Authentic leadership is about knowing when to go

Caroline Lucas on why she is standing aside as Green party leader

When members of the Green Party of England and Wales voted to create a formal leadership team back in 2007, it was a pivotal moment in our move away from the margins of British political life.

Some members had felt sceptical about establishing a conventional leader in the traditional mould – mindful of the risks that such a role could bring.

But leadership is also a powerful tool that can draw people in and inspire them.  Our decision to elect a leader was in recognition that it is a privilege to lead, not a right – and that inspirational, moral and persuasive leadership was crucial if we were to effectively communicate our vision for a greener, fairer future to the wider public.

Authentic leadership is also about sharing out responsibilities to others – a refreshing alternative to the more traditional model of leaders hanging onto power at all costs, and only finally being dragged away, their finger nails still embedded in the office furniture.

In September, I’ll reach the end of my second term as the first national leader of the Green party of England and Wales, and I’ve decided not to see re-election for another 2 year term in order to let new talent come to the fore.

As a member of the party for over 20 years, I’ve been hugely honoured to serve in this role. We’ve seen Green politics come of age in recent years, with the party becoming the most influential it has ever been.
Significant breakthroughs in Brighton & Hove – our first seat at Westminster and our first ever local council – have been accompanied by successes across the country.

In the 2012 local elections, we saw more Greens elected to new councils, as well as establishing ourselves as the third party, ahead of the Liberal Democrats, in the elections for London Mayor and the London Assembly.

People are increasingly responding to the Green message, and recognising that we are the credible alternative, with particular interest from former Libdem voters feeling deeply let down by their party leadership’s complicity in the Government’s job-destroying austerity.  

In the last few weeks alone, there have been defections from long serving Liberal Democrat councillors in Solihull and Worthing, choosing to support their local Green parties instead.

As the party looks ahead to a positive future, building on the outstanding work of elected Greens and party campaigners in every region, I believe that now is the time to make space for a new Green leader to build their profile – and that of the party.

Having stepped back from this national position, I’ll be able to invest even more of my time and energy in representing the people of Brighton Pavilion, speaking out in parliament on behalf of my constituents, doing all I can to defend them against the government’s disastrous economic policies, and putting the Green case for change in all circles of national political debate.
 

A Green candidate canvasses, June 2009. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Getty Images.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.