Matthew Wootton, a member of the Green Party of England and Whales, recently addressed the State Committee of the Green Party of NYS. At the Daily Planet, Wootton reflected on his experience and the state of the party in the US and worldwide. Some excerpts:
Recently I was lucky enough to attend and speak at a State Committee meeting for the New York state Green Party. The gathering was a managable size and well-defined, with delegates having been elected from various areas, some holding proxies for absent colleagues; it shared similarities with – I imagine – Green Party meetings around the globe . . .
To get on the ballot paper in the UK in a general election it costs £500 to stand in each seat (which is returned by winning 5% of the vote or more) and the European Elections require a £5000 deposit for each regional constituency (which is returned by winning 2.5% of the vote or more). In most constituencies in the UK Greens find it fairly difficult to win 5% in the first-past-the-post General Election, but easy to win more than 2.5% in the pseudo-proportional regional European Elections.
For all the strategy and political debates the US Greens might want to have, they acknowledge that this one thing comes before all that: they need to get on the ballot paper, and no amount of ideology, or money for that matter, can get them there. . . .
One of the things that shocked me most is the desperate underdevelopment of any national or federal party: state parties seem fairly self-contained, and if anything members regard “national” activity – when it happens – as interfering with state autonomy. Of course this is arguably a “green” attitude and, dare I say, an American attitude. But when I learned that the national party has literally a handful of staff members, that there is no nationally-used Green Party “brand”, no logo, no strapline, no message, and no national figurehead or even mandated public figures, my reaction was one of horror.
This means of course that there are also few national resources in terms of best-practice dissemination, of web-resources/design/hosting, and there is ongoing massive duplication of administrative tasks.
As under-developed as the England & Wales so-called “national” party is, with its long history of being ignored by successful local parties such as my own home party of Lancaster (for fear of sucking local activists into a black hole, the local reasoning goes), a practically-non-existent US national party seems an incredibly sad thing. Imagine how powerful the combined administrative and technical resources of enthusiastic US volunteers and paid staff would be if channeled into a functioning US national party…! . . .
Greens both in the US and the UK need to fully grasp a contradiction: local action (specifically our “Target to Win” strategy of local door-to-door campaigning, which has been the bedrock of our local success in the UK) is not inimical to national action, and a healthy and functioning national party crucially complements local activity, rather than distracting from it. To my mind, history has shown that individual Greens seem attracted to either the pseudo-glamour and pseudo-power of “national” party internal politics, or the hard paraochial graft of local campaigning. I believe that neither solution is complete, and indeed neither impulse is thoroughly healthy, without being balanced by at least an understanding of the other. Until us Greens manage to overcome our fetishism of the local and work at “the most appropriate” level, sometimes interchangeably, then I do not believe we will make real progress or reap the gains that a collective national effort could produce.
If anything, I believe there is a case for a federated worldwide Green Party network, sharing best practice in voter research, in media, web-building templates & expertise, open-source software for admin tasks, design and photography… not to mention sharing policy research and feeding-into a shared dialogue around political strategy and messaging.
Frankly, Green Parties around the world, and regional and local parties in the UK, spend an awful lot of time re-inventing the wheel. A degree of best practice dissemination would, I believe, put some parties to shame for how long they have spent simply duplicating processes that other people have had established for years or decades.