Ashley Gunstock

A Green Party of England and Wales leadership candidate has implied that he is best placed to lead the Green Party because he is a white, cisgender, middle class man. In an interview with Bright Green, Ashley Gunstock claimed that “a male, white cisgender leader was something that the electorate could focus on better.”

In the interview, Gunstock began by saying that he felt that “there is an identity for people such as me within the party that’s unrepresented at the moment”. When pressed to clarify what he meant by this, Gunstock said:

No, I’m not saying white middle class males, or females – white middle class people – are underrepresented in the party. In fact […] the basis of the party is white, middle class and often middle aged. What I’m saying is that – in fact – it’s that kind of demographic that is going to break through. Because we are the ones who can do it better than… not better than… it’s frustrating to say better than. It’s not what I mean. It would be far better accepted if a white middle class man got up and said I believe in the principle aims of Black Lives Matter. I believe in the principle aims of Extinction Rebellion. I believe that the Green Party agenda is the only agenda that is going take us forward, given what all the other parties are offering.

He continued:

And I feel that coming out of the mouth of someone of their own kind – so to speak – is something that they will latch onto better than having a minority group leader getting up and saying the same thing. I hate the fact that I’m saying it, because I believe that anybody of any gender, of any race, of any colour should be able to get up and do what I’m intending to do. And I’ve got to say, quite honestly, it’s far easier for me to do that than it is for someone of a minority group. And it’s upsetting to say that, but I have got to break through in order that that will be achievable in the future.

Following this, Gunstock went on to suggest that the electorate weren’t ready for the Green Party to be led by women or people of colour. Upon being asked how people would feel about his suggestion that he was best placed to lead the party because he was a white man, he said:

Initially, I can understand that they would be upset about it. But I agree with the fact that someone of a different gender, a different race, a different religion should be able to get up and say the things that I want to say for the party. But I just don’t feel that the electorate is ready for it. I keep saying it, I think we are running before the electorate can walk.

Later, he suggested that the public would not accept the Green Party’s message if it was led by Shahrar Ali – the only person of colour standing in the party’s leadership election this year. Gunstock said:

I really, honestly, don’t think that regardless of what Shahrar Ali says, for instance, that the electorate are going to accept what he has to say.

At the end of the interview, Gunstock was asked to clarify his earlier comments and was invited to apologise for his suggestions. In response, Gunstock said:

I didn’t say that a white male was the best leader for the Green Party. I was saying that I was best placed as a white male, at the moment, at this particular time, to break through – to break through. Because, politically, everywhere you look, they want and they see a white middle class male. And we’ve got to break through.

And that is one of the reasons why I said what I said – well it’s the only reason I said what I said. Because I wish it wasn’t. I genuinely wish it wasn’t the fact that that’s the problem. That is part of our problem. But it is. And so help me God, if I did, the first thing I would do is say loud and clear that we need to change this.

Because it’s wrong. It’s totally wrong that we’ve got people like Boris Johnson and Putin and people in the Eastern European countries who are far right who are starting to come to the fore, and that fool in North Korea, and all these people driving the agenda – they’re the wrong people. They’re totally the wrong people. We need to get the right people. But what you have to do is play their game, beat them at it and then make the change. And that is what I’m saying.

The Green Party has had leaders since 2008. Since, the party has always been led either solely by women, or by women in a co-leadership team with Jonathan Bartley. In 2012, the Green Party became the first UK parliamentary party to see one woman leader hand over to another woman when Natalie Bennett succeeded Caroline Lucas. Two years later, Shahrar Ali became the first person of colour to be elected deputy leader of a UK parliamentary party.

Gunstock is regarded as an outsider in the Green Party’s leadership election. He previously stood for the leadership of the party in 2008, losing to Caroline Lucas.

The Green Party’s current processes have an extremely low threshold for candidates to enter a leadership election.  Just 20 members are needed to nominate a leadership candidate for them to appear on the ballot.

You can watch the full interview with Gunstock here:

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