Sunday, 12 August 2012

What is the Green Party leader for?

What is the Green Party Leader for? That might seem like an odd question to ask at a time when the Party is just about to elect a new leader, but it has never been clear what the role of the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) really is, and the leadership election has raised issues about the role and position of leader. In fact the Party has only had a leader for four years. Before that, the closest thing to a leader the Party had was the post of Principal Speaker, and there were two of those, one male, one female. We need to ask the question and find the answer for the new leader.

In 2007 the Party members voted for a leader and deputy leader to replace the old system of Principal Speakers. In the end, after fierce debate, the vote to change to leadership secured 73% in favour. Those who supported the change included Caroline Lucas who said:
"This is a fantastic day for the Green party and will help ensure we have a party that is understandable, recognisable and effective" 
At the time, I was against the change, and I still am. But we have to work with what we've got and make the best of it. The problem is that the party isn't sure what it has got and what the role of the leader should be.

What we haven't got is what the other 'grey' neoliberal parties have; a leader who is essentially an elected dictator, someone who lays down policies and has a veto on anything the party wants to do. The Tory party has never pretended to be democratic, always electing its leader from a ruling class cabal until the 1960s. Not that electing a leader has made much difference to the way it works. In Labour, Tony Blair managed to destroy the last vestiges of democracy in the party in the 1990s turning conferences into stage managed media events. I have no doubt that these are not the leadership models that most GPEW members want the party to follow.

So what does that leave us with? What should our leader be doing? Well, there is no doubt that the leader must be a strong advocate for the Party and seek to promote its policies as widely as possible. I believe the leader should be a campaigning leader, and one who holds a dialogue with other groups, such as the trade unions, on behalf of the party. Whoever wins will have to contend with the media spotlight and all the brings with it, including hacks rummaging through your dustbins.

One of the key issues that has arisen during the campaign is the question of whether the leader should be paid. This was not an issue while Caroline was leader, but now it is. It would have been good if the Party had made this decision at the conference in Liverpool, before the election started, but this will now be decided at the conference in September, after the leader is elected. Is the role a full-time job? And what would we expect a Green Party leader to earn - the median wage? My view is that it probably shouldn't be full-time but that might prevent good candidates from standing in future elections. For a small party with very little money, it is difficult to justify spending on full-time posts.

Those who argued for a leader said that the public, the electorate, and the media wouldn't understand a party that had no leader. But there are obvious dangers to having a leader for a radical party. They - the media and ruling class - want us to have a leader. A leader can be co-opted, they can be 'persuaded', they can be vilified, caricatured, but ultimately - they can be made to conform - and ditch policies voted for by their members. The beauty of the old GPEW system was precisely the fact that the media didn't understand it. Just like with Occupy, the powers that be were frustrated that there wasn't an individual they could single out and blame, or coerce, or prosecute and imprison. That gave the movement strength, and it sent out an important signal, that it is possible to organise without a leader.  We are here to bring about change, not just simply play by their rules, and I hope that whoever is elected will show the same determination that Caroline showed, to set the agenda, and not have the agenda set by our political enemies.

No comments: