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Does the Green Party need a leader? The case against

Leadership in the plural _ By Shahrar Ali
November 2007

Shahrar Ali replies to Rupert Read

Dear Rupert,

In Norwich City, over two years, the number of Green councillors has doubled from five to ten. You are one of the councillors who helped make it happen. In the London area last year, we moved from having just one councillor to 12, now with representation across six London boroughs instead of one.

Now for the first time, the Green Party of England and Wales has over 100 councillors. These gains came about with considerable effort on the ground from grassroots activists. These gains came about with political leadership from the local parties themselves.

Some of our influential colleagues in the party believe that to accelerate our progress we need to adopt a figurehead leader. You believe that this will lead to an increased public profile for us and subsequent political gains.

Yet all of us in the Party are impatient for social transformation through green politics. So let me address your concerns by explaining why we need to reaffirm our commitment to a leadership structure that does not adopt a single party leader:

1. Accountability. You say that having a leader makes leadership more accountable. But this consequence isn't automatic or else doesn't mean much. Calling for the resignation of a leader, for example, should be based on knowing that he or she is directly or indirectly responsible for some serious mistake, or even that their replacement would help minimise future harm. You may wish to make somebody at the top take responsibility but that isn't the same as identifying who is responsible. If a leader caved into pressure to resign, without good cause, that could leave the underlying problem unaddressed, only to be repeated. The problem is made worse when a leader cannot be held to account, as in your Tony Blair example, even after he took the country into a disastrous war.

2. Collective leadership. Our party recognises that collective leadership is better than top-down leadership in helping us to progress our radical political agenda. We balance the autonomy of local parties alongside the executive power granted to other bodies elected regionally or nationally. This arrangement encourages, and entrusts, members to take ownership of the party through campaign initiatives or candidate selection - at all levels. Compare this to the alienation suffered by the Southall Tory party when, earlier this year, Cameron imposed his favoured by-election candidate. Moreover, grassroots participation is not an optional add-on to Green politics, but is intrinsic to our joined-up approach. It is precisely this mindset that needs fostering in the wider world; getting people motivated to walk the walk, not simply talk the talk.

So, Rupert, if it's political transformation you're after, while recognising the need for more Green politicians, we really are singing off the same hymn sheet. However, this transformation extends to the way we ourselves do politics. Not because we want to be different for the sake of it, but because conventional politics has shown itself to be unfit for purpose.

Yours,

Shahrar

Shahrar Ali is the Green Party London policy coordinator and a candidate for the London Assembly in 2008. Dr Ali teaches moral philosophy and his doctorate addressed lies and deceit in public life

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