The Greens are decentralised, disorganised and in danger of losing ground in the battle to remain Britain's fourth partyby Alice Onwordi / November 23, 2008 / Leave a comment
Unlike the Olympics, fourth place matters in British politics. This battle is often fought between the Greens and the BNP, and, worryingly, the Greens seem to be falling behind. Even worse, in the high profile 6th November Glenrothes by-election, they aren’t even fielding a candidate. Despite the rising importance of green issues, and reorganisation to shed many of the party’s sillier anti-hierarchical principles, Britain’s Greens remain as woolly as ever.
At first glance, Green influence has grown significantly over the last five years. Elections under proportional representation (PR) in Scotland, Wales, London and Europe now make it easier for Greens to win seats. As a result the party now has 120 local councillors in England and Wales, along with two MEPs and two members on the Greater London Assembly. But despite this success, the Greens still have a real problem with organisation.
Noel Lynch, the co-ordinator of the London Federation of Green Parties, remembers the party’s first breakthrough, at the 1989 European elections. The Greens won two million votes but, with the first-past-the-post system, no seats. More oddly, they had no leader. At the time, Lynch explains, Green thinking was that “leaders can be very dangerous”—a single person in charge could become corrupted by power. Instead, the party was represented by a group of six “principal speakers,” meant to represent, but not lead, the party. Their task was made more difficult by not being allowed to vote at executive meetings. Equally, the six were voted in annually, a rule seemingly created to guarantee that the public would never be able remember who the speakers were.
This anti-hierarchical structure was defended year after year at Green Party conferences. Eventually reformers were able to cut the principal speakers number from six to two. But fierce disagreements remained. Siân Berry, who ran an admired campaign to be Mayor of London in 2008, claims being one of the party’s two speakers hampered her efforts. “The first question in an interview was what was meant by my being a principal speaker,” she says. “I had to explain how there was one male and one female speaker for gender balance. It was a waste of time.” Berry says the media frequently used the practice to mock the Greens. “It was as if the presenter was saying ‘you call yourself a political party but actually you are a bit of a joke.'”
Berry and others will…