Interview with Peter Sims & Sam Alston – Policy Development Co-ordinator candidates for GPEX
Throughout August, members of the Green Party for England & Wales will be voting to elect members of the next Green Party Executive (GPEx). In all, members will vote to determine which representatives will carry out eleven different roles – including that of leader and deputy leader. There is also a ballot to determine who will be the party’s third member in the House of Lords should the party be asked to put forward another peer.
Peter Sims (Greens general election candidate for High Wycombe in 2017) and Sam Alston (former co-chair of the South East Young Greens), will be standing as a job share team for the role of Policy Development Co-ordinator. Previously, the pair were also regional organisers for the student activist network, People and Planet – working on successful fossil fuel divestment campaigns. This August, they expect to stand against former general election candidate Mick Gregg, and former Isle of Wight general election candidate, Vix Lowthion.
What do you think are the main challenges currently facing the Green Party, and how would you work to overcome them?
In policy terms, growing pains. We are transitioning from a small member party to a large mass membership party in a world that is rapidly changing. Indeed the nature of our membership is changing and we are still working out how to integrate those who joined post Green Wave. We need to move from a policy process that is designed for a pre-internet age where everyone knew everyone, to a 50,000+ member party operating in the 21st century news cycle, under more scrutiny and with increased membership interaction. Reforming the policy process and improving policy diffusion is a key to this.
What skills do you bring that would make you an effective member of the executive?
Knowledge of process Design from a Systems Engineering Background, a broad policy understanding, and specific knowledge from work with the think tank, Green House. This is combined with digital skill and an appreciation of what is and isn’t technically possible.
A background in academia and campaigning for policy development. At the time of joining the executive, I will have recently completed a public policy Masters focusing on the energy sector and energy transition more broadly. I have also worked on developing campaigns to push particular policy developments. I have worked with Rene Cassin on human rights, Yachad on international relations and Compass on electoral reform. My work in community organising and youth sector also mean that I am used to working with volunteers and managing complex projects.
Both Peter & Sam:
Overall, our key qualification is that we both care deeply about the Green party and the policies it develops. We have a clear vision for reform of the current structures and process to make them more effective and inclusive, in a way that will result in better policy. This is outlined on the New Policy Process Space. We recognise however that this work is bigger than our candidacy and requires collaboration and consensus building to come to fruition.
What background do you have in the Green Party’s policy development process?
Between us we have:
Facilitated workshops and policy meetings at conferences & Policy Fests;
Held elected position within Policy Working Groups;
Proposed Voting Papers;
Proposed Amendment on motions;
Drafted Policy Process Subsidiary Document for the Transition Team;
Working with members of the policy community and past policy development coordinators to develop ideas which are collated on the New Policy Process Space;
How would you strengthen the Green Party’s policy development process?
It is clear from the working document in the Policy Process Space that how we define policy and the democratic process need improvement, and we feel these ideas need taking forward. Making a lot of these changes involves amending the constitution, which means the wider changes proposed by the Holistic review need to be resolved (one way or another) first. However, there are some changes – such as the formation of Policy Network as an umbrella organisation for Policy Working Group – which the policy community and policy development committee could set in motion now.
More broadly we feel the party needs to rethink and re-prioiritise the staff/financial resources it puts into policy. Policy is a critical part of the party, and could play a large role in increasing our impact – if we are both bold with our stance, but also do the ground work. The party is getting better at this, as the most recent publication shows, but on too many issues we either have the policy, but can’t or won’t communicate it effectively, or on critical ‘green’ issues we don’t have enough consensus within the party. Addressing these challenges is no one’s ‘job’ or ‘role’ within the party, but a Policy Development Co-ordinator which could take the lead in these areas, and aid the party as it confronts these challenges, could go a long way.
We need to better direct the resources put into policy, as at the moment our policy making resources are monopolised by conference. This is neither effective, inclusive or leading to the best policy.
We need to agree a shorter, more structured set of policies for a sustainable society. Currently the amount of policy, and lack of formal position for background papers, hinders accountability and accessibility. If conference were to agree less detailed and more structured policy it would mean less motions being required to update policy, and those that were required would be easier to write and discuss.
The policy community needs to work together and have a collective voice within the party, enabling better links to elected greens and spokespeople .We support calls for a Policy Network, as an umbrella organisation for Policy Working Group to achieve this.
The party should have policy in order to use it. We would promote policy decimation through expanding the role of regional policy fests as well as facilitating workshops within local parties, regional events and special interest groups. This should utilise both external perspectives and knowledge of the policy community, including our elected representatives (particularly the association of Green Councillors).
The party needs to be willing to put its neck on the line by making proposals on fundamental issues, and publicly build civil society coalitions and engage with unlikely allies.
The Green Party should reflect on its role outside, as well as its process within, in relation to conforming with difficult yet critical policy issues. On too many issues we either have the policy, but can’t or won’t communicate it effectively, or on critical ‘green’ issues we don’t have enough consensus within the party. To rectify this we need to be working with allies such as farmers, activists and trade unions.
What is your favourite Green Party policy? What is your least favourite?
Consolidated Income Tax and the broader tax simplification principle it sits within. As for my least favourite, perhaps the 4-day working week because of the way of which it became party policy, rather than the idea itself.
I really dislike such questions? Policies cannot be cherry-picked. The climate emergency cannot be resolved by enacting a single policy, without wider structural and cultural change. I also think there is rightly an element of neutrality in the policy development coordinator role. That said our policy of full reserve banking seems bizarre to me alongside our language on population.
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to find out the aspirations and experiences of this year’s GPEx candidates.
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