Putting together blog posts has felt a little more difficult in recent weeks. For the aspiring Green blogger, this period is probably one of the most interesting times in which to be writing: we are taking a step into the dark and selecting a new leadership team to take forward our agenda over potentially the next four years or so. At the very least, this team will be fronting us at the next General Election.
Even though a few more days remain for candidates to be announce themselves to the membership, the individuals who have come forward represent some of the most promising of the next generation for the party and I’m genuinely hopeful that we will have a closely-fought contest that gives an honest insight into the current ideological soul of the Green Party.
I’m struggling a little to write as regularly, because I am actively working on the campaign for Alex Phillips to become Deputy Leader. Declaring an interest in the competition has left me in the position of feeling that anything I write over the next three months might be seen through a rather partisan lens. It may well be true on occasion, although I’ll try to look beyond it and concentrate on what I perceive as best for the party. So I guess I’m posting that caveat up front and hope that you’ll forgive me for taking a particular position in the near future.
One of the most fascinating issues that has already caused some consternation has been the dominance of female candidates – and the sudden realisation by many that rules set up to ensure equal representation for women may suddenly mitigate against making space for electing the best women. For those unaware of our current rules, we introduced a mechanism to ensure gender parity in the top team of Leader and Deputy Leader, put in place as part of the Green Party’s commitment to encouraging greater women’s representation in politics. Depending on the gender of the newly-elected Leader, the Deputy must be the opposite gender.
At the time of writing, we have more female candidates for Leader than men, alongside only female candidates for Deputy. Consequently, we may be in the paradoxical position that if a woman wins the Leadership, we may not be able to elect one of the strong female candidates for Deputy. The rules appear unclear as to whether a further election might be needed if no men step forward. Worse, we may be in the position of having a female candidate with a clear majority of the vote (say 60%), but the need to place a male candidate in the role could mean someone commanding minimal support (such as 15%) across the membership is elected instead.
Unfortunately, we are too far along the process for us to make a change to this election, so we may have to live with the consequences of this well-meant but flawed process. Whilst there is always the potential for political parties to slip backwards, we currently have a cadre of strong female politicians at the upper reaches of the Green Party. As a feminist, I am strongly wedded to increasing representation of female politicians, but I will be supporting the inevitable motion to conference asking for this rule to be repealed next year, provided it is coupled with a strategic plan to address barriers to access for women and under-represented groups and discernable financial resources are made available to deliver on this.
This policy is the organisational equivalent of a last chance saloon to ensure against slippage in our aspirations towards gender parity. Instead, I want us to fight for permanent cultural and organisational shifts in how we nurture the ambition of our activists, especially women, who traditionally carry a much higher burden of informal care and work that can prevent them being as engaged as they might wish.
I hope that this is an issue that all the candidates will consider reflecting upon as part of their campaigns and that they will formally answer how they would achieve this.