Interview with Peter Underwood – External Communications Co-ordinator candidate 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 Underwood (Green Party regional council veteran & former trade union representative) will be standing for the role of external communications co-ordinator. Next month, he will face former Green MEP, Molly Scott Cato, in the running for the role.
We asked each of the candidates five questions on their background and what they would seek to achieve on GPEx. Here are Peter’s responses.
What do you think are the main challenges currently facing the Green Party, and how would you work to overcome them?
Externally I think our biggest issue is that approval of our policies isn’t translating into votes. This is where our external communications are vital. We need a clear strategy to engage with people on an emotional level – not just an intellectual one. We need to create a positive image of what being ‘a Green’ really means and back this up with a coherent set of messages that really hit home. If we want people to elect us to government at any level then we need to look like we are ready for government. I think this means we need a set of spokespeople who are the equivalent of a shadow cabinet, and these people need to be experts in their field to show the public that we not only have the best policies, but we also have people in the party who are ready and able to put them into action.
Internally we have a problem of our energy being diverted into fighting internal battles instead of winning over the wider public and winning elections. Debate within a political party is a really valued and important thing, but too often people are more willing to listen to loud voices on the internet and spread misinformation that supports their belief than they are to listen to experts in the field. We often criticise other politicians for not listening to peer-reviewed scientific evidence on climate change and so we must not be guilty of ignoring this same evidence on other issues. Disappointingly, there are also some people in the party who seem to have more enthusiasm for highlighting divisions than they do for resolving them. We need to get far better at disagreeing. We need to show respect for other opinions and expert evidence. We need to be focussed on finding positions that we can agree on and, if not, understanding that we have more in common and we need to work together to save the future of humanity.
What skills do you bring that would make you an effective member of the executive?
I have a Masters in Business Administration and years of experience working in management and governance roles in the public, private and charity sectors. I have been an officer of the Green Party at local, regional, and national levels and so I’m very familiar with the inner workings of the party. As a former trade union representative, and someone who currently works with groups of volunteers, I am very conscious of ensuring that both our staff and members are treated with respect and due consideration in our decision-making processes.
I believe that power comes from the bottom up and so I believe everyone on GPEx is answerable to the membership, and has a responsibility to ensure that as a body, and as a party, we not only abide by the letter of our rules but the spirit of Green politics in the way that we do our business. I have always worked in a collaborative and consultative way. While I am uncompromising in sticking to our Green principles, I am also pragmatic in seeking resolution to problems to enable us to achieve our shared objectives.
What experience do you have in communications, and how would you put it to use in the role?
I spent many years working in Westminster with government ministers and senior officials to develop messaging and work out how to present government policy. I’ve written speeches, press articles and notices, government papers, and replies to parliamentary questions and correspondence. I’ve produced communications strategies, briefing notes, and prepared ministers for debates, events, and select committee hearings. Therefore, I am used to working with politicians to help them present themselves and ideas in the most positive and effective ways.
What do you think the central messages should be for the Green Party over the next year?
I think our core message should be that people deserve better. This applies to the way we are governed, the way we are treated in society, and the future we are creating for everyone. We should aspire to be the country we really want to be, and use this vision to inspire people to vote for us and support the changes we need to make in our society, our economy, and our environment.
What do you think isn’t working with the Green Party’s current messaging?
As I’ve said, we know people like our policies, but people don’t vote based on what they think – they vote based on how they feel. We need a clear strategy to engage with people on an emotional level. In the past we have only done this in a negative way – fear of climate change, sadness at loss of biodiversity, and anger at incompetent and deceitful governments.
We need to create a clear and coherent image of what being ‘a Green’ really means. We need to present a positive vision of a Green future. We need to look like a party that will win elections and do a good job of running the council, the city, or the country.
We need to make sure that our mainstream communication channels appeal to mainstream voters, so we get enough votes to win elections – not just move up in the polls.
As a party that cherishes and celebrates diversity we should be amplifying the voices of our liberation groups, not speaking on their behalf. We need to show the public that there are people like them in the Green Party otherwise they won’t join us or vote for us.
With our limited resources we need to be smarter and more nimble in how we communicate to catch the eye of the press and the public. We may not always be able to create the wave, but we should be the surfer riding it that everyone is watching and applauding.
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to find out the aspirations and experiences of this year’s GPEx candidates.
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