I’ve written this little essay for this blog, to explain where I stand on the question of leadership in the Green Party. Comments are welcome!
The OED’s first definition of the verb ‘to lead’ is: ‘to accompany and show the way to’ – implying both community and enlightenment – ‘showing’ the way, rather than forcing down a particular path…
Green leadership: Introduction
Blair. Brown. Campbell. Cameron. Owen. Steel. Thatcher.
Leaders? Hardly. Elective dictators, more like it. Dictatorial wielders of power over their own Parties and (when they are given the opportunity) the country. Miniature Caesars or Saddams. Forced to some extent to be that way by the media culture of this country, which (absurdly) equates being strong with brooking no internal division or opposition – when actually a mark of real strength is precisely a leader’s being big enough to allow real internal division and debate.
The Green Party is having an open, transparent democratic debate at present, on a very important issue – whether or not to have a Leader, or Co-Leaders; or to stick with the present system, in which we have no leader, but we do have two ‘Principal Speakers’ (whatever that means). Within a couple of months, the Green Party’s membership will make a momentous decision in a referendum – whether to change its existing system for a new system, in which we will have a Leader / Co-Leaders.
Not a dictator. Green Party policy will still be made by Party Conference. The leader’s responsibility will not be to dictate policy, but… to lead the Party. In terms of communication, strategy, and day-to-day direction.
Real leadership is about something very different from what Blair, Brown et al have offered. It is about inspiration, service — and teamwork.
It is easy to react against the dire state of leadership in this country, and against the very-centralised way in which the ‘main’ Parties are run, by proposing the ‘radical’ alternative that at present grips the Green Party: having no leaders at all. But as radical political activists have known for a long time, ‘leaderlessness’ or anarchy is just as tyrannical as tyranny: take a look at the wonderful essay, “The tyranny of structurelessness”, from 1970, for an account of why [ www.bopsecrets.org/CF/structurelessness.htm ]. Without accountable Leaders, picked by the Party, the Party will be led (if led at all) in practice by those simply with the most time, the most cunning, or the most bombasticness. And without accountable Leaders, agreed upon by the Party, that Party will in the end have its leaders picked for it by the media, who will home in on their own preferred ‘stars’ within the Party. As happened to us in the late 1980s.
And never forget that the cleverest way for a big ego to hide itself is for its owner to pretend to be against leadership. An egoist has the perfect alibi, if they claim not to want to be a leader…
Acountability: Formal acknowledgement of Power is better than covering up “Informal Power”
If somebody is essentially running the Green party, or sounding off and making Green Party policy on the hoof in the process, but without being elected to any “leadership” position, is that an accountable thing? I say not; but that is the model the “No-to-leadership” advocates in the Green Party prefer. I believe in clearly marking WHO has power in our structures, so we as members, Councillors etc. know who to turn to for help, we know who is responsible for what, and we know who to make accountable for their decisions if things go wrong.
Power is everywhere. Informal power abounds. Named Leadership positions in the Green Party are about RECOGNISING and acknowledging who has power. Let’s give the lie to so-called flat-leadership structures and expose where power really lies in our organisation, and make the power relations transparent.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if – in the real world – as well as voting for which political parties ruled us, we had a vote on the REAL people that largely lead our country, our economy, our world … THE CORPORATIONS..!!! The UK‘s political system HIDES the real power relations in the world by offering us a pseudo-democratic front. Because it fails to name and expose the REAL leaders, they are not held to account. The problem is not the leaders — after all, don’t WE want to lead Britain to a better more ethical and sustainable world…? The problem is that the REAL leaders are covered-up, hidden from sight. We must not let the same happen in the Green Party.
But that is what is happening in the Green Party at present. We are led by… no-one, and thus have a lack of direction and purpose in the Party. We are led by… about 40 people, distributed around various internal organisations (the ‘Green Party Regional Council’, the ‘Green Party Executive’ etc.) – this enables lots of handy buck-passing… . We are led by… two Principal Speakers, who can choose to act like leaders if they want to, and lead us by the nose through making statements on the hoof, and can then conveniently deny that they are leaders at all, …they are only ‘Speakers’; so how can they be guilty of careerism or of being more than a mouthpiece?…
We need real accountable leadership. We need to know where the buck stops.
Identification with the leader: why the public want leaders, and why they are right
My experience, when talking to ordinary voters about this issue, is that it is just common-sense for a political Party to have a Leader. People want a face, a person, who they can connect to. Not merely an anonymous organisation or set of principles. We aren’t brought up on such anonymity. We aren’t used to it. Our social forms sit ill with it. That’s why we introduce ourselves at meetings. Indeed, at any social gatherings.
Our psychology has built into it a need to embody what we hear and understand and believe in.
The need to connect, to identify, is rooted deep in our heritage as human animals who flourish best in relatively small-scale localised groups where trust is relatively easy because the people in the group are mostly known to us.
This is a Green ideal. Not anonymous mass society.
Leadership works for us humans cognitively – it gives us a name, a face, a person, who is recognisable, accountable, knowable. You can get to know a person; You can’t really get to know a principle or an organisation. You can get to know Jenny Jones or Caroline Lucas or Adrian Ramsay.
But, under the Green Party’s current rules, you aren’t allowed to really project one of them as a personality, as someone whose name is on the line, as someone who can embody what the Party stands for… The public want us to have a Leader because they want us to be successful; but, more than that, they want us to have a leader just so that they can get to know us. So that they can see who we are.
And I think that it would work really well for us to have one or two figures actually at our head, to go up directly against Brown or Campbell or Cameron (or (God forbid) Griffin…); because for instance while these grey politicians cannot point to living a seriously green lifestyle themselves, our leader(s) could.
You would never catch Caroline Lucas cycling along with a chauffeured Lexus driving along quietly behind her!
We are missing a huge opportunity to communicate our message effectively to the public, by not having a face that they can identify, a life that they can measure up to our ideals, a person embodying our Party that represents it to them. A leader.
Our country, and our world — this one and only world that we have — desperately needs real leadership, at this pivotal moment in human history. The long emergency of diminishing oil supplies and escalating climate change is underway: there is no external enemy to fight anymore. The enemy, in a way, is us humans: our own desires, manipulated and magnified by the markets, until we threaten to consume our one and only planetary home. This ought to be the overwhelming issue in the General Election campaign now in effect beginning. That it is not, is an indictment of our political system and of the corporations which in effect run that system.
We only have one Earth, and one chance to treat it right. Now is not the time for dictatorship or for anarchy; now is the time for true leadership. Nations and political Parties need leaders, who are prepared to inspire, to lead from the front, and thereby to work as part of a team, to face the vast challenges which we must respond to fast, if we are not to fail our children in the most disastrous way possible.
That is my argument. I think it is pretty evident that it is right… But before leaving the topic, a little more on why the other point of view is wrong…:
Leaderlessness: a liberal empiricist fantasy
It is an individualist fantasy to think that everyone is equally suited to leading. There are very few who are genuinely and consistently capable of leading (as opposed to being tyrants or dictators, which is easier). Let me explain this in a little more detail:
Anti-leadership is a liberal or libertarian fantasy. It is not radical or left-wing. It is covertly right-wing. It is in the end just as silly – as quite literally absurd — as ‘the American dream’, the absurd notion that everyone can be a millionaire, if only they work hard enough. Participatory democracy etc. is great; but there are still always leaders, and to pretend otherwise is to stick one’s head in the sand. (Actually, anyone who believes in representative democracy at all already believes in leadership. I am an elected Councillor. Only my fellow Councillors and I can speak and vote, at full City Council meetings. A consistent anti-leadership position would abolish this rule. Would the anarchy that followed really have much to recommend it? ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES ARE ALWAYS ALREADY LEADERS. Right now, we in the Green Party are working hard to get outstanding individuals elected to Westminster: Caroline Lucas in Brighton, Adrian Ramsay in Norwich, Darren Johnson in Lewisham. It is just inconsistent to go along with that, to work for that crucially-necessary outcome, and yet not to allow groups of elected reps, or Parties, to have leaders.) Some of us are well-suited to lead in various ways, others are not. Precisely to what extent this is a result of nature or nurture is ultimately irrelevant – it is an empiricist fantasy to pretend that we are all equally suited ‘in principle’ to lead. We are (become) different. Some (few) of us are good at leading. They/we should be supported and enabled to flourish — not attacked or kept in chains.
Anarchism is a fine political tradition, with much to warn us about and much to teach us. But when it teaches an absence of leadership, it teaches wrong — and it teaches, moreover, in ways that are merely liberal and empiricist. As greens, we ought to be way beyond such dismal theories.
Being green is not about being ‘liberal’. A good dash of social liberalism – fomenting a pluralist society, that welcomes people of different ethnicities and sexualities, that includes the disabled, and so on – is welcome. But being liberal for the sake of it is wrong. It is wrong to be liberal — tolerant — towards everything, including ideologies of hate, such as racism, holocaust denial, dangerous-climate-change denial, and ‘greed is good’. Liberalism encourages each individual to be and to say and to do and to consume what they want, provided only that other actual individuals are not directly harmed: Being green (by contrast) is about entering into a covenant with the future, and holding future beings and all our ecosystem sacred. This is among other things a spiritual calling which is anethma to liberalism (for liberalism holds that spiritual matters can only ever be matters of ‘private’ conscience). Being green is about us acting and living naturally as teams, as collectivities, as communities, as unities. Not as individuals each with the alleged same capacity to lead. We function naturally as collectivities, teams, unities – and some of us, in these ways of working organically as teams, are better than others at inspiring, at co-ordinating, at planning, at arguing, at communicating. These are the leaders.
Leaderlessness-advocates claim that we are all of us and none of us leaders – all of us because we can all lead, and none of us because none of us ought to follow. This is the same kind of fantasy that drives advertising that implies that we can all have the best car, all have the best body, etc. . It’s a lie.
Anti-leadership people have been sucked into a right-wing [liberal, consumerist, etc.] ideology without realising it. Leaderlessness is a liberal fantasy. It is not an ideal. And it is not green. And it is certainly a quite hopeless basis on which to run a political party.
The only difference between right-wing liberals/libertarians and ‘left-wing’ (actually, there is nothing at all ‘left’ about leaderlessness)/anarchist liberals/libertarians, on the issue of leadership, is: that the self-styled ‘left-wing’ anti-leader people say that we can all become leaders, with enough help. But this just isn’t true. It is nonsense, to pretend that everyone whose door we knock on could, with enough assistance, become the next Caroline Lucas. Such nonsense holds us back, as a Party, from achieving what we need to. The British people want us to win, and to win big. To save the future. Lacking a Leader is getting in the way of this vital ambition.
Real leadership, is leading – co-ordinating, inspiring, and strategically spearheading –a team of others who have complementary skills. That is what the Green Party needs.
[For an excellent actually-empirically-grounded ‘green’ account of the skills needed in a successful team, including liberatory political leadership skills, I recommend Roy Madron’s Schumacher Briefing book, ‘Gaian democracies’. (http://www.gaiandemocracy.net/articles/SB%20Summary.pdf for a summary; see also http://www.feasta.org/documents/review2/gaian_democracies.htm )]
The Green Party’s system of ‘Principal Speakers’ has been monumentally ineffective. It has not changed the political culture of this country one jot. Meanwhile, it has positively hindered Greens from getting our messages over to the general public.
But there is a way that we could start to change the political culture of this country: By making progress in its political system, and by doing leadership differently, along the way.
We could show that real leadership is far from what our ‘leaders’ to date have believed. We could demonstrate, by practising leadership in a different way, what leadership really is.
And we could lead the country toward safety and a better future, in the process.
…To safeguard our sacred home and our sacred salves is our sacred task.
We are of the Earth. We are of each other. We are not discrete individuals. Leading (and yes, sometimes following) is being one. A whole. Anarchism – the fantasy that all of us and none of us are leaders – is a fantasy that is attractive in (dangerously) individualistic times, and in times where mainstream leaders (most of whom operate as dictators) have given real leadership a bad name.
But if there is a way to save our society, our souls, and our descendants, it will not be individualistic. It will be by means of true team-working. And true teamwork requires true leadership, as part thereof.
Leadership needs to be reclaimed. As a virtue. As something that is not dictatorship, but is… leadership.
Let us be ready to value and support true leaders, at this fateful moment in humanity’s story. Leaders who inspire and yet remain humble; who want to serve, not merely to glorify themselves; who do not pretend to do it all themselves, but rather are willing to be democratic; who have overcome the tendency to authoritarianism, dishonesty and manipulation, but who are ready to step up to the plate and say that they will take responsibility, and not merely hide behind a collective organisation… these are the women and men who may yet lead us through the crisis of our times.
In sum: It is nothing less than vital for the wider world that the Green Party embraces this conclusion, by the membership voting for Leadership, in the referendum later this year.
[ Links: For my recent Eastern Daily Press column exploring similar issues in the context of Shakespeare’s Henry V, please goto http://oneworldcolumn.org/158.html ]
For more to convince you of the need for the Green Party to go for Leadership, please goto www.greenyes.org or http://www.greenyes.org/rupert_read.html ]