Ever since the Holistic Review Commission was established at 2017 Spring Conference to consult and propose changes to the Green Party’s constitution, the Holistic Review has been central to a deep discussion about the governance and future of the Green Party of England and Wales.
The proposals made by the Holistic Review – including to establish a Council of 45 members to oversee ‘all necessary decisions about strategy and activity’ in between party conferences – were finalised at Autumn Conference 2018, albeit with some amendments, and 70 per cent of voters in a referendum of Green Party members last December supported the proposals, on a turnout of 16 per cent. However, the Holistic Review still remains a source of debate for members of the Green Party.
A ‘Transition Team’ of seven members has now been formed to oversee the implementation of the proposals made by the Holistic Review. Ahead of GPEW’s Spring Conference at Scarborough this June, when the new constitution suggested by the Review will be voted on, Green World asked two members with differing opinions on the Review: what’s happening now and what’s likely to take place over the coming months?
Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party from 2012-2016 and a former member of the Holistic Review Commission
It is about ensuring that equality and diversity are at the heart of our structures and actions
Two stages down, one to go. That’s the current state of the Holistic Review, the reworking of the constitution of the Green Party – which largely dates back to 1994 – to make it fit for the 21st century.
My thanks go to everyone who took part in the referendum of party members conducted over Christmas. Getting a quorate turnout for that was a real success given the timing.
That followed the decision of the Autumn Conference to back the Commission’s report. Many people spent many hours poring over the details and voting in the conference sessions – thanks again!
The Review involves constitutional changes, primarily the replacement of the Green Party Regional Council, National Executive and existing standing committees with a Council which will operate through ‘task and finish groups’ and oversee a Political Executive (making day-to-day political calls) and a board that will deal with finances and legal requirements for our practical operation.
Working through task and finish groups will allow many more people to participate in party decision-making for fixed periods of time with a determined workload. We have wonderfully skilled and knowledgeable members – we need to make better use of that, without putting too much load on individuals.
But it is about much more than the constitution. It is about ensuring that equality and diversity are at the heart of our structures and actions, that we are providing members with the training and support they need, and are able to flex and change with circumstances in this fast-moving political age, while maintaining the local party sovereignty and democracy that are at the heart of our philosophy.
What’s happening now is that a series of task and finish groups, coordinated by the Transition Team foreseen in the Holistic Review Report, are working with lawyers to draw up the text of the new constitution (which will keep the elements not changed by the Commission’s report but will aim to be far more succinct, simple to understand and accessible to all). Party members can keep up to date with what they are doing on the members’ website.
The Transition Team is also looking at how we manage the handover from the existing bodies to the Council and board, which for practical reasons needs to happen if possible at the end of 2019.
Before that will be ‘Spring’ Conference – the quote marks because it is later than usual this year, in June, to allow time for the new constitution to be ready and voted on there.
That will be the final formal step in a process that has effectively gone on over a number of years, as Conference has created different groups and committees to tackle the problems of the current constitution, which the thousands of people who participated in Commission consultations told us almost unanimously is getting in the way of our urgent political work, rather than facilitating it.
Doug Rouxel, Local Party Support Coordinator on the Green Party Executive committee (GPEx)
The proposals fail to address the real problems – and introduce many new problems of their own
The Holistic Review was a very flawed process from the outset. There was insufficient time given to do the job properly, which has led to a rush to come up with a set of proposals, a rush to put them to the vote and a rush to implement them. This rush has meant that many of the key problems that the party faces at a structural level have been ignored; the Review has been significantly less than holistic, and is at best superficial and at worst downright damaging.
There are a number of problems faced by the party with its current structure. One of the principal problems is that there is no defined form for the party; it’s not clear how the different parts – local parties, regional parties, national parties and the central party – all inter-relate. The Holistic Review does not even begin to address this problem. Even if it seems obtuse and not relevant, it is a problem that cuts to the heart of many of the concerns that members raise, and some of the admin headaches that the party centrally has. If this relationship was clear, then the remit and role of the different parts would be much clearer, and the work that we collectively expect them to take on would be clearer. This would allow the party to be more focused in its work and spend less time debating what the terms of engagement between the different parts of the party should be.
One serious area of concern for me is not so much with what is proposed in the review, but with how the review has been proposed. A common reaction from the proposers of the review and its supporters to critics has been to say: “That is not what is proposed”. This displays a fundamental failure to engage with the criticism – it would be fair if this related to one-off situations, but it doesn’t – it’s the stock response to any criticism. The fact that the only real response they have is denial makes any real discussion of the proposals pretty much impossible, because it degenerates into a discussion about if it has even been proposed or not rather than if it is a good idea.
One such area where this has been used to great effect has been with the overall cost. The proposers of the Review insist that implementing its proposals would be ‘free’ or ‘cheap’, while those who oppose it consider it to be expensive – costing anywhere from £20,000 to £350,000, all of which is beyond what the party can currently afford. We know that the referendum alone cost in excess of £4,000 just for the postal balloting, and the new jobs it proposes would be easily in the range of £35,000 a year each – and there are at least two of those. There is a proposal for live online voting – this is a new and emerging technology that needs to be done securely, and to do this properly would cost in the region of £100,000 by a conservative estimate. Yet we can’t get into a discussion about these significant costs – because those who support the proposal simply say ‘it wouldn’t cost much’ without really bothering to engage in the detail.
One concern that members raise time and again is that the central party apparatus makes decisions distant from the needs and interests of members in local parties. There was a raft of proposals in the Governance Review that attempted to bring the central apparatus closer to the membership and allow the members to express themselves directly to the central decision makers. The Holistic Review moves in the complete opposite direction. The proposal is to have an even more distant group of people, not even linked to the membership via elections, to make all of the key strategic financial decisions. This will lead to an even greater distance between members and the central apparatus.
Overall, the proposals, the concerns they address and the way in which they have been brought about have been deeply unsatisfactory. They fail to address the real problems and they will introduce many new problems of their own. We face the prospect of years of turmoil trying to sort out what these new changes mean when in reality we should be getting on and trying to win elections. They are an unwelcome distraction which will do very little to help us do that.
I think there will be an effort to try and mitigate the most damaging changes through trying to influence the Transition Team, and there will be a comprehensive set of amendments to the proposals. Then, if all that fails – attempts to get it voted down. And if all of that fails – then making incremental changes over the next few years to turn it into something functional.