The Green Party’s women problem

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.

13 thoughts on “The Green Party’s women problem

  1. Ever more desperate Labour activist accuses Greens of misogyny in blog shocker.

    I think there is aggression in politics that we should address. But it is simply ridiculous to suggest there is a systemic problem in an opposition party and no problem in your own. In fact it is dangerous because it reduces the problem to one of partisan beliefs rather than a genuine desire to change political culture to be inclusive.

    Two words: Steve Bassam!

    The Labour Party needs to sort out its own bullies and misogynists before it accuses others.

  2. The problem with articles like this is that they demonstrate the same sort of behaviour that they are criticising others of, in terms of being negative, smearing opponents and creating division. The Tories and UKIP must be thinking that Christmas has come a day early.

  3. It’s not a ‘suggestion’ that there is a systemic problem in an opposition party (the green party): there IS a problem of bullying, misogyny and abuse in the membership. As a female Labour supporter I have experienced 2 years of online bullying, threats, abuse, and intimidation from Green supporters. It isn’t about ‘partisan’ beliefs’ to expect a degree of ethical and civilised behaviour from campaigners, and your response simply played the partisan politics card Robbie.

    There is a real problem with many green supporters, and it needs to be addressed. That won’t be resolved by trying to divert attention from the issue. The threats and abuse I have experienced have been witnessed by friends of mine on social media who were green supporters. They aren’t now because of what they have seen. One friend just commented: ” Been surprised and horrified by the sheer spite and viciousness of some of the GP members tbh. You live and learn.” So that’s 11 members lost to the Green Party in the space of 24 hours.

    I know it’s a standard Green response to criticism – “yeah but Labour…” however, it doesn’t cut the mustard, because people recognise the tactic for what it is. The second response to criticism is bullying, abuse and threats. Doesn’t bode well regarding party accountability, transparency and democratic engagement, does it. Or the claimed ethics and equality principles.

    • Hi Kitty,

      I’m sorry that you have received bullying on social media.

      The fact is I’m clearly not denying there is a problem of bullying in politics, I’m saying the problem is a lot more widespread. I’ve talked to women in the Green Party who won’t stand as candidates because of the abuse they receive from Labour activists.

      I’m on record challenging a Green activist when he was bullying a Labour woman last year. I will put anti-bullying before party loyalty. I really will. The only way it will stop is from WITHIN each party.

      Sadly I don’t see many activists do they same, they play down any problem in their own party, Green AND Labour. They simply don’t see it when it is from their own party.

      Well I can assure you bullying exists in the Labour party as much as any other party. You have to get past your partisan vision to see it.

      There was two very very serious incidents two years ago by a senior Labour politician bullying two female green activists in Brighton. Despite official complaints, Labour swept it under the carpet.

      It is not good enough to say that was two years ago or “one off” events. They were extremely serious and nothing was done. I met the victim the day after one incident and she was really shaken up by the bullying, even though she is a tough person. So it makes me angry that Labour activists are so partisan about this and unwilling to address the problem.

      This article is cheap party political point scoring and reduces a very serious issue, that has to be dealt with by cross-party agreement. This is why I feel really angry about this article. It adds to the problem and makes it harder to address by people who want to make politics a safer place for all.

      There needs to be a liaison between the parties, probably best as a group of women, who take on the distress of any victim of bullying and then approach the perpetrator to get them to stop, from within each party.

      The perpetrators are often unaware of how upsetting they’re behaviour is for the victims. This is compounded by people around them playing down the seriousness. It is solved by friends of the perpetrator sitting down with them and sensitively explaining that they are upsetting people and they need to stop. It will never be stopped by blogged accusations from other parties.

      Bullying will never go away, if everybody puts partisan loyalties ahead of common decency. I am on record of challenging a bully in my own party. It is time for people to do the same in the Labour party.

      • You ruined it by making it obviously partisan with the last sentence but apart from that you’re completely right. It’s just another example of the negative effects of the intense tribalism that exists between Labour and the Greens.

      • Robbie Smith,

        What I like most about this comment is how you manage to entirely confirm the concerns of the OP.


  4. Any chance of weaving some Richard Wagner into this. Surely he was the original Green poster mensch with his musical drama stand against agressive unregulated capitalism and its despoilling of the raw beauty of nature.

  5. A few observations, less tongue in cheek than my last one.
    An obvious one, the Greens in Brighton lack strength in depth.
    The 3 Green parliamentarian candidates illustrate this clearly; one very outstanding candidate and two very mediocre candidates, one of whom resorts to ‘cyber bullying’ and the other to copying, thats what it looks like to me, the very effective campaign of the Labour PPC for Kemptown.
    ‘Cyber bullying’, in this case, is the rather unpleasant result of a ‘medocre candidates’ trying to keep-up, or rather pull down other candidates and activists; they simply have nothing else to offer.
    This also seems to be reflected in the local party and might explain the decision of the leader of the Green group to ‘give up’ in May.
    If the Greens have an alpha male issue it is simply that they do not have nearly enough alpha males.
    The other observation concerns the very tribal and petty nature of the rivalry between the Greens and Labour. A good example here is the redesigned 7 Dials roudabout and the glee expressed by local Labour over some loose kerb stones in the outer ring; hardly a major issue and it in no way detracts from the success of the new design.
    Sibling rivalries are always the fiercest of rivalries and many Green and Labour activists, candidates and councillors occupy the same crowded area on the left political spectrum.
    Though entertaining there is no need to attemp to firmly plant the Green Party in the National Socialist family tree.

  6. JDC, I accept your point that my last sentence was partisan and diminished my argument. I apologise.

    The incident during the Hanover bi-election that “still rankles here” with Neil, I understand. Many Greens distanced themselves but didn’t challenge the bullying. I did but I was an exception.

    What I meant, is that incidents during the East Brighton bi-election still rankle with me. Perhaps equally as Neil is rankled. They are every bit as serious. I witnessed how shaken the victim was. I’m saying I’ve never heard anybody in Labour acknowledge that. Maybe a Labour activist has said it is wrong but I’ve never heard it.

    And the East Brighton incidents disprove Neil’s theory of what the problem is, which is that it is Green Party “structureless”. If that is the case, then the structure within Labour would have resulted in discipline and even suspension of a Labour politician. It didn’t. So there is clearly a problem in Labour too.

    I agree that publishing home addresses is totally out of order and people should be disciplined, even suspended when they do that. I wasn’t aware that a Green did that to a Labour activist. It is totally wrong. I know that a Labour person did it to a Green female on twitter during East Brighton. Again it is totally wrong.

    Again, threats and abuse towards a Labour blogger is WRONG and need to be dealt with. That said, Neil saying the article “good and timely” is part of a problem of partisan vision. I’ve read the article 4 times. The article was insulting and based on faulty logic. It doesn’t justify threats and abuse but it was insulting. And I feel deep contempt for the article.

    I would dearly love to see Labour and Greens interaction detoxing. It can only happen by people being less partisan. Yes including myself!

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  9. The Green Party has a deep and serious misogyny problem that I have experienced first hand in the Wales region of the Green party. I complained and then the attacks on me increased. The chair of the disputes resolution committee rang members of the regional council to demand my expulsion. My expulsion was later ruled unconstitutional by the SOC but still I didn’t get a hearing. Then they turned on my partner who is promised a tribunal but the complainant cancelled a week before – that is jag driving Bartolotti who calls herself leader of the Wales region of the GP installed by the right wing misogynists because of her ignorance and right wing views perhaps. More here

  10. Pingback: 2016 could be a great year for Labour – if the Party lets it | Notes from a Broken Society

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