Why I’m voting to re-open nominations for Green Leader

Caroline Lucas MP and Jonathan Bartley Source: The Guardian

When I first joined the party towards the start of last year, amidst the surge of new support for the Greens, I did so for a number of reasons. Of course the lure of anti-austerity rhetoric coupled with progressive, democratic, eco-friendly values was a huge draw as a young person. But beyond that, it was the leadership team that really convinced me that this was the party for me. Fresh, diverse, dynamic, and clearly ready to do politics differently; I signed up not long afterwards.

Fast forward a year and Natalie Bennett’s decision to step down as leader, leaving a strong legacy behind her, opened up a great opportunity for us to have a debate as a party about the kind of way we could move forward amidst an ever-changing political landscape and a crowded political left with a socialist now at the top of the Labour party. Excitement seemed to be building amongst Green members, before late on the evening before nominations for leader opened, an announcement started flooding social media. Caroline Lucas was standing for leader once again, four years after stepping down on the basis of showing the quality and strength the Greens had to offer, whilst allowing her to focus on her own duties as an MP. This time however she was standing as a job-share with Jonathan Bartley, the Works and Pensions Spokesperson.

Initially, I was filled with excitement. After a couple of weeks of speculation, finally there was some news. The idea of Caroline Lucas returning as leader, admittedly seemed attractive, and I had watched on in awe last year as Jonathan Bartley effortlessly held Iain Duncan-Smith to account during a pre-election TV debate, doing a far better job than the Labour representative. This seemed an interesting proposal.

However, the implications of this early announcement soon dawned on me. By standing on the eve of nominations, Caroline Lucas had essentially shut down any kind of debate that the party could have. When the almighty Caroline Lucas makes a bid for leadership, of course nobody else would want to attempt to stand against her. The leadership debate was over before it had properly begun.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt frustrated at the situation. I joined the party (and didn’t leave for Labour, like many others, during the Corbyn election) because I valued the grassroots democracy the party is built on. Of course, the Lucas-Bartley bid is technically democratic, yet something felt rather uncomfortable and underhand about the way it had panned out.

This is not an anti-Lucas or anti-Bartley post. I have huge admiration for what Caroline has done for the party both in and out of Westminster, and if Jonathan Bartley was standing alone, I would have been tempted to give him my vote.

However, I wish that Lucas could have waited and allowed others to stand first before jumping in to crown Bartley leader. Who knows who might have been planning to stand for leader, and who never got the chance? We have ended up with a panel of seemingly very white, very male, very straight and very middle class candidates, often standing on a single issue ticket, rather than as a genuine bid for leadership.

Under a Lucas-Bartley leadership, Caroline will likely get the majority of the media attention; extra attention she doesn’t really need given her already strong profile. We will also now lose the chance to have two deputy leaders, possibly resulting in even less diversity within the leadership team. There is no getting away from the fact that we are not a particularly diverse party, and that our image must change for us to properly speak to the people we’re claiming to stand up for.

When Natalie stepped down, she stated that every member of our party is a leader. Unfortunately, it would seem that we are, in fact, heading backwards towards the same leader once again, and once again risk becoming a one-woman show in the eyes of the public.

Therefore, I will be voting to re-open nominations as first choice preference on the leadership ballot; possibly to no avail, perhaps simply as a protest vote, and absolutely to try to bring the issue of diversity to the forefront of the discussion. There have been some in the party dismissing this as ill-judged and a wasted vote, but we are a democratic party where every member’s vote counts equally, and we should be encouraging every member to have their say in this election.

I hope many other members will also vote RON with me over the next month of elections, and whatever the outcome, I hope the issues seen with this election are never seen again, and in two years we’ll have a far better, more open, more inclusive and more diverse debate.