Caroline Lucas stands down: space for someone to lead

Posted on May 13, 2012 by | 10 Comments

So, it’s now public – the rumours that Caroline Lucas is standing down as Green Party leader have been confirmed. It’s a good move.

Perversely, because we didn’t used to have one, we Greens have a long history of talking about what a leader is for. One of those roles – the role we used to have – is principal speaker: the person who goes on telly and says things to the public. This is a crucial role. But the truth is that Caroline will keep it whatever – she is our only MP, and by far our most prominent face. The media really won’t give a damn that she isn’t formally leader. Of course, relinquishing the role means that someone else can get a little more face time – that we can make it clear publicly that we are more than a one woman band. But that effect will surely be limited, and it isn’t really why this is a good move.

Nope, the real reason why this is a good move is that leadership is about more than being the person who goes on the telly. It is about leading. And more than ever, the party needs leadership right now. For ten years at least, we have had a simple strategic goal as a national party – elect an MP. Now we’ve done that, we need rapidly to work out what the next big goal is. We also need to navigate the political tsunami we are amidst – the collapse of the economy and distrust of the older parties present huge opportunities for Greens, and whilst we are beginning to take advantage of them, we need someone who can keep their eye on this ball full time.

Caroline is an excellent MP. She is an excellent spokeswoman. The strategy the party has followed in the last couple of years has essentially been the right one – we are the party of the anti-cuts movement, the party that opposes NHS privatisation, the only English parliamentary party left on the left. But as a new MP with quite such an astonishing day to day schedule, she really hasn’t had much time to lead – or, perhaps, facilitate – her party.

Standing aside as leader gives someone else the space to do this. Who, we don’t yet know – though Adrian Ramsay (no relation) is surely the frontrunner. The character doesn’t matter hugely – they will have to be able to bring the party with them – to build consensus around a forward plan, but they won’t really be the front person most of the time.

What will matter will be what their plan for the party is. They will need to be clear that they are left wing: in tough economic times, as the mega-rich screw everyone else for more than ever, it is no longer acceptable to pretend that we don’t take sides. They will need to be clear that we cannot simply be another party of centralised bureaucracy: across the planet, the successful 21st century parties of the left are the parties of movements, not just of slick media. And they will need to be ambitious: a handful more councillors each year is not enough either to maintain the momentum a small party requires, or to secure the justice we exist to secure.

It’s a few months until the final results, and I’m sure there’ll be a good debate. But, in the mean time, thanks to Caroline for her time as leader, and good work for creating space for someone to help corral the party to higher pastures.

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10 Responses to “Caroline Lucas stands down: space for someone to lead”

  1. Matt SellwoodNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 12:08 am

    You have an irritating habit, Adam, of writing exactly what I think and therefore giving me little to usefully comment on.

    What Adam said.


    P.S. Except I suspect that the character of the new leader will, in fact, be very important in their success or failure in the important strategic tasks which face the party.

  2. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 12:14 am

    thanks Matt – sorry, you’re quite right of course. What I really mean is not that the character won’t matter, but that the sort of qualities you would look for in a spokesperson aren’t necessarily the things which will matter most in this role.

  3. Matt SellwoodNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 12:18 am

    That is absolutely true. I think it calls for a really tricky mix, actually – someone with the diplomatic skills and appeal across the party to be able to bring people together in wide ranging discussions, but with the kind of positive and passionate beliefs that enable them to drive their ideas forward.

    And, of course, they have to live in the shadow of Caroline, who will still be de facto leader in some ways.


  4. Professor PongooNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    Not sure if a leader is necessary at all.
    What is needed is for greens to engage with the public from all socio- economic backgrounds outwith elections and build a party that is less establishment and middle class.Also to cross that scary line and engage with the Occupy movement,climate camps and indeed Transition.They need to stop tinkering with technofixes and be bold enough to speak the truth about sustainability and climate change.This may not prove popular with the electorate initially as it conflicts with the novelty culture that capitalism has indoctrinated them with.It’s all too slow,tiny gains here and there while the planet goes under.The message needs to be more radical and honest and not tweeked to gain electoral support for what almost amounts to a betrayal of their beliefs.Time is running out to get the real message out.The time for complacency is well passed.Time for praxis.

  5. alexNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

    It is an interesting position the British Greens find themselves in. I read in your Guardian interview that you don’t like to blame the electoral system, but the simple fact is that your system royally screws small parties.

    It’s very different in my country, New Zealand, where we have 14 Green MPs out of 122 seats in Parliament. Under the Mixed-Member Proportional system the Greens are able to present themselves as very distinct in policy terms from the Labour/Tory duopoly, but professional enough to work with either party constructively. It is a strategy that has paid huge dividends in recent years, the Greens have gone from being seen as lunatic fringe to being recognised as a well educated and principled party, and not remotely fringe.

    I don’t see that strategy working in Britain, because of the nature of FPTP, you will almost always get squeezed out by tactical voters looking to elect whoever they think is least worst out of Labour and the Tories. However, there is definitely a huge impulse towards localism in Green politics, so maybe your strategy going forward should reflect this. Instead of focusing on getting MPs, perhaps you should focus on getting a member on every single local council, and try and built a nationwide network at the local government level.

  6. Jim JeppsNo Gravatar
    May 14th, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

    Hi Alex. In effect this is the current policy and with 150 cllrs we’re not doing too badly on this (although a long way to go).

    Most places use parliamentary elections to promote their local candidates, etc.

  7. RobNo Gravatar
    May 18th, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    the only English parliamentary party left on the left

    Not only-Respect like them or not. I don’t know if they can capitalise on their success in Bradford.

  8. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    May 18th, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

    Rob – yeah, good point. Apols to Respect.

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