In May I set out five qualities I was looking for in the next leader of the Green Party. Having read their statements and listened at a hustings, I’ve now decided how I’m going to vote.
In ‘Song of Broad Axe’, Walt Whitman writes that cities, factories, steamships and constitutions don’t endure, except through the qualities of those that build them, and that those qualities can endure even if they aren’t expressed in the most grand or outwardly successful form. “The great city”, he wrote “is that which has the greatest man or woman; If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the whole world.”
It’s probably unkind to describe my own party as a few ragged huts when compared to the cities of the two big parties. But I do think we are sustained and our influence endures thanks in part to the strong personal qualities of our leading figures, nurtured and shaped by a broad and vital mass of members, all of whom are leaders after a manner.
The five leadership qualities I wrote about in May were primarily about competence – particularly experience of high profile and tough media interviews, good tactical nous and team building.
When I look at the leadership battle in the Labour Party, I see a party so ill-at-ease with itself that principle or faction often clouds a clear examination of the full set of personal qualities the leader needs. What proportion of media coverage – both mainstream and independent – has educated the public about the qualities that are actually required of a party leader, and examined how both Corbyn and Smith match up? Too little.
Reading the behind-the-scenes frustration with Corbyn from people like Thangham Debbonaire, Lilian Greenwood and Richard Murphy gives you an idea of what incompetence can mean, no matter how much you might like the leader’s policies and personality. Where does principle end and purpose begin?
We know all the challenges leaders face, and I don’t for a moment underestimate the power of a deeply hostile media or an underfunded party. But if a leader cannot get good media coverage and shape the agenda they will never have any power. If the leader cannot seize opportunities without losing sight of their strategy they will never have any impact. If the leader cannot build a team and get the most out of their colleagues they will never endure.
Their leadership will be an artifice, attractive on the outside but hollow and impotent in effect.
When it comes to the role of leader in the Green Party I think there can only be one choice from the list of candidates: the Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley jobshare. They are a dream team, and I’m really excited at the thought of them taking up this role.
I’m grateful to the other candidates for bringing some competition to what could otherwise look like a coronation, though I regret the shocking lack of diversity in the field. Their contributions in the hustings helped to expose disagreements that Lucas and Bartley will need to think about – not least the details of a progressive alliance, which is a lot less simple than Lucas sometimes implies.
But when you evaluate their CVs it’s clear that Lucas and Barley are the only choice. Some have expressed disappointment that we can’t bring on more talent, but in a small party with so few senior elected politicians that’s always going to be incredibly difficult. Hopefully Bartley will have a big impact if he takes on this new role, adding to the public profile of elected Greens like Lucas, Jenny Jones, Molly Scott Cato and Keith Taylor.
The race for deputy leader is much more interesting, with two existing deputy leaders and three experienced councillors and a marginally more diverse field. Judging their competence and qualities is more difficult because it’s less clear what the role is for.
As one questioner put it at the London hustings – what will you provide that a leader can’t?
There is no right answer to that question. Over the years deputies have variously: travelled around to talk at local party events, helped with training, deputised for media opportunities, given keynote speeches at national conferences and campaign/NGO/business events, and more.
In my 8 years working in London’s City Hall and Green Party I came to appreciate the importance of a political team with complementary skills and qualities. Sian Berry, a formidable campaigner and leader, is much the stronger for working effectively at the London Assembly with Caroline Russell, always seeking to listen and build consensus. Darren Johnson’s unparalleled political brain and Jenny Jones’ catholic alliance building were perfectly matched, and over 16 years they found ways to make their differences complementary. The campaign teams that elected all four and the City Hall teams that supported them added further qualities, giving them a power beyond their personal abilities.
It wasn’t difficult for me, looking down the lists of 11 candidates over these elections, to spot combinations of Green politicians that would have missed this opportunity, or even have created serious problems.
As I will be voting for Lucas and Bartley for leader, I am looking at competent deputies that will add some complementary skills.
On that basis, I think Andrew Cooper has the most to offer. He:
- Provides a northern, working class voice to complement two middle class southerners.
- Brings 17 years of experience in local government, bringing a focus on local elections and a rich source of real life stories from constituents.
- Has brokered cross-party deals, essential experience if we are to pursue a Progressive Alliance.
- Has implemented Green Party policies and helped make his council a case study in almost every climate change report, giving him real credibility.
- Seems to be a team player genuinely interested in working with others.
I’d give an honourable mention to Amelia Womack, to whom I shall probably give my second preference. While she lacks Andrew’s depth of experience and hinterland outside youth/green politics, she has impressed me with her dedication to the deputy role over the past two years. Whether or not she is re-elected, I hope that she is well supported by her local and regional party to win public office in Cardiff in the near future.
Writing an endorsement leaves me feeling for those I overlook. Despite my disappointment at the lack of diversity, it was a real pleasure to learn more about the talented people putting themselves forward.
Should Liz Reason and I be fortunate enough to win the contest against RON for the position of Management Co-ordinator, we want to look again at mentoring systems in the party. How can we continue to develop the skills of these candidates, and of other party members? How can we have a much more diverse and impressive array of candidates in 2018, including more with experience of elected office?
These are positive, rather than poisonous, questions. In the current political climate I feel fortunate to be asking them.