Tom Pashby

Internal elections in the Green Party of England and Wales are often light on politics. With the Greens’ policy platform being decided not by leaders but by members, it’s easy to see why. But prioritising what messages are used, what areas to emphasise and to which audience is a fundamentally political task.

It is in light of this that Tom Pashby is seeking to inject a heavy dose of political debate into the deputy leadership contest. Announcing their candidacy last month, Pashby called for the Greens to “claim the Left ground” left by the Labour Party under its current leadership. And when Bright Green interviewed them, this remained a core part of their pitch.

“Explicitly anti-capitalist”

Pashby’s starting point here comes from their view that the Green Party’s existing policy platform is “fundamentally left wing” and makes the case for “an undoing of capitalist systems”. To this end, they argue that the party needs to be “explicitly anti-capitalist”.

Critics of this line of argument suggest that such positioning limits the appeal of the party, and that terms like “left wing” alienate voters. But Pashby is clear that this isn’t about using this language in external facing campaigns, rather shifting the emphasis of the party and its messaging. Accordingly, they propose talking more about the party’s “redistributive policies”, and issues that speak to people’s immediate needs, arguing that this has a direct appeal to voters:

I think they probably would have been more receptive to Greens saying that we want to help them put food on the table, and to give them a million Green new jobs in a Green New Deal, and a Universal Basic Income and all those kind of things.

With this in mind, Pashby speaks highly of the leadership of Natalie Bennett, who led the Greens from 2012-16:

she did a great job of communicating the interdependencies of social justice and environmental justice and propelled the Green Party into being the anti-austerity party during Ed Miliband.

From this, Pashby makes both an implicit and explicit criticism of the current party leadership – something that runs throughout our conversation. When asked whether the party has moved to the right in recent years, they respond by saying this is “pretty obvious”, and the party has been “a bit lost” since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015.

In essence, this again comes down to messaging. Pashby points to the uncritical, “radically pro-EU” narrative of the party in recent years as part of the problem. Despite being “extremely pro-remain”, they brand the European Union as a “neoliberal institution”. According to Pashby, this stance has caused the party to face allegations of centrism and suggested to voters that “the EU is more important than climate change”.

Beyond electoral alliances

Naturally, this analysis of the party’s messaging bleeds into Pashby’s critique of how the 2019 general election campaign was run. Chief among this critique is their opposition to the Unite to Remain agreement with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, as well as electoral alliances more broadly:

I personally think that we need to be asking all voters everywhere to vote Green because otherwise it’s not going to put that pressure on the other political parties to do the right thing on climate change.

This pops up again later, with Pashby suggesting that the Unite to Remain agreement muddied the waters when it came to the Greens’ political priorities:

I think it caused a lot of frustration and I think it confused things a lot, because it then became unclear what our priority was. People were thinking – have we just chucked climate change under the bus in favour of a vain hope of staying in the European Union

This speaks to a case Pashby has long made. Last year, they wrote that the Greens should stand in every constituency and that doing so adds pressure on other parties to take the climate seriously. They raise this again in our interview:

We need to be asking for all the votes we can, because otherwise we simply won’t be able to push the other parties enough.

They continue by arguing that the evidence facing the party is that despite attempting to use electoral alliances as a tool for ousting the Conservatives from office, “the Conservatives just continue to take more power”. As a result, Pashby sees a crucial role for the Greens now as an anchor on other parties when it comes to the climate crisis.

Alongside this, they make the case that the new political context post-Corbyn would enable the Greens to experience renewed political success. They claim the party could “swing it” in Bristol West in the next general election and that Greens should be looking to unseat “disappointing” Labour MPs:

we got so close to electing a Green MP in Bristol West. I would hope that if we could target our resources a bit better, that we might be able to swing it next time.

If there’s a disappointing Labour MP in a seat, then let’s take it, and elect somebody who’s going to hold the government to account better on environmental action and more ambitious social policy.

“Disappointing” Labour MPs and a lack of clear commitment on the climate from other parties is an evident point of frustration for Pashby. They are clear that “no one is ambitious as the Green Party on this”, and that “we haven’t wavered on climate action”. This contrasts with their assessment of Labour’s backtracking on their strong climate policies from the 2019 general election, and the Liberal Democrats, who Pashby accuses of wanting to attempt to ‘decarbonise capitalism’:

they still support decarbonising capitalism, which obviously doesn’t work because capitalism demands maximum extraction of resources and we already need to be immediately stopping extracting fossil fuels

A “culture of transphobia”

Pashby is clearly strident in their assessment of where the party should position itself politically, as well as in their willingness to criticise the party’s direction under the current leadership. This criticism also extends to the leadership’s role in points of contention within the party.

One such area is on trans rights. Pashby hits out at what they describe as a “culture of transphobia” in the party. In turn, they argue that a “small number of people” have been “very damaging” to the party’s credibility among the LGBTIQA+ community. They also suggest that the current leadership team haven’t taken sufficient action on the issue:

I know that the leadership team have done certain things to support trans rights in the party and obviously those actions have been welcome. But I think it sometimes has been too late, and it sometimes has been too little.

They go on to say that this is leading people leaving the party and that this is impacting the party’s ability to win elections:

I said earlier about us hemorrhaging members because of us not being good about trans rights in terms of what high profile people in the party have or haven’t said. Because of that, we risk not being able to get power, be it in parish councils, local councils, or parliament.

It risks us being able to take ambitious action on climate change, and that’s obviously a shrewd political things to say, but I’m also a non-binary person so it matters to me personally that we’re better at this.

Long and varied experience

Aside from the internal discussions and controversies, Pashby also spends a reasonable amount of time making the case that they are the right person to provide “fresh leadership” for the party because of their “broad experience”.

They make reference to their stints on various Green Party bodies – including the executive of both the Young Greens and the Green Party. They talk up their role in seeking out and supporting young people to stand as local election candidates in Plymouth. And they explain their campaigning experience with reference to their candidacy in two general elections.

But other candidates in the deputy leadership race also have long running experience in the party too. Amelia Womack has six years as deputy under her belt. Cleo Lake – who Pashby describes as a “great community organiser” has been a lord mayor and a councillor.

So ultimately, Pashby’s experience might be a necessary criteria for members voting on their next deputy leader. But it won’t be sufficient. Their prospects in the election will hinge on whether they can convince enough of the membership that their vision is the strongest – and that they are the right messenger for the party. With six weeks to go, Pashby will be hoping that the membership en masse share their view that the Greens need to be an “explicitly anti-capitalist” party on the left.

This is the second 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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