Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, announced on Wednesday 30th May that she is to step down as the co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, a position she has held with Jonathan Bartley since 2016. It was only in 2007 that the Greens accepted the idea of a leader in place of two Principal Speakers who were to be gender balanced, something that was embedded through a referendum. Lucas, who was only the party’s second ever councillor, on Oxfordshire County Council from 1993 to 1997, was also one of the Greens’ first MEPs (South East England) when elected in 1999. She had also been Principal Female Speaker from 2003-2006 and 2007-2008 and was elected the first Green leader in 2008 on 92% of the vote. In 2010 Caroline Lucas was elected to be the very first Green Party MP in British political history in Brighton Pavilion before deciding to relinquish the leadership in 2012 “in order to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.” Lucas re-emerged as co-Leader of the Greens from 2012 to 2016 after an interregnum when they were led by Australian journalist Natalie Bennett.
Therefore, now that Caroline Lucas has resigned as Green co-Leader (perhaps this time for good) who are the expected contenders?
The obvious front-runner is Jonathan Bartley who has proved to be an effective co-Leader with Lucas since 2016 and was recently elected a councillor in Lambeth for the St Leonard’s ward during the local elections. Bartley has an interesting and perhaps unusual background for a Green politician. He is a direct descendant of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, his uncle was a Spitfire pilot and his father a Normandy veteran. Yet even more surprisingly, Bartley used to be a Conservative having worked as a parliamentary researcher for a number of years, including being part of John Major’s campaign team in the 1995 Conservative leadership election against John Redwood. Bartley then joined the Greens, standing for the London Assembly as well as in multiple general elections. Prior to becoming Green co-Leader Bartley was perhaps best known for heckling David Cameron over access for disabled children into mainstream education during the 2010 General Election.
Shahrar Ali was Green Deputy-Leader from 2014-2016 (leaders and deputy leaders are elected on a bi-annual basis) may be another figure who is interested. Ali has degrees (BA,MA and PHD) from the University of London in Biochemical Engineering and Philosophy, and started his career working at the European Parliament before moving into academia, teaching at Anglia Ruskin, Birbeck, City Lit, Herefordshire, and with the Worker’s Education Association. Ali has written books on why to vote Green and stood as a parliamentary candidate in Brent East and Central as well as standing in the European elections in 2014. If Ali stood and was elected he would be the first major British party leader from an ethnic minority background.
Amelia Womack, the current Deputy-Leader, is a further contender and, at 33, could be the first ‘Millennial ‘ political leader. Thus, Womack could attract socially progressive younger voters who have drifted to Corbyn’s Labour or the Liberal Democrats amongst a bout of anti-Brexit pique. Womack was brought up in Newport, South Wales and attended a local comprehensive school. She studied Environmental Biology at the University of Liverpool and an MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. She has been a Green member since 2000 and has stood in local elections in Lambeth as well as standing as a parliamentary candidate in Camberwell and Peckham in 2015 and stood in Cardiff Central as the Green candidate during the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections.
Sian Berry, the current Leader of the Green Party in the London Assembly, is likely to be another serious female contender. Berry, who is also a Councillor in Camden in the Highgate ward, was raised in Cheltenham before being educated at Pates Grammar School and Trinity College, Oxford. Following this, she worked for pharmaceutical companies and as a copywriter before becoming politically active in her late 20s. Berry has led campaigns for low carbon, non–nuclear energy and against 4×4 vehicles as well as standing for Hampstead and Highgate in 2005. In addition, Berry stood as the Green Party candidate in the 2008 (where there was an informal second preference alliance with Ken Livingstone) and 2016 London Mayoral elections (where she beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place). At the time of writing Berry has announced that she will be standing as co-Leader with Jonathan Bartley.
What of the three Green MEPs who will soon, much to their chagrin, be out of a job and looking for a new role? Firstly, there is Keith Taylor, who was defeated by Caroline Lucas in the selection for the Green candidate for Brighton Pavilion in 2010 having stood as the candidate in 2005, and replaced Lucas as MEP for South East England in 2010. Taylor was also a Green councillor in Brighton from 1999-2010 and is from a working class background in Essex which would present a different public face and potentially attract a different voting demographic. As the Times has stated Taylor “defies the stereotype of Green politicians as earnest or bookish academics.”Keith Taylor also has experience in local government whilst leading a number of committees, as well as leading the Green group as a whole and was principal male speaker from 2004-2006.
Molly Scott Cato is currently MEP for South West England. Cato was educated at Bath School for Girls before doing PPE at Oxford which was followed by an MSC in Advanced Research Methods with the Open University and a PHD at Aberystwyth University. Initially she worked in publishing with Oxford University Press before going into academia lecturing at Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Roehampton. She has also written a number of books on green economics, localism and anti-capitalism. Cato has been a parliamentary candidate on a number of occasions including in Pembrokeshire in 1997 and 2005 as well as in Bristol West (once a serious Green target) in 2015 and 2017.
Whoever is elected leader faces a tough challenge thanks to Labour moving left under Corbyn and the first past the post system which penalises small parties, at the same time, the Greens failure to appeal to largely rural Tory voters as a viable alternative has limited their influence. However, the recent local elections showed the Greens to have their best ever set of results, which gives them hope and something to build on.