First of all, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your Green Party activism?
Having been a Green Party supporter for many years, I became an active member about 10 years ago when I moved to Somerset and joined the Bridgwater and West Somerset branch. I've stood as a candidate in two district council elections and supported our candidates in two general elections. I've been the Co-ordinator of the Bridgwater and West Somerset group for nearly two years.
You and your colleagues from your local party are on ‘strike’ (your letter is reproduced below), can you tell me why you decided to take this strike action?
Like many local groups we generally focus more on local issues, but some of us had been becoming increasingly concerned about what we saw going on in the Green Party at a national level. There was a series of events. I had attended last year's Autumn conference, held on Zoom, and had been alarmed by the aggressive behaviour of some of the trans ideology supporters and disturbed by some of the motions proposed at that conference, including gender self Identification for trans people, which were either very poorly thought through or a blatant attack on women's rights. It was also worrying to observe that so few voters were present that it was easy for a small single-issue group to have a disproportionately large influence.
Then came the disgraceful incident in which a man who wishes to be identified as a woman became Co-Chair of the Women's Group. At this year's Spring conference, again on Zoom, there were similar problems with aggression from trans rights extremists and low voter turnout, and this time the gender self ID motion was passed while a motion to protect women's rights was voted down.
When I reported on the conference to my local colleagues there was unanimous alarm, with three people saying they would resign in protest. So you could say we were on the brink of insurrection when we received the news of Emma Bateman's suspension! The idea occurred to me to go on strike rather than resign, because I believe it is better to stay in the Green Party and fight for it; I am not prepared to let a small group of extremists hijack our party. So we all agreed to strike – but then our Acting Secretary received an aggressive communication that he found so offensive that he resigned from the Party.
What does it mean practically, what kind of party activity has been halted by the strike?
Having been rather quiet over the past year, due to the Covid restrictions, we were looking forward to resuming local campaigning, and all the things that entails. Somerset local government is undergoing change, with the creation of a new Unitary Authority to replace the existing County and District Councils, and we were all set to join other Green Party groups across Somerset in preparing for the local elections due to be held early next year.
What are your demands to call off the action?
As a minimum requirement, we want Emma Bateman's suspension withdrawn. More than that, how the Green Party officers respond to our letter, whether or not they take our concerns seriously, will be a big factor. We are angry, and we are determined.
I have received dozens of emails from representatives of Somerset Green Party branches supporting our action. Two people have said that they share our concerns but are worried in case publicity about the problems in the Green Party adversely affects our local election results. I agree with this fear – it is a risk, and it would be a great pity if it were to happen. At the branch level, the Green Party is wonderful; all over the UK communities are benefiting from the contributions of Green Party members who are County, District, Town and Parish councillors. The fact that Green Party members are doing such positive work in their communities gives me hope that we can turn the Party around and get back to focusing on what matters – the planet is in crisis and environmental issues should be everyone's priority.
Reports from the recent Green party conference suggest that it was acrimonious with attempts by the party leadership to cynically manipulate what was allowed to be debated. What is your take on this?
I know this is being said, but I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the inner workings of the party at a national level to be able to comment on this.
Given the ecological crisis at present, do you see the Green party’s focus on identity/lifestyles issues as a distraction?
Yes. The Green Party matters. It's the only party that challenges the prevailing dogma of economic growth. Labour is all about business as usual, the same old model that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe: pro-growth, pro-nuclear, pro-Trident, and pro-first-past-the-post voting. The Tories are the same but even more so – just this week we've seen them promoting GM food and nuclear weapons and of course they are championing the eco-disasters of HS2 and Hinkley Point nuclear power station. The Greens offer a true alternative. At the grass-roots level the party is still great, but at the top of the hierarchy and in the internal democratic systems there are problems. I care about the Green Party. If I didn't, I'd just walk away. We can't let a bunch of 300 or so single-issue extremists hijack a party with 50,000 members. We need to get our party back.
Letter sent to Green party regional officers
To: Ewan Jones, Guy Poultney, and representatives of Green Party branches in Somerset
Subject: Bridgwater and West Somerset Green Party Strike
Date: March 18th 2021
Dear Ewan, Guy, and everyone
Thank you for an excellent zoom meeting of Green Party Somerset groups on Saturday March 13th. I came away full of enthusiasm for helping with whatever local elections we have in the new Unitary Authority Somerset next year. I reported about this to our meeting of Bridgwater and West Somerset officers and key member activists on Tuesday March 16th, and we were all set to take part in the campaign.
However, on Tuesday evening we received the news about Emma Bateman's suspension from the Green Party, allegedly for making the unremarkable factual observation that transwomen are not female. As I'm sure you are all aware, Emma is / was Co-Chair of the Green Party Women's Group. Her fellow Chair is Kathryn Bristow, who is a man who wishes to be identified as a woman. Because the Women's Group had been forced by Green Party HQ to accept men who wish to be identified as women, Kathryn was able to join the group, whereupon he put himself forward for election as Co-Chair, was elected, and took up the position. Kathryn has been criticised for his role in working for Gender GP, the company that was exposed by a recent Daily Telegraph investigation published in the paper version on 27th February (see below) that demonstrated it was selling puberty blocking drugs to children, with no medical supervision. (The company is run by a doctor who was struck off in the UK and is now based in Spain, and the prescriptions are issued by a doctor in Romania; the only check the company makes on the children is to ensure they can pay.) Kathryn has recently stated that he intends to lie on the census form, which is an offence liable to a fine of £1000. Kathryn is enthusiastically supported by the Green Party leadership. Emma is suspended for telling the truth; Kathryn is applauded for practising deception.
This was the last straw for me.
It follows the debacle of our Spring conference, which demonstrated the catastrophic state of internal democracy within the Green Party. Out of a membership of over 50,000, very few vote in internal elections or at conferences. Fewer than 1% of the members voted at the recent conference. This lack of member involvement allows any determined single-issue splinter group to form the majority of the voters, so they can not only push through contentious motions, they can also elect their preferred officers and control the elected officers whose positions depend on their votes.
At the recent conference, a gender self ID motion was passed: only 493 people voted, of whom 281 were in favour of it. 281 people out of 50,000 have imposed a policy supporting gender self ID on the entire party. What would the 50,000 have said?
A motion proposing that the GP should support women's sex-based rights, in accordance with the United Nations CEDAW agreement (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) was voted down. Only 491 people voted, or whom 289 people voted against women's rights, and the motion failed. What would the 50,000 have said?
Because so few people vote, a splinter group can control elected officers, who need their votes to keep their positions. Whatever their personal views may be, none of the Green Party leaders dare to say or do anything to displease the members of the faction. The views of the non-voting 50,000 are disregarded because the 300 or so members of the splinter group must be appeased.
At a national level, Green Party democracy is so catastrophically compromised that it permits the leadership to be kidnapped and the party hijacked by a single-issue group. The system is flawed: it is vulnerable to exploitation by any such group – just now it is the trans rights lobby, but it could have been a pro-Brexit group, or a pro-nuclear group; anything. One solution to this problem might be to raise the quorum for conferences to a higher percentage of the total membership; there could be campaigns at the local branch level to encourage more members to engage in the democratic process.
Many of you will have read the resignation letter from Dom Armstrong, our only Councillor in Sunderland. I am including it below for those who have not yet seen it because it sets things out with admirable clarity and because I share his views.
As a result of all of this, I am going on strike. Not just me: the officers of the Bridgwater and West Somerset branch, along with those active members with whom we work closely on a day-to-day basis, are going on strike. Our acting Secretary, Tony Seaman, has this morning taken the further step of resigning altogether from the Green Party. We are not willing to represent the Green Party in its current dysfunctional state; nor are we willing to ask others to stand as candidates or to take part in election campaigning for the Green Party. This strike will last until, as a minimum requirement, Emma Bateman's suspension is lifted.
With all good wishes to all of you