‘New reforms threaten the Green Party’s internal democracy’

Kirsty Jones helped develop the reforms but now opposes them

A series of reforms to the way the Green Party of England and Wales is run have recently been approved by members in a referendum.

The reforms come out of a process called a ‘holistic review’ and will result in committees being replaced by a Council which will make decisions and get things done between party conferences.

Many leading figures in the Green Party, including leader Jonathan Bartley and former leader Natalie Bennett have praised the reforms, claiming they will make the party more modern and effective.

But there has been a backlash from some members, including the Young Greens. Kirsty Jones was a member of the commission which drew up the holistic review plans but has since spoken out against the proposals. She tells Left Foot Forward why:

The Green Party’s structures have been complex and dysfunctional for a while; partially due to their evolution through many incremental changes. They were dysfunctional when the party was small but now the membership has grown, they are even more so.

In 2013, a motion was put to Conference to form a Governance Review Working Group to look at changing the party structures. Any member could join the Working Group. It consulted members and reported back to Conference regularly.

The Governance Review Working Group produced a new constitution to be debated at Autumn Conference 2017 and put to a referendum if passed.

A member of the Working Group was unhappy with the new constitution, presumably because it encouraged democratic involvement and diversity in the governance structures. Or, as they put it in their minority report to Conference, “it concerns itself more with representation than effective governance”.

An alternate motion was put to Autumn Conference 2017, to establish “a holistic review of how [the Green Party] organises and operates”. This motion was passed after speeches from very high profile members and effectively prevented the proposed constitution being debated.

Four years of work was scrapped to instead have a Commission established with a “respected member” chairing and other members “appointed, selected for their skills and experience”.

This showed a lack of appreciation for the internal democracy of the party, with an elitist selection of members. All members should be respected; they all have valuable skills and experience.

The previous findings of the Governance Review and the vast amount of data collected from qualitative interviews and workshops with members were largely ignored by the Commission.

Most members of the Commission had never even read the previous proposed constitution.

I expressed my concerns in meetings about the origin and content of the proposals and was repeatedly told “most members did not talk about governance”. I was repeatedly dismissed, patronised and ignored.

The proposals do not improve the Green Party; they actually make things far worse. They reduce its democracy, diversity, accountability and effectiveness.

Currently the Green Party has two ruling bodies: the Green Party Executive (GPEx), directly elected by members, with portfolio roles and responsibility for the most crucial aspects of running a party, such as finances and staff management and the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC) comprised of two gender balanced members selected by each region, with responsibility for party well-being and strategy.

There is also a Political Committee, mostly made up of externally facing Green members, which is accountable to GPEx. Other committees, accountable to GPEx, perform specific work for the party.

The Holistic Review proposals replace these bodies with three distinct structures – the Council, Board and Political Executive.

The Council is to have 45 members, 10 directly elected and 35 selected from regions, affiliated groups, Young Greens and councillors.

It is proposed to mainly work via Task and Finish Groups. These will be groups of volunteers working on a specific task and disbanding when that task is completed.

The Board is the structure to replace the vital functions of running the party like accounts, human resources and electoral expenses. It includes a chair and treasurer and five other members without portfolio.

The members of the Board are entirely appointed by the Council – with no direct democratic input from members.

The Political Executive contains seven representatives of elected politicians and four directly elected members.

All standing committees, like trade union liaison, international work and equality and diversity, are to be abolished and potentially replaced with the temporary Task and Finish Groups. Institutional memory and experience is likely to be lost.

Furthermore, some of these changes could put the Green Party’s structures at odds with European Green Party (EGP) rules, with the lack of gender balancing and youth wing representation.

The EGP says that members must “apply gender balance principles in their party structures”. Currently, gender balance is encouraged in all structures but the proposed changes have no requirement for gender balancing for any of the proposed structures.

The EGP also encourages members to have at least one seat for a representative from the youth-wing in every board within the mother party. Currently, the co-chairs of the Young Greens sit on GPEx and the Political Committee but there are no youth representatives on the new Board or Political Executive.

The loss of democracy in the governance structures is reflected in policy making. There is the option to only have one Conference a year instead of the two we currently have. Already, around 10-20 policy motions are not heard with two Conferences. This could rise to 20-40.
The proposals also recommend that all our democratically decided policy is hidden away, with the Political Executive deciding what policy is presented to the public.

There is a conflict between members in the party who want a “professional” and exclusive party, much like New Labour, and members who want to the Green Party to be radical and democratic – where all members can get involved in making decisions.

If we take a step back in our internal democracy, are we risking pushing more members away to other parties where the grassroots pressure is to become more democratic?

Commenting, a Green Party spokesperson said:

“Since January 2018 the Green Party has been reviewing the party structures via a Holistic Review.

Last month recommendations of the Holistic Review were put to the party membership in a referendum. The proposals in the Holistic Review passed with 70.19% of votes cast, and reached the set quorum required for the vote to be implemented.

The proposals agreed will now have to be developed – via a series of transition groups – and the revised constitution will go back to conference to be adopted.

There will be plenty of opportunities for members to be involved and different points of view to be heard during the transition period and finalisation of a new constitution.”

Kirsty Jones is Chair of Nottingham Green Party and a former Green Party Holistic Review Commissioner. Outside of the Green Party, she works as a Paediatric Intensive Care Nurse in the NHS.

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