What difference might a Green leader make to the Lib Dems?

by Stephen Tall on November 3, 2007

This month, the Green party is also having a leadership vote of its membership. But the question they are being asked is not, ‘Who should our leader be?’, but instead ‘Do we want to have a leader?’

Currently the party has two Principal Speakers, one female (Caroline Lucas), one male (Derek Wall). Darren Johnson, one of the two Green members of the London Assembly, today argues on Guardian Unlimited’s Comment Is Free that the time has come for the Green to end this anachronism, and to elect a single leader who can be the voice of the party:

… as a vehicle for encouraging effective political participation, the Green party’s current set-up is simply not working. We need to build our membership. Our members will be empowered when there is a chance that their Green elected representatives will actually attain real power, and have a chance of putting Green policies, agreed by party conference, into action via Westminster. So we need to engage much better with voters. But large-scale public support and participation absolutely require effective communication. Faceless politics and confusing job titles are therefore a barrier to effective participation, not a means of encouraging it. My political experience has convinced me that the Green party must embrace leadership.

The proposal is a controversial one within the Green party, whose suspicion of the dictatorial powers a leader might wield far, far exceeds that of even the most ornary and contrarian Lib Dem member. The referendum – confusingly, at least to my mind – refers to ‘Creating a Leader and Deputy Leader or Co-Leaders of the Green Party’. Quite how having two Co-Leaders, compared to two Principal Speakers as now, will help end the current confusion of who speaks for the Green party is unclear. In any case, the result will be known by the end of November.

The question, from a Lib Dem perspective, is how this might impact on the party. At least part of the reason for the ‘mixed bag’ local election results the Lib Dems had in the local elections both in 2006 and 2007 was the performance of the Green party, who were the recipients of many of the anti-establishment and environmentally-conscious votes which might previously have been cast for a Lib Dem.

Though the Greens have added only an extra 38 councillors during these last two campaigns, it is likely they split the small-g green vote in many areas, thwarting the (re-)election of some Lib Dems. As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.

Would having a readily identifiable single leader make them a more or less attractive proposition for voters? It depends. Caroline Lucas – young, bright, articulate, female – is clearly someone the media will be quite happy to feature as the ‘moderate’ (ish) face of the Greens. If the eco-marxist, anti-capitalist Derek Wall were to win it is unlikely the Green party could break into the political mainstream – which will suit some of their activists very well.

Either way, this is another leadership contest the Lib Dems would be well advised to keep an eye on.