Why the Green Party should elect a ‘Shadow Cabinet’
This guest post is by Jonathan Kent, and was first published on his blog, The Headstrong Club.
This September, when the Green Party of England and Wales meets for the first time as a party represented at Westminster, members will be asked to vote on a proposal to elect a Green Shadow Cabinet.
In some ways it’s a significant step, just as it was a big step to elect a ‘leader’ rather than two ‘principal speakers’.
There has been a lot of sympathetic support, some scepticism and some opposition. But let me, briefly, set out why I believe this is the right step to take and why this is the right time.
In some ways the Green Party set out from its inception in the early 70s as ‘People’ to be an ‘anti-party’ – hence the steadfast opposition to the style of leadership and organisation shared by the big UK parties.
But after thirty odd years of clinging to the fringes a new generation emerged, a pragmatically minded and ambitious generation, that sees green politics as more than a gesture or a protest. We see it as a framework of principles by which our society can become happier, healthier and sustainable. However we have come to accept that it will be none of those things if we indulge our penchant for opposition and yell impotently from the sidelines.
The Green Party faces a challenge – to continue to professionalise whilst keeping its soul. I believe our soul is hardwired into our commitment to the rights of the individual, to empowering communities to take control of their own futures and to the belief that power should flow upwards. It’s indivisible from our desire to have a country and a planet that we can leave our grandchildren and they theirs.
Green thinking emanates from these core beliefs and colours our approach to every area of government and life. Yet for too long we’ve largely been heard on issues that the media and the wider world consider to be ‘green’ – primarily the environment and peace.
However any serious Green Party needs to communicate its thinking in every area and nothing signals our intention to do that more seriously than our electing a Green Shadow Cabinet.
Let me say at this juncture that I’m not irrevocably wedded to the name. There is a touch of hubris about it. However as a descriptive term it leaves us with the least room for misinterpretation. The Green Shadow Cabinet’s purpose would be to shadow the main cabinet portfolios – though with only 13 members (including our leader and deputy) some briefs, for instance Foreign and International Development, might need to be combined.
By choosing to establish such a body we do a number of key things:
We widen the franchise within the party. The Greens are more than the Caroline Lucas fan club (though while I’m about it I’ll squeeze in a quick ‘Yay Caroline!’). We have talent in depth. Our leader and deputy are not islands of sanity in a quirky and unelectable party; they’re merely the two considered most able from a considerable pool of talent and ability. The GSC (one can never have too many acronyms) rather than detracting from the lustre of the leader will surely add to it. Furthermore by electing the shadow cabinet as a single list we maximise the opportunities for people of diverse views, from every region, of different races, both genders and a multiplicity of sexual preferences to be represented.
We make the party more democratic. Presently the External Communications Coordinator recommends candidates to GPEx. If Alistair Campbell or Andy Coulson had played such a role under Tony Blair or David Cameron we would have heaped ridicule upon them. To those who say you can have too much democracy in the Green Party I would say this; trust the members. Their choice of leader and deputy showed they have common sense aplenty and they’ll soon sort the wheat from the chaff amongst the GSC candidates.
We shift the elected centre of gravity of the party decisively away from administration and towards policy and towards the voter. The Green Shadow Cabinet would be as outward looking as GPEx and GPRC are, necessarily, for the most part inward looking.
We ensure the making and communication of policy are brought more closely together. Each shadow cabinet member will handle one or more key briefs and will coordinate policy development in that area with members from each region contributing to the process. The Green Shadow Cabinet and shadow spokespeople will be better placed to respond to the 24 hour news cycle to communicate our wider agenda when opportunities come up. We have a panel of clearly identified policy spokespeople, with a mandate and who meet regularly as a body to discuss policy and the way we apply it and put it across.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, as we start to mirror the activity of government in other ways we stop thinking about governing in an abstract and sometimes idealised environment and become more disciplined about considering the real world implication of the policies we suggest.
If we do choose to establish a Green Shadow Cabinet I believe it will be another step on a journey towards our becoming a serious force in British politics with various emphases on ‘serious’.
It may be a while before we are ready to participate in government. Indeed it may yet be a generation. However if we start acting now as we mean to go on not only is that time likely to be nearer but when it comes we might be better prepared to decide who we best do that.