James Youd: No to a Green shadow cabinet
This weekend’s Green Party conference will hear a motion to have a shadow cabinet of national spokespeople elected by the membership. Two weeks ago, Jonathan Kent argued in favour; here the party’s Eastern Region election agent James Youd puts the case against.
Once again some members of the Green Party are busying themselves with the cauldron. Sweating over another potion which will lead the party to the promised land. First it was the conversion to Leader and Deputy Leader, now the young turks are busying themselves with their next silver bullet, another Blairite modernisation for its own sake, I am talking of course of the idea for a Green Shadow Cabinet.
We are told by these young men in suits that this is the natural progression, the modernisation we urgently need. We will be able to effectively respond to the 24 hour media circus at every occasion, and with the soundbites we make, and the vacuous phrases we invent, the media will start to respect us. Then it is just a matter of time before more Councillors, MEPs and MPs are elected. Soon we will become the new third force in British politics as the Lib-Dems pay the ultimate price for going into bed with the Tories. The house of cards will have fallen to us.
A lovely story but you really would have to living in the same world as the wizard and his potion to believe it.
When I first heard about the idea of a Shadow Cabinet my alarm bells immediately started to ring with thoughts of centralisation and democracy ebbing away. These alarms have become louder as i have realised the full impact of what this could mean for our party. This Shadow Cabinet may be elected but the motion includes a clause in which the Leader would appoint posts within the it. If the young turks are so keen on posts being ‘elected’, why didn’t they simply propose that the existing spokespeople be elected? Once again, a reason to make me suspicious of a Shadow Cabinet and the true intentions of its power. Democracy at first sight, turns into a vicious control mechanism with those at the top putting those who they favour in the limelight. Just as is the case with real government, some will be rewarded at the price of others and the knife will never be far off.
Impossible, we are told. We are Greens. Our principles of members individual rights are inherent in our blood, we need not worry about those at the top for they are merely innocently leading by example.
I think that various events have proven to us that as humans certain members can all to easily exorcise these ‘Instinctive’ principles. While as politicians, deception and manipulation are inevitably round every corner. Especially when it comes to delusions of grandeur.
And why on earth are we trying to so closely mimic those corrupt institutions we in public despise? Perhaps the logic goes if we change to be more like them, then this in itself will deliver power because these are the structures which allow parties this in themselves.
While every other party is talking about greater democracy and reform, even if it is false, we for some reason are doing our best to stratify ourselves with these archaic systems. Even the Lib-Dems didn’t have a shadow cabinet before their desire for power became to great.
Then goes the mantra, we already have GPRC and GPEx to serve us internally, shouldn’t we have a body which looks externally?
Firstly, we have thousands of activists and candidates that are the public face of the party, whether it be to the media, the public or our opponents.
Secondly we need to urgently review the democratic functions of both GPRC and GPEx. It is appalling that not one member of GPEx lives outside the South and London, while many regions struggle to find single nominations for their GPRC seats and many posts end up vacant. This all leaves too much power it the hands of the few. So to add another body to this, and as the name would imply, one with substantially more power; all seems ludicrous from a practical point of view, never mind a democratic one.
In politics knee jerk undemocratic reforms usually have their direct roots in the history of the last crisis that their organisation experienced. For New Labour it was the electoral wilderness the party had experienced that brought about the control freakery and ditching of clause 4.
Perhaps there are some which see the party as being in crisis. Yes we have elected are first MP but good loyal activists have lost their council seats. Our share of the vote was behind both UKIP and the BNP. Our membership is bigger than ever, but there is a feeling that older members are tired and battle weary. It seems to me that in the search for quick fixes certain members have seen how the party went in 1989 after we won 15% of the vote and seen that the flaw then was our inability to capitalise because our structures were weak and hollow. The argument that follows however, is flawed. Strong centralised structures don’t naturally deliver power. All these structures lead to is the increased flow of power upwards as the grassroots and their masters become increasingly polarised from each other. Distrust of each other leads party bureaucrats to become paranoid thus transferring more power upwards. Again New Labour comes to mind!
If we are to re-energise at the grassroots the suspicion will only grow, especially with centralising projects like the Green Shadow Cabinet. We need to have structures which are stronger but which originate from the root in the ground, not the leaf high up in the sky. I think our ability over other minority parties, such as UKIP, to elect many more councillors comes out of those roots, embedded in local communities fighting for justice in the economy and environment, both locally and internationally. Empowering these activists and inspiring them with a message they can say they had collective decision in, will spur them and our party on.
A Blairite style modernisation that uses focus on the needs of the voter and neglects the membership will dissemble like New Labour did. Unlike Blair, the power that certain members so rabidly crave will not flow on as a result of measures such as the Green Shadow Cabinet. We have to realise there is no silver bullet.
To put it simply. We cannot just expect our activists to leaflet or canvass when they have no input into the leaflets content or they are reading from a pre-drafted script they can only halfheartedly endorse, this is the way of disillusionment. We must begin the process of rebuilding, and shape our party as we would wish to shape our world. That is why we must vote no to a shadow cabinet.
Tim, I think that’s a bit disrespectful of the various greens that some people *have* heard of. Jenny Jones, Darren Johnson, Patrick Harvie, Tony Juniper, Jean Lambert, etc, etc. They may not be household names but they have profile and are frequently in the media.
I’d add that no one will have heard of the green shadow cabinet members no matter how long it is in place because no journalist is going to report a word they say. Those journalists will, however, piss themselves laughing when they see these unknowns being described by the party as ‘shadow home secretary’ or whatever.
I’d rather the party did things that won journalists over, not make them mock us in the privacy of the newsrooms. Not that we should restructure the party purely for the media anyway.
Caroline Lucas is the only Green anyone has ever heard of. Surely a shadow cabinet has the possibility to devolve power from the centre – at least in the public eye?