Friday, 21 August 2009

Green Party grows up?

Well I for one am glad to see that the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) is, at last, behaving like a major political party - and that even the Guardian diary has noticed.

An almighty row has blown up after the party-wide ballot for the internal post of External Communications Co-ordinator, between current incumbent Tracy Dighton-Brown and the job-share partnership of Brighton City councillor Jason Kitcat and MEP candidate Rupert Read was suspended.

The decision comes after both 'sides' began publishing endorsements from other party members, and Jason and Rupert's 'blog carried one including some fairly choice criticism of Tracy's approach to communications.

Usually, cutting most party members out of the decision would benefit the incumbent, but in this case the move looks set to hand the election to Jason and Rupert, as Jason's local party colleagues will be greatly in evidence when the vote is taken in Hove next month.

Although some have argued that this sort of muck-raking does us no good at all - and that all the protagonists will have to work together, and with others outside the party afterwards - most people I've spoken too have observed that internal rows are simply the stuff of political parties.

I've been involved with GPEW for seven years now, and witnessed a fair few rows and seen a fair pile of mud flinging around, one way or another. The only difference this time is that the outside world has noticed.

Internal elections are the best dry runs we've got for the external ones and personally I think the dirtier they get - as long as no-one resorts to telling lies in their zeal to win - the better rehearsal they offer: if National Executive (GPEx) elections are uncontested, or are conducted in an artificially 'positive campaigning only' way they don't offer much practice for the real world!

It's quite clear that whoever wins we'll have an excellent Ex Comms Co-ordinator - what a luxury to have a choice between such experienced, committed and hard-working candidates.

So, imho, we need more election contests like this, and less getting our collective underwear in a tangle.

Meanwhile, Jason and Rupert's campaign 'blog has been suspended - as has Tracy Bighton-Brown's.

13 comments:

  1. Ben, this isn't factually accurate. Your post implies the election was suspended because of the candidates websites - this had absolutely nothing to do with the ruling.

    The election was suspended because a contractor of the party intervened in the election which he had a personal financial interest in the outcome, engaging in illegal canvassing. This was both unethical and broke election rules. This is the only reason the election was suspended.

    We have indeed grown up in that we now have businessmen using their position to influence our policy, just like all the other parties. I hope we are morally principled enough to reject that kind of corrosive influence.

    The personal attacks on Jason's website were not the reason for the suspension of the election and have never been cited as such - although obviously it has created a great deal of bad feeling and he will find it difficult to heal the wounds caused.

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  2. Ben, Are you saying that party members have been denied a vote and only delegates at the conference can now vote? That doesn't sound very democratic to me. I also remember Jason being very holier than thou about personal attacks in by-election campaigns, so it all sounds very hypocritical now he has been caught doing the same thing.

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  3. Thanks both

    Jim: I had thought the reason for the election's suspension was something along the lines you describe - surely if any of the improper attempts to secure influence with elected officials were made in a post on Jason and Rupert's 'blog then my statement is indeed accurate?

    Either way, I said the election was suspended after some such posts were made without of course stating or implying causation!

    Neil: Yes that's exactly the situation as I understand it - the 'electorate' will now consist of those self-selecting Green Party members who turn up at the Hove Conference. I'm told no proxy voting will be allowed.

    A sorry saga all round, for sure, but one's that's bound to make us electorally stronger in the long-term...

    Disclaimer: I have signed Jason and Rupert's nomination papers, but that doesn't mean I have to vote for them, and as long as it remains a secret ballot, I won't be telling you whether I intend to or not!

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  4. Jim,

    This is way over the top.

    'Businessmen to influence our policy'? Urrm I'm the freepost contractor for the Green Party and have been running freepost schemes for ten years.

    'Personal financial interest'? Urrm I want to see a successful freepost scheme which GPEx has undermined. I suspended the scheme publicly alleging that GPEx was acting in an untrustworthy way and that the candidate you are agent for (Tracy Deighton-Brown) was a key part of the problem. I could elaborate.

    'Corrosive influence'?!! Jim, this immoderate language does you no credit.

    Mark Hill

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  5. Despite the current plans favouring us, I'd still rather a postal ballot of all members than just the few who make it to conference.

    Just to clarify... there was a website for our campaign which was suspended at the ERO's request. The endorsements page had one from Mark Hill which claimed Tracy had said something. It wasn't particularly nice and we had not reason to doubt Mark's honesty in reporting that. Nobody has specifically refuted it or denied it either.

    Other than that Rupert and I used the website to detail how we disagreed with the current approaches, strategies and ways of working of the incumbent GPEx and specifically the Ext-Comms post holder.

    As Ben implies in his post and has been discussed elsewhere by email and blog, disagreeing with someone's practices and policies do NOT constitute personal attacks in our view.

    Rather than keep running around with arms in the air shouting 'not fair, personal attack' how about people engage and respond with the concerns we raised?

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  6. Jim Jay, I'm sorry; it's really just wrong and out of order what you've said. You can't make counter-allegations against Mark because you're upset that he has made allegations against Tracy. It's just rubbish to say that Mark is "influencing policy". The only policy choice GPEx has is to support the Freepost scheme, or not. If they are considering not supporting the Freepost scheme, then that is an absolute scandal and disaster, and everybody in every local party should be calling GPEx to account. This is clearly what Mark was trying to point out in his letter. Since Mark Hill - in that letter - RESIGNED from running the Freepost scheme, you can hardly say that he will benefit either way.
    In fact, Mark - and his wife Jennifer, and his assistant Naz - have all lost their income in the midst of all this. The reason to keep the Freepost scheme running is not to line the pockets of Mark Hill...! The reason is that the Green Party needs to run a Freepost scheme - like every other political party does...!
    The real issue that is being glossed over with these personal attacks on Mark is "what IS GPEx doing? WHY have they suspended the Freepost scheme? WHY aren't they running things properly? WHO is responsible for this?" These are the legitimate questions that should be being asked of GPEx - perhaps in an election more than ever...!
    Best,
    Matt Wootton
    Lancaster Green Party

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  7. Is Mark Hill's business only open to the Green Party or can he open up his contracts to others? Does his income rely soley on the Green Party and the contract he has maintained with them? If this is the case then I would be quite suspicious of Mark's involvement in an internal election.

    Even before the suspension I had put my mark against RON and will do so again in Hove. I don't believe either choice will be of any benefit to the party and wish to see another candidate come forward.

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  8. 'Activist President',

    My Freepost coordination was always run for the benefit of the party and the lastest report of the scheme is available from freepost@greenparty.org.uk

    The scheme arose from my work for the Yorkshire Green Party during the 1999 Euroelection and as a GPEx member candidate and activist in each national election since.

    I don't see why as a contractor I cannot point out the problems to the local parties that have depended on my work caused by a GPEx that is not currently trustworthy on the issue.

    As a member, I publicly support candidates that have a clearer idea of the benefit of the work of the scheme, and are less confrontational to deal with, than I think our current Ext Comms is.

    Mark

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  9. Mark,

    I'm afraid you still have not answered my question: were you income dependent on the freepost contract you had with the party? Matt's comment seems to suggest that you were.

    I would not expect anyone whose income relies on the Green Party to become so involved in internal elections. I certainly would not expect to see anyone from national office make any endorsement they have of a GPEX candidate public, and neither would I expect this from someone who has a contract with the party.


    Luke

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  10. Mark's scheme would not have made him much money. Nobody makes lots of money out of the Green Party.

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  11. Robert,

    I will draw your attention to this comment made by Matt:

    "In fact, Mark - and his wife Jennifer, and his assistant Naz - have all lost their income in the midst of all this."

    This suggests that Mark is income dependent on the contract he had with the Greens. I would like some clarification to the contrary.

    Luke

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  12. Dear Luke/Activist President,

    Since Mark - in the letter - pulled out of running the scheme, then that moment marked the time that he WAS eligible to make comments about how his former employers had made the continuation of the scheme impossible. Mark has already fallen on his sword. The decision has been made, and by him: his involvement has ended, and so has his income. You need to use your instincts for searching out hypocrisy to turn your attentions on GPEx and ask 1) why has ANOTHER member of staff (after 5 already this year) resigned from the Green Party, after contact with Tracy Dighton Brown? 2) What is GPEx doing with the Freepost scheme? 3) Why did Mark find his life being made so difficult?
    Mark, his family, and his employee and now going to have to find new sources of income. They deserve acknowledgement if not sympathy - but the bigger loss is that in the meantime there is no-one to run the party's Freepost scheme... That is a serious question for GPEx, and deserves to be a serious internal election issue.
    Matt Wootton, Lancaster

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  13. Matt,

    Thankyou for clarifying the point. It is appreciated and it is with regret that Mark has lost his income, even if he terminated the contract he had with the party himself.

    However, this does not exclude the fact that Mark had a financial interest in the election for ExComms. Are we to assume that if Jason and Rupert win the position that Mark will be the first point of call for a new freepost contract or would they be willing to go elsewhere? Because Mark is a contractor for the party and not directly employed to work in the national office his involvement in the election, so soon after terminating his own contract with the party, is highly dubious.

    The staff turnover since Tracy's election is suspicious and raises an eyebrow, and this should of course have been scrutinised as it is being done in this election.

    No one should be free to escape scrutiny or criticism, however some things strike a nerve more than others.


    Luke

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