“Trans women will always be part of my feminism” – an interview with Amelia Womack
On most measures, Amelia Womack has had a good innings as deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. Over the course of the six years she’s been in post, the party has experienced unprecedented popularity, and has grown its membership to unprecedented levels.
When she took on the role in 2014, the party had just over 150 councillors across England and Wales. Now, there are nearly 400 Greens elected to local councils. Six years ago, the party had broken new ground in getting three MEPs elected in that year’s European elections. 2019 saw the Greens win seven. The Green Party won a higher share of the vote in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 general elections than ever before. And whereas when she took on the role the Greens had fewer than 20,000 members, now they have more than 50,000.
In many ways, it’s therefore not surprising that Womack would seek re-election to the deputy leadership. Nor is it surprising that she’s leaning into this record. When Bright Green spoke with her last week, she talked up the party’s electoral success straight out the gate:
It’s been incredible doing this job for six years, and watching the party go from strength to strength, with our highest general election results, our highest European election results, winning historic numbers of councillors.
Building on this recent electoral success is something Womack is placing front and centre of her campaign too. Stating that these past successes are “just the beginning”, she goes on to say that if successful in her re-election bid she wants to see a “historic win” for the party by getting the first Green into the Welsh Parliament. Despite this she did admit that doing so would be “tough work”, and that it would require “real support for Wales”. She said:
It’s going to be a tough work, and the reality is it could be on a knife’s edge and I feel like every single bit of work we do, every penny donated, every leaflet through a door, and every person retweeting is a chance to make that win happen.
Given Womack has been a key figure fronting out the party’s lines on broadcast interviews for over half a decade, she is naturally comfortable talking up the Green Party’s electoral success.
The flipside of this is that she appears to instinctively avoid stepping into controversies. Asked about the efficacy and wisdom of the ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance the Greens entered into with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru in the 2019 general election, she skirts around the question. In doing so, she defers to statements about the Greens being a “grassroots party” and delivering “what the membership want”. She said:
What we saw was Green members voting for that on a national and a local level, and as a grassroots party.
Obviously, we need to work on the general support of the membership. I think that for many people who had engaged in that process, they saw it as a form of grown-up politics, of how we make a difference.
And that’s the thing with the grassroots party who’s members vote on our steps […] I will always support what the membership want, and act as a leader for those values.
She does, however, concede that such electoral alliances may dilute the strength of the Green Party’s messaging:
Personally… I felt that working on those kind of strategies takes away from us getting our unique Green message out there.
Womack’s propensity to avoid getting caught up in conversations that have triggered dissension in the party is reaffirmed later. Rather than commenting in detail on controversial comments made my leading figures in the party, she pivots towards talking about the work that the party has been doing on diversity, and the work that still needs to be done. She says “we’ve got a lot of work to do” to engage with Muslim, Jewish and other communities.
To deliver, this Womack argues that the party can learn from its development of policies and narratives that have enhanced the party’s reputation among young people:
When I talk to young people about our policies, they always say, you know, why do the Green Party have such good policies for young people? And it’s because young people have been central to the decision making process as members of the party, making sure we are talking about the most important policies that effect them.
And I think that the same is true for our policies [for] other diverse communities. But we’ve just got a lot more work to do to make sure that people’s voices are heard.
Womack went on to discuss the work that has already been done within the party to strengthen representation of people of colour. She cited the Deyika Nzeribe Fund – money earmarked to support Green candidates of Global South heritage – as well as her work to ringfence funding to remove barriers to people of colour standing for election.
“Trans women will always be part of my feminism”
Increasing support for the Greens among different demographics and diversifying the party’s candidates isn’t the only equalities issue Womack emphasises. She says tackling “all forms of discrimination and bigotry” within and outside the Green Party is “essential”.
In particular, she argues that “a handful of people” in the party are undermining trans people’s “right to exist”. This is in reference to a long term struggle in the party, where a small, unrepresentative group of members have opposed the Greens’ policies that support trans rights. Green Party policy currently states: “trans men are men, trans women are women, and that non-binary identities exist and are valid”.
Womack is clear where she stands on the issue:
I’m a feminist, and I’ve always been a very proud feminist.
And trans women will always be part of my feminism. I’ve been disappointed to see people have been using dogwhistles to impact and undermine our trans friends.
She continued by reaffirming her commitment to the party’s policy, and hit out at what she described as the ‘harm’ caused by transphobia in the party:
I think it’s really important that we continue to be clear on our policies, and continue to work to ensure that trans people are supported in our party, because I feel like the fact that people feel like their right to exist is basically being undermined in a place where they work to volunteer and work to change the country and our party for the better. It’s just frustrating to see people being harmed by a handful of people.
Signposts and weather vanes
Moving away from internal discussions, Womack is deeply critical of the direction the Labour Party has moved under Keir Starmer’s leadership. With Labour moving to the right, she talks up the Green Party as “trustworthy” and “consistent”. Along this line, she evokes a political framing of one the Labour left’s most revered figures:
I’ve come from the school of Tony Benn of, you know, be a sign post, not a weather vane. And with some of the statements coming from Keir I feel like he’s a weather vane trying to move into the wind of popular opinion, rather than signpost people to the best pathway for what we need to create.
And I think that’s what we do as Greens. It doesn’t matter who the Labour leader is. We will always be that sign post, our policies never change with our leadership. But what we need is the best leaders to ensure that we are taking advantages of all the opportunities, communicating those policies.
Central to these policies for Womack is the Green New Deal, which she says “incorporates everything” and would seek to “move away from a neoliberal agenda”. And it is these “radical policies” that she thinks hold the key to future success for the Greens, and are also the policies that would overturn systems which embed “inequality” and “environmental destruction”.
Leadership from below
Throughout our conversation, Womack makes pains to talk down the role of herself and of leaders more generally. While you might expect a candidate seeking a fourth term in a leadership position to talk up her own achievements, Womack instead attributes them to the membership as a whole.
At no point is this more apparent than when she’s asked what would ordinarily be a straightforward question – who her favourite Green politician is. She refuses to answer, instead describing the party as a “movement” and a “collection of people, doing amazing and inspiring things”:
What inspires me about the Green Party [is] that we’re a movement of tens of thousands of people who are doing our bit to create a bigger picture. And it’s not about individuals. It’s not about individual people, who may provide leadership.
It’s about the fact that we’ve all got a common goal, and we’re all doing our bit to achieve that.
Ultimately, it is that “movement”, that “collection of people” that will determine whether Womack will close 2020 the way she entered it – as deputy leader of the Green Party. On past evidence, it seems likely that she will. She has twice been comfortably re-elected, winning in the first round of voting in 2018 when she picked up 54% of the first preference votes.
But the party membership has changed significantly since then. It has grown to the tune of over 15,000 people since then. Nearly 80% of members didn’t turn out to vote last time around. If the outlook of these new members is radically different than the electorate in 2018 or if there is a spike in turnout, the election becomes much harder to predict. What Womack and the other candidates say and do over the coming seven weeks could make all the difference.
This is the first in a series of interviews with the candidates for the deputy leadership of the Green Party. In addition to these interviews, we are hosting a hustings for candidates on July 20 at 8pm. You can register for the event here.
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Image credit: Channel 4