Tom Chance: Caroline is an example we should follow

Tom Chance of Southwark Green Party writes:
There are places in the party for policy brains, for organisers, and for press wizards. Our management and strategy is done co-operatively. So what is it that leadership candidates should be pitching to the party faithful?
As Caroline wrote in her Guardian piece,
“leadership is also a powerful tool that can draw people in and inspire them. Trying to sell abstract ideas to the public rarely works. People want to see the human face of an organisation, to help them understand what it is there for and to judge if they trust it.”
I often hear fellow members, new and old, enthuse about an article she wrote or an appearance on TV. You build a movement by engendering that reaction – enthusiasm – and by engendering trust.
What follows is a somewhat gushing portrayal of some of Caroline’s strong points that have enabled her to do this, necessarily gushing to illustrate my point. It is more fundamental than their politics, their appearance, their track record, and informs how I think about those and other qualities in candidates.
One thing Caroline has managed to convey, with the help of staff and volunteers of course, is that she – and therefore the Green Party – represent something fresh and new, something lots of people can rally around. In doing this she has avoided putting lots of people off by being too narrow in her focus.
For example, she has argued the case against deep cuts to public spending without sounding like a 1980s militant. She presses causes without obviously carrying lots of baggage, helping us show that we are different in our approach and policy. She conveys a passion for our values of environmental justice, social justice, peace and democracy in a broad and inclusive way.
Another set of qualities she has exuded are confidence, experience and intelligence. As the face of the party, she projects a party that knows what it’s talking about, that has something relevant to add to the debate. Part of this probably comes from her time in the European Parliament, which gave her experience of governance, politics and a wide range of policy topics.
The Deputy Leader post seems ideal for somebody who isn’t quite there yet – a young firebrand campaigner or a ward councillor with a limited grasp of wider policy and political debates, both of whom step up to be a leader several years down the line.
As the public’s concerns shifted to the economy, Caroline has put herself firmly on that agenda without dropping our other concerns. She has a way of showing that others agree with her to help engender trust, sounds terribly reasonable while also sounding bold and at times radical in pushing our values.
Too often I hear the suggestion that “people know us for climate change, so we should talk to them about jobs and growth”, as though climate change doesn’t remain the greatest threat to future prosperity and as though environmentally people don’t still want to hear from us about climate change. You know, all those seasoned activists and green-minded voters. There is an important difference between an effective communications strategy, which will be tailored to a particular campaign, and a wider view of what the party stands for.
There are things I know I disagree with Caroline about, but she doesn’t focus on them. She focuses on our commonalities, because we are stronger together than in many little factions. Labour remains the perfect illustration of factional thinking muting an otherwise powerful collective voice. A really terrible leader will be tribal and divisive, thinking their camp knows best, that they are even in a camp or wave or wing of the party, and that the rest of the party should get in line. In seeking to appeal to new groups they will alienate existing members, turn some activists into armchair members and many enthusiastic voters into apathetic stay-at-homers.
The Green Party needs a new leader that can continue to broaden our appeal.
When she or he pops up at a conference, on the telly or in a one-line comment, we want as many people as possible who share our values and priorities to feel positively towards them, to like the cut of their jib, to feel “that person shares my values”, to think “I like the sound of that”. Each time it should reinforce a general impression that the Green Party is full of inspiring people with fantastic policies that deal with the big issues in the right way.
If any of the candidates can demonstrate an aptitude and willingness to trigger that reaction in our broad church, and in those yet to be converted, they’ll be a strong candidate for my vote.
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6 Comments

  1. Constantine Buhayer

     /  16/05/2012

    Yes Tom, ‘people know us for climate change’. We, the GP, are far more than that, but, ‘people know us for climate change’.
    This, not least, has to do with the name ‘Green’ and the colour. However, both name and colour need to be used in ways that surprise people and point them to our social policies.

  2. Elliot Folan

     /  17/05/2012

    “as though environmentally people don’t still want to hear from us about climate change. You know, all those seasoned activists and green-minded voters.”

    Green minded voters which make up about 1-5% of the electorate. Yeah, cause that’s really going to deliver us more MPs.

    Caroline’s greatest asset is that she HAS talked about jobs and social justice, linking it to the environment. The next leader must do that too.

  3. To be clear, I’m not suggesting we only talk about climate change, nor that we don’t talk about jobs and social justice. They are two of our core subjects. I’m arguing that it would be absurd to elect a leader who fails to talk about the environment in their zeal to challenge preconceptions. I’ve seen this tendency creep in to be so focused on the economy and jobs that we cease to talk about anything else, and even start saying things that contradict core policies and thinking – e.g. that we need growth.

    Caroline has set an excellent example of talking about all four of our core values (environment, social justice, peace, democracy), making each an authentic and convincing part of our politics.

  4. Elliot Folan

     /  17/05/2012

    Ok cool. I do agree that the core Green message is a holistic one. The tendency to split everything up into bitesize chunks is too pronounced in British politics already.

  5. Constantine Buhayer

     /  18/05/2012

    The cuts dug deep in April 2012. More cuts are coming to devastate millions of lives. Many of those cuts are implemented by Councils. We need our people elected now to voice viable alternatives to the worse of these cuts. How? Focusing on climate change does not help out people now but in 10 years or more. By then, the well-to-do classes will still be comfortable, but the millions of shattered lives will be living in sh*t conditions with the arguable comfort that the climate is improving.

    Therefore, of the 4 core values, climate change can occupy 5% of our public efforts (though most of our private lives). People know we are Green, it’s in the name. Let’s get on with social policies – freezing rents, traffic, schooling, pedestrians and cyclists, public transport, NHS, wages, apprenticeships, older people, accessible public spaces, libraries…

  6. I wanted to comment on this because this is one of the most difficult challenges the Green Party faces. We can be seen as a single issue party and so we’ve understandably emphasised our social and economic policies. During the general election this reached its height where we almost never mentioned the environment assuming correctly that everyone knew we stood for this and so it wasn’t necessary to mention it. This worked, and we’ve moved away from the extreme version of this approach.

    However, one of the reasons people join the Greens is that we recognise that there is a host of interlaced environmental problems from climate change to bio-diversity to encroachment into the green belt etc. If we aren’t pushing the mainstream parties on these issues we aren’t going to move the political debate in this direction. But we aren’t able to push on subjects that we don’t talk about.

    However we balance the urgent need for action on the climate with not allowing ourselves to painted into some sort of eco-corner is one of the most tricky parts of our tasks in the years ahead. If it loses us votes so be it – better to lose votes than lose your soul.

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