The longest economic crisis since the 1870s shows no sign of abating. The great institutions of justice – the National Health Service, comprehensive education and the benefits system – are being slashed and sold off. Inequality is now at a level last seen by Charles Dickens, and, in case you didn’t notice, the climate crisis has arrived. We live in hard times.
Newton’s third law of motion tells us that for every force, there is an equal and opposite force. Would that it were so in politics. All too often, the reverse is true. As the Conservative Party has run to the right over thirty years, the Labour Party has given chase, abandoning any claim it had to represent progressive politics in the UK. The Liberal Democrats have become a comedy act.
And so, as times become tougher than ever, the Green Party must step up. It is in this context that ballot papers are landing on doormats in the first seriously contested leadership election the party has ever had. And the eight candidates for the two jobs mostly seem aware of this.
Pippa Bartolotti – Wales Party leader and former fashion designer – is perhaps an exception. Hewn from the movements of the 1960s, she claims to be neither left, nor right. I am left, and she won’t get my vote. At the other end of the spectrum comes Romayne Pheonix. There is no denying her left wing credentials – chair of the Coalition of Resistance, she is a well known and formidable activist. Natalie Bennett has made important and serious points about the party’s internal processes and the need to diversify our external messaging. By running, she’s pushed party strategy forwards.
But neither of them will be getting my first vote either. Because for me, there is one candidate who has consistently impressed me throughout my time as a member of the Green Party. When I asked Peter Cranie what his political priorities were, he told me that people’s rents and bills are going up: his economic policy is written on the dirty windscreen of daily life.
When I asked him to outline his strategy for the next 8 years, he demonstrated the lessons learned through years in the school of hard political knocks. But unlike many, he didn’t learn to get used to losing. He has planned out how to win.
In an age of technocrats, there aren’t many inspiring politicians left. But inspiration is exactly what we need. And while Romayne and Natalie both have there strengths, Peter matches the former for willingness to battle austerity and the later in strategic depth. I hope he is the next leader of the party.
Alex Phillips, who is standing for deputy, inspires me too.
She is most recently famous as the one Brighton councillor who voted against the city budget once the Tories and Labour had amended it to include cuts. It is all too easy for parties to develop group-think. The cosy world of the Green Party leadership often seems guilty of this. And I want a deputy I know I can trust to politely challenge consensus when needed. Alex’s vote was both principled and, I would argue, the strategic choice. But that’s a longer discussion.
Her opponents have been talking lots about ‘teamwork’. But being in a team isn’t about doing what you’re told – even (especially) if you are young and a woman.
It isn’t fair though to sum Alex up in one vote. She was also key to co-ordinating both Caroline Lucas’ successful election campaign in 2010 and the campaign to win the Brighton council in 2011. An astounding organiser, the party has much to learn from her – particularly her ability to reach out beyond our core vote. We would be fools not to elect her as deputy leader.
When I first met her, she had just been elected to the council for the first time, and was working to reduce teenage pregnancy rates in Brighton. Almost all of the leadership candidates see the need for the party to give serious answers to the economic crisis. But for some, you get the feeling this is a question of strategy. With Alex, it is the calling of a lifetime, and she will have my vote, and what spare time I can muster until polling day.
It is no longer good enough for the Green Party to sit on the fringes. Only through the efforts of us all will we succeed, and each of the candidates in both races has done much to contribute to that. But our efforts will be all the more powerful with Peter and Alex at the helm. If you are a member, please do join me in voting for them.