Who, dear reader, are the co-leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW)? To some, this will be obvious. Well done, you’re probably very active on Twitter or a Green member yourself. To the rest who have no clue- well, this means that as far as the UK goes, you’re in good company. According to my informal poll yesterday, 60% of my followers on Instagram (who are mostly politically engaged), have no clue either, and to be entirely fair, it often takes a jolt of sorts to remind me that the guy on the telly talking about banning halal meat is our party lead-oh no.
Fortunately, Jon (as us Greenies call him, it’s Jonathan Bartley for most outsiders) has been mostly forgiven, and the Green Party membership has recognised that he’s learnt his lesson. However, that unfortunate incident was the only notable media appearance we were blessed with during the last general election campaign. It demonstrates that the Greens, as much as any party, were caught off-guard and had to scramble to make something “magical” happen before December. It’s also Jon (who has elicited other controversies, including rising through the ranks of the Green Party unusually quickly) who has been the problem in his pairing with Siân Berry, who is otherwise someone the Green Party can generally get misty-eyed over.
Unfortunately, this August brings the biannual GPEW leadership election, a test of faith in the current leadership. Personally, I doubt that Siân and Jon will lose their spot, but I still think it’s useful to rock the boat a little. Siân and Jon have been adequate leaders, and they’ve kept the Green Party afloat. However, to claim that they were the root of the Green ‘surge’ in 2019 would be to ignore that the other parties were collapsing, and our only job was to garner the Remain vote by appearing mildly better than the Liberal Democrats. We were lucky, and any leader could have lapped that up.
Some Greens lament the loss of the Green Party of 2015, and I see why. It was the one time in a General Election when we hit 1 million votes. A more left-wing section of the Greens argue that 2015 was such as success because we temporarily replaced Labour as the socialist party-of-choice- therefore, the solution to our current problem is ‘go more radical and become the new hard socialist party’.
This plan is doomed to fail. It won’t work because the mantra of these people is ‘occupy the space that Corbyn left,’ and if you remember, that man was one of the most controversial people in British politics and doomed his party. Fortunately, the only candidate proposing this is Shahrar Ali, a man who has been binned off by most Greens for using dogwhistles to court the votes of transphobes and anti-Semites.
The real solution to the downfall after 2015 is to have a leader who appears ‘based’ on screen, ‘based’ being the Twitter term for ‘strong, reasonable and agreeable’. We saw that in the calm yet strong arguments of Natalie Bennett on stage in 2015, and we have it again in an obscure councillor from Solihull: Dr Rosi Sexton. Rosi has the same sort of pragmatic approach to Green politics that Bennett had, making the GPEW seem responsible and reliable, instead of the usual stereotype (middle-class wannabe hippies from London, who hate the working-class for not buying electric cars). Rosi's calm reasoning has helped garner the support of many members, and even new supporters from other parties.
I appreciate the argument that by placing pragmatism about policy over radicalism, we throw hope out of our politics. However, Rosi simply wants us to play the game. She has said over and over again that she has a plan to win elections, based on Chelmsley Wood in Solihull (84% of which voted Green in the local elections last year), which aims to reach out to people and sympathise with their struggles. She is well aware that highfalutin talk about ‘ecosocialist New Left radicalism’ flies over the heads of most people, and we have to meet every Briton in the middle. Not by adopting hate-filled populism, but by adopting an outlook and appearance which make sense to most people, and makes the other parties quiver in their boots.
In 2015, UKIP won 12.6% of the popular vote, and we have never been fortunate enough to have that sort of success. But we can. All we need is a strategy, recognising that one thing is truly half of politics: appearance.
We can change, without changing what we stand for. And the best way to do that, in my eyes, is with Rosi. So why not?