As the bitter infighting surrounding the Labour leadership contest rages on, it may have passed many by that Labour are not the only political party to be electing a new leader this month. On 4 September, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley made history as the first people to share the role of Green Party of England and Wales leader. But, as Natalie Bennett pointed out when handing over the reins today, this isn’t the first time the Green Party have done things differently. Back in 2012, as Caroline Lucas stood down to focus on her constituency, Natalie Bennett was the first female leader to take over from another female leader of any political party. This shows the progress that is being made – not just to get women elected in positions of power but to keep them there. Caroline Lucas’ achievement, once more stepping up to the role of Party co-leader, marks the third transition from woman to woman: making the Green Party, in the words of outgoing leader Natalie Bennett, “once again . . . trailblazers of British politics”.
Natalie rose from new member to party leader in just six years, and the speed at which she has risen through the ranks is a reflection of the tireless commitment she made to the party. This commitment has been reflected in the progression that the party has made throughout the four years that she has been in charge. But her departure does not signal the end of her involvement in the party. Natalie has joked that her two left feet mean that she will not be going down the path of Ed Balls, and taking up dancing, instead stating that she will instead continue to work full-time for the Green Party in an official ‘former leader’ role.
Back in 2012 . . . Natalie Bennett was the first female leader to take over from another female leader of any political party.
Natalie said, of her decision to stand down, that she couldn’t have done any of it without the work of everyone in her party. Despite receiving a standing ovation, as she was given flowers, and her grateful party members gave a hand-painted portrait and wine, all Natalie had to say was: “The real ones that need thanking are you.”
In the acceptance speeches of Caroline and Jonathan, new co-leaders of the party, Jonathan said that he was “incredibly proud to be the first leaders of a political party in this country to be job-sharing, demonstrating both the power of working together and the importance of striking a healthy balance between work and family and other commitments.”
Caroline Lucas made what appeared to be reference to the Labour Party’s divisions, as she commented that: “We stand here, more united with two leaders than other parties are with one.” Bartley also said: “If we do disagree, we talk about it and resolve the problem. We don’t throw the country’s security and stability away to settle an internal squabble – and we don’t throw bricks through one another’s windows.”
Talking further about the divisions in society, Bartley stated: “The EU referendum held up a mirror to modern Britain, and showed us with startling clarity just how deep the divisions in this country have become – not just between different areas of the country, but between different generations. It exposed an age of insecurity marked by vast inequalities of opportunity and aspiration, a world where globalisation, centralisation and new technologies leave so many behind, where a shocking one in three working families are just a month’s pay packet away from losing their homes.”
Turning the ‘Take Back Control’ motif of the Leave campaign on its head, the new leaders promised that through direct democracy, hope and optimism, the Greens have a cast-iron pledge to put people in control of their futures.
I spoke to Jonathan Bartley, new co-leader of the Greens, at an electoral reform side-event. He spoke to me about his transition from Conservatives to Greens, even recording a message for my mother – who has always voted Conservative. If he can transition, I thought, so can you, Mum!
“If you voted Conservative in the past,” said Jonathan, “What I can say, is that whilst the Conservatives are about competition and the Labour Party are clearly about conflict, the Green Party are about cooperation.”
“whilst the Conservatives are about competition and the Labour Party are clearly about conflict, the Green Party are about cooperation.”
He spoke about the security and safety that the Green Party can offer young people like us, and the importance of valuing the resources around us: “My parents were Conservative voters,” he smiled. “They grew up during the war, and they re-used and recycled everything. They knew the value of everything. Under this Conservative government, what we see is that they know the price of everything – but the value of nothing. The Greens know the value of everything.”
Whatever you think about the Green manifesto, one thing is for sure: their new leaders are open, friendly – and more able to convince my mother than I’ve been able to for the past four years!