Monday, 11 July 2011

Can Black Britain hold up a mirror to the Green Party?

One of the things I come back to in my blog is a vision of the Green Party which is richer for the diversity of outlooks and perspectives it offers to modern Britain. When we look at the relative lack of members or elected politicians within the party who are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, it feels like we have some way to go. Where is our Chuka Umunna or Diane Abbott? Right now, we are holding up a mirror to a significant part of society that does not see itself reflected. Part of our difficulty in breaking through as a serious political force is because we don't appear to be a representative cross-section of multi-cultural Britain in 2011.

I suggest that we consider the following actions over the next couple of years to transform our internal culture and organisation in a way that encourages increased membership and activism from within black and ethnic minority communities:

1. If we aren't doing so already, amend the membership process for new members to ensure we are collecting a raft of monitoring data around ethnicity, gender, disability, age and sexual orientation. More than just collection, we must undertake regular analysis of the data to help us build a collective sense of ourselves. This will assist in identifying where we need to invest time and energy to nurture support amongst particular elements of the community. And if needed, undertake a retrospective monitoring survey of existing members to ensure we have a complete data set for the entire party.

2. Ask the Green Party Executive's Equalities and Diversity Co-ordinator to create space within the party for those groups (such as black and ethnic minority members) who want to self-organise. Work with these groups to ensure the key priorities they identify are accounted for within our policy making processes and do as much as possible to publicise their activities.

3. Look more closely at black and ethnic minority communities within our constituencies. Local parties need to start having conversations with audiences we don't traditionally work with. This means making ourselves available to churches, mosques or community groups, for example, undertaking listening exercises to hear which issues matter to them. Where these aspirations are consistent with our own, we need to start articulating them in ways that resonate with their experience and language.

4. Where we differ on crucial issues, such as around the social conservatism prevalent within some religious communities, we need to begin an active and honest dialogue in which we try to engage and influence their thinking as a critical friend.

These steps, for example could lead to the Green Party organising a series of community meetings with youth groups across the country talking about job creation and the new Green Deal.

Let me be candid though - as a white man, there is a limit to the role I can play in this change. I will play my part in challenging the Green Party to actively acknowledge our blind spot on representation. I can put energy into the necessary work of facilitating an enabling environment which allows talented and capable candidates of colour to come forward into leadership roles within the national party. But to have a Green Party that is inclusive in it's policies requires the facilitation and participation of every member, whatever their ethnic origin.


  1. Some good thinking. I'm particularly interested in what you say about engaging with religious communities. As a (white) Evangelical Christian within the party, I know it's possible to engage with religious groups that hold to more conservative social values than the party does. And - as long as I'm available - would be very interested in getting involved in that side of your proposed strategy.

  2. I'm not sure we should be beating ourselves up on this.
    From my perspective the GP is pretty women friendly and also pretty friendly to the Multi-Gendered community.
    It's just that the party is not (yet) strong in those areas where the Multi-Coloured communities are.....
    Rome was not built in a Day, but it was open to be built from day one.

  3. Interesting thoughts from you both, much appreciated!

    On the religion front, it is a tricky one with the Green Party. I've noticed there can sometimes be suspicion or concern about engaging with religious groups. Part of this stems from the Greens being concerned about social conservatism, especially towards women and the LGBT community. I myself am an atheist, but I don't see it appropriate for us to refuse to engage with religion because (a) people who believe in God are not monolithic, (b) we should be communicating and finding ways to share commonalities and critically challenge those parts we disagree strenuously with and (c) political parties will only succeed if they try to include everyone. I don't want to be part of an organisation that discriminates against others, even if their views directly attack me as a gay man.

    On the issue of gender balance in the Green Party, it is true that we have some prominent women (not least Caroline Lucas), but for me the concerns are still the barriers, many of them not readily obvious, that make it harder for women to engage in the political process as fully as men. I would hope we could invest more in opening up the party creatively to harness everyone's energy in ways that make sense to the reality of their lives.