What difference might a Green leader make to the Lib Dems?

This month, the Green party is also having a leadership vote of its membership. But the question they are being asked is not, ‘Who should our leader be?’, but instead ‘Do we want to have a leader?’

Currently the party has two Principal Speakers, one female (Caroline Lucas), one male (Derek Wall). Darren Johnson, one of the two Green members of the London Assembly, today argues on Guardian Unlimited’s Comment Is Free that the time has come for the Green to end this anachronism, and to elect a single leader who can be the voice of the party:

… as a vehicle for encouraging effective political participation, the Green party’s current set-up is simply not working. We need to build our membership. Our members will be empowered when there is a chance that their Green elected representatives will actually attain real power, and have a chance of putting Green policies, agreed by party conference, into action via Westminster. So we need to engage much better with voters. But large-scale public support and participation absolutely require effective communication. Faceless politics and confusing job titles are therefore a barrier to effective participation, not a means of encouraging it. My political experience has convinced me that the Green party must embrace leadership.

The proposal is a controversial one within the Green party, whose suspicion of the dictatorial powers a leader might wield far, far exceeds that of even the most ornary and contrarian Lib Dem member. The referendum – confusingly, at least to my mind – refers to ‘Creating a Leader and Deputy Leader or Co-Leaders of the Green Party’. Quite how having two Co-Leaders, compared to two Principal Speakers as now, will help end the current confusion of who speaks for the Green party is unclear. In any case, the result will be known by the end of November.

The question, from a Lib Dem perspective, is how this might impact on the party. At least part of the reason for the ‘mixed bag’ local election results the Lib Dems had in the local elections both in 2006 and 2007 was the performance of the Green party, who were the recipients of many of the anti-establishment and environmentally-conscious votes which might previously have been cast for a Lib Dem.

Though the Greens have added only an extra 38 councillors during these last two campaigns, it is likely they split the small-g green vote in many areas, thwarting the (re-)election of some Lib Dems. As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.

Would having a readily identifiable single leader make them a more or less attractive proposition for voters? It depends. Caroline Lucas – young, bright, articulate, female – is clearly someone the media will be quite happy to feature as the ‘moderate’ (ish) face of the Greens. If the eco-marxist, anti-capitalist Derek Wall were to win it is unlikely the Green party could break into the political mainstream – which will suit some of their activists very well.

Either way, this is another leadership contest the Lib Dems would be well advised to keep an eye on.

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9 Comments

  • The only time to start worrying about the Greens, ironically, will be either when we do get some sort of PR voting system, or if they manage to get an MP elected to the House of Commons. Outside of that, the media will continue to treat them as the non-party they undoubtably are at present.

  • I don’t agree: if you look at the pattern of candidature at the last three general elections if the Green Party stood in 1997 the probability is quite high that they will have stood at both subsequent elections. In contrast the stability of candidature for extreme left and right parties is much lower. This suggests to me that the Green Party is gradually building its way into the body politic in the same way that the Liberal Party did from the mid 1950s onwards (I know it seems hard to believe now, but there were furious debates at Conference during the early 1970s about whether or not we should even have as an aspiration that we should contest every Westminster seat). Lib Dem MPs or PPCs in winnable seats cannot necessarily always be on the ‘green’ side of every local argument (cf David Rendel and the Newbury by-pass): a Green Party campaign which is not constrained by the need to represent the best interests of the whole constituency is therefore quite capable of doing us serious damage by capturing the votes of those of our supporters for whom principle is more important than power.

  • Grammar in Civvies 3rd Nov '07 - 3:09pm

    My experience from the 2006 local elections in London was that Green Party candidates were much more likely to pick up the anti-establishment votes; this was once a constituency that we could largely rely on. It’s actually quote good that we are no longer being seen as just a protest vote, but it actually took away votes from us in a number of areas.
    The Green leadership referendum actually provides us with an opportunity, in that if successful it will actually emphasise the split between Green Left and the non-Green Left party members. Firstly, it will probably demotivate activists from whichever side loses the referendum, even more so if the pro-leadership side wins the vote but not by the two-thirds required majority. Secondly, if the Green Party does adopt a leader then there is something for the two factions to fight over. Thirdly, if a Green Left candidate actually wins the leadership, then the Party should become much less attractive to the general public and our soft voters, which is no bad thing!

  • Geoffrey Payne 3rd Nov '07 - 8:24pm

    The Lib Dems say that the Greens are Marxists. The Greens say that the Lib Dems are neo-Liberals.
    Both are mostly wrong, but have an element of truth all the same. The Lib Dems need to sharpen up their critique of capitalism, even though fundamentally we are a capitalist party and rightly so. As Chris Huhne points out, the private sector is often seriously deficient in running the public services. We need to be clear about that, and we also object to the absurd distortions in wealth allocation and the damaging impact of the “externalities” of businesses that damage the environment and exploit the consumer and the workforce.
    Even Green Marxists have a point that the advertising industry encourages us to consume more than we otherwise would, but from a Green point of view we should (generally speaking) consume less.
    That said, John Stuart Mill made a similar point when he wrote in favour of the “stationary state”.
    There are some Marxists in the Green party. However they did NOT go into coalition with Respect, and culturally they do not fit in with that kind of Old Left politics.
    The truth is that many Greens are Liberals, and it is because of our electoral system that we have to be competitive with them. And we better watch out. Becuase no doubt it is tempting to dismiss them as Marxists (and imply they are the same kind of Marxists as Stalin and Lenin). But of Lib Dem supporters, 30% say their second preference is the Green party. If we attack the Green party vociferously along these lines, it may imply that we are ourselves not just anti-Green, but also anti-green.
    Historically the Greens did take our vote away in the 1990 (I think) Euro-Elections, finishing with 15% to our 6%. This was at the time of the merger between the Liberals and the SDP.
    Personally I was worried that with our opinion poll ratings drifting down to 11% history could repeat.
    Now that we are about to replace our leader with someone more popular, and with our ratings already drifting up to 18%, I think there is less danger of that now.
    However the Greens threaten us more than anyone else, and we need to handle them with care. Not just in national opinion polls, but we also need highly motivated activists to help in our community politics. We need their Liberals to join us.
    As for a leader: it is a good idea from their point of view if they have someone who would be good at it. No reason why not, Josca Fischer of the German Greens is one of the great European politicians in recent times and a worthy successor to Genscher.

  • Geoffrey Payne, “capitalism” is actually just a straw man invited by Marx. He claimed, that private ownership always leads to a concentration of property, and thus to big business. In reality, if the markets are free, there will be both small and big business, and none of them is able to exploit their position.

    Then there are cases like India, where the business is very regulated, and in order to get a license to practise a business you need to already be very rich, so that you could afford to pay the bribes, or related to the officials granting the licenses. In that kind of cases the property will indeed concentrate to few, and the poor will become even poorer.

    Therefore liberals want to abolish such regulation, and give new entrepreneurs a chance to compete with the old ones.

  • Invited -> invented. Shouldn’t be writing in Saturday nights.

  • “The truth is that many Greens are Liberals, and it is because of our electoral system that we have to be competitive with them.”

    The truth is many Greens are potential Lib Dem voters and possibly small ‘l’ liberals but they certainly are not a liberal party.

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