Some time ago, an American lifestyle blogger wrote that having testicles was a bit like being perpetually chained to the village idiot. I don’t remember the context, but I’m guessing he follows quite a few Greens on Twitter.
It’s ironic – the Green Party is led by a woman and its only MP is a woman. Yet it appears from both their behaviour on the ground, and – especially – their presence on social media that the Green Party has a deep and serious misogyny problem. The Green Party seems to produce an aggressive kind of male Twitter warrior, and Labour women in particular seem to be regarded as fair game for trolling and cyber-bullying. The Party’s hierarchy appears to turn a blind eye.
I have blogged before about the way in which the Green Party appeared to condone the cyber-bullying and stalking of a Labour candidate in a local by-election in Brighton last year. To be fair, Caroline Lucas did condemn the tactics of the individual concerned (if a little half-heartedly and rather late in the day); but the silence of her party over that issue was – and remains – a political issue in this city. The fact that barely a single Green voice was raised in condemnation of some of the most egregious bullying imaginable still rankles here.
At the same time, the Green Party in Brighton hit the headlines when it announced that it was bringing in counsellors to provide mediation to its split and dysfunctional Council group. It was widely reported at the time that the reasons were political – a split between so-called Watermelon and Mango factions on the conduct of the Council. But as internal correspondence on the Brighton Greens’ internal email discussion forum, Members Discuss, made clear, the real reason was the view of many women Councillors that the Green Group was not a safe place for them – that they were marginalised and bullied and that the real decisions were taken by the alpha males in private. Whether any progress has been made remains unclear, although it is widely believed that the Green Group remains divided and dysfunctional.
And this sits alongside the behaviour of some male Green councillors and candidates in the Brighton and Hove: the Parliamentary candidate who used Twitter to reveal where a female political opponent lived, and who has repeatedly engaged in the trolling of the same opponent; the Green councillor who holds surgeries in his own home, apparently oblivious to the requirements of safeguarding.
Within the last 24 hours, a Labour blogger who published a good and timely piece pointing out how the Green movement’s roots lie at least partially in blood-and-soil nationalism – and that being Green can conflict with ideals of equality and social justice – has received a torrent of online abuse from Greens, much of it profoundly sexist, some of it personally threatening. (And, incidentally, the blog’s reference to how some environmentalists have historically placed animal above human rights is not without its parallels in Green Brighton and Hove) It’s appalling – but to those of us who have witnessed the dark side of the Green Party at first hand, not remotely surprising.
It is only when you have left the Green Party that you fully appreciate that curious mix of cultishness and entitlement. For me, the Labour Party has been a revelation: a party whose understanding of the need to challenge entitlement and work hard to ensure equality contrasts powerfully with the tyranny of structurelessness, the privileged complacency, of the Green Party. We don’t always get it right, but the commitment to do so is beyond challenge – hard-wired into the Labour’s processes and thinking. Read Greens’ Twitter feeds – especially those from outside Brighton defending Caroline Lucas and her council’s record – and you get the impression of a sort of Bullingdon Club in sandals, bound together by shared entitlement and privilege, with a profound contempt for those outside (and a deep and abiding hatred of the Labour Party, which often appears to be the only thing that binds Greens together). Green meetings begin with a moment of shared silence – “attunement” – but in the context of their behaviour it’s just a piece of tokenism. One of the Green Party’s fundamental problems is that it simply appears incapable of getting beyond the privilege of its active membership, and in its aversion to structures does not have the organisational commitment to try.
Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas have some serious questions to answer about the Party they lead and represent. Will they condemn the use of social media by their supporters for sexist bullying? Will they commit to putting structures in place to ensure equality within their own ranks, and to ensure that safeguarding is more than a box to be ticked? Will they disown Parliamentary candidates who troll women opponents? Will they take responsibility for Council Groups that appear to exhibit institutional sexism?
Above all, will they recognise they have a problem? Because until they do so, that mantra about doing politics differently is looking distinctly hollow.