Jenny Jones: A political party with a leader? How 20th century

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What was it that changed Tony Blair from the reasonable, listening man we first encountered into the staring-eyed control freak he became? Answer: too much power in the hands of one person. It's obvious that when this happens, the party becomes hostage to the character, behaviour and history of that individual.

This is just one of the reasons that, since its inception, the Green Party has been philosophically against the concept of a single leader. Some now believe that having a leader would make us more visible and more effective at a time when Greens must make headway. But this is a false logic. Such a move would be damaging to the Green Party and firmly root it in the politics of the 20th century rather than as a forward-thinking, empowering party committed to ensuring that its membership has real input into the decision-making process.

Hierarchies are recognised as inefficient because communication is slow and decisions do not reflect people's experience or ideas. Business schools and management consultants now argue that involving the workforce in decision-making increases efficiency. They are moving in a green direction. It would be perverse if the Green Party were now to move in the opposite direction.

For those who follow or support a leader there will be a tendency to look to that person for approval, support and decisions. And this process, by its very nature, entails an abdication of personal responsibility, and an erosion of the autonomy and initiative that underpins an empowered community, whereas empowerment involves the bringing out of leadership qualities in everyone.

To the media and the public, a leader is associated with authority and vision over and above that of their members, someone who will batter the "idealists" of their party into submission to the political "realities", which are wholly defined by past political history and journalistic discourse. If leaders do not "lead" in the established fashion, they will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as weak and unable to command.

The best way to see how having a leader might affect the Green Party is to look at the effect it has on other smaller parties operating within our electoral system. Has Nigel Farage boosted UKIP's vote? Did Robert Kilroy-Silk's vanity help his party, Veritas? Has "pussycat" George Galloway helped Respect to a breakthrough? And what about Tommy Sheridan, whose Scottish Socialist Party splintered and crashed out of the Scottish Parliament? These are all examples, in the real world, of parties which have followed the leader strategy.

Pro-single leader advocates believe that the Green Party and its representatives would somehow be immune to this process. But naivety is not the most helpful quality in politics.

Politics and ideas are about symbols, direction and momentum. Creating a leader would send a powerful signal that the party was rejecting participatory politics and embracing a failing conventional model.

Even if the individual concerned was not trying to centralise power, there would, nonetheless, be an inbuilt dynamic that would accrue power to that person; he or she would be aggrandised. A persona would be created that would inevitably be larger than life. And the individual living under the weight of other people's expectations. What of them?Is this really a green way totreat someone?

So what is the alternative? What is empowerment politics? And can it be made to work better? Many people feel powerless, unable to influence the decisions that control their lives. But we know that just two or three empowered individuals can make a huge difference. That's why the Green Party has spent 25 years evolving policies, strategies, tactics and techniques that seek to empower people, both inside the party and in the wider community.

We Greens have an urgent and radical message for all levels of government and society. Participatory democracy is a necessity, not a luxury if we want to effect change.

Where we have elected Greens, the message does get out, through the media, through council work, through budget negotiations with more powerful parties. We are having an impact out of all proportion to the size of our membership. Green politics is about creating real social and economic change to survive crises, not a new face to administer apocalypse.

The writer is a London Assembly Member, a local councillor in Southwark, and a former deputy mayor of London. David Taylor, a founder of the Green Party, contributed to the article.

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