Friday 27 August 2021

Green Party Leadership Election –Exclusive Interview with Tina Rothery and Martin Hemingway

Candidates for Co-Leadership of the Green Party of England and Wales, Tina Rothery and Martin Hemingway, talk to London Green Left Blog’s editor Mike Shaughnessy about why they are running for the leadership of the party. 

Tell me a little about your backgrounds and why you are standing for the leadership of the Green Party?

TR Lancashire is ‘home’ right now and has been for a large chunk of the past two decades, but I was born in London and at four-years-old, my family chose to migrate to Australia as part of the Assisted Passage Programme (at the time, commonly referred to as ‘£10 Poms’) before moving to Hong Kong when I was 12. I returned to the UK in my early 20s but went on to live in Luxembourg, Belgium and Spain before returning and settling in Blackpool where my sister and her family are.

My first job was as a reporter at the Hong Kong Standard newspaper and my career from then onwards, was mostly in communications. I’ve found it has always been more difficult to ‘get ahead’ in the UK and as a single-mother, worked as a waitress, hotel cleaner, barmaid, staff trainer and a multitude of other things to get food on the table and money in the meter.

The past decade, however, has been the most life-changing of all episodes in my varied life. Becoming an activist changed more than my income bracket (bare minimum), it enhanced me, broadened my views, nourished my heart and rewarded my life with a genuine purpose that isn’t about earning more, buying more, competing or focusing on interests of self. And activism ensures I’m in the best company of all.

I recently returned to education after a 40-year break (it wasn’t my strong point when I was younger) but am struggling to justify any time given to anything that isn’t dealing with the climate crisis: what point will a university degree be on an uninhabitable planet? Much will depend on what happens next. 

When Jonathan and Sian made their intentions to step-down known and it was clear we would be electing new Green Party leaders, I was disappointed to discover that those I hoped were going to stand, had decided not to. I am a little surprised myself that I decided to run for leadership, but I trust my instincts. I considered options on standing alone but I have enough self-awareness to know that I thrive best with balance and co-operation. Martin became the natural choice as a partner. Over the past seven years as a member, it was him that I would approach with questions because I knew I would always get an informed, honest answer from a man of integrity and experience. I’m truly honoured he agreed. 

MH I have 50 years of political experience gleaned as an agent in elections, as a candidate in many local elections, general elections and Euro elections – including as lead candidate, as an elected member of the ruling Labour group on Leeds City Council, the second largest local authority in the country, for 12 years. The time on Leeds City Council led to positive changes for local people, to regional roles, and a UK role as Chair of Nuclear Free Local Authorities. It is difficult to summarise all that I have done in a few words.

I left Labour for various reasons, but largely because I was not New Labour – I stayed where I was and the Party moved away from me.

In the Green Party I have almost 20 years of experience in local, regional and national parties. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of this experience, At local and regional levels I have filled most roles, written constitutions and strategies, supported local parties. Nationally I spent four years on the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC) and over five years on the Standing Orders Committee (SOC).

I have an understanding of the Party, good and bad, through this experience, and am very conscious of the need to have Leaders who will bring the Party together to tackle the climate emergency we are facing.

If you are elected as leaders of the party, what will be your priorities?

MH It is easy to say Climate, Climate, Climate, but we need to make clear the part that the Green Party and engaged Leadership has to play in achieving this, but also in addressing the social justice agenda of the Green Party.

Our priorities will be first of all COP26, the lead up to it, the message we need to put across, and the ongoing work to turn the word-shop into a workshop.

That will involve our regions and local parties pushing the message as part of our electoral strategy, and we are committed to working with the regional and local parties where the campaigning and electoral work is actually done.

Beyond that we need to be engaging with communities, particularly those that are estranged from the political processes, we need to be addressing the near absence of people of colour, of working class members, of those communities most affected by poverty, of those disabled by impairment.

That has to be our electoral strategy, and we are prepared to engage on that.

TR Clearly working to save all life on earth and preserving and enhancing the natural systems that will nurture it.

How we do this will be a priority job and that starts with unifying our Party. Processes, procedures, conference, dispute resolution, discipline and communications are areas that are not providing solutions and we need to work on that.

A really important part of the job for me and one that I’d thoroughly look forward to, would be visiting and working with the regions and local parties within them. I believe that strengthening and supporting regional offices so that they can provide professional help with media, campaigning and membership would make a huge difference and ensure our Party is stronger throughout England and Wales, rather than in small pockets.

Strong regional parties would broaden our perspectives and help us fine-tune our responses to local elections and campaigns. Access for local media too will be enhanced if we can develop relationships and be relied on to respond promptly and professionally.

Conference is where the most important decisions are made, yet only a miniscule percentage of members ever attend. Strong regional parties would be part of the solution to this; we could revisit the idea of reforming conference voting and looking at regional conferences with online voting facilities and greater regional input.

The groups within our Party too are struggling to build around the issues that they want to ensure are heard. The success story is the Young Greens and we need to look at that model and why it works well at getting issues raised and policies to conference. Auto-enrolment is a key differentiator: when joining the Party, members who fulfil the criteria (young/students) automatically become members of the Young Greens, receiving a welcome email and regular updates. None of the other groups benefit from this.

When I was Chair of Green Party Women, we couldn’t even get access to a mailing list of women within the Party in order to reach out. New members fill in details about themselves that could be used to auto-enrol (with an opt-out) them into Greens of Colour, Green Party Disability Group, Green Party Women, LGBTIQA+ Greens and Green Seniors. Not only would this enrich the groups but new members would very quickly feel that they are welcome, heard and seen.

And then there are allies outside the Party both locally and nationally that we could be building relationships with, in order to tackle shared concerns for specific actions, events or goals. During the 1000 days of protest by the anti-fracking movement at Preston New Road here in Lancashire, the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Reclaim the Power, the Unions, academics, celebrities, environmental and religious groups came to join residents and help get us through this gruelling but necessary action. The ability to stall progress, increase costs, impact reputation, and upset supply chains is what prevented progress on shale gas extraction long enough to cause share prices in the company operating to see its share price plummet from pounds to pennies and the earth shake enough to prove us right and bring a moratorium.

We need to keep gathering power behind our aims and along with a strong, united Party, we need to draw on the power of the Unions, environmental groups, NGOs and others to unite around what does unite us. The more we work alongside others both inside and outside of our Party, the more we are ‘being the change we wish to see.

Tina (left) campaigning against fracking with Emma Thompson (right).

Emma Thompson said: “Please read Tina’s manifesto - it explains so fully and clearly why Green politics are the only possible future and why they are central to all the system changes that we urgently need to make.  Women will be key in this movement towards a cleaner, juster planet and I am proud to support Tina who is one of the world’s greatest activists. She is not interested in power for its own sake and will serve you and the planet with stunning dedication and humility. I wish her and Martin Hemingway success as Co-Leaders of The Green Party.” 

The COP26 conference is taking place in November, in Glasgow. What are your expectations of anything significant being agreed by participant governments?

TR Absolutely no expectation at all. Too many talks, too many promises, too many treaties that amount to nothing more than a vague nod from the wealthiest countries, whilst those already experiencing the worsening impacts of climate change, and least responsible for it… are literally left out to dry, flood, endure flames, famine and flight.

There need to be penalties and polluters should pay – not with readily available money, but time-served. Agreeing the law of Ecocide would be a good start followed by a choice to act together to save all of us. Cooperation is going to have to become the way, rather than winners and losers.

The Green Party, as the only Party genuinely dedicated to the environment and life on earth, needs a powerful presence both at the talks in Glasgow and in towns and cities throughout the UK. This is a rare opportunity to truly unite not just as members but alongside Unions, environmentalists, NGOs and deeply concerned others to show we can work together to achieve a clear goal: to make COP26 face up to reality, move on from talking, include the voices of the affected and take action to stop any more tipping points becoming inevitable.

How do you think the Green party should position itself politically in the run up to the next general election?

MH We are the Party of reality. We have to address the reality of damaging climate change. We have to address the reality of environmental damage in other ways, water quality, air quality, land degradation.

We have to address the issues of inequality, and this means addressing the economic system that places emphasis on growth rather than fairness and justice.

There are issues in education, in health and social care, in community provision that have to be addressed – the Green party has to lead on this because the Conservatives do not care, and the Labour Party has given up – as Starmer says the ambition of Labour is to work more closely with business.

TR As the opposition! We are the ONLY Party that tells the truth on climate, that holds the government to account and doesn’t shy away from being honest for the sake of votes. There is no other Party like us.

I doubt any of the other Parties would have a fraction of their policies on climate if it weren’t for Caroline Lucas bringing it to parliament, our Councillors working to declare climate emergencies or our members relentlessly informing their MPs.

Other Parties pander to what will win voters, which may sound like the right thing to do, until you realise the consequences of all that they left out.

A review of the party's Instruments of Governance was called for and approved by Conference some 6 years ago. The " Holistic Review Commission" was set up in 2018 which aimed to deliver radical constitutional reforms. In your opinion, what are the reasons why after all this time and effort, it seems almost impossible for the party to adopt a new constitution?

MH I have been closely involved in the process which has been held up by the failure of those addressing the process to recognise that they had to operate within the terms set by the ballot. I have proposed various constitutional documents that would have done what the ballot said was wanted, but those involved wanted to go further than the ballot permitted.

My perception is that the process involved centralisation of power within the Party, and this process is something about which we have serious concerns.

We are a membership led party, not a leader led party, and this is important to both of us.

Conference is the Supreme Body of the party. Given that its participants are self-appointed. What constitutional changes will you propose to address the widely acknowledged democratic deficit created by this anomaly?

MH This is an issue for the Party to discuss. Only a minority of the Party are engaged with Party issues. Many see their Green Party membership as an add on to active campaigning in other areas.

We need to address the make up of the Conference audience. When we hit 20,000 members we should have moved to delegate conferences, but as membership has grown that threshold has been kicked down the road.

We have probably reached the point where that decision has to be made so that those voting at Conference represent the breadth of membership rather than those that can attend, or that can ‘pack’ conference. We will be supporting the party in moves to reform of conference, both in terms of simplifying and opening up the policy proposal process, and in the reform of participation.

Martin marching at Kirby Misperton fracking site

Identity issues, especially around gender recognition, has been hugely controversial in the party recently. What will be your approach to healing the division which has opened up in the party?

TR Not just controversial, but the cause of deeply damaging division, huge upset and anger within our membership. It’s a matter of urgency that we put a plan in place and enact it, before more harm is done to individuals and Party reputation. How can we expect people to vote us into government, if we can’t even address our own internal disputes? Why would the voters trust us?

We’ve lost valued members which is such a failure really; some because they disputed another’s views/policies and many more because they felt the Party had begun to shift the focus and priority away from the impending climate catastrophe. I think we also need to be aware that for many members – the cause of these disputes is not clear, the terminology unfamiliar and the subject matter and implications, not well known.

I recall when Sian wrote her letter referring to the problems surrounding trans and women’s rights – some members asked what problems this was even referring to. Such a tiny percentage of members are engaged with the internal politics, the making of policy, conference etc – most are out campaigning or getting involved with local environmental groups and just trusting that as The Green Party, we’re getting on with the politics of being green.

We have procedures to handle disputes and clearly these are not adequately resourced, supported or working. There is a process issue, and it’s with process and professionalism that we’ll address it. Martin’s suggestion of a ‘Members’ Assembly’ is an excellent one. We cannot stifle the discussions - they just spill out onto social media and that’s no place to solve anything so we must make space, time and support for them.

MH We will be asking GPRC under its party well-being power to constitute a members assembly. Not one that requires particular groups have representatives, but in the best tradition of such assemblies that selects participants at random from the entire membership; that checks on current views on a set of questions, that seeks expert informants from different positions on the spectrum of the debate, and concerned with different aspects of the debate, and that seeks to produce a document that agrees what that policy means in detail.

Members can choose to accept the outcome or not, but we need to find a position that the majority can be happy with, and seek to give the issue a rest.

What is your vision for Green party over the next few years?

MH We need to position the Green Party in two ways, and this has long been our difficulty.

We need to be the leading party on acting on the environmental issues that people identify as part of our ‘Unique Selling Point’. One of our problems has been getting away from this identification of the Green Party as a single issue party.

What we need to be building at the same time is our identity as the party of social justice and fairness. The Party that represents the excluded and the left behind as well as those parts of the middle class that identify with this agenda, as well as with the overarching climate concern.

TR Government. Hear me out…

The reality of climate change is finally too blatant to ignore and as the impacts grow, people are realising what the other Parties have done, and it’s going to be unforgiveable. Supporting industries that are breaking our life-support system, subsidising them with our money, inflicting the same on other countries like some sort of climate-colonialism, subjecting us and our children to a life of hardship as resources dwindle, weather becomes unpredictable and tipping points take us to a future we can’t begin to conceive; all our governments that were aware of what scientists were proving, failed to act and this is criminal.

It’s also ever-more apparent that the Greens are the only Party sounding the alarm for decades and acting in all the ways possible (under a FPTP voting system) to at least act on the impending crisis. The others are liars.

One MP, more than 400 councillors, thousands of activists and tens of thousands of members are not in this for popularity, we’re in it to face reality and reality is dawning.

Voting opens on 2 September 10am and closes 23 September 10pm. 


  1. I recentlyral found soething I thought I had lost during a removal - the general election results in 1979. I could quantify somthing I had always felt: Conservatives were more conerned about climate breakdown than those with more 'hand to mouth' concerns. But that stopped abruptly when those Cons realized it meant redistribution - taxes on them.
    Since then we have been seen, and have self-identified as socialist.
    The basic income (UBI)is not as socialist as it seems, It guarantees security so that the otherwise frightening measures needed to stop climate breakdown are accepted, bu we need to approach Cons more in sorrow than in anger -sell the UBI as payment for insurance.
    We should contest every by-election with a poster of the floods in Germany. Better than causing disruption, XR should be campaigning with Greta's 'panic' slogan, and hten putting crosses on pieces of paper. In sufficient number, that will bother the government more

  2. Martin Hemingway28 August 2021 at 02:37

    The photo of me marching is at the Kirby Misperton fracking site - slow walking rather than marching! The NHS march photo is elsewhere!

  3. The Green parties in the UK are amongst the whitest, most middle class of organisations, demographically closer to the National Trust than to the working poor whose lives have been so damaged by governments over the last few decades. The Greens' natural focus on environmental problems means than their interest and experience in anything else is sadly inadequate. If the Greens really want to get closer to power, they will need to decide if they are willing to learn and change radically. I'm a former Green member and former voter: I voted Labour in December 2019 and nothing I've seen as a trans woman makes me want to vote Green. I hope that the party in England & Wales abandons its demand for UBI, which is a policy supporting neoliberalism, in favour of socialist universal basic services.