Who will be the next Green Party leader?

Posted on May 17, 2012 at 11:20 am,

Following the recent news that Caroline Lucas has decided not to stand for a third term as leader of the Green Party, I feel I ought to comment on the whole thing. Before diving into the question of who the candidates to replace her might be, it’s worth saying something about the other debate the party will be having as a result of the announcement.

What’s a leader for?

The Green Party has only had a leader for the last four years. Before that, it had two principal speakers (one male, one female), who were the main spokespeople. My knowledge of the change is limited by the fact that I only joined the party shortly after the first leadership election. My understanding is that the change was accompanied by a big discussion about what the role of a party leader would be. This discussion was ended, probably prematurely, after the decision was made, although we did discuss some of these issues during 2010s contested Deputy Leader election.

Leadership of a political party is a combination of several things. The most obvious one is that it provides a focus for the media. It’s certainly been a big part of Caroline Lucas’s leadership. However, the leader is not always the media’s go-to person. Respect’s leader, Salma Yaqoob, gets a lot less media time than George Galloway. The expectation is that Caroline will continue to have a strong media presence after she steps down. The new leader will, presumably, get some share of that media profile, but it’s likely that the press will still prefer Caroline.

The leader’s role within the party is rather less clear. Greens have traditionally been very suspicious of the concept of hierarchical leadership, preferring to be led by the grassroots. Policy is decided by party conference, rather than the leadership. And Caroline Lucas has had very little role to play in the policy process since she became leader. Internal governance and strategy is the role primarily of the executive committee. The leader has a seat on the executive, but the executive is supposed to be “led” by its chair.

Regardless of the technicalities of whether it’s the leader’s responsibility or not, there are voices within the party calling for the leader to provide a new strategic direction for the party. We’ve made some real breakthroughs in the last couple of years – we’ve gained our first seat in Westminster and (minority) control of our first council. But beyond that, it feels like we are, to some degree stagnating. Outside of the West Midlands, we’re not breaking much new ground in council elections. Our national councillor numbers are increasing at a snail’s pace. We are holding our own in a tough political climate. But we really need to be making substantial advances if we are to have much impact. Picking the right leader might prove the key to moving forwards more quickly.

Who might stand?

There are a number of prominent party members who can be expected to do well if they stand for the post. If you’ve been an active member of the party for a while, you’re probably familiar to some degree with all of the people I’m about to mention. If you think my (very quick) summaries of any potential candidates is off, please correct me in the comments.

As I write, nobody has yet put their name forward. But two leading candidates have already ruled themselves out of the race – Jenny Jones (the London Assembly member who came third in the Mayoral elections) and Jason Kitcat (leader of Brighton and Hove Council). Like Caroline, they feel that the leadership role would take valuable time away from what they are doing in their current elected offices. So, apart from those two, who are the serious candidates?

Adrian Ramsay – Deputy Leader of the party, and prospective Parliamentary candidate for Norwich South (our second strongest seat). The presumed front-runner, Adrian is well-liked by pretty much everybody in the party, and the leadership role would give him an added national profile, that would be to our advantage. His main weakness in the contest is that he might have trouble outlining a new strategic direction. Adrian is the sort of person who likes to avoid taking sides in internal party disputes, he’ll try to maintain good relationships with everybody involved. Whilst that makes him a unifying figure, it also means nobody’s expecting him to try to lead the party in a new direction.

Peter Cranie – top of the European list in the North West region in 2009 and 2014. In 2014, he came a couple of thousand votes behind Nick Griffin – a very narrow margin across the region. He’s the only likely candidate to come from the North or West of the country, and is likely to offer quite strong ideas about our future strategy.

Derek Wall – the last Male Principle Speaker of the party. Derek is absolutely loved by Green Left (the ecosocialist wing of the party), though he has relatively little support outside that group. I very much doubt he has much chance of winning but if he does, expect a stronger alignment between the Greens and leftist anti-cuts protest groups.

Darren Johnson – our other London Assembly Member, who is also a local councillor in Lewisham. I doubt he will put himself forward, for much the same reasons as Jenny Jones. Like Derek Wall, he has a relatively narrow section of the party who really like him. Unlike Derek, he also has quite a few members who really don’t like him. If he does stand and win, I expect he would be a more media-focused leader, rather than a strategic one.

Jean Lambert – MEP for London since 1999. With Jenny Jones declining to stand, Jean is the only female party member who I think could be a serious contender. My instinct is that she’s unlikely to stand. A Jean Lambert leadership would be heavily influenced by other European Green Parties, as Jean has been working closely with them for a very long time.

Keith Taylor – took over as MEP for the South East when Caroline was elected MP in 2010. Keith is another person I think unlikely to stand. Since he took over his current role, he’s always struck me as being focused primarily on doing the job well. He’s doing a lot of good work in Brussels, and probably wouldn’t want to take over two jobs from Caroline in as many years.

Dark Horse Candidates – whilst I’ve mentioned the people who are obvious contenders, should they be interested, there is always the possibility of an unexpected candidate. I’ve come across a couple of blogs suggesting that Oxford-based member Adam Ramsay (no relation to Adrian) might be a good choice, and it’s always possible that some of our more prominent local councillors might stand (Alex Phillips from Hove is sometimes talked about as a rising star in the party and her area). Alternatively, there might be somebody who is not that well-known. This kind of candidate is going to have to outline a strong strategic direction for the party that moves us forward faster than we are currently going.

RON – lastly, there is one “candidate” who is guaranteed to be on the ballot. RON (Re-Open Nominations) is always an option in internal party elections. To my knowledge, RON has never come close to winning any Green Party internal election, but in any discussion of who will get the job, it is wise to acknowledge that we do have the option of voting for none of the above.

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