Even if we give the benefit of the doubt and accept that the call is on a different question, this is still well outside the bounds of our policy on Europe, and on democratic engagement more broadly.
It’s clear that the current leadership team are using their media platform to set the agenda for The Party, and are making an attempt to subvert the constitutional position which the leader holds, thereby imposing a much stronger leadership model on The Party. This has been evident from the outset when they announced, ahead of everyone else, that they were standing for the leadership through an article in the Guardian. Their actions throughout the campaign have been consistent with this approach and it seems to be continuing.
It remains to be seen if the ‘policy making by press release’ is brought under control as the co-leaders establish themselves as part of the new executive. To many in the party, it seems as though our new leadership team are more interested in courting the attention of the press and less interested in taking on board the views of members.
The Green Party prides itself on being democratic, bottom up and member led: this approach is none of those. Whilst there has been at least some, although far from unanimous, support for the proposals which are currently being made, there is a significant danger with this approach that one day, this will not be the case.
This approach to leadership is a dangerous strategy, and one which has the potential to significantly damage the reputation of The Party.