Carne Ross

The Green Party of England and Wales recently announced a list of 13 new spokespeople. Among them is Carne Ross, who has taken on the brief of ‘global solidarity’.

Ross is a former diplomat who worked in the Foreign Office for 15 years before resigning to give evidence to the first inquiry into the Iraq War. But many will be surprised to learn that the new spokesperson has previously taken positions on international issues that deviate significantly from his Green colleagues.

In 2013, Ross tweeted to say he was “disappointed” that MPs had voted against supporting US-led military intervention in Syria.

This position is in clear contradiction to the stances taken by leading Greens at the time.

Caroline Lucas, the party’s sole MP voted against the motion to support intervention in parliament. Lucas said in advance of the proposed intervention “it is by no means clear that military action will reduce suffering in the region” and that it could “lead to an escalation of the conflict”. During the parliamentary debate, Lucas said the motion had a “cavalier treatment” of international law, that she “completely reject[ed] its drive towards military action” and that such action could not be justified. She would later once again vote against military intervention in Syria, voting for a motion that would have prevented British airstrikes in the country in 2015.

Similarly, then party leader Natalie Bennett was a vocal critic of military intervention. Speaking at a demonstration after the 2013 parliamentary vote Bennett called the Liberal Democrat peer Paddy Ashdown – who was a supporter of intervening – “an old war-horse” who “should be put out to pasture”. Bennett would later attend demonstrations against intervention in 2015.

The Green’s sole member of the House of Lords at the time said of the 2013 vote “more violence from us is not the solution”.

Opposition to military intervention has long continued since. In 2018, the Greens’ deputy leader Amelia Womack spoke at a demonstration and called British action in Syria a “dangerous intervention” and said that the government had “rushed headfirst behind a trigger happy US President into striking a foreign nation”.

Opposition to intervention in Syria has also come from Ross’ fellow newly appointed spokespeople. In 2013, the Greens’ new health, social care and public health spokesperson Peter Cranie wrote on his blog: “To think we can fix our history of colonialism, imperialism and interference with a military airstrike in a complex situation, is to fail to recognise how we have arrived here.”

Responding to a request for comment on his position and its incongruity with his fellow Greens, Ross told Bright Green he supported “limited military intervention” as a means of bringing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to negotiating table for “the transition to democracy”. He said:

I supported limited military intervention against the Assad regime in 2013 as I believed that this would force Assad to the table to negotiate the transition to democracy demanded by the international community and the people of Syria. I believed this not least because this was the position of the democratic Syrian opposition with whom I, and Independent Diplomat, were working at the time.

Of course, I recognise that there was a range of honestly held beliefs about the best way to bring about peace and democracy in Syria, and I respect many of the people who held different views to me. Nonetheless, this was the view I took based on the situation as I saw it.

Continued support for intervention

However, Ross’ support for military engagement in Syria didn’t end in 2013. As recently as 2019, he claimed in an article for The Nation that a planned US withdrawal from Syria was “a shameless and dangerous abandonment of America’s closest ally in fighting ISIS”, and that US troops in Syria were “living up to their promise: helping democracy in the Middle East.”

On this article, Ross told Bright Green that he does not “take military intervention lightly”, and his position on military intervention in Syria are “shaped by the views of democratic opposition forces on the ground. He said:

Throughout this long period of violent conflict in Syria, my views on Western military intervention have always been shaped by the views of democratic opposition forces on the ground in Syria. As a former diplomat, I do not take military intervention lightly, and I do not always support it. For instance I resigned and gave up my career over the Iraq war.

Since leaving the Foreign Office in 2004, Ross has established and worked for the NGO Independent Diplomat, which advises governments and political groups across the world. The Syrian Opposition is among the groups that has been advised by Independent Diplomat.

The Green Party has stressed that its defence policy seeks to achieve peace, democracy and humanitarian outcomes through diplomacy and other nonmilitary interventions. The Green Party’s current policy is that military intervention should only be considered in “desperate situations” and solely under the auspices of the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Party policy also states that “military intervention for peacekeeping or conflict prevention cannot be justified unilaterally”.

Further controversies over new spokespeople

Ross’ appointment isn’t the only one that has proved controversial. On June 7, following the announcement of the 13 new spokespeople, Shahrar Ali faced substantial criticism, with many both in and outside the party reiterating allegations of transphobia which he has faced for some time. These allegations have continued in the following days.

Ali responded to the allegations at the time, telling Bright Green:

I have fought for the human rights of the marginalised and voiceless in our society for decades, and will continue to do so, for the LGBTIQA+, disabled and ethnic minority communities and for the rights of women and children, too.

Ali had been appointed as the party’s new police and domestic safety spokesperson. Bright Green has since learnt that following his appointment, a member of the party’s crime and justice policy working group has resigned. In an email seen by Bright Green, Chris Williams – a Green Party member from Leicestershire – resigned his post explicitly citing Ali’s appointment from the role.

Williams said “I no longer feel able to part of this police working group”, and argued that “the party needs to actively resist nearly-evidence-free scapegoat narratives designed to increase fear of crime”. He also claimed that Ali’s appointment would make it more difficult to work with groups like Sisters Uncut on criminal justice policy.

The Green Party declined to comment on the resignation, but responding to the allegations made against Ali on Monday, a party spokesperson said:

The Green Party is unequivocal in its support for trans rights. We recognise that trans women are women, trans men are men, and that non-binary identities exist and are valid.

Each spokesperson has been appointed following a process open to all members who were invited to apply for one of the roles. Each applicant was assessed according to key criteria including expertise on the issue and media experience before a small group of elected representatives made the final decision.

All of the speakers will be acting subject to a code of conduct they have signed. This requires them to live up to our high standards of fairness, tolerance, equality, diversity and inclusiveness and to adopt a tone that is positive and inclusive and the party will ensure they live up to those standards.

No consultation

Bright Green contacted the LGBTIQA+ Greens following the allegations made against Ali. In a statement, the group’s committee said that they were “taken aback” by the announcement of the spokesperson list happening without consultation with themselves. The group also alleged that their request to be consulted in the selection process had been denied. They said:

We were taken aback by the decision taken by GPEx to announce a spokesperson list without seeking to consult with us, or even advising us prior to publication. It is likely that we would have been able to offer valuable input, had our request to be consulted or warned not been denied. We have offered to work with GPEx to ensure that this oversight is not repeated.
GPEx refers to the Green Party Executive – the body responsible for appointing spokespeople.

A spokesperson for the Green Party responded to the LGBTIQA+ Greens’ claims, saying:

The process to choose our list of spokespeople was agreed by GPEX and clearly assigned the final decision to a sub-group of five people.

Equality and diversity depends on clear and open processes. In such a situation it would be quite inappropriate to change the process while it is underway or to allow groups inside the party to be able to intervene in the process when GPEX had not allowed for this.

We will be reviewing the process to see how it can be improved and considering the formal involvement of our liberation groups will certainly be something we consider.

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Image credit: YouTube screengrab
Editors’ note – this article was updated at 14:12 on June 9 2021 to include The Green Party’s response to the LGBTIQA+ Greens’ claims. 

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