Why I resigned as Chair of the Green Party Executive
I was overwhelmed with pride when I was elected as Chair of the Green Party Executive (GPEx) in September 2016. Members had a choice, and put their faith in a disabled woman under 30. I was no stranger to working hard for the Party and I was under no illusions about what the role would entail. I stood because I believe we are nothing as Greens if we do not live our values and I thought I could help us to do just that. But after just over a year in post I felt I was left with no option but to stand down.
One of the major problems GPEW faces is of course that we do not have the income of other parties. This means that while a number of members working long, hard hours for the party do get to return home with a wage packet or an allowance, for every person in this category there are many times more who work similarly hard, just as I was – every day, long into the night – largely behind the scenes, without remuneration. I am extremely proud to see so many women in prominent publicly elected roles in our party, and a growing number of non-binary members in key internal positions. But at a local party and council level, while women still do the majority of housework and care when they get home from work, we will still have inequality in the ability to volunteer. In general, members volunteering long hours either have to be of an age or economic position when they do not need renumeration for their time, or – because perhaps they are just out of education, parental leave, or have particular disabilities – have to have no other paying option.
But at what point does “giving people with no other option an opportunity to do something meaningful” become “exploitation”? When does “volunteering” become “working for free”?
Disability Greens were well aware of the problem and submitted a time-banking scheme to our organisational strategy as one way of providing some short term recognition as we all work towards the kind of social transformation that often seems so far away. I know the CEO is keen to implement, but with influential voices pushing in other directions, no progress has been made. I tried to submit a motion to conference to investigate an allowance for roles such as GPEx Chair which are essentially incompatible with a full-time job. Many were sympathetic; others – even on GPEx or similar committees – said “we all work hard for the party” and “this should be about philanthropy not money”. Sadly, a warm philanthropic glow doesn’t pay my rent.
Studies show that when you pay nothing for something, its perceived merit decreases. Over the past months, I started to believe what others were sadly starting to show – that I actually was worth what I was being paid for my labour. Nothing. But I still wanted to support those many members including staff who are doing such a great job, often against the odds. What pushed me to make the final decision to step down was the contrast between the views espoused by elected members regularly in the media, and actions internally. I couldn’t watch any more interviews about disability and gender equality when other disabled women like me had voiced our feelings of exploitation to those very people with no outcome. I cringed as our staff worked long hours and we spoke of a four day working week. All large organisations will have rare cases of harassment – and at the very least we should be ensuring those who give their time for free are treated properly. But yet again we spoke when the spotlight was on other parties, when I know how much better we could be doing ourselves.
After the Green surge, we had the potential to become more that a one hit wonder. Caroline Lucas is beyond doubt an excellent MP, but can anyone live up to the image that has been created for her? If we are going to be able to become more than “Cult Caroline”, we need to stop acting like one. We need to encourage thanks, yes absolutely, but also constructive scrutiny of those who speak for us in public. We need to do more to ensure we are all living our values. Why should anyone vote for us, particularly in the current political climate, if we are just another political party, saying one thing in public and doing another in private?
In a grassroots party it is easy not to think about the centre, but please remember how important those bodies are in determining the culture of our Party. If you are blessed with time that does not need remunerating, please ask how you can help support others who are less fortunate to stand for positions on GPEW-wide committees – and take an active interest in who is running and their values. Finally, please respond to the “Holistic Review”, which was initiated this Autumn Conference. The risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water is high – with little Leadership engagement in the first Governance Review, I know many are concerned that the sudden push to “remove obstacles for effective working” this time round will risk also removing the democratic decision making that separates us from other parties. Please help us ensure that this provides a genuine opportunity to address some of the issues I have described, so that the Greens retain the democratic and egalitarian pillars that make me still proud to be a member.