Leaders and Not-Leaders

Within the political party of the green movement in the UK there has always been a debate about the question of party leadership, and in particular whether or not there should be a single identified "leader" for the party.

This goes right back to the founding of the party when it was originally conceived as being the political voice of the broad green movement that was emerging. It was unrealistic to expect other groups and organisations to be subservient to a central leader. Coupled with this was a strong distrust across much of the membership of the whole concept of leaders and followers as being contrary to the basic principles of individual responsibility and an empowered collective membership. 

Given that there has to be some kind of group of organisers there has always been a central committee - initially the National Executive Committee (NEC), renamed the National Council in 1979 and later renamed as the Executive Committee (GPEx) in 1990.

The central committee needs a chair person to run its meetings. The founders and members were always very clear that this was not the party chair, let alone a leader - it was just the chairperson of the NEC/NC for meeting purposes. As the most visible named post externally there was a temptation by some both inside and out to claim that the Committee chair was de facto the "Chair" of the party - and sometimes by extension therefore the leader. Such attempts continued right up into the 2000's with the debacle over the then GPEx chair nominating himself to become the Green Party peer in the House of Lords.

On 21st June 1974 the NEC ruled that "To be no formal party constitution." The model that was in the minds of the Gang of Four, especially Michael Benfield, was the British unwritten constitution.  In October 1974 the NEC ruled that all paid up members were entitled to attend NEC meetings as observers, and this openness has continued to the present day.

On 14th February 1975 the NEC agreed "NEC to appoint its own Chairman. Concept of Party Leader inappropriate unless or until one emerged."

In June 1975 they clarified "Any party member had authority to make any statement, however controversial, without dissociating the party, provided it was consistent with official policy or a logical consequence of it."

Effectively then any member could speak on behalf of the party on any issue, all are equal and there is no central leader who sets direction.

Following the 1975 AGM the NEC decided to dispense with a fixed chair and to rotate meetings between the NEC member's locations with the host acting as chair for the meeting. Thus for a year the party had no identifiable leadership figure at all. The roles of National Secretary, Treasurer, Election Strategist and Policy continued as NEC roles tied to a specific person. 

In August 1975 the NEC agreed that "Party Spokesmen [sic]: each occasion to be allocated as it arose by the NEC" and also that the NEC would continue to publish its decisions as a "constitutional summary" rather than having a fixed constitution.

The 30th November 1975 NEC meeting "Affirmed that the NEC was a co-ordinating committee, not the leadership of the party."

The 1977 AGM introduced a formal constitution. This was in part a result of the gang of four founders starting to take a back seat and the reins being picked up by people who saw the lack of a written set of rules - a constitution - as a problem. The constitution increased the size of the NEC to 15 plus up to a maximum of 6 elected councillors or MPs. 12 of the NEC members were provided by the 12 regions, with 3 being directly elected by the membership nationally.The three nationally elected NEC members could serve a maximum of three terms.

The NEC would appoint its own Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer plus other officers as it saw fit. NEC meetings were open to all members as observers and the chair would have a casting vote but not a regular vote. Consensus was to be sought in preference to a formal vote. The word "Leader" did not appear in the constitution.

For '77-'78 an interim NEC was elected by conference, with the intent that by the 1978 conference the 12 regions would be in a position to elect or appoint their own NEC members. The new NEC was charged with "acting in the spirit of the constitutional changes" which would come fully into force the following year.

The first region to manage to elect or appoint (the method by which the selection would be made was left to the individual regions in the spirit of decentralisation) an NEC member was the South West. The SW was one of the earliest and best organised regions and David Taylor joined the NEC as the SW region person in late 1977.

Various tinkerings with the constitution over the subsequent decade introduced the notion of "Principal Speakers" as an alternative to having a Leader, expanded and renamed the NEC as first the National Committee/Council (NC) and then the Green Party Council (GPC), and introduced co-Chairs for the GPC.

In October 1982 the NC decided that rather than a single National Chairman they would introduce three co-chairs to share the role thus nipping in the bud attempts to turn the National Chairman into de-facto party leader. The NC continued this practice until it was finally written into the constitution.

In 1983 conference decreed that all references to "National" should be expunged from the constitution so the National Council became the "Ecology Party Council" which with the 1985 name change became Green Party Council.

The 1991 AGM adopted the "Green 2000" constitution. This created a 10 member Executive (GPEx) replacing the previous Green Party Council of 25 and reduced the number of principal speakers from 6 to 2, one male and one female, and re-introduced a single party chair to replace the previous three co-chairs. A regional council was introduced to provide oversight.

There was still no mention of a party leader - in fact both the philosophical basis of the party and the constitution continued to explicitly exclude the post of Leader until the debate restarted in 2005/6 following the failure to make a further breakthrough in European elections in 2004.

The Green 2000 constitution caused much internal strife, but once it was adopted it remained in force with only minor changes. The GPEx initially had 10 voting members, but this slowly increased as new roles were added. The recent trend towards job-shares on the executive with two people being elected to share one post and one vote is one way of dealing with the workload which can be incompatible with 'normal' life.

Motions to rebrand the Principal Speakers as co-Leaders or Leader and Deputy were brought forward in Lancaster in Autumn 2005, in Swansea in Spring 2007

In response to the 1998 Registration of Political Parties Act which required a political party to register with the name of its "leader", the constitution was amended to state:

5. x) For the purposes of registration the Chair of the Party Executive shall be regarded as the "leader".

It was clearly understood within the party that this was a technicality and did not invest the chair of GPEx with any power or authority. The Principal Speakers remained the primary public faces of the party. The media and much of the public found this confusing - or so it was claimed by those seeking to introduce a single Leader.

Up until Spring 2007 the Philosophical Basis of the party stated:

PB443 We seek a society in which people are empowered and involved in making the decisions which affect them. We reject the hierarchical structure of leaders and followers, and instead advocate participatory politics. For this reason the Green Party does not have an individual leader.

The amendment to introduce leader and Deputy leader amended this to read:

PB443 We seek a society in which people are empowered and involved in making the decisions which affect them. We advocate participatory and democratic politics. Leadership should always be accountable, consensus-driven and moral. We reject the hierarchical structure of leaders and followers.

In 2007 the constitution was finally amended after much acrimonious debate to replace the Principal Speakers with a Leader and Deputy-Leader. The final decision was to have a referendum of the entire membership and this was held during autumn 2007. The vote duly endorsed the changes opening the way for the first official Leader of the Green Party to be elected by the membership for the autumn conference 2008 held at SOAS in London.

Leader and Deputy are elected for a two year term, and at the same time GPEx posts were also switched to a two year term with half of them, including Chair, being elected in the same year as the Leader, and the other half in the alternate year.

In 2014 Caroline Lucas, who by then was also an MP, and Jonathan Bartley stood a joint candidates for leader on a job-share basis. They were duly elected, with the elected deputy leader also being a job share betweenAmelia Womack and Shahrar Ali.. 

A table of "Leaders" since 1973, generally elected before or at the AGM, which from 1980 took place at the autumn conference.

  We have not yet recovered all the names of principal speakers during the 1980s and well as many gaps in the record of NEC/NC/GPEx chairs - if you can fill in any gaps then contact us at the usual address - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Year Chair (NEC/Party) Other Leading Posts including Principal Speakers and Leader Notes
1973 Tony Whittaker The "gang of four" - Lesley & Tony Whittaker, Freda Saunders, Mike Benfield  
1974 (TW reappointed) Teddy Goldsmith joined PEOPLE and was active for a couple of years  
1975  (vacant) Clive Lord, Michael Benfield and the Whitakers continued as the most visible party figures. Chair rotated between meetings
1976 Jonathan Tyler   Chair of NEC
1977 (JT reappointed)     
1978 (JT reappointed)     
1979 Jonathon Porritt   Chair of NC
1980      
1981      
1982 Jonathon Porritt
Jean Lambert
Alec Pontin
   3 co-chairs introduced
1983 (JP re-elected)
(JL re-elected)
Paul Ekins
   
1984 (JP re-elected)
(JL re-elected)
(PE re-elected)
 
   
1985 Jo Robins, 
Heather Swailes,  Lindy Williams
   
1986     6 PS elected annually
1987      
1988      
1989      
1990      
1991   Derek Wall, Sara Parkin, Jim Berreen,
Andrew Simms, Jean Lambert, David Spaven 
 
1992 Sara Parkin  Richard Lawson & Jean Lambert (Feb-Nov)
Mallen Baker & Jean Lambert (Nov AGM onwards)
Joint M & F PS elected annually. Single chair 
1993 John Norris  John Cornford & Jan Clarke   
1994 Jean Lambert  David Taylor & Jan Clarke  
1995 John Morrissey  David Taylor & Peg Alexander   
1996 Jenny Jones  (DT & PA re-elected)  
1997   Mike Woodlin   
1998   Mike Woodlin & Jean Lambert   
1999   Mike Woodlin & Margaret White   
2000   (MW & MW re-elected)  
2001   Darren Johnson & Margaret White   
2002   (DJ & MW re-elected)  
2003 Hugo Charlton Mike Woodlin & Caroline Lucas   
2004 (HC re-elected) Keith Taylor & Caroline Lucas   
2005   (KT & CL re-elected)  
2006 Richard Mallendar Derek Wall & Sian Berry   
2007 (RM re-elected) Derek Wall & Caroline Lucas   
2008 James Humphreys Caroline Lucas leader,
Adrian Ramsay deputy leader
First "Leader" of the GPEW
elected for 2 years 
2009      
2010   Caroline Lucas re-elected leader,
Adrian Ramsay re-elected deputy leader
 
2011      
2012   Natalie Bennett leader,
Will Duckworth deputy leader
 
2013      
2014   Caroline Lucas & Johnathan Bartley joint leaders,
Amelia Womack & Shahrar Ali joint deputy leaders.
 
2015      
2016   CL & JB re-elected.
Amelia Womack deputy leader
 
2017      
2018   Sian Berry & Jonathan Bartley joint leaders,
Amelia Womack re-elected deputy leader
 

 

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