Two events have combined to leave the Green Party at a crossroads.
Firstly, the Green Party made some progress in this month’s local elections. In my own area, Kirklees, in wards where the Liberal Democrat was not an established Councillor, the Green Party over took them into third place. One seat was gained and the standing Green Councillor in another ward won by a convincing margin. Nationally the party made a small number of gains. The Green Candidate came third in the London Mayoral race.
Secondly, on the 15th May, Caroline Lucas announced that she will stand down as Leader of the Green Party in September, since being elected in 2008. The MP for Brighton and Hove, and former MEP said:
Green politics has shifted from the margins to the mainstream of British political life. As the party grows, buoyed by a new generation of activists and underpinned by the achievements of our outstanding elected members, now is the time to make space for other talented Greens to come through and take us even further forward. For me, this decision is about staying true to green principles.
My experience in the local elections convinced me of one fact the party as a whole must accept – it does not have the resources: members or financial – to increase it’s vote beyond it’s current limits. Without strong media support, the only way to get the Green Party message across is old fashioned door-to-door leafleting and canvassing.
It’s membership is about one twentieth of the Labour Party, one sixteenth of the Conservatives and a sixth of the Liberal democrats (based on 2010 figures). This is simply inadequate for the required task. Every election means either getting a small vote from everywhere, or ignoring the majority of electors to focus winning a bigger share in a smaller area.
The election of a new Leader will be a moment to take some major long-term decisions. Does the party wish to remain as it is, and be a small voice, but be no more than a poorly resourced pressure group?
The alternative is to grow the party beyond it’s comfort zone. The party has a great message on the elements of social justice that could transform the lives of those living in poorer urban areas, left behind by successive Conservative and Labour Governments. The Greens are about more than renewable energy, although it is important issue. It should talk to those without work, those left in the poorest housing. It should explain it’s policies to pensioners, who would get a much higher basic pension without means-testing or degrading tax credits.
The new Leader must also work out how to handle the party’s relationship with other parties. This must involve making a clear decision about the possible co-operation with other parties where common aims exist.
The in-tray for a new Leader – a membership drive, a re-focussing of the Green Party’s message to reach a broader electorate and the possibilities for electoral co-operation – is a challenging one. The internal debate within a very open and democratic party will be nothing short of a full-bloodied discussion and rightfully so.
I look forward to it.