Green Party Deputy Leader

Posted on July 31, 2012 at 11:15 am,

Well, following on from my post on who I’m backing for Green Party leader, here’s the post on the Deputy Leadership contest. Apologies for the gap, but I did need more time to weigh up the candidates, and – as so often happens – real life got in the way of blogging.

The Deputy contest is a little more complicated than the Leader contest for one main reason. When the party replaced the old system of male and female Principal Speakers with a Leader and Deputy, they (I hadn’t joined at that point) kept the concept of gender balance. If the leader is male, then the deputy must be female, and vice versa. Which means that there are two different Deputy Leader contests going on.

If Peter Cranie wins the Leadership, then the Deputy leadership is a contest between Alex Phillips (a councillor in Hove) and Caroline Allen (a prominent candidate in the London Assembly elections, and member of the policy committee). If one of the female candidates for leader wins, then it’s a contest between Will Duckworth (a councillor in Dudley) and Richard Mallender (a councillor in Rushcliffe).

What does a Deputy do anyway?

The Deputy role is not just about doing media work when the leader isn’t available. Nor is it about being a leader-in-waiting. The role has been, so far, about helping build up the party’s grassroots – and all the candidates seem to agree that’s a key part of the role. Depending on who wins, it might encompass a variety of other roles. With the candidates we have, those roles are most likely to include media, policy, or election strategy.

Picking the man

The contest between the two male candidates is, in my view, easier to call. Will Duckworth was involved in founding Dudley Green Party three years ago, and is now that party’s first councillor. In addition to this, he is a member of the West Midlands Executive, whose regional strategy has taken us from three councillors to thirteen across the region in just two years, and helped us break into five new councils. Will has a lot of experience in providing local party support, and a good grasp of strategy. A Duckworth deputy leadership would promote the best parts of the West Midlands model around the party nationally. He would also try to help the party focus on an anti-austerity message – proposing alternatives to the public service cuts that are the hallmark of the current government.

By contrast, Richard Mallender has plenty of experience in the party (he has served on the national executive before), and has some idea of what he’d like to encourage in the party (winning more seats, growing the membership, highlighting the issue of climate change in the media). But his website, and his performance in hustings (at least as seen online), suggests to me that he’s relatively weak on the how. He would most definitely be better than Re-Open Nominations, but it looks to me like he has a lot less idea of what the role is, and how it should be done.

Picking the woman

The two female candidates for Deputy Leader are both very strong candidates, and working out my preference between them has been quite difficult. Alex Phillips was the first Green Party councillor in Hove, has worked for Caroline Lucas when she was an MEP – dealing with policy issues, and been a key person in both the campaign to elect Caroline Lucas as MP and the campaign to get a Green administration in Brighton and Hove. Caroline Allen was our most successful constituency candidate in this year’s London Assembly elections, and has been a key part of the policy committee. She was, for example, the driving force behind a complete rewrite of our science policy last year (this policy made us by some way the most pro-science party in the UK).

Both of them would be great choices for the post. Alex is more photogenic, and has more campaign knowledge. Caroline is stronger on policy issues, but also knows her stuff when it comes to campaigns. Both of them have taken the effort to learn about the West Midlands model, and would like to help spread its successes around the country. I’m confident that both of them would do a good job as deputy. But I do narrowly prefer Caroline.

Lets get the negative reasons for this out of the way first. Firstly, Alex has expressed support for the idea of all-women shortlists as a solution to increasing the number of women standing as candidates in elections and being elected. Given that our main problem when it comes to gender balance is that we don’t have enough women putting themselves forward, this is the wrong solution. In addition, it is fundamentally incompatible with the decentralised nature of our party – which causes me some concerns. Also, the way she expressed her pro-choice view on abortion at the Birmingham hustings made me (as a relatively rare pro-life Green) slightly uncomfortable. These are relatively minor issues, but in a close contest like this one, they help tip the balance.

Caroline, on the other hand, has been developing a knack not just for sharing electoral strategy, but for putting our policy across, and demolishing misconceptions (e.g. that we are “anti-science”). I think that this strength gives her the edge on Alex. Also in her favour is that I worked with her to get a wholesale review of our science policy passed at last year’s spring conference. She is phenomenally hard-working and resourceful (not that Alex isn’t, I’ve just seen more of Caroline’s hard work first-hand).

So – whilst Alex’s higher profile within the party makes her the favourite for deputy leader if Peter Cranie wins the leadership – I would prefer Caroline, and I will be giving her the higher preference.