Left Foot Forward spoke to the Green Party's deputy leader at the party's spring conference
As the Green Party’s electoral success and political influence grows, so too does the scale of the scrutiny it finds itself under. One area that has become of increasing interest is the party’s policies, practices and culture on equalities issues.
It is often noted that the party is one of the country’s least racially diverse, with its membership, its elected representatives and those who hold office internally being overwhelmingly white. Recently, the Jewish Labour Movement (a group affiliated to the Labour Party) has criticised the Greens, alleging failings on antisemitism. Similarly, questions have consistently been raised about the party’s handling of allegations of transphobia within its ranks.
At the party’s spring conference, Left Foot Forward spoke to the Greens’ deputy leader Zack Polanski about these issues. Polanski himself has spoken consistently of his desire to see the Green Party fighting against racial injustice. He has been steadfast in his defence of trans rights and in opposition to those who seek to stoke culture wars and moral panics in relation to trans people. And on antisemitism, he was a key figure that pushed for the party to adopt an extensive suite of guidance on tackling anti-Jewish racism within the party.
Polanski says that taking action on equalities issues is vital. He acknowledges challenges around racial diversity, but says, that addressing it is “an ongoing process continually”. He argues that, “In every single decision that we make, we have to be thinking about how can we make the party more inclusive?” Diversifying the party and campaigning for racial justice, he says is “a priority for the party”, and “absolutely has to be up there with tackling the climate emergency” for Greens.
Polanski says he hasn’t “experienced any personal issues with antisemitism” within the Greens. However, he acknowledges that there is a form of antisemitism which can manifest specifically on the left. Stating that “it is very very clear that antisemitism is a problem on the right too”, he adds that there can be instances “where pro-Palestinian sentiment, which actually is not antisemitic, verges on an obsession with Israel that isn’t differentiated as much as it needs to be from Jewish people in Britain”. But responding specifically to the concerns raised by the Jewish Labour Movement, Polanski argues, “I want to judge people on their actions and what they say right now and in the future, as opposed to fighting old internal battles in other parties.”
Our conversation took place at a conference where a motion had been submitted which called for the party to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. The programme seeks to give support for LGBT+ staff, providing organisations with resources to ensure they have inclusive workplace practices. Unsurprisingly, many have seen the motivations for this motion as being rooted in transphobia, and Polanski has a similarly strong response. He says: “We’re a democratic organisation so people have got the right to put things on the agenda. What I would say though, and say it very strongly, is to those people who are repeatedly putting hurtful things on the agenda is to read the room, and to recognise that transphobia is not tolerated in the party. Hate won’t be tolerated in the party. And ultimately we are a trans inclusive party, and our policy makes that clear too.”
While initially saying that he “can’t comment on disciplinary procedure”, when pressed he says that the small number of members who take a contrary view to the party’s policies on trans rights – specifically those members who claim that trans women are men and trans men are women – should not have a place in the Greens. He says: “I’m really clear that if you want to misgender someone then that is transphobic and transphobia is not welcome in the Green Party.”
Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward
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