Tuesday, 13 March 2012

As one door closes, another opens…

For those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter, you will have been aware that I have recently moved back to London, leaving behind my time with the Brighton and Hove Green Party and throwing myself back into life back home.

It’s been an amazing three years down by the coast and I’ve been lucky enough to take a small part in some historic successes for the Green Party. Many of the political lessons I’ve learnt there have found their way into my blog pieces over the last year and in spite of leaving the city, I will be keeping a close and supportive eye on the achievements and challenges facing my friends in the local party. As recent events with the Council budget have shown, this is never going to be a quiet term of office for them and I intend to continue following the political context in the city.

As a political activist, moving to Lambeth GP will involve new exciting opportunities. Back in the centre of the city, I will be joining a vibrant local party facing a different set of issues and voters and with a greater electoral mountain to climb than Brighton and Hove. As such, I will be writing much more about how I find my place within my new community and re-engaging with the London Green Parties.

This change of location has prompted me to re-evaluate Green Politics: Sustainable Futures and to take the opportunity to upgrade my capacity to blog. I have made a decision to make this my last blog post for the site and to transfer to a new personal blog site with Wordpress, with better functionality and more ability to improve it over time. Don’t worry though, as I intend to be more engaged and productive as ever!

I hope that my regular readers will make the journey across and start following my new blog. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be talking about my experiences of changing party, the upcoming London Assembly elections, my work as Chair of the national LGBTIQ Greens caucus, as well as continuing my challenges to the Green Party to modernize and develop itself to reflect and represent modern Britain.

Please join me and subscribe to regular updates by email, because in the current financial climate, political activism has never been so important and urgent.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Why isn’t the Green Party breaking through?

As we curl up at home on these grim winter nights, a highlight has been my creeping addiction to Borgen. This new Danish political drama focuses upon the female leader of a minor party, who suddenly finds herself thrust into leading a coalition government as Prime Minister. There is a distinct similarity to the journey taken by the Green Party in the last couple of years. It hasn’t hurt to see one of the key partners of this coalition is a politically savvy and successful Green leader at the cabinet table, reminding us once more how more seriously our party is seen within other European electorates.

It’s an intoxicating mix, yet as the political and economic environment deteriorates seriously in the UK and all three major parties come out in favour of a cuts agenda that patently isn’t working, why isn’t the Green Party rapidly climbing up the opinion polls in line with the public mood?

Talk to many Green Party members and a rosier picture emerges. These last two years have yielded crucial breakthrough moments for our party. After thirty plus years, we finally have our first Member of Parliament in party leader Caroline Lucas. We now run our first local authority in Brighton and Hove, protecting the elderly, vulnerable and children. A modest amount of headlines followed these amazing successes, but not a sufficient amount to have shifted perceptions of the party by the national media and public.

In the immediate aftermath of these victories, the party has rightly consolidated. Our priority has been to ensure that constituents are represented effectively by their MP and manifesto pledges are met by the local authority. The aggressive attacks mounting on the party in Brighton and Hove is a testament to the hard work and commitment of the local party in the city and the disquiet our opponents are experiencing at our steady progress.

But where is the strategy to move forward nationally? Across the country, hundreds of local parties are tirelessly working towards the next victory, yet there is a faint impression that we are resting on our laurels when we should be taking the fight to the coalition and Labour. Our recent achievements shouldn’t be the high point of our success - they should be a launching pad for our next big leap forward. We need to be hungry for actual power – as the state’s provision for the most vulnerable is stripped away, exacerbating inequalities, we need to be there promoting alternatives, not just complaining at how unfair it all is. But where is the next Brighton Pavilion? The local party in Norwich is the only place with an outside chance of success.

Caroline Lucas has rapidly grown into a towering public figure. She is respected across the political spectrum to speak truth to power and is outshining the majority of national politicians. But where is the next Caroline Lucas? I fear that we are not investing sufficiently in building capacity amongst our activist base to nurture the next generation of politicians. As party leader, Caroline has an obligation to ensure the party functions to create such an enabling environment. Understandably, there are only so many hours in the day for her to act as party leader, parliamentarian and constituency MP, as well as retain some work / life balance. Heaping this amount of responsibility onto one set of shoulders is dangerous, but the party’s structural deficiencies aren’t helping here.

The role of Party Spokespeople is a case in point. The vast majority of green party members aren’t even aware they exist, let alone who they are. I challenge you to look over our website. The only people showcased are our national politicians: MP, MEPs and GLA members. It’s exceptionally difficult to ascertain who these spokespeople are – they aren’t elected by the party membership and they have no public duties that we can measure their performance against. The policy areas they cover aren’t consistent with the UK Government’s Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet portfolios, so we are unable to allow them to build ongoing public profiles or make it easier for the media to ask them for comment on issues of public concern. This model is undemocratic and unaccountable in a party that professes to be stronger than others on participation, democracy and fairness. Where underperformance exists, we have no mechanisms to monitor and evaluate this and no recourse to remove people who damage the party’s reputation. We wonder why we are sometimes seen as unresponsive to the big issues confronting the public, without looking at how we are presenting ourselves at a most basic level to them.

We need to bring these individuals out into the public eye. They should be elected to these positions by ordinary members and held account for their performance. These are ideal positions for us to build a cadre of experienced, professional politicians that become trusted figures for the public, doubly important whilst we are kept out of national elected office.

Until we invest in the next generation of Green political leaders, all eyes will remain on Brighton and Hove, placing our colleagues there under enormous scrutiny and pressure and without acknowledging the vast network of capable Green political figures up and down the country. Without opening up the party to a new generation of voices, the opportunities available to the politicians of Borgen remain the stuff of television drama.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Boom or bust? Championing a revitalised Green Party Executive

One of the savviest investments by the Green Party in nurturing it's democratic health over the last couple of years has been to invest in the Member's Website. As I wrote earlier in the year, using this private space to lay out all potential policy motions to our conference has allowed members to more easily input into honing and redrafting these so that they are smarter and more likely to be passed at conference. Whilst the Member's Website is still finding it's audience (I'd encourage all members to visit and subscribe to the LGBTIQ Greens section!), it has been heartening to see policy motions each receiving a solid audience and in some case, forensic analysis that can only improve the quality of debate within the party.

Amongst the usual diverse mix of policy and campaign motions, what has struck me has been the push for new roles for the Green Party Executive (GPEX). Alongside the agreement at last party conference that the Welsh Leader become a member of GPEX, both the Young Greens and Green Party Trade Union group have called for representation on this body. This does lead me to wonder whether members feel there is an absence of support for these sections of the party. Are these motions a reflection that GPEX is failing to champion the priorities of parts of the membership? Could there be lessons for our policy-making process, that people feel unable to effect change without being "in the room" at the Executive level?

Some experienced activists are already warning against inflating the membership of GPEX further, arguing that it makes it harder to manage the party. Whilst I'm still undecided on how I feel about these motions, I do wonder whether this would necessarily be so problematic: additional members of GPEX could increase accountability across a wider range of areas, improve access to ordinary members into the decison-making process and could ensure that roles are more manageable in size for those people interested in serving the party. Presenting a plurality of viewpoints and ideas in these debates, when chaired effectively, could produce more a more participatory organisation.

Either way, with a consistent inability to fill all the roles on GPEX or to contest the majority of positions sufficiently, shouldn't we begin with reforming those positions we currently have to ensure they are fit for purpose, attractive to a greater number of serious candidates and are supported sufficiently to enable hard-working officers deliver on their responsibilities?

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Big Green Leap Forward: Welcoming submissions from guest writers

If the last few months of campaigning amongst the membership have taught me anything, it is that there are more amazing and talented people in the Green Party than ever before. It really does feel that with the substantial leap in members over the last couple of years, a renewed sense of purpose and urgency has transformed the party’s outlook.

As regular readers know, one of the original aims for this blog was to provide space to talk about how we can construct a modern Green Party, one that could be capable of speaking to the whole electorate. I hope in some ways it has been successful in putting issues on the agenda and reflecting an optimistic vision in how we can broaden public interest in our campaigning. With a substantial (and heartening) expansion in readership since it began, there is an obvious appetite for this type of analysis.

Would you be interested in writing a piece for the blog over the next few weeks? I’m looking for members of the Green Party, or critical friends, who want to put forward ideas for how we can make the next leap forward in public profile and membership numbers. How can we become a mass membership party and yet still retain our core values of participation and inclusion? Where should our limited resources be placed to make most impact? How do we nurture the next generation of Green leaders?

If you’re interested in submitting an article for the blog, please drop me a line (stephen_a_wood@yahoo.co.uk) to discuss your ideas for a post and I’ll be happy to work with you to bring your ideas to a wider audience.