The Green Party’s internal democracy has let the party down

Today, the Green Party of England and Wales announced that the former Guardian journalist Natalie Bennett has been elected as their leader.

Upon her election Natalie commented, “[I am] pleased to take on the responsibility of helping us all to move towards promoting our vision of a radical new economic and environmental vision for Britain”. Natalie’s election has already been met in the press to wide-spread support.

The Green Party uses the Single Transferable Vote system to elect its leader – a form of proportional representation. In many ways the Green Party has a model form of democracy – leading by example. It is worrying then that it maintains an unpopular gender rule that many feel is letting the party down.

Gender balance

The Green Party’s election rules stipulate that the deputy leader has to be the opposite sex of the person who is elected leader. As such, with election of Natalie, the two highly competent female contenders for the deputy leadership were automatically out of the race.

Rupert Read, a high profile activist in the party tweeted soon after the results were announced saying:

Never again should the candidate who members voted for a top leadership post (#GPEW Deputy Leader) be prevented from taking up the job“.

He left no confusion to what he meant when he later tweeted:

@WillduckworthGP is elected Deputy Leader of Green Party (after female candidates are eliminated by our back firing gender balance rules)”

Natalie welcomed Will Duckworth’s election in her victory speech saying, “I look forward to working with Cllr Will Duckworth, who has been elected as deputy leader”. I am sure though that Will and the party membership though will remember her response on LBC radio when she was asked if she supported the gender rule and said, “it is the system we have so we have to live with it…I would support a change”.

Three questions remain for the Green Party then as they head to their party conference in Bristol. Firstly, is it right that two popular and competent deputy leadership candidates missed out just because of their gender? Secondly, does Will Duckworth hold a democratic mandate? Lastly, how does the Green Party’s policy on ‘gender balance’ sit with their pioneering and progressive adoption of issues around intersex (imagine if one of the candidates self identified as intersex what would happen then)?

For a party with such a strong internal democracy it seems bizarre that they would prevent a candidate’s election because of their gender. Do I feel an emergency motion coming on for conference…?

UPDATE (13:58 03/09/2012) – Peter Crainie, the leadership candidate who narrowly missed out on election has announced, “This election has identified several improvements we need to make ahead of the next set of leadership elections in 2014, beginning with an end to the gender balance rule that prevents two women from forming the leadership team in our party. I intend to co-sign any motion put forward by Natalie in this regard”.

UPDATE (14:47 03/09/2012) – The now Deputy Leader of The Green Party, Will Duckworth, was elected despite not getting “the quota required”. An internal communication explains:

“3,127 ballot papers were returned (a turnout of 25.1%).

In line with the election rules set out in the Green Party constitution, the Deputy Leader cannot be of the same gender as the Leader and so Caroline Allen and Alexandra Phillips are eliminated and their first preference votes will be redistributed to the highest expressed preference for an eligible candidate.

There were 353 spoilt papers (including papers expressing a preference only for a female candidate or candidates), giving a total valid vote of 2774 and the quota required for election is therefore 1,387.1

First preference votes were distributed as follows:

Allen – not eligible
Duckworth – 1,329
Mallender – 1,245
Phillips – not eligible
RON – 200

No candidate achieved quota, but Green Party rules require that RON not be eliminated, so the candidate with the highest vote is elected”


Filed under Politics, sexuality

13 responses to “The Green Party’s internal democracy has let the party down

  1. The gender balancing issue does need sorting, but what this election has achieved by default rather than design is that a working class person has broken through the class ceiling. In wider society, where women are 52% of the population, privileged white women are making great gains, in parliament, media, medicine, in most universities at most levels, in local government, in the 3rd sector, they are over represented at all levels. Meanwhile, in all these areas, working class men and women are consistently underrepresented and with the help of New Labour & the ConDems numbers of working class people in higher ed are on the decline.Women in Parliament 22% Working class in Parliament? 1.3 – 3%. Yes, lets talk race and sex justice, but lets also talk class justice and an end to sneering comments about dumbing down that are so prevalent in the Green Party. If parliament was representative of the class things would be different. At the end of the day, we judge them on what they do and for whom.


  2. Rupert Read

    Good post.
    I warned that this would happen, when the new Leadership rules were brought in, but unfortunately I was a voice in the wilderness at the time.
    I think that Danny and Matt are wrong: we don’t need a rule any more that guarantees that women should have at least one of the two top roles. Women rock and rule in the Green Party!
    The real point in any case is that, as the post above says, the elimination of candidates from ‘the other’ gender is horribly undermining to the then ‘winning’ Deputy candidate. What kind of mandate does poor Will have? A crucified one. If the boot were on the other foot — if the members had voted for Peter C as Leader, and for Will and/or Richard as Deputy — would we really want to insist through the rules on there being a female Deputy Leader even so?
    It is time to trust ourselves and move to simple democracy – STV/AV, for each post. Anything less, such as a pointless and dangerous tokenistic insistence on there being one woman at least in the top two jobs – is just an invitation to repeat the kind of absurdity that we have witnessed today.


    • jq mark

      Rupert no you did not you went round campaigning for the party to vote yes to the motion containing these rules in the postal ballot. you called the motion a beutiful thing that the party could unite behind. i am confused as to why you feel that you can say the above. do we really want more fighting over rule changes or do we want to concentrate on facing out wards and taking up some of the proposals in your green word shop project.


  3. Oh I forgot. Intersex. How about “The leader or the Deputy shall be a woman or a person of indeterminate sexuality unless it shall be deemed by an ad-hoc working party that said indeterminate person is more in physique and personality male than fe…” No, that’s not going to work. As you were.


  4. Umar

    These anti-discriminatory rules are discriminatory. Why should two women not take both positions? Why should two men not do so? What about other “minorities”. Should there not be policies specifically aimed at getting non-white faces into the top positions? The approach to solving the inequalities in society should be a bottom-up, not top-down approach. Remove the barriers (real and perceived) preventing women, etc etc from participating and judge on merit rather than artificial quotas. Steve makes the excellent point about intersex so what do we do once we find an apparently liberal set of rules illiberal?


  5. Well Steve. I’m very flattered that you desire my comment. As I said on Twitter, I began a reply and deleted it because I have never taken much interest in internal GP politics. Apart, of course, from seconding the leadership motion, so this is probably all my fault.

    At present, we are sad that good women have been excluded from the Deputy position because of the rules. All sentient beings would like to see female Leader and Deputy of the GP, because that would be Right On.

    However, imagine if the boot were on the other foot, and we had a male Leader and Deputy. This would in the eyes of many be Not Right On.

    My view is coloured by hearing, over the years, so many impassioned complaints from the floor of Conference about Men Dominating Things. And it is true, we do. We do bad things like interrupt.

    So I actually agree with the M/F thing. It is a GP tradition, goes back to paired Principal Speakers.

    There appears to have been a situation regarding Will D’s votes, and this is going to need attention at some stage. Calm and rational attention, as Bob says.

    I do not feel comfortable talking about these things. I’d rather be talking about climate change, or water in Israel/Palestine, or – dare I say it – how to inhibit and get rid of dictators.

    I do not think this kind of mess is unique to the GP. I was talking with my son today and we concluded that politics generally can be described as a form of institutionalised stupidity.

    So there we have it. My opinion is a bit crap really on internal things.


  6. I agree Steve, the system does need changing. But there should still be a gender rule in my view – primarily to redress the historic under-representation of women in politics generally.

    So a rule only specifying that ‘either the Leader or Deputy Leader should be a woman’ would be one I would support. It would stop both the Leader and Deputy Leader being a man, but it wouldn’t stop them both being a woman. This would be closer in spirit to the gender rules used in some other European Green Parties, where the objective is primarily to redress a systemic under-representation of women, not general gender parity, which in fact does very little to help redress imbalances.

    Regarding this election, Will was elected under the current rules, and that needs to be respected. But I would vote for a change in the rules most definitely.


  7. Any reply I was hoping to make has been summed up in far superior fashion by Matt’s comment – simple but effective wording. I’d vote for him, any chance he can re-word all party manifestos and most newspapers?


  8. james?

    Making a change based on one election in which there were more female candidates than male is daft as this could be a one off set of events.
    The fact is that the gender balancing rules were adopted as a stament of equality in an unequal society they also have the welcome side effect a balanced public face for the party.
    If the party does manage to change these rules to at least one woman i predict three unwelcome side effects.
    One, the possiblity of candidates failing to get elected due to the rules will remain esp if two women are elected move on to saying positive discrimination is unecessary undermining the entire gender equality project,
    two, if you think voters and media think the system we have now is odd expect that system to actually make our party seem like an alien thing. three, it will risk dividing the party by bringing more and more constituitional issues out into the open five years on from the fraught battles over having a leader.
    no system is perfect gender balancing exists for a reason for twenty years think about the risks of abolishing it now because you didnt like how one election turned out.


  9. Constantine Buhayer

    Good overview in the article and sound observation by Bob. It will be an interesting Conference! Look forward to it


  10. Bob Irving

    It’s very far from the end of the world, you know. They are elected for two years only and the party has a chance to change the rules in the meantime. I am much closer to death than you are and even I can be patient for that long… Personally, I am more concerned with the poor voter turn-out and the lack of candidates for GPex positions.


    • Matt

      I think, if the Greens were to keep a gender balancing rule, then that rule should simply read

      ‘At least one of the Leader or Deputy Leader must be female.’


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