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.