The Green Party needs collective leadership
Green leadership is collective, and the leadership candidates need to reflect this in the way they approach this election.
Ever since Natalie Bennett ran her first leadership election campaign on the basis of her “first 100 days” plan in 2012, it has become part and parcel of our 2 yearly leadership election cycle to present a plan of action that leadership candidates would enact if we elected them.
When Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley stood for election in 2016, they included commitments for the establishment of an Equalities Commission and implementing Progressive Alliances as a core part of our electoral strategy going forward.
In 2018, Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley proposed a raft of things in their election campaign materials. These included increasing capacity to support members fighting grassroots campaigns on issues like fracking, HS2 or tree felling – including specific support from the party for people undertaking non-violent direct action. They talked about expanding access to party training schemes like Campaign School, 30 under 30 and In it to Win It.
It’s notable that a lot of these things, across successful candidates’ campaigns simply have not happened. There has never been a party Equalities Commission, Campaign School is about the same size it ever has been, the amount of central party support for non-violent direct action has not substantially increased – even in the light of the rise of Extinction Rebellion throughout the tenure of the leaders pledging to support that type of action.
Many Greens, including our elected leaders, have taken part in direct action, but there is very little movement in the actual support to members taking part in it beyond a thumbs up and a well done. There are no training sessions, no literature, no real sea change in the way the party as an organisation approaches the activity of our members when they take part in grassroots campaigns on single issues, and non-violent direct action.
It is important to say that this isn’t a failing of the people elected as our leaders personally. The real problem was that they made promises that they could never deliver on alone. The reality is that, whilst we have a role called “leader”- leadership within our party is collective, the leader gets just one vote on our executive. The other people elected to our executive (and the staff team) are not duty bound to implement the programme the leader has set out, and as such – a leader standing alone saying “we should do this” very rarely means that it will be done.
Take the “Progressive Alliances” strategy which Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley made central to their election campaign. The success or otherwise when this came to be tested in an election in 2017 aside – we didn’t magically adopt the strategy because they had been elected. It was only adopted because it was proposed to conference in Autumn 2016, and that conference agreed to it. The election campaign, and winning (obviously) helped get that vote through, it gave the strategy a platform and placed it in members minds when they came to vote at that conference, it wasn’t however a foregone conclusion – the conference could have decided completely differently and canned Progressive Alliances completely.
Any leader in our party does not have a mandate to implement their full programme based purely on their election. In being elected as leader, they are only being elected as our main spokesperson, not to lead the party on all issues and activity, however much some people might like that to be the case.
I can hear people saying “but so what” and “what is the solution to this”, and there will be some people who think that the solution is to make our leader position a “strong leader” in the mould of the Labour party – with the leader able to implement whatever they want. I think that would be a disaster, but this isn’t about what we might do in the future, it’s what I think leadership candidates need to be doing now.
Our next leader(s) need to be carefully thinking about who they want to work with on the executive, who their collective leadership team will be in September. What they are doing now to pull together not just a leader, or co-leaders, and a deputy – but a full executive team. Who do they want to back for, and work with as chair, management coordinator, elections coordinator, external communications coordinator and so on.
There are 10 voting roles on the party executive up for election this year, which means that a coordinated singular vision for taking the party through the next 2 years could comfortably be implemented by such a team. The failure of the election campaigns of leaders for the last 8 years has been to see the leader position atomised and separate from the other roles which dictate how our party is led.
A leadership candidate who really wants to drive our party forward, will be working with others to build a common platform to work from in all the elections this summer. Any leadership candidates who are not working with others across all the roles up for election, are not thinking about how they implement their plans, they are just using them to get votes, and I think that’s a waste of some very good ideas. Time will tell which candidates are bold enough and brave enough to set out a collective vision for our party.
This article is the fifth in a series on the forthcoming Green Party of England and Wales leadership election. Bright Green has invited a number of Green Party members and activists to contribute their views on what the next Green Party leader should deliver. The articles in this series can be found here.
PS. Bright Green has big plans for the future, but we need your input. Take 2 minutes to see what we’re planning and tell us your thoughts.
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