To make the most of the #GreenSurge, we need to discuss party organisation
Three things will shape how the Green Party continues to organise and campaign. The Labour leadership result, how we make the most of the Green Surge, and how we align politically under a majority Conservative government.
There has already been a lot of discussion about the Labour leadership and its implications for the Green Party on these pages. Suffice to say, it will bring its challenges and opportunities and we need to be ready to meet them.
Similarly, there has been some discussion about the political direction of the Green Party and whether we stand firm as an ‘Anti-Austerity’ Party or move back towards being the more ‘Ecological’ Party we were in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a debate we will continue to have through these pages and at conference.
This brings us neatly to making the most of the Green Surge.
Prior to the 2012 (Green Party of England and Wales) leadership elections, there was a lot of discussion about how the party organised. In particular, Natalie Bennett made the adoption of the ‘West Midlands Model‘ a central plank of how she wanted to move the party forwards. This was based on a regional model of organisation, focusing on local and European elections, and of making the most of the resources in each local party.
Since then we have massively increased our membership. Parties that had tens of members have hundreds of members, and those with hundreds of members now have over a thousand members.
In order to engage in involve these members, our organisations at local, regional, and national levels must mature.
That requires investing in new organising models, building on the West Midlands Model, or perhaps going beyond it. At the national level, we have invested a huge amount into staff. This helped us run our best election campaign ever in 2015, and it was the best use of our resources at a time where we were still reacting to the surge
Longer-term, we need to think about developing our internal democracy. Part of that is underway with a long-running governance review soon coming to fruition; there is also a motion to party conference on paying our deputy leaders, which should start a discussion on the role of paid elected positions within the party.
There is also a discussion around how we encourage campaigning and engaging discussion through internal elections for the Green Party Executive, and candidacies. For this to be successful, uncontested elections should rapidly become a thing of the past, we should see a greater diversity of talented candidates, and higher turnouts.
Externally, we need to develop and invest in our vote by reaching out to communities we have traditionally ignored or found too difficult to engage with limited resources – this requires both strategies and the resources to make them happen.
We need to talk about the role of regional parties.
Do they continue to develop and act the strategic body, coordinating local parties as envisioned by the West Midlands Model?
Many regional parties (including London) have more members than the Green Party did as a whole ten years ago. Should they start acting as localised versions of the national party, becoming more autonomous on policy and leadership? If so, then how does the national party ensure a coherence to our politics?
And how do we ensure that our structures encourage a democracy and an energy that sustains political and election campaign that engage the public rather than draining the energy of members in bitter internal wranglings.
Locally, we now have a set of parties whose membership far exceeds the capacity of their systems and structures.
Administering a membership of five hundred requires greater resources than the vast majority of local parties have. Supporting them to become volunteers and activists requires greater resources, and more than that to winning elections.
Some local parties are now moving away from the centralised council-area-based party structure and looking to ward-based structures that can bring decision-making and political action closer to members.
What is absent from this is a discussion between local, regional, and the national party about how the Green Party can invest and support new organising models that meet local needs and develop effective local parties.
Following successive poor election results in the 1950s, Labour commissioned future leader Harold Wilson to write a report on what needed to change. The damning report said Labour were “at the penny-farthing stage in a jet-propelled era” and set out recommendations taken forward by a new ‘Organisation Sub-Committee.’
The Green Party can be proud of our 2015 election results, both locally and nationally, but we need to look at how we need to develop and invest to take us up to the next level.