In the space of two weeks in July, both co-leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales announced that they would be standing down. Jonathan Bartley, who has co-led the party since 2016, announced on 5 July that he would quit at the end of the month to make space for new faces ahead of a potential general election in 2023, and to dedicate himself to forming alliances with other progressive parties.
Siân Berry, who has co-led the party with Bartley since 2018, announced on 14 July that she would not run in the autumn for the leadership by-election triggered by his departure. In a statement, she hinted at the politics behind this decision – division among senior Green politicians over trans rights, a policy area to which Berry is dedicated.
Before these decisions, the party’s next leadership election was due in September 2022 (contests are held every two years). Now a leadership by-election is under way this autumn, with voting opening on 2 September and closing on 23 September, after which the results are expected weeks before the party’s autumn conference weekend of 22-24 October. New members who join by 27 August will have a vote in the leadership election.
After nominations closed on 17 August, three joint tickets and two individual candidates have been confirmed as running for the Green Party leadership. The best-known pair are the deputy leader Amelia Womack and the Extinction Rebellion co-founder Tamsin Omond. They launched their bid via an interview with the Guardian and their campaign video is packed with clips of Womack’s media appearances (including interviews with Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan).
Womack, 36, has been deputy leader since 2014, in the top team for the various “Green surges” and record electoral successes in local and European elections in recent years. Her joint campaign is confident in her having the highest name recognition out of all the candidates in the race, as well as the media experience and contacts needed in a mature political party.
Omond, also 36, represents this ticket’s grassroots climate activism credentials, being a founding member of Extinction Rebellion and having worked with Plane Stupid and Climate Rush, and is well-known in the extra-parliamentary climate community. Their candidacy is also poignant amid the Greens’ recent trans rights tensions, as, if elected, they would be the first trans and non-binary leader of a major party in the UK.
[See also: Are the Greens surging? Well, it’s complicated]
This ticket is leaning into the Green Party’s potential to present itself as the political wing of the climate movement, and not shying away from extra-parliamentary means of influence. These candidates are also pitching themselves to younger voters, with their diverse and inclusive message, as well as keeping the Greens’ anti-austerity stance prominent.
Yet their main aim is to build a bigger movement in order to advance the party’s recent electoral success, promising eight to ten Green MPs by 2030. In a New Statesman exclusive on 16 August, the Bristol councillor Carla Denyer and the former deputy Green leader Adrian Ramsay revealed they are running a joint bid for the leadership.
A key part of their pitch is their record of electoral success, their potential to get a second Green MP and first Green Welsh Assembly member elected, and a vow to professionalise the party. Denyer is a councillor in the Green Party’s largest local government group in England and Wales, and Ramsay was deputy from 2008-12 when the party’s first and only MP, with Caroline Lucas, was elected, winning Brighton Pavilion in 2010.
Denyer was also the party’s candidate in Bristol West in the 2019 general election, where the Greens achieved one of their highest swings as they finished second, behind Labour. From 2003-11, Ramsay was also a city councillor in Norwich – one of the largest and most active local Green parties in the country – where he led the Green group on the council.
Denyer told my colleague Stephen Bush that they are “standing on a platform of putting compassion back into politics: compassion for each other, our communities and the natural world” – adding, in a reference to the party’s recent rows over its trans rights policy, that this compassion will start “with the Green Party itself”, to “make sure that the party is a welcoming and inclusive place”.
This ticket also draws on Ramsay’s experience in climate civil society circles (he has been CEO of two environmental charities, the Centre for Alternative Technology and the MCS Charitable Foundation. Ramsay said the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had inspired his return to party politics: “Getting more Greens elected into positions of power is our best way of securing change.”
First to announce their joint candidacy were the anti-fracking campaigner Tina Rothery and the party standing orders committee member and former European election candidate Martin Hemingway. Rothery has been prominent in the protests against fracking in Lancashire, and is one of the defiant “Nanas” who spent nearly 1,000 days camping out in a field to obstruct operations – eventually seeing off the energy giant Cuadrilla.
Hemingway is familiar to rank-and-file Green Party members for his position on the committee that upholds the party’s constitution and decides the order of motions put the party’s conferences. He narrowly missed out on becoming the Green’s first Yorkshire and the Humber MEP in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
Following recent splits, they appear to pitching themselves as the unity candidates, saying in a statement that their focus will be on “bringing the Green Party together”, “exploring the ways to deal with the issues that divide us”, and “ensuring a culture of openness and productive engagement with one another”.
They also appear to be the more purist of the three joint tickets, putting more emphasis on nurturing the party’s traditional base of environmentalist supporters: “Our focus will be on the core concerns of the Green movement and the Green Party: campaigning to protect the health of our home, the earth, [and] campaigning to elect Green councillors and MPs to help bring this about.”
[See also: Green gains in red-brick England]
There are also two individual leadership bids. Shahrar Ali, the former deputy leader from 2014-16 and the party’s spokesperson for policing and domestic safety, has called for a “culture of open debate, where the taking of offence is not used as a means to prevent those who do wish to debate from doing so”.
Having run and finished last in the 2020 leadership election, Ali includes “welcome women back” as one of his campaign messages, in a reference to the rows over trans rights within the party. Ali’s selection as spokesperson on 7 June is thought to have been behind Berry’s decision to stand down. His statements in 2020 about what defines a woman triggered accusations of trans exclusion, which he denies, by some in the party.
The only other individual candidate is the former actor Ashley Gunstock, who appeared in The Bill, and unsuccessfully challenged Lucas for the top job in the party’s first-ever leadership election in 2008. He told the green movement news site, Bright Green, that his “overriding desire” was to address climate change and avert catastrophe by keeping “pressure on the other parties by getting more of us elected”.
It is a sign of a maturing political party to have such a wide and credible field of candidates. Whoever wins will face the immediate challenge of making the Green Party’s voice heard during the COP26 climate conference in the autumn, and opposing what is expected to be an austerity budget from Rishi Sunak in October.