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.
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”