Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Green Party: Left foot forward?

James O’Nions reviews the leadership contenders and asks what it tells us about the current state of the Green Party

July 31, 2012
6 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


  share     tweet  

London Green Party leadership hustingsGreen Party leadership candidates at a London hustings. Left to right: Pippa Bartolotti, Natalie Bennett, (returning officer Jon Nott) Romayne Phoenix, Peter Cranie.

Green Party members in England and Wales will soon be receiving their ballot papers in the first serious contest for leader and deputy leader the party has held. Though the posts were first introduced in 2008 (previously the Green Party had ‘principal speakers’), and elections recur every two years, there was never any doubt that Caroline Lucas would be leader, and Norwich councillor Adrian Ramsay deputy.

This time, however, Caroline Lucas has decided not to stand again. She’s cited the need for a wider group of Green politicians to gain public profile as her reason, and there’s little doubt that her own time as leader led directly to her election as the Green’s first MP in Brighton Pavillion. But she and her team are no doubt also keenly aware of the time she needs to put into getting re-elected in Brighton – in a seat where Labour are her main rivals, are bashing the Green-led council for passing a cuts budget (however hypocritically) and in the context of a likely national swing to Labour at the next election, it’s tactically smart for her to concentrate on Brighton for the next couple of years.

Hence the Greens face a leadership race with no obvious winner going into the contest, although of the four candidates, there are frontrunners. The first to declare, Wales Green Party speaker Pippa Bartolotti, is surely not among them. Pippa, whose background is in business ‘sustainability’, is of the ‘neither left nor right but forward’ camp (and uses the phrase on her website). Once a more widely held position, the phrase no longer really chimes with the mood of a party more and more made up of people specifically looking for a left alternative. Plus it sounds rather silly. With turns of phrase like “the government has to stop pimping the planet and it has to stop pimping the people” (at the London hustings) and a grasp of media strategy that led her to proclaim “I annoy journalists all the time” as some kind of virtue, Pippa has something of the Jenny Jones about her.

The other candidate I would rule out is Romayne Phoenix. Romayne is standing on a ‘Green Left’ ticket with deputy leadership candidate Will Duckworth. Green Left is a small and dwindling ecosocialist current in the party. This is no barrier to electoral success: Derek Wall, a better known member of the group, has been elected male principal speaker of the party before. But he’s endorsed Alex Phillips (see below) for deputy so its clear there’s no unity around the ticket in the group. And there are plenty of socialists in the wider party who aren’t connected to Green Left and I would guess won’t be voting for Romayne.

They may well vote for Peter Cranie, who is also (marginally) the bookie’s favourite. Peter ran as the lead candidate in the North West for the European Parliament elections in 2009 on a specifically anti-racist, anti-BNP ticket. Though he just missed beating Nick Griffin to the last MEP place in the region, he is well placed to beat him next time. He says he wants the Greens to be known as much for housing as for the environment, and comes across like he might just be able to carry that off convincingly (he’s a Scot from a working class background who used to be in the Labour Party).

Also in the running is Natalie Bennett, chair of Green Party Women, parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras, and with a record of competence and getting things done within internal Green Party structures. An Australian who has worked as editor of the Guardian Weekly, she has framed her campaign around speaking up for the marginalised, and around concrete ambition for the party’s electoral growth.

Of the deputy leadership candidates, the most interesting is perhaps Alex Phillips. She’s the youngest of the candidates, but as a Brighton councillor was the only one to vote against the cuts budget (as amended by Labour and the Tories) and was closely involved in Caroline Lucas’ election campaign. She will probably get the Young Green vote (more for her more leftwing politics than for her own relative youth), but is also supported by a good range of people in the party establishment.

Her main rival is probably Caroline Allen since though Richard Mallender is a party stalwart he appears to have run a rather lacklustre campaign so far, with no prominent backers listed on his website. However, that’s to reckon without the party’s election rules, which mean that once the leader is elected, deputy leadership candidates of the same sex are then disqualified so as to ensure gender balance. That means two of the deputy candidates have no chance of winning, but no-one knows which two until the votes are counted.

If I had to guess I would say that Peter Cranie will be the Greens’ next leader. From the evidence of the hustings so far he has the most natural manner, and the strongest chance of broadening the party’s appeal. He’s probably best known among ordinary Green Party members and has the support of enough of the party establishment to win.

An unofficial Green Party elections blog is being run by Matt Sellwood and Jim Jepps, both occasional Red Pepper contributors, and both now running one of the frontrunners’ campaigns each (Peter Cranie and Natalie Bennett respectively). It is nevertheless being scrupulously fair in its presentation of videos of various hustings and other news and opinion. The ballot closes on 31 August, with the result announced before Green Party Autumn conference on 7 September.

Unlike some of their European cousins, its been a couple of decades since the Greens in the UK have had any kind of right wing. Nevertheless, there are probably two main strands of thinking in the party. One is a kind of ecoliberalism, concerned with climate change and more bike facilities. The other is a left social democracy, concerned with inequality and defending the NHS. To a certain extent they co-exist, even in the same people, but recent years have seen the latter gain ground. Whatever the outcome, this leadership contest seems to confirm that.

Nevertheless, finding someone combining genuinely leftwing politics with credibility as a mainstream politician is difficult in any party. Too often the Greens manage only one or even neither. Getting somewhere near both in the Greens’ second ever leadership team could open up the possibility of a real advance for the party.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali


36