The response to the University of York Green Party’s leadership election survey on class has been fantastic. So far over half a thousand people have read the survey, and it has caused a significant stir both in blogs and the Twittersphere – exactly what we hoped would happen.
As Adam Ramsay has pointed out here, we now know already that the next leader of the Green Party will not have attended an elite Russell Group University, and neither leader nor deputy will have had their education paid for by their parents – a blow against the privileged status-quo of mainstream politics.
Our leadership at a national level will therefore be far more reflective of ordinary working-class people than any of the major parties – Labour with its Oxford-educated leader, the Conservatives with their Eton boys-club stitch-up, and private Westminster-schooled Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.
Encouragingly, the current frontrunners for leader – Peter Cranie and Romayne Phoenix – can both be said to have struggled and to have experienced the hardships many now are now facing. Cranie, brought up on a Scottish council estate and a trade unionist in an area of the public sector very much under attack by this government – education – knows what millions are going through and it’s clear his politics reflect that. Equally Romayne, a single parent on a low-income and a daughter of immigrants can, despite what some have said, quite truthfully say she is ‘working-class’.
While the major front-runner may not yet be clear in the deputy leadership race because of gender-balance rules (if Peter won, the deputy would have to be female, if Romayne won, male), Alex Phillips seems a likely victor were Cranie to be elected. Phillips, brought up in a Labour-voting Liverpool household and who has worked on the minimum wage, would do a lot to shift the perception of the party away from being seen as ‘middle-class’ – a pressing task which I believe is on a par with making our anti-austerity policies clear: if we do not fix the popular disconnect from politics (reflected in declining turnouts, party memberships and rising distrust), only middle-class people will be left voting anyway. Were Romayne to win, her deputy, as they are running on the same ticket, would almost certainly be Will Duckworth – the first Green councillor in the West Midlands who represents a deprived ward. Like Romayne, he too identifies as working-class.
Aside from the encouragingly representative and diverse nature of the candidates in this leadership race, another thing has been extremely encouraging – all recognised the importance of the party and wider politics being more reflective of working-class people – the cleaners, super-market shelf-stackers, call-centre workers and fast-food sellers of an increasingly deindustrialised Britain – all of whom lack a political voice in an officially 4% working-class Parliament and a Labour Party unwilling to stand up to the austerity consensus.
Though not all were receptive to the idea of working-class ‘quotas’ recently pioneered by Labour MP Denis MacShane, improving communication and speaking up for disenfranchised groups were seen as key ways of rectifying working-class disengagement from formal politics. Stressing the party’s social policies has to fundamental when other parties will not reject the cuts.
Class is political. One encouraging trend within the party, raised by both Alex Phillips and Romayne Phoenix, is a recognition of the need to work with trade unions. We have to win the argument that we are the party for working people. When you consider that Labour’s 2010 leadership election was 100% Oxbridge dominated, we are already miles ahead.
We never tried to define what working-class meant – instead leaving that to the candidates themselves. Several, such as Richard Mallender, rightly commented on the fact that the definition of ‘working-class’ could be highly subjective, and commenters have gone as far to suggest one cannot be a teacher and working-class. I’d beg to differ – but it’s up for yourself to decide.
What the survey has highlighted is how determined as a party we are to challenge the ‘middle-class’ perception, mirrored by the leadership candidates themselves – in their politics, in their life-experience (many have worked on the minimum-wage) and in their agreement that we need to be engaging and speaking up for ordinary people. In our view – it’s been a success, and we hope to replicate it at the next leadership election. Perhaps by then we’ll be a bigger party, even more strongly rooted in struggling communities across the country.
The full survey resposnes can be viewed here.
[This article represents Josiah Mortimer’s personal reflections on the survey, not necessarily UoY Green Party’s]