With the unprecedented occurrences in global politics, the Green Party has been quietly undergoing its own transformation; electing Co-Leaders to the helm and pressing hard for a progressive alliance. But what of its future preservation and progression?
This is something that every party needs to ask itself from time to time, in particular we need to find what we can do uniquely compared to our rivals.
Presently the Green Party stands in a healthy position with over 55,000 members. These members vote for our policies at our spring and autumn conferences and this process forms a set of guidelines for our elected representatives, in particular our one and only MP.
This does help smooth out plenty of arguments and debates held within the party, but produce a problem that is often very common in political parties, and that is that we often end up in our own political bubble.
In our latest conference I noticed that there was a lot of debate surrounding the evidence to support our policies, but no particular focus on how we would actually win votes with the motions being passed.
For example, a recent motion meant changing our constitution to recognise that transgender and non-binary genders exist. This thus changing the wording on all of our policies from “he/she” to “they” and “men/women” to “men/non-men”.
This is a good motion to help include people with those gender identities. But when expressed to those outside the party (i.e. the electorate whose votes we are trying to win) we often hear that this sort of thing “is a nothing issue”.
It would do us no harm to certainly consider voters from outside the party and actually passing evidence based policies that are going to win us votes. Extending the field of view of a political party can be difficult, so we need to consider our options here.
During the general election of 2015 we opened up a number of debates and topics, which led to us to increase our vote fourfold across the country. This did, however, lead us away from our founding principles and core brand of actually being “green”.
There has been very little media focus on the environment compared to the economy or immigration which has probably influenced our key talking points. There is certainly room here for us to step up the environmental debate and bring it into the limelight.
“Most people will tend to know our policies on the environment so try to talk about something different that they don’t know” was one approach said to me by one of our co-ordinators at the time.
“Nobody cares about the environment” was a phase we heard quite often during the 2015 election campaign and even during the EU referendum.
It became rather embarrassing, in local hustings in particular, that opposition parties had better answers on actual “green” policies than we did. It just wasn’t a topic that was up for discussion behind the scenes for us. However, this should not produce an excuse to give up on the cause. This might be one of those “nothing issues” that we can conspire on.
The new Co-Leadership has also brought to light a sense of uniqueness for the Green Party. Whilst this may seem particularly unusual for those outside the party, those within are certainly getting a feel of how this is going to work, with both attending rallies, lectures, debates, news interviews and various events both jointly and separately.
But we need to take into consideration whether this joint ticket is really the future of our party.
“So how is this co-leadership going to work then?” I heard one voter say. Well, after a long complex explanation of how it would work I could easily see that it was not really sitting with them.
“Surely, at some point, someone would have to be in charge?”
From my experience of this and talking to others both inside and outside of the party I can understand the desire for a sole decision maker and this idea of dual-responsibility seems to be perceived as a barrier when decisions are being made and for the sake of accountability.
This also brings into question whether the party is over-reliant on Caroline Lucas to deliver at the top level of politics. In the long term, we will certainly need to consider an alternative set of personalities if we are to progress.
I believe these are natural occurrences with any organisation when they tend to centre themselves on one prominent figure. However, we do have a strong youth group within the party (Young Greens) that have the potential to make something of the future.
Personalities within the party that have been on the rise in the last year most notably include our Deputy Leader Amelia Womack. Amelia stepped up during the EU referendum debate and was one of very few who actually started to campaign early on the EU question.
Sian Berry was another shining example of things to come when she stood for London Mayor. Although, due to our electoral system, she was far from winning she led a truly positive and energetic campaign and managed to once again finish third overall with two London Assembly seats.
But I cannot stress enough the problem with both of these figures is that they are not well known from outside of the party. Those of you who are reading this and are not involved in the Green Party have probably never heard of these two people.
If we are to show strength in depth and our long term aspirations then we need to put people such as Amelia Womack and Sain Berry, who speak well, in front of the cameras and get them out there to prove that we are not just the party of Caroline Lucas.
Another barrier to our progression is, of course, our electoral system. It is all very well saying that we should change it, but in order to do that we need to be elected under the current electoral system.
The bottom line of it all is that people know that we will just not win like this. A progressive alliance with Labour has been discussed as a way of working with first past the post system.
However, it is worth noting that we only beat Labour in two seats across the nation – Brighton Pavillion and Isle of Wight.
This would be no good for build up other areas were the party has also been credible nationally, such as Bristol West and Sheffield Central (amongst others), and Labour are actually the party who we are trying to oust.
Whilst I got the feeling from our Autumn Conference that our party is actually very divided on a Progressive Alliance as an election tactic, I believe it should certainly be on the table for local parties to do, however it should be enforced upon them to stand aside at a national level if they want to give the electorate the option to vote green.
We also do not be so restrictive to have a Progressive Alliance with just Labour. Options are available to us if we want to play it.
But the biggest question that the Green Party has to ask itself is on pure trust and governance. What would a Green government in the UK actually do? To answer this point we will actually have to look like we are a government in waiting.
This might seem a bit ambitious given our current position, but with all of the political shocks that have occurred this year and the level of improvement that the Green Party has seen in recent years, we can follow that up with what I have already expressed, then I believe we can make these crucial steps towards government.
Similar political parties have won power recently. The Scottish National Party and Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party in Greece could provide a good basis in which to model our ambitions on, but we still need a particular niche that may come over time.
We are not a party that often wins elections, but we need to find ways to motivate and keep the momentum and enthusiasm going amongst activists and voters.
2016 has been a rocky year for the Green Party of England and Wales; failing once again to secure a seat on the Welsh Assembly and seeing a defeat during the EU referendum within a matter of months.
The key thing to remember, despite all of this, is that we have time. The young talent coming through the party and a long term vision for the future means we have something to build on. But we also need short-term plans for things such as Brexit and alternatives to our competitors.
Overall, I believe that focus, grit and determination are what gets a political party from a low base moving forward. The external factors influencing that will be anyone’s best guess.