Caution over co-leaders?

My esteemed co-blogger, Mr Jepps, has expressed some fondness for the idea of co-leaders. Given the set up of this blog, perhaps I should immediately agree that it would all work wonderfully well. I am, I’m afraid, not so sure. I’m reliably informed that it is at least being considered by a few of the people who might stand, so I thought a post might be in order.

A few worries about the idea of Green Party co-leaders immediately spring to my mind. I’m not dead set against the idea, and would very much like to hear other people’s points of view on the issue. Perhaps there are ways it could work well which I have not yet imagined….

A recipe for external confusion. We find it quite hard to get media coverage and invites to important events. I’m not sure that this is going to be helped if no one can work out who to invite to what. Perhaps more importantly, at least part of the justification for Caroline stepping down was to build up the profile of another major figure in the Party. I’m not sure we have enough profile to go around to establish two more figures in the national consciousness. Rather than double the impact, we might get half.

We are going to have de facto co-leaders anyway. The problem above is, of course, going to be exacerbated by the fact that Caroline is not only still very much around, but will almost certainly be getting the lion’s share of the attention and profile in any event. Just as George Galloway MP gets most of Respect’s profile despite not actually being the leader, Caroline is going to continue to be our major star. It’s going to be difficult enough getting one figure to ‘Salma Yaqoob level’ – let alone two. 

A receipe for strategic inertia? This is the one that really worries me, to be honest. Because Caroline is going to continue to be high profile and brilliant, I think our external issues are less important than our internal ones. I think we need a leader who can help to take the Party by the scruff of the neck and catalyse an inspiring and effective discussion over what our strategy is, what we’re for, and how we’re going to get to where we want to be. I think that while a co-leadership team could work brilliantly in this regard, it could also lead to confusion within the Party about who is doing what, and totally diffuse any new ideas that they might want to push. No two people are *ever* going to agree on everything about a strategic direction, and we desperately need someone with some ideas and the energy to get them started. Frankly, at this point, I’m almost less worried about what the ideas are than I am about the fact that we need *something*. Inertia would be disastrous, and I think a co-leader model is more likely to give this to us than a Leader/Deputy model.

What if they fall out? This isn’t as spurious as it sounds. We have had, in the not so distant past, at least one instance of Principal Speakers really not getting on. It was not helpful. I’ve been lucky enough to have been the Deputy component of a successful Leader/Deputy team in Oxford, and while Cllr Simmons and I got on very well, I am confident that the few disagreements we did have would have been more problematic if it wasn’t clear that the buck stopped with one of us and not the other. The last thing we need is factionalisation based on co-equal leaders.

We’re going to look weird. This one worries me least of all, because I don’t care as much as some others do about the Green Party embodying a different way of doing things. We’re always going to be outside of the mainstream way of doing things, and that is often good. However, I’m not sure we want to be imposing issues needlessly that make us look a bit strange. I worry that co-leaders might appear odd, require explanation, and gain us little.

As I said at the beginning of this stream of consciousness, I’m not dead set against co-leaders…but, at the moment, it seems to me that the cons outweigh the pros. What do you think?

Leave a comment


  1. I think you make some reasonable points here. I’m going to gently disagree with some of though.

    External confusion. I’m not so sure. The main area of confusion will be why isn’t Caroline leader which happens whether or not we have co-leaders. Most of the media will, I suspect, continue to treat CL as the leader anyway but the posts are more than just media. Co-leaders with a good geographical spread mean that more party members will be able to touch the hem of the golden ones.

    De Facto co-leaders anyway. No I think this is wrong. Caroline will be handling the Parliament etc but wont be leading the party – that is more than just profile there is a job of political work to be done there which she will not be leading.

    Strategic inertia / falling out. I think these are the strongest points you make. I’d say if we are presented with a co-leader slate (and it still is an if at this point) we will be assessing whether they work together as a team. Just as when we’re choosing leader and deputy we will calculate who can work together.

    However, while I think they need to be personally and politically compatible I don’t think they need to be identical – in fact I think that would be actively bad. The Party is a broad-ish church and I’d like to see two different complementary flavours blended in the top team. I think that would be stronger.

    I do think they would need a division of labour between them but a leader in London and a leader up north (say) would have advantages for the press, for the regions and for how in touch that team is with what’s happening on the ground.

    We’re going to look weird: we are weird dude. Chill out. Have a spliff. Snort a dream catcher and let’s all have a group hug. Also the german greens have co-leaders and they wear suits. What could be less weird?

  2. Sandman

     /  17/05/2012

    I just posted some nonsense about a Philosopher-King Triumvirate leadership as a comment on another post on this site. But seriously, if you want more than one leader, it has to be an odd number in order to break deadlock. Two leaders is simply a ridiculous notion.

  3. mattsellwood

     /  17/05/2012

    To be fair, the leaders technically don’t actually decide anything. GPEX, GPRC and Conference have that privilege, and the leader has but one vote on GPEX. Of course, in practice, that isn’t true….as power, even in a democratic system, is about who/what/when you know things, and other such intangibles.

  4. I’m a supporter of the idea of co-leaders for a number of reasons.
    1. We’re currently the only party in Britain led by a woman. This immediately makes us look and sound different to the others, helping to highlight that we do politics differently and that we’re a party in which women play a major role. But there are also a number of strong male candidates for the role – co-leaders would also put one of them centre-stage.
    2. Gender balance has just been put at centre stage by the Hollande cabinet, by a renewed focus on the lack of representativesness of our alleged representatives (as evidenced by the recent Speaker’s Conference), and by the push across Europe for gender balance on major company boards. A male leader/female deputy model takes us backwards.
    3. The job is enormous and has many parts. There’s internal roles in organisation, visiting local and regional parties, mentoring and supporting individuals, working on policy. There’s the big external role. I think it is likely that one co-leader might particularly focus on some of these and the other on others, but if they are there to cover each other, then that’s a bonus. Plus the additional geographical cover.
    To respond to some of Matt’s arguments:
    1. Certainly co-leaders could fall out, but so could a leader and deputy, or a leader and the Gpex chair, or any other combination of important roles, which would create just as many problems.
    2. I don’t think co-leaders are that hard to understand. Just ask the media to think of it as a job-share (just like we back job-share MPs, a policy that got a lot of attention and interest). And we can always point out that the German Greens have used this model for many years.
    3. “We are going to have de facto co-leaders anyway.” Actually the way this new dispensation will mostly be seen by the media and public I think is Caroline, then the leader. If below that is then the deputy leader, that’s even more complex, and looks very hierarchical.
    4. “Strategic inertia”. Any one individual is going to have strengths and weakness, parts of the role on which they’re strong, and on which they’re weak. Co-leaders can fill some of each other’s “gaps”. They will have to have a shared idea of where the party needs to go, but they can focus on different aspects of getting to that place.

  5. Natalie, we aren’t actually the only party led by a woman. RESPECT and Plaid Cymru both have female leaders. The public might not be aware of this, because Caroline has a much bigger media profile than Salma Yaqoob or Leanne Wood. But this is one area in which we aren’t unique.

  6. Thanks for the correction. Unique then in the top four (or top three in London).

  7. Gus Hoyt

     /  17/05/2012

    I actually am a fan of the original position of vice-president (he -and it would have only ever been a ‘he’ back then – got away with all the dirty fun stuff while the winner had to be president)
    No, not true. But Vice-President was for the guy (again) who came second. And so led to stability.
    Plus also, for events/meeting groups etc… They’d choose who they wanted. So everyone’s a winner…
    Caroline will continue to be herself, and I hope get the press she deserves. The new leader/leaders can help do other work – what it is – is up to them.

  8. Ross

     /  18/05/2012

    The German Greens are a nice example but surely the Scottish Greens are a more relevant and applicable one? We have gender balanced co-conveners (leaders for all intents and purposes) but I bet even most GPEW members will have only likely heard of one and not the other (for the last 3 sets of co-conveners this can be applied).
    One will still be treated as the de-facto leader unless there is serious control exerted by the party’s external media co-ordinator to balance coverage.

    If you value the role of the leader in this particular election as a primarily internal one then co-leaders present a reasonable option but for external purposes a single figure is just easier for the press and the public whether we like it or not.

    I agree with Natalie about the value of having a female leader but i wouldn’t forgoe an exceptional candidates simply because they are male. In that case it would be the duty of the leadership team to ensure that the female deputy gets reasonable coverage as well but as stated before, its an uphill battle to get the press focussing on any more than one person.

  9. What is a ‘leader’, vis a vis chairperson, spokesperson, president, moderator? If a ‘leader’ is (as I think) a ‘shaper’ — someone who stirs things up a bit, makes things happen, drives things — then having two of them sounds a very bad idea. But this sort of leader also needs a ‘moderator’ — someone gifted at working for and interpreting consensus; someone who can make sure the tensions created by ‘leadership’ can be constructive not divisive. That is leadership, too, but of a different kind. Some might call such a person a party chairperson, but that word is confusing. In industry, a chairperson is a ‘driver’ sort of leader, certainly not a ‘moderator’ working for consensus. A moderator is more appropriate as a spokesperson for the party; a leader needs to be free to be innovative and challenging.

    I’m a minister in the United Reformed Church, which has had a ‘bottom-up’, consensual style of organisation for 400 years. We have moderators not presidents. In fact more recently we’ve had two moderators in partnership (one ordained minister, one layperson) — but that’s not particularly relevant because these are biennial appointments and have no executive powers. Leadership (in the ‘driving’ sense) has tended to come from the General Secretary — a full-time paid post at the top of the church’s (very small) “civil service”, like chief executive. But I don’t think this has worked at all well in recent years. There would be great internal cultural resistance to a ‘leader’ figure if that person were also expected to represent a consensus that doesn’t exist on certain issues. In fact the lack of consensus is making leadership very difficult — witness Rowan Williams’s “poisoned chalice” as archbishop of the Anglican communion. But visionary leadership is nonetheless needed.

    I suspect the Green Party is going to be faced with some policy decisions that are potentially divisive in the next few years. We will need visionary leadership, because that attracts attention, challenges complacency and inspires people — but that leader needs to be free to lead without always looking over their shoulder. The moderator kind of leader is equally important and needs to be trusted across the party; it’s a different set of attributes. And people – including the media — would need to be clear about the different roles.

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