Tuesday, 24 August 2010

No to a Shadow Cabinet

A guest post from Dr Larry O'Hara a long time Green Party activist and member of Green Left on why the proposal to have a Green Shadow Cabinet being proposed at next month's Green Party autumn conference is wrong for the Green Party and Green Politics. I support his view. If we have learnt anything from the failed politics of New Labour and its offspring 'Next Labour' it is that this sort of 'professionalisation' of politics has failed and has turned people off politics and politicians in droves. People want a radical and an alternative form of politics and not simply a recycling of the stale old game. And real leadership means mucking in and getting involved and leading from the front - not making pronouncements from a beach in the south of France when there are important elections underway in your home patch.

"No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

- George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 5

Mimicking the parliamentary game of leaders and "shadow cabinets."

As a Green Party member for over 20 years, and a Leftist for 15 years before that (and still one), might I take fundamental issue with the argument for a ‘Green Shadow Cabinet’

1) The current trend towards centralisation of power within the Green Party is anathema to fundamental Green principles–and should not be taken further.

2) Power can not flow “upwards” if it is centralised in a mimicking of the parliamentary game of Leaders & “shadow cabinets”. A Green shadow cabinet would be another step on the road the Greens becoming a pale shadow of their former selves, a group of New Labour-lite clones representing no threat to the current political/economic system whatsoever. The point is not to “participate in government” but to use any power we get to encourage a fundamental transformation of society. In that, our strategic guide would far better than any parliamentary cretin, be Gramsci–fighting a ‘war of position’ prior to a ‘war of maneouvre’.

3) Green politics needs to be more than “the environment & peace”–it needs to be linked to social justice, opposition to racism, support for those workers & communities struggling against capitalism, including the current Condem attacks on basic living conditions. That is exercising voters far more than Cabinet games.!

4) Talk of seeking to “mirror the activity of government” is hardly helpful. The point is not to ‘mirror” the status quo, but transcend it. We should learn, and quickly, from the disaster of the Irish & German Greens in government …It would be unfair tp mischaracterise opponents of the Shadow Cabinet idea as suggesting we “sit on the sidelines and whinge”–if the GP followsthat model, that’s all we’d be doing, within parliament.

5) Certainly, the GP should contest elections–but should understand politics is about far more than elections, and that centres of social power are not all in parliament. Hence, as the disaster of the Irish & German Green Parties shows, those who naively imagine ‘getting in government’ (or a share of it) is the summit of our political ambition will be doomed to failure. The Shadow Cabinet supporters vision of democracy is people ceding power to (no doubt besuited) ‘professional’ Green ‘leaders’ who act on their behalf (‘mirroring’ the status quo while they do so). My vision, for within the Green Party as well as out, is delegate democracy/decentralisation of power. Rather different, but at the very least, not less democratic. Being elected is just one facet of overall transformation, to be elected alone will change nothing. It is the context of elections, and how it relates to popular struggles, that counts.

6) I do not think we will win by orienting ourselves primarily to what people watch on TV. Some say we “need to work in a world where most people get their politics through the media”. Not only can the GP not rely on the mainstream media to give us a fair hearing if/when we look like we are getting somewhere, the two forces who have nade electoral headway in the last 30 years or so–Liberal Democrats & the BNP (sadly)–both made ground by going direct to communities, not primarily through the estsablished media. I also doubt whether Sinn Fein’s initial electoral surge came through the media and so on. The implication of those who support this view is that if we don’t dance to the mainstream media’s tune, they will attack/misrepresent us. Well of course they will, as they will too if it looks like Green politics are challenging vested interests successfully (I remember 1989). The question is do we anticipate and prepare for this, or give up in advance in the hope we’ll be left alone. If even Nick Clegg was vilified in the Tory media when the Lib Dems surged in the pre-election standings, don’t you think the Greens would (and hopefully will) be attacked. I do

We need to be ready and prepared for it, not give in before a shot crosses our media bows.

The point is not just to reject the Shadow Cabinet idea: but to get out there and do some real politics…


  1. Hello,

    Thanks for this.

    I don't disagee with much of what you say. If a Green 'shadow cabinet' just meant people sitting around trying to get coverage from a capitalist press which will never fairly represent us, then it would be a failure.

    But that's not what the debate is about. We do effectively have a 'shadow cabinet' of sorts at the moment. We have spokespeople. They are appointed by the party leadership. The proposal to conference, as I understand it, is to elect them. The reason I support it is that I think our spokespeople should be elected by our members, not appointed by our leaders - and that our political messages - our campaigns - should be chosen by a broad and accountable group, rather than by our leaders.

    I also think that electing them would mean that someo felt they had the mandate to start organising campaigns on things, so that - as you suggest we should - we can get better at campaigns other than elections.

    So, if there is another proposal coming to conference that will democratise these structures in other ways, I'd be perfectly happy to support them. But at the moment, we have a system where the leader/GPEX appoints spokespeople on given issues. I would rather we elected them.


    Adam Ramsay

  2. I would prefer the following amendment which would allow more genuine consideration and debate on the issue.

    "In the light of our rapidly growing membership the election of our first Green MP, Conference instructs GPRC and GPEx to establish a joint committee, consisting of members of both bodies, and with the power to co-opt other members, which shall review the remit and function of internally elected bodies within the party, including the proposal to elect a new committee of 11 members, plus the Leader and Deputy Leader, to constitute a ‘Green Shadow Cabinet’. This joint committee shall consult widely within the party and bring any proposal (or proposals) for changes to Autumn Conference 2011."

    The Spokespersons at present are appointed on the basis of their expertise and experience in a particular area and are then appointed by the whole of the elected GPEx for a limited term. The proposal going to conference is for people to be elected and without consideration of which area of policy they will be responsible for. This effectively allows the Leader unprecedented powers in handing out portfolios almost as patronage - leaving those who are more in favour with those porfolios considered more influential or interesting and downgrading others. This could open up real questions around equalities also - would a disabled candidate for exmaple be given a less prominent role? The membership would have no choice in this.

    There is also the question of the clash of powers between the two elected bodies GPEx and the Shadow Cabinet, each claiming legitimacy. And this could be a step in marginalising GPEx - for example who would have international responsibility, the International Coordinator or someone appointed by the Leader to speak on internatinal affairs. It is the slippery slope towards the model of 'patronage' etc set up by Walpole and the early forms of parliamentary government and which has led to many of the problems we have today with the political system and would really further disempower the members.

    Also if members will not stand for GPEx would the SC be considered 'sexier' and would it be easier to have candidates. There are many unanswered questions and a proper study and report on the systme is necessary rather than a rushed job.