Why I’m standing down as Green Party leader

·5-min read
Former Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley with Sian Berry (right) and deputy leader Amelia Womack (EPA)
Former Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley with Sian Berry (right) and deputy leader Amelia Womack (EPA)

The role of leader of the Green Party has never been the same as it is for the other major parties. We are the most democratic of all the parties. Our policy is set by the membership. The leadership is there, first and foremost, to represent on a national stage the decisions made by that membership.

It is not for leaders to dictate the party’s position and to mould it to their own identity. Of course, there are responsibilities that come with the job and there are big decisions to be made. But in true Green thinking, the leadership is there to serve the party, not the other way round. And so, it is in this spirit that I have announced today that I am stepping down from my position as co-leader.

The next general election is crucial, not only for the future of the party but for the future of the country. With Labour in disarray, and the announcement in May of the government’s new bill to abolish the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, it is increasingly likely that this will happen sooner rather than later.

We will have just seven years left until we reach 2030, when scientists believe we will reach the tipping point for runaway climate chaos. It will be more important than ever that we have MPs in Westminster who understand the scale and urgency of what needs to be done – and are willing to act.

A whole raft of new talent has come forward within the Green Party. But if we wait another year for a leadership election, we could well have a fresh crop of leaders going into a general election in the space of just a few months. This is no way to prepare for what is the most important election in generations. And so it makes sense for me to stand aside now, to let a new leadership team have the time to bed in and get used to the role before they enter a gruelling election period.

Unfortunately, under first past the post, the Labour Party’s current position threatens to do little more than enable Conservative governments for years to come. Sure, Labour just managed to hold on in Batley and Spen last week. But that was against the odds. And in a previously “safe” seat.

Eleven years into a Conservative government that brought the lie of austerity, swingeing cuts to frontline services, the calamity of Brexit with a deal built on lies, and tens of thousands of avoidable Covid deaths, the situation should be very different.

There is a progressive majority in this country. More people oppose the government than support it. But it is partisan parties and an unjust electoral system that keep it in power. The only way we can end this Conservative government is by progressive parties working together in order to oust the Tories, with a commitment to progressive policies, including a fairer voting system.

That is why I am going to focus my energy, using the experience I have been granted through my position as co-leader of the Greens, to further develop the wider movement for a progressive alliance.

It has been an absolute privilege to lead this party for the past five years – first alongside Caroline Lucas and more recently with Sian Berry, with Amelia Womack throughout as deputy.

It has been a turbulent time for everybody, but through it all the Greens have clearly become the next major force in politics, not just here but across Europe. At the same time we have reached out repeatedly to other parties in a call for collaboration. And it has come at a huge cost.

Over the course of two general elections, local Green Party candidates have stood aside in well over 40 seats to help Labour candidates. This of course was no alliance. An alliance would require collaboration, and there has been no reciprocation, even in one seat. So we have pursued a dual strategy.

We have worked with other parties where there was common ground – as was evident in the historic collaboration with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru at the last general election. But at the same time we have recognised that our call for more collaboration will be strongest when we are as electorally successful as possible in our own right.

And more and more people have recognised that a vote for the Green Party is the most powerful vote you can cast right now – not just to get Greens elected so we can bring about the kind of urgent change we need in local communities across the country, but to send a message that collaboration must be the future for progressive politics.

In England and Wales, we are vying to become the third political party. We beat the governing party in the European elections and have trebled our number of councillors, going from opposition on a handful of authorities to playing a part in running more than a dozen.

Over 150 climate emergency motions have been passed at local authority level, beginning the just transition we need to see from the bottom up, and often working with other parties to do it. What’s more, we are now in a position to gain more parliamentary seats, even despite the rigged electoral system doing everything it can to stymie new parties.

I’m so proud of what the Green Party has become – but I’m more excited about where it is going next. It gives me enormous gratification to be able to stand aside at this point in order to help us grow bigger and stronger at this crucial juncture.

But what’s more important is that the party as a whole grasps this moment, and does everything it can to win more parliamentary seats and bring about the change that is needed. It is not just the future of the party that depends on it.

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