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.
So my comment was moderated out ?
Sorry to read this. That said – not one to sit on the fence with my view – I think it is for the best after reading Clare’s article.
As someone who has left the Green Party ( and joined Labour) I feel obliged to repeat previous comments I have made in response to previous articles I have read on public forums about internal Green Party organisational difficulties …..is it wise to have these discussions in public ?
Thank you Claire for this well-written parting swipe, perhaps your most well-written parting swipe yet.
It’s unfortunate to read how Clare has used her disappointment over her resignation from the party executive to take a public swipe at Caroline Lucas, who has arguably done more to advance the party’s fortunes than Clare or anybody can ever imagine.
But I’m afraid Clare’s article demonstrates a symptom of individualism and entitlement that sits uneasily with Green political activism. More than thirty years ago I, along with thousands of others , began volunteering for the then Ecology Party, not because we expected some remunerative return but because we felt then, as I do now, that the Green Party’s vision, values and manifesto for a sustainable society were the best hope for humankind and planet Earth. We had young families and scratched together incomes as best we could. My partner, like Clare’s, supported me and paid for basic expenses. It was a struggle but we did it out of a belief in the party and what it was trying to achieve. I didn’t feel undervalued or exploited, and I’m sure my colleagues didn’t either.
Unfortunately Clare’s fear of undervalue is not because she wasn’t paid for her time, but because she struggled with the very onerous tasks of being Chair of the Green Party Executive; a role that demands considerable management experience, time, patience and hard-nosed political nous. The role will be advertised soon so maybe a reader of Bright Green will consider going for it.
By the way, it’s a voluntary post!
Thanks for saying what many people think Judy, I completely agree.
I didn’t read it as a swipe at Caroline. Surely she was pointing out the danger of setting anyone as a vision of perfection. The bulk of the criticism was aimed at the other people in the greens. The problem is that the GP’s rapid expansion, members will have joined because they care deeply about some or all of the policies, but in my experience when such an organisation expands rapidly some of the members, never having belonged to any kind of political organisation or not having taken part in an organisation’s day to day working are not used to the need for minutes and the need to read agendas, make proposals for agendas, read minutes etc etc. Yes it can be boring, but it is necessary if you are to follow a truly democratic process. Feel passionately about something? Make a proposal for the next meeting, word it carefully, prepare your presentation having done any necessary research to provide evidence and make it as convincing as possible and especially be prepared for someone to defeat your proposal with superior argument. If people behave badly refer the problem to local officers or regional officials. I’m sorry Clare, but you should have fought your corner harder. As for people working beyond their hours, if it’s their choice then I can argue for and against, but would condemn any pressure for them to do so. For bad behaviour there are agreed procedures and people appointed to deal with it. As chair any body elected has responsibilities to se that things are done properly this is hard in any organisation and requires a fair mind good judgement and an independent spirit prepared to dig heels in when that’s called for. Respect for a chairperson often has to be earned the hard way, but it’s worth doing at all levels. Oh yes and being humble enough to consider you may be wrong and apologise then work to put it right.
Well said Clare, as mentioned before this is a real conundrum. But although the party has way less money than many others we do need to consider how to use it effectively and wisely. Also if we can bring congruity into our inner as well as outer approach we may find ourselves attracting many more members and therefore more finance that way. Our work in the disability group to show the Party the potential benefits of making our organisation much more appealing to disabled voters and disabled members, could have helped us to offer a real political home to the many thousands of disabled people suffering greatly at the hands of our present government, but to be honest unfortunately our approach often lacked the conviction many people we crying out for. For me compassion, respect and inclusion need to be at the heart of the offer from my Party, and for many years it has been. I hope this continues, for sake of people, all species and this beautiful place we get to call home. Good luck with your endeavours Clare.
Thank you Clare for taking on this role despite all the unnecessary challenges created by the Party ❤️
The Green Party’s signature policy of Basic Income would massively benefit the party itself (and many other progressive groups that rely on volunteers) if ever implemented. It would help level the playing field between volunteer-led groups and those wealthier groups (e.g. the Tories) that can afford a large paid staff.
Thanks to Clare for all her work. I must say however, that it is not only those members “of an age or economic position when they do not need renumeration for their time” who volunteer long hours for the Green Party. Many have made great sacrifices in order to be able to do so. It is for each of us to balance the satisfaction we get from serving the party against whatever we might gain from other uses of our time and energy. Anybody who decides that the demands of a position to which they have been elected are incompatible with the need to earn a living deserves to have that decision respected. But it seems a bit much to use the occasion of resignation to have a swipe at the person who has done most to get the party to where it is today, and who has probably sacrificed as much or more in terms of career potential than anyone else.
A lot of the problems the Greens have are due to lack of resources, but there are also political reasons for such difficulties.
Due to the unincorporated structure, GPEX members (the chair particularly) are personally liable if The Green Party goes bankrupt or faces legal action. That is an unfair burden to put on the shoulders of volunteers. Meanwhile, the power to actually deal with complaints and discipline lies with GPRC and Disciplinary committee, which are really unrepresentative and have made some very “questionable” decisions. This has consumed lots of volunteer time and energy at various levels of the party (and caused a ridiculous number of people, including myself, to leave the party). This could have been avoided with a better party structure.
There was a democratic governance review which had good proposals to improve things, but for reasons that are beyond me, the leadership caused this to be shelved and replaced with a top-down “holistic review” process. I encourage anyone who is still in the party and wants to improve things to try and engage with this process. But for all I know, it could be a complete stitch up to impose the will of the leadership – whatever that is.
I think the issue with it was it was very much a half measure, and the loss of the regional structure would have added to the perception problem that we need to move away from, that we are a party by and for middle class do gooders from London and the South East.
Hopefully, the new approach will take into account (rather than railroad out) the concerns of the other 80% of the country!
“The leadership” did not cause the governance review to be shelved and replaced by the Holistic Review. I put forward a motion proposing the review at conference. I’m a local party member, who ‘the leadership’ had never heard of, prior to me circulating the draft motion widely within the party in order to get enough signatures. It was overwhelmingly passed on the conference floor by grassroots members – it’s not something that has been imposed on the party by “the leadership”.
The idea behind the need for a review was triggered by me reading the draft governance review proposals, and thinking how trapped the proposals were by 40-year-old preconceptions of how a radical party should be run. The world has changed since the mid-70s, and I thought we needed a much broader, root-and-branch rethink of how the party operates. That was the starting point from which the idea of a review came.
I echo your call for everyone to engage with the process – my vision is for it to be member-led, and involving thousands of members across the regions.
laughable for Clare Phipps to talk so much about staff wellbeing, when she was a well-known bully of staff members.
That is called trolling. It is pathetic to hide behind ‘anon’ and make a personal accusation with no evidence
Do you have any evidence to back up this accusation?
Perhaps staff members should be doing their jobs properly & not running their own political agenda.