This morning I voted in the Green Party leadership elections. Our current leader is also the party’s first MP: Caroline Lucas. She has graciously stepped aside to allow someone else to assume the prominent political roles which the media affords to leaders. We Greens used to argue about how to challenge the straightjacket in which our established media regards the toss of political debate. We argued about it until the cows came home. Then we conceded that to obtain proper reportage, we would have to swallow the bitter pill and get a leader. Thus we went from a number of rolling speakers, to two leaders to one. Now we get reported, frequently and are winning support.
The gains are too slow, of course, but nevertheless compare and contrast them with the successes of say the Occupy movement, which eschewed leaders right from the off. That movement has completely run aground, largely because those who said they spoke for it found themselves stymied by accusations of treachery. With much to complain about but no definite plan for progress, Occupy degenerated into a failed October Revolution. This once bold movement now only occupies a warm place in our hearts and minds and is lucky, in London at least, to muster 40 lost souls on some church steps. What they squandered in terms of physical support, they maintained in terms of ideological purity. Well done them! Meanwhile, the rest of us still require a political vehicle capable of going somewhere…
I watched some video hustings, chatted with various members and attended the Little Green Gathering before I made my mind up. As with the videoed hustings, not all the candidates came to the Little Green Gathering. We were treated to a mixture of Leadership and Deputy Leadership candidates.
There’s a bonkers rule in the Green Party, which everyone seems to agree requires urgent change, which says that the Leader and Deputy Leader must be of opposite genders. We introduced that rule to force ourselves to introduce a gender balance in our leadership. However, the real issue is not equality but the number of female candidates for power. That’s a big matter for us and our society generally. The fact is that the Green Party has got over this issue good and proper. We frequently select women as our best people. So much that now we find ourselves in the absurd position of having to tactically vote for a man if we want a woman to get a certain role.
Initially, my voting intentions were circumscribed by a fear that our party should not be dominated by people from our successful area, namely by home town Brighton. We must be very aware of the trap which the
Liberals, sorry Liberal Democrats, fell into, which was to be a party of moderate strength in certain regions but not the whole country. Now, I’m not sure what the precise historical reasons were that produced that ugly truth for the LibDems, which left them looking like four separate regional parties with entirely separate political identities for decades. Of course, they have cured that problem now by throwing their lot in with the thieving Tory bastards; soon enough they’ll be a party with no regional strength anywhere. Back to the Greens – it being perfectly natural that the people who get the most political success also get the most experience, I could see a real danger of us choosing people from Brighton on their merits. Thus, I found myself initially indisposed to them.
There are four candidates for the Leader’s job: Natalie Bennett, Pippa Bartolotti, Peter Cranie and Romayne Phoenix. I didn’t know any of them personally. The rumours were that Pippa Bartolotti was a little crazy. Rumours are usually unkind, aren’t they? I listened carefully to her speak at the Little Green Gathering and am pleased to report that she didn’t appear the slightest bit mad. However, she did seem rather vague and for that reason I could not bring myself to support her. Vagueness is the enemy of action. She triumpantly told us that she had, “big ideas“, for the Party, although she didn’t seem to know what they were. In fact, someone asked her to say what the Big Ideas were in the Q&A session at the end and even then she seemed a little put off at having to be specific. As well as being vague, she was also dull. Dull, dull, dull. Say what you like about Caroline Lucas but she isn’t boring. She may occasionally come across with the excessive enthusiasm of a long term political singleton by speaking far too quickly and thus stamping the unfortunate phrase ‘I’m desperate’ deep into our psyches but she is never tedious. Pippa Bartolotti told us that she had had media training and knew how to present herself to any particular audience. Strange then that she turned up late to the Little Green Gathering, too late to attend one of the panel sessions she was booked into (I was on that panel, as it happened) and dressed for cold weather despite it being blisteringly hot. Strange also that she spoke to the highly informed crowd with the air of an uptight school mistress who thought it was cool, Tony Blair style, to stick one hand in her front jeans pocket, rather than flap it about in the air when speaking. Her other hand was free for the flapping, which was uncoordinated with the rhythms of her speech. There it is, my summary of Pippa Bartolotti’s qualities as presented to me in person: late, vague and boring. I was almost disappointed that she hadn’t exhibited the promised craziness. When casting my vote to choose our party leader, she didn’t even get a fourth place vote from me. In fact I voted to reopen nominations before her and didn’t give her any vote at all. I cannot imagine that our Party would want our TV appearances to be dominated by someone like her. Pippa, if you read this hurtful words, please don’t take them personally. Please realise that politics is a brutal place and we need people who can punch harder than they can patronise.
Natalie Bennett also came to the Little Green Gathering. I thought she was very good, very on message, good on detail and aware of the complex requirements for a leader. However, I didn’t like the tone of her voice. There was something of the slight about it about it. Perhaps she was tired. Perhaps she’d just had some bad news, perhaps she’d lost interest in the competition. Whatever it was, she lost my interest. The art of politics is surprisingly similar to the art of love: seduction is the key to success. I couldn’t quite imagine Natalie Bennett seducing people outside the wider Green movement with her political rhetoric. There was something of the weary campaigner about her. Who has ever been seduced by the words, “I’m tired“? There’s a reason why the invite is always for coffee. Good politicians are those who can seduce an audience which is initially hostile to them. Also, we all want to be seduced. It’s in our very human nature to want to like people who we ought to hate. Thus Boris Johnson is most hoped for party guest at any event in London and Ken Livingstone is widely admired throughout the political spectrum. These people are fun, interesting and very much alive. However, I would be happy to support Natalie Bennett if she did win the leadership election. Perhaps I caught her on a bad day. She got my second vote.
Romayne Pheonix didn’t turn up to either the video hustings linked to above or the Little Green Gathering. That’s her prerogative but having never heard of her, never seen her either in the flesh or on the box, it was difficult to want to vote for her. In fact, I didn’t even check out her website before casting my vote. She didn’t get a vote from me. I preferred to see the nominations reopened instead of selecting her. A website cannot of itself persuade a voter. We need to see the candidate in action.
Although I’ve never met him, not heard anything about him from others, I decided to cast my primary vote for Peter Cranie, having watched a video of his hustings. He spoke clearly and with a sharpness of manner which is often lacking in the woolly minded policy wonks of today’s spinning politicos. He looked and sounded like a leader, which is hugely important. There was none of that terrible hand wringing or flapping. He was confident in his person as much as in his speech. People notice this kind of thing. Voters often act on it. There’s no point in wishing it were otherwise. Peter Cranie answered questions directly, with no fudging. Above all, he struck me as being from a working class background with a record of trades union activism. How many leaders in our political class can you say that of these days? Here’s a fellow who can appeal directly to a very broad range of people, many of who lie far outside the green movement. He can appeal to their vision of what a party leader should be, to their intellectual curiosity and to their desire to cut the crap that says only a posh git can get to the top.
Peter Cranie’s presentational, ideological and emotional skills aside, here is a fellow who looks and sounds about as far removed from the sheet wearing, stick waving, deranged druid as anyone can be. We’ve shaken off the tarnish of being dominated by those people in recent years. The last thing we need would be to select a candidate who might appear to have mystical tendencies in private moments. Don’t get me wrong here – I fully support the right of those people to pretend that they are somehow connected with the entirely unknown religions of pre-Roman times and rather enjoy watching them traipsing about. I just don’t want mysticism informing party policy.
Having selected a man as my preferred candidate for the leader’s job, the gender equality rule means that were he to succeed, only a woman could be selected as his deputy. Although I wasn’t sure what order the ballots were counted in, I wanted to vote with some degree of consistency. Therefore of the deputy leadership candidates – Caroline Allen, Will Duckworth, Richard Mallender and Alexandra Phillips, 50% were immediately excluded from my consideration. I’ve never heard of or seen Will Duckworth. He was involved in a coordinated campaign with Romayne Pheonix whom I’d also never heard of. I thought that it was a good idea to coordinate campaigns but that assumes that the campaign gets out there and puts itself about. Richard Mallender I do know, since he hailed from or passed through Brighton a few years ago. I used to cruelly call him The Mallender behind his back, because of his rigid dress code (leather duster coat, wide brimmed leather hat, silver wing tips on his collars and well trimmed beard) and because of his unusual grasp of social etiquette. One year at the Big Green Gathering, I returned to our encampment to see him standing stock still staring at his torch light ascending on a heavenly journey. Hell, it was a festival, it was late at night. Each to their own! If he wanted to take drugs, that was up to him, wasn’t it? However, when I approached it became clear that he wasn’t discombobulating at all. He greeted me with the words, “This torch is incredibly bright“. Indeed it was. The following year, once again I found myself in the company of this strange man at the Big Green Gathering again. Again, late at night I found him in more or less the same spot, staring up the line of his torch beam. Again, the same greeting, “This torch is incredibly bright“. Perhaps it was a different torch? Richard Mallender is a great guy, very helpful and incredibly hard working but he is really geeky, so I wasn’t too unhappy at the prospect of not being able to vote for him. The public may depend on geeks but they are not yet ready to support them politically.
That left two deputy leader candidates. With my concern about choosing people from Brighton still dominating my thinking, I was initially in favour of Caroline Allen over Alexandra Phillips. However, it’s not a great idea to choose someone for negative reasons. Both Caroline Allen and Alex Phillips went to the Little Green Gathering. I liked Caroline Allen a lot and it was a close call but in the end, Alex won me over. She was easily the most energetic of all the candidates, very sure footed and had a clear grasp of the issues. Above all, unlike Caroline Allen, she looked like she really wanted the job.
Although this excellent political gathering helped me decide my preferences, the candidate who most impressed me wasn’t standing in any election I could vote for. Although in still photography, she musters all the visual appeal of a cat lady, in person Jenny Jones was excellent. She was the Green Party’s candidate for the London Mayoral elections. She really was top notch. Her grip on the issues was superb, to the point where she could develop a question and answer both the original question and the developing debate, she was more than positive – she was uplifting. Politics cannot be left to the doom mongerers or the bores, unless we want to drive people away. I wished Jenny Jones had been standing for the party leadership position.