ERS Quiz the Green Party Leadership Candidates on Democratic Reform

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 2nd August 2016

The Green Party of England & Wales’ leadership (and Deputy Leadership) election is in full swing, with voting open until the 25th August

At the ERS, we’re running Q&As with all the leadership and deputy leadership candidates – including for the upcoming UKIP leadership vote (plus, hopefully, a hustings for the Labour ballot – it’s all happening!).

We’ve quizzed the candidates on voting systems, increasing voter registration, working with other parties to secure PR, and improving diversity in politics.

We used a randomiser script to ‘shuffle’ the names so it’s not always the same names first.

Ten of the thirteen candidate ‘options’ for leadership and deputy leadership roles responded – three for the leadership (David Williams, David Malone and Jonathan Bartley/Caroline Lucas), seven for the deputy post (Katharina Boettge, Daniella Radice, Alan Borgars, Störm Poorun, Amelia Womack, Shahrar Ali and Andrew Cooper).

Let us know what you think of their answers in the comments box below!

And, whether you’re a supporter, a member, or neither – please share this Q&A with any friends you have who support the Green Party. If you are one of the party’s 60-odd thousand members though, make sure to vote – you have until the 25th. We hope this is useful!

And if you want to support our work for a better democracy, join us today!

Here we go:

1.  Do you support the Single Transferable Vote (STV), used for local elections in Scotland and all elections in Northern Ireland? STV empowers voters as it doesn’t involve closed party lists, and is already backed by the Greens for local elections, but not for General Elections. Would you back a move to STV for Westminster?

David Williams (L): I’m not in favour of STV for national elections. National elections are about reflecting the level of public support for a particular set of policies and AMS does that better.

David Malone (L): I would back STV. I like the fact that it does not involve closed party lists. I have always been uncomfortable with that aspect of some voting systems.  I realise all systems have their weaknesses but feel STV is more robust than others.

Shahrar Ali (DL): Yes, I’m strongly in favour of a proportional system such as STV. Indeed we do consider different systems, e.g. a mixed model, for different types of election. For the general election, representation with a constituency element could still be advantageous. We currently advocate alternative vote for the constituency MP plus a top-up directly proportional element based on party lists (above a threshold of 3% popular vote).

Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas (L): We support a fair and proportional voting system and our candidacy has made securing this a top priority. Green Party policy is that of the various electoral systems available, the Green Party “would consider the Single Transferrable Vote, Alternative Vote Plus and Additional Member Systems to be entirely acceptable” The Green Party currently suggests that the most “appropriate” system for Westminster would be AV plus.  Caroline is happy with this or with AMS, because it keeps a strong constituency link.  Jonathan was formally vice-chair of the Electoral Reform Society and personally prefers STV for Westminster.  However, both believe that the crucial thing is to secure a proportional system.

Daniella Radice (DL): I would not back a move to STV for Westminster elections.  I support the additional member system, as it ensures that there is still a relationship between the voter and their constituency MP, that constituencies are not too big, and I think the system is much more understandable.

Andrew Cooper (DL): Yes, I support the use of the Single Transferable vote for local elections in England and Wales. Green Party policy is to support the Alternative Vote Plus method which combines the benefits of Constituency link with an MP and also a more proportional system where each Party’s number of MPs is topped up on a regional basis according to their share of the vote. As Deputy Leader my role would be to promote that policy and I am comfortable with that. I would welcome a debate about the relative merits of AV Plus and STV by the Green Party to enable us to give due consideration to changing the policy if necessary.

Amelia Womack (DL): I would certainly support STV over FPTP, and think the benefits it provides in terms of preventing closed party lists are a positive. I also like Mixed Member Proportional systems as they tackle the argument that proportional systems cannot give strong local representation. Above all else, I am disappointed that the AV referendum asked about a specific form of electoral reform rather than just asking if the electorate wanted a more proportional system. It’s hard work to ensure that ordinary people understand that AV isn’t PR, and an important task for the Greens and their leadership to provide messaging on.

Alan Borgars (DL): Yes, I do support the use of Single Transferable Vote, and in both local and national elections of all types. It works well in the Republic of Ireland, although STV constituencies at a parliamentary level need to have at least 4 or 5 seats to be reasonably proportional, and preferably they should have 6 or 7 seats (but not more than that as STV needs to combine both proportionality and locality). At a local council level, STV wards should have at least 6 members but not more than 10, as is common practice in Irish councils. In fact, I have written a list of plausible STV constituencies at parliamentary level for the entire UK.

Katharina Boettge (DL): Absolutely, we the Green Party support STV. I would want a democratic reform for ALL elections within the UK including general and local elections.

STV does have an advantage for local government in that it keeps the concept of a local connection and in local elections that’s a very important factor. Modern democracy should not be about electing a ‘winner’ it’s about the accurate reflection of the electorate’s opinion. STV is a move in the right direction but I think other systems do a better job for national elections.

Störm Poorun (DL): I would avoid STV and back proportional representation: AMS+. A simpler system, combining proportional seats (using PR) and constituency seats (using AV). It provides both representation, and proportional balance. It’s fairer and far more reflective of people’s votes than STV.

At the 2015 general election, STV would have given the Green Party only 0.5% of seats (3 MPs) for almost 4% of votes, AMS+ would have given the Greens the proportionate number (around 23 MPs). (Similarly for LibDems they would’ve got only 4% of seats for 8% of votes under STV).

Objections to AMS (in having ‘two different classes of MP’) haven’t materialised where it’s used in Scotland or New Zealand, and its simpler to understand. Open lists should be considered so the order of proportional candidates is chosen by voters rather than parties, and overhang seats granted to ensure results are proportional.

2. What methods do you support to continue to increase voter registration?  Would you consider moves towards automatic registration, or a US-style ‘motor voter’ campaign where citizens are prompted with a simple tick-box to register to vote when interacting with public sector bodies – such as applying for a driving licence, for a tax return or for university?

Katharina Boettge (DL): I would want that we find ways of making registration easier. However, I think we ought to first do some research why people do not register. According to the results, we could find a solution. Additionally, many people still would not vote even if registered. I believe that is due to the disengagement of politics for various reasons. One major factor is that this FPTP and a consequent two party system, has led many to be left feeling their votes do not matter. We must address our democratic deficit foremost to resolve this disengagement.

Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas (L): We think voter registration is linked to how people feel about politics and much of what we hope to do if elected as Co-leaders is around revitalising democracy. This should be backed up by robust registration systems that are designed to increase the number of people on the electoral roll – including looking properly at how automatic registration and prompting people to register to vote can make a difference. We actively opposed the recent Government changes to voter registration and have run our own voter registration campaigns.

Störm Poorun (DL): For our current system, I support opt-out rather than opt-in – so people are written to in case they wish to opt-out, rather than to opt-in. I support adding tick-box registration when applying for public services. I also think Universities, residential homes, and households should be able to add voters via this system (if those voters match existing data, which is already used to check applicants in the current system, then they would be added, but given a chance to opt-out).

Amelia Womack (DL):I believe that yes, a tick-box to register to vote when interacting with public sector bodies would be a positive step, and it has been possible with organ donation so I see no reason it wouldn’t work well with voter registration too. I would also like to see students being taught about democracy in schools when they’re 16, 17 and 18 (if not earlier) and given the opportunity, and encouraged, to register to vote in class.

Also, the recent changes in the way that we register to vote has seen hundreds of thousands of people drop off the electoral register – it’s clear that we need an overhaul of the voter registration system to make it as easy as possible for people to engage in our democratic processes. Also, the recent changes in the way that we register to vote has seen hundreds of thousands of people drop off the electoral register – it’s clear that we need an overhaul of the voter registration system to make it as easy as possible for people to engage in our democratic processes

David Williams (L): We should keep well away from American models and electronic systems. US systems have failed to enhance registration and electronic systems can be hacked. I think we should return to the open registration system where the occupant, landlord or hostel manager can return a registration form once a year for all those living in the property.

Fraud in the old system was minimal and could be overcome by CCTV in polling stations as the major source of fraud is impersonation – something registration systems can do very little about.

However, a far more rigorous local authority system of back up canvassing is required with door to door surveys to ensure the register is accurate and fraud free. All must be constantly encouraged to register. Universities should be able to register all their students at their initial term-time address en bloc.

Alan Borgars (DL): I believe in implementing automatic voter registration across the UK, and that constituencies and boundary reviews to those constituencies should be based on population size anyway based on the most recent census data, not the size of the registered electorate.

Daniella Radice (DL): I would consider as many methods as possible to increase voter registration. Under the new individual registration system, it is those who move house the most who are the least likely to be registered. Automatic registration sounds good in theory but I am not sure how it would work in practice, as voting has to be linked to an address, and unless you pay council tax, you are do not have to inform your local council if you move house.

David Malone (L): I am not entirely comfortable with automatic registration.  I do think registration is essential but feel there has to be some element of volition and engagement on the part of the voter. I would therefore prefer a system of registration that was based on some interaction with a public body. I do also feel that such a system should not replace doorstep efforts mounted by the parties themselves.

Shahrar Ali (DL): I think it would be a good idea to explore and implement some of the initiatives that have been proven to improve voter registration rates, including greater public sector engagement where records are already collected. The individual voter registration changes, whilst laudable in their aim to reduce certain types of registration fraud, risk disempowering others through the relative increase in administrative burden. I have worked with Bite the Ballot and particularly youth sector to try to engage voters in registration activities ahead of key elections and referenda (and of course our campaign to lower the voting age).

Andrew Cooper (DL): I would end Individual Voter registration which adversely affects student voters who are left off the electoral roll in their thousands. Previously many students were automatically registered when enrolling at University.

Yes, I would support a ‘motor voter’ approach as a way to maximise the numbers of people on the Electoral Roll.

3.  How will you work with other parties to secure democratic reform? More and more individual politicians, parties and organisations are getting behind PR and a progressive change agenda – what will you do to build alliances to make it happen? And what is your route to proportional representation?

Alan Borgars (DL): I will work on any cross-party alliances and with organisations like yours to achieve electoral reform, not just for switching from First Past the Post to Single Transferable Vote but also for removing the £500 deposit requirement for candidates and replacing it with a signatures requirement, for unfreezing the Access to Elected Office fund, for replacing or abolishing the unelected House of Lords, and for lowering expenses limits in elections especially in by-elections which have an expenses limit as high as £100,000, which is four times the average annual UK salary.

Daniella Radice (DL): As a Green member of the Executive of the Independent group of the local government association, I have already started working with other parties and groups to promote PR. We recently endorsed a proposal for electoral reform for local elections and put it forward to be promoted to the other political groups in the LGA.  I think progressive alliances are a good idea, but  I don’t think we should sign up to them unless electoral reform is promised.  I don’t think we will ever get proportional representation until the Labour party realises that they will never be able to form a majority government on their own again. This point may be closer now than ever.

David Williams (L): 1. Hold joint public meeting with members of the Labour Party who are sympathetic with PR, then set up a broader coalition, possibly called Alliance for Democracy and encourage the small number of Tories who support PR to join. 2. Seek funding for that organisation headed by a respected national figure who politically appears neutral but who supports PR (e.g. David Attenborough?). 3. Launch an active campaign in each by-election asking voters only to vote for candidates who back PR. 4. Stage large scale rallies for PR using occasions such as the anniversary of Peterloo in 2019. 5. Organise a Writers for Democracy circle who will write and publish articles in favour of PR. 5. Come the General Election in 2020 make it clear that the immediate and clear objective of the Greens will be to introduce PR and the General Election will be our mandate.

Amelia Womack (DL): I was part of the Wales Green Party’s discussions with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats for a progressive alliance in the National Assembly for Wales elections. I know the importance of working with other parties, and it’s important that when these negotiations take place that we have clear outcomes. Our voting system leaves voters in represented and feeling like their vote is meaningless, and when we see governments formed entirely as a result of wins and losses in marginal constituencies then they’re not wrong to feel that way. I’ve been working with make votes matter on the idea of having candidates party names adding that they are pro-PR to boost the campaign for PR. I also want to work on pushing PR in local elections, and feel that Wales has an opportunity to build on the precedent set by Scotland.

Katharina Boettge (DL): This is one of my main campaign points, as without a democratic reform, we would not address the public’s disengagement with politics. Furthermore, it is unacceptable that we have a majority government with only 24% of all registered voters, who actually voted for the Conservatives. I believe that we must offer positive and cooperative politics, moving away from tribalism. We need to do two things parallel; including making a serious call to Labour and others to discuss an alliance, with a candidate for each constituency. Please note though that as our Green Party has a bottom up core value, which we must respect. We, therefore, would need an internal consultation and/ or motion with all members and local parties to have this agreed. We also should now focus on a cross party campaign for electoral and democratic reform. If all non-governing parties agree on this, after the EU referendum campaign where the EU’s democratic deficit was heavily criticised, I believe we can get enough momentum going to pressure this government sufficiently to consider reform. At the very least the public would be encouraged to appreciate this as a serious problem. If we then achieve an alliance for the next general election, it would be essential that reform was priority.

Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas (L): We are both very keen that they should be a one-off agreement between progressive parties, in the form of a progressive alliance with the goal of securing electoral reform and a proportional voting system for Westminster. This is a central platform on which we are standing for the Green Party leadership and we have both got a strong track record of working cross party to build alliances on democratic reform.

Störm Poorun (DL): There is definitely electoral change in the winds. I would continue the Green Party’s enormous effort to push the issue. To relate it to people in society who feel disenfranchised, and ensure they realise it’s a real opportunity for our current system to be more meaningful. Ultimately, we need to persuade Labour MPs, supporters, and activists, because all other opposition parties are on side. The penny might drop soon for the Labour party/ies that they can’t win another majority as they wish, and they might be more prepared to consider fairer voting. So our route should be through a progressive alliance. And if elected, I would take that case to disenfranchised Labour supporters, and to those within the Labour party.

Andrew Cooper (DL): At the local level I am currently a member of the Kirklees Council Democracy Commission which is coming up with recommendations to improve engagement with local politics. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we could back proposals for proportional representation at the local level. Scottish Local Government has set the precedent so I see no reason why we should not adopt such an approach in our area. There could be ‘trade-offs’ with Government to achieve this e.g. if we reduce the number of Councillors or go from a 3 out of 4-year cycle to a 1 ‘all out’ election every four years that may be the hook we use to gain such a concession from Government.

At the national level I support dialogue towards achieving the Progressive Alliance being pursued to realise Proportional Representation for Parliamentary Elections.

David Malone (L): Working with other parties is a viable way of creating the necessary support for PR. The Green Party cannot achieve the change on its own. I would be happy to stand on a platform with Labour or UKIP to argue fir pr. We need to be clear that pr would empower all sorts of voter choices not just those we approve of.

When it comes to the broader idea of a ‘progressive alliance”, I think we need to be careful. An alliance to not run against Labour in certain marginal seats is fine, if that is a labour party led by Corbyn or a Corbynite leader chosen by the Labour party members. A party whose ideals overlap on important areas with our own.  An alliance with a Blairite Labour party would be wrong. Why work to get a Tory out just to get Tory-Lite in?  In my opinion whoever we cooperate with, it should not be a formal alliance. It should be just an electoral pact. And our price would have to be a very public promise to push for PR after the election.

What methods would you support to improve diversity in politics? There’s a lot that can be done to make politics truly represent the public, from better female representation to increasing the number of BME people in public life – please let me know your ideas on ideas for both the Green Party and politics more widely.

Shahrar Ali (DL): The 2011 referendum on electoral reform was a huge missed opportunity, especially because the question on the ballot was hardly PR worthy of the name, but Alternative Vote instead. However, following the 2015 most disproportionate general election in parliamentary history, and despair at the divisiveness of the EU referendum, I believe there is renewed energy for a revised constitutional settlement. This is a package of measures, including disestablishment of the constitutional powers of the monarchy. I campaign on all these initiatives through cross-party political engagement in seminars and on the streets, including the Occupy movement and having addressed the annual Republic conference as a keynote. Only with total buy-in from political parties and the wider public can change be made to happen.

4. What methods would you support to improve diversity in politics? There’s a lot that can be done to make politics truly represent the public, from better female representation to increasing the number of BME people in public life – please let me know your ideas on ideas for both the Green Party and politics more widely.

Amelia Womack (DL): Often, what drives unequal representation is often a lack of opportunity. These opportunities aren’t just about who gets elected or not, but why people don’t run in those positions.

We need better support for candidate training within parties to ensure that any barriers to women, BME, disabled, working class, LGBTIQ, etc candidates are overcome.

I fully support a quota system for candidates. I’ve seen this policy work in the Greens, where a quota system encouraged more diverse candidates to come forward, who were then elected in their own right. We need to set strong ambitions; in the 2015 General Election, we aimed to secure 50% female candidates that resulted in the Greens fielding the highest percentage of female candidate. When we challenge the system we see results.

It’s also one of the reasons I support a more proportional system which tend to see a stronger diversity of people elected.

Daniella Radice (DL): I have been campaigning for the last three years to get better female representation on Bristol City Council which has risen from 28-45% over recent years. We have raised the profile of lack of diversity in the local media regularly and I have chaired the representation sub-group of the women’s commission, and a cross-party working group of female councillors to look at issues within our council that act as barriers. We have held information meetings and events for people interested in  politics, and public life in general and will continue to do so.  Similar work can be done for BME representation, and we have been reaching out to BME women through our campaigning on gender equality. It is a mixture of grass-roots action, asking more people to get involved, demystifying the roles, looking at community leadership and finding stepping stones into electoral politics for people. I will use all my experience in this area to help  local parties across the country campaign for diversity in politics.

Shahrar Ali (DL): Unfortunately, the Green Party in particular still has a big problem with looking more like the society we purport to serve and this can badly affect our credibility, and for good reason. We are particularly marred by the label “white, middle class” and we need to reach out to ethnic minorities in particular, through targeted membership recruitment at faith community festivals and better representation in our external media work. As the first BME deputy of a UK parliamentary party, I am acutely aware of the need for us to up our game in this department and I am pleased to say that we have some brilliant Green figures from non-traditional backgrounds coming through, partly as a result of constitutional initiatives and mentoring within the party. Gender representation needs to be considered more holistically not just along those who identify in binary modes and we have been trailblazers in terms of our campaign for job share MPs, which would open up parliament for those traditionally underrepresented in government, including women and others in care roles.

Andrew Cooper (DL): The Party’s themselves have to actively recruit to target wards and ‘safe’ seats women and BME candidates as role models for others. Yorkshire sets a good example. In the ward I represent I have 2 female colleagues whom I recruited. We have 2 BME Green Party Councillors in Yorkshire, Hawarun Hussain in Bradford and Magid Mah in Sheffield. We should actively talent spot and recruit people who share our values from BME communities from outside the Green Party and develop them as future Cllrs and MPs. Inviting and involving members of the BME community in our events is important and I invited members of Muslim Engagement and Development MEND to the last Green Party Conference to speak at a seminar on the Prevent Strategy and Islamophobia. Building these relationships is vital to demonstrate our shared objectives and show that we consider issues affecting their community as a priority.

Störm Poorun (DL): Sustainability (social, economic, environmental) is an issue for everyone. But politics is done wrongly here. Proportional representation, and politics based around policy debate (rather than point-scoring) is part of the answer.

Quotas can force the issue, but are problematic and can be unfair, and with some groups are difficult to define. The reality is, we need a larger pool to choose from – if you’re starting point is a low/er number of activists from a certain grouping, then it will be less represented within that party.

I propose that in the Green Party we instigate neighbourhood teams working at a very local level, connecting people more genuinely, and appealing to people regardless of their grouping or background. Secondly, I would reach out and choose individuals who are not career-minded to be in key roles – in media, videos, or publications – getting across that politics is for everyone, not only ‘politico’ types.

David Malone (L): I think UK politics and the Green Party would both benefit from being more diverse and better representing the actual make-up of the country.  Encouraging more women and BME people to come forward, be heard and stand for election can only be a positive thing.  I feel strongly that in many discussions of diversity and representativeness, one group is often not mentioned – it was not mentioned in your question – and that is the working class.  The GP is very middle class.  Many working class voters regard us with suspicion. And many BME and women voters are also Working Class. Our party often seems to, emphasize those things which separate us into different groups, and overlook those worries and experiences which people share, no matter their colour, no matter how they identify. I think we should not forget those things which we have in common, which give us reasons to stand together.  That the GP can be so seemingly blind to class differences is a telling weakness that I would work to address.

Katharina Boettge (DL): Diversity is essential to address people’s disengagement. We must move away from white, privileged men running our country. As a woman, a single parent, and as a European migrant I hope to encourage others that we the Green Party is different (although we also need to work harder on this front). I believe in quotas, some to be mandatory within parties’ selection of candidates, others to open nominations if not met. I have been arguing that we should do some research within our party to understand the exact causes why some minorities may not come forward in internal elections to be officers and/ or candidates. I think this would be useful in order to solve causes.

Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas (L): Both of the Green Party’s Parliamentarians are women, as are both our London Assembly members, and two out of three of our MEPs.  But we want to make the Green Party better reflect modern Britain in all its diversity.  Jonathan leads Lambeth Green Party, where two out of the three Parliamentary candidates were from BME groups.  We want to set up an Equalities Commission, which will work with the Equality Coordinators on the Green Party’s Executive Committee to bring recommendations for concrete action to Green Party Conference, and also to ensure that equalities underpins everything we do as a party.

Alan Borgars (DL): Changing to a more proportional system of elections, removing monetary deposit requirements for any and all elections, and making Parliament a more accessible place for mothers and disabled people in particular are the fundamental changes I will call for to increase diversity in politics.

David Williams (L): For most groups the real solution is a positive programme of reaching out to groups in their communities, their campaigning groups, and their festivals to encourage direct involvement with the Green Party. The greatest problem for the Greens is encouraging more members from the Black and Asian community and more working class involvement.

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