Principal Speakers were the public spokespersons of the Green Party of England and Wales but have since been replaced in the party by a national Leader and Deputy Leader. There were two Principal Speakers, one female and one male, who were elected annually at the Green Party's Autumn Conference and held no vote on the Green Party Executive (GPEx).

A referendum passed on 30 November 2007 has abolished the posts after this current term, however, and a leader and deputy were elected at Autumn Conference on September 5 2008.

Role and historyEdit

The Principal Speakers performed the public and media roles undertaken by the leaders of more conventional political parties. Green Parties often consider joint leadership of this kind to embody the widely-held Green beliefs in consensus decision making and gender balance. It also symbolises their belief in the need for a society in which people are empowered and involved in making the decisions which affect them. In the Party's Philosophical Basis, it states that the Green Party "reject[s] the hierarchical structure of leaders and followers, and, instead advocate[s] participatory politics" and it is "for this reason" that the Green Party has eschewed an individual leader[1].

There were six Principal Speakers in the UK Green Party until 1991, when changes introduced by the Green 2000 grouping reduced this to two and streamlined the organisation of the party[2]. This left a system that neither side in the 2007 leadership referendum was happy with.

Regional variationsEdit

Not all regions of the Green Party use the Principal Speaker system. In particular, the Wales Green Party has a Leader, Leila Kiersch, and Deputy Leader John MatthewsTemplate:Fact. The North West of England also appoints a Leader, currently Cllr. John WhiteleggTemplate:Fact. However, some regional and local groups have adopted the gender balance principle and emulated the Principal Speaker structure, including the LSE Students' Union Green Party, who have a Female and Male Co-Chair[3].

2007 Leadership referendumEdit

At the party's 2007 Spring Conference in Swansea, members voted to hold a cross-party referendum on whether the posts should be changed to Leader and Deputy Leader (with the option for Co-Leaders if two candidates chose to run together and were gender balanced, in the event of which there would be no Deputy Leader). The new system would allow the Leader and Deputy (or Co-Leaders) to vote on GPEx and, rather than being elected annually (like the Principal Speakers), the posts would be elected every two years. Provisions for recalling the Leader and Deputy were articulated[4]. Despite the controversial nature of this issue, many participants, such as Siân Berry, were struck by the how "constructive" the debate turned out to be[5].

On Friday November 30th 2007 the ballots were counted and members voted 73% to 27% in favour of the new leadership model with a 48.3% turnout of Green Party members. [6]

The 'Pro-Leader' side - Green YesEdit

Supporters of the 'Green Yes' campaign for a yes vote in the referendum include the then Female Principal Speaker Dr. Caroline Lucas MEP, Siân Berry, Cllr. Darren Johnson AM (a Green member of the Greater London Assembly), environmental commentator and Green member Mark Lynas, former Principal Speaker Jonathon Porritt, councillors from Lewisham, Brighton, Norwich, Leicester and Lancaster, and members of the Green Party Executive (GPEx), including Jim Killock (External Communications Officer), Elections Coordinator Peter Cranie and Khalid Hussenbux, the party's Financial Coordinator[7].

The Green Yes campaign believe that the Green Party needs a leader to reach its potential and that, if the party does not reach its potential, it will be "selling-short our planet and everything on it". They suggest that the party's success has been too slow and that "a leader would help set direction, political focus and make sure the party gets the resources to grow". The campaign hopes that having a Leader is "about empowering the party" and "about accountability", in that a Leader "will mean we can identify who to hold to account when things need changing". The group adds that other Green Parties in the world have leaders and remain "just as Green as the rest of us"[7].

Mark Lynas, in several editions of his New Statesman blog, further claims that the name 'Principal Speaker' is not transparent to the public, that it wastes valuable time in explaining the system to the media and that it lacks credibility[8]. Darren Johnson characterizes the lack of single leader as "just a ridiculous barrier in terms of getting our really important message across"[9].

An internal poll conducted on behalf of party chair Andrew Cornwell showed that a majority of Green party councillors polled were in favour of change, while the majority of the party executive and regional council were opposed. Local parties were also invited to discuss the matter and comment, but most did not do so.Template:Fact.

The 'Anti-Leader' side - Green EmpowermentEdit

Supporters of the 'Green Empowerment' campaign for a no vote in the leadership referendum include the then Male Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall, Cllr. Jenny Jones AM (a Green member of the Greater London Assembly), the late Lord Beaumont of Whitley (Green member of the House of Lords), prominent human rights campaigner and Green member Peter Tatchell, Noel Lynch (London Green Party Coordinator and former GLA member), councillors from Scarborough, Lewisham, York, Norwich and Hackney, and members of the Green Party Executive (GPEx), including Campaigns Coordinator, Tim Summers, and Pete McAskie (Management Coordinator)[10]. Some members, like Cllr. Matt Sellwood, while reportedly in favour of a Leader system in principle, are opposed to the current referendum because the term of reelection would be extended to two years[citation needed].

Supporters of Green Empowerment want to "uphold the Green Party's long-standing commitment to non-hierarchical structures and 'grassroots' democracy" through "collective leadership". They believe that a single leader "would not only draw attention away from other speakers and the wider Party, but would bring with it risks that the other parties in this country are all too well aware of". The campaign focuses on retaining gender balance in party structures, and avoding the dilution of their radical policies. They focus on success under the Principal Speaker system, seen in the steady build up of support from the low point of the 1992 General election to the situation today, where the party has over 100 councilors along with two members of the European Parliament and two members of the Greater London Assembly[10].

Derek Wall counters pro-leader arguments by stating that "if you are a clear speaker, there's no problem getting coverage and explaining the party's views." He is concerned by the history of past political parties that started off as being participatory until they adopted a single leader system in which the members became "puppets"[9]. Wall also opposed the reduction in numbers of Principal Speakers from six to two in 1992, as advocated by the Green 2000 group[2].

Previous incumbents prior to 1992 (six elected annually)Edit

Previous incumbents after 1992Edit

Year Male principle speaker Female principle speaker
Feb-Sep 1992 Dr Richard Lawson Jean Lambert
1992–1993 Mallen Baker Jean Lambert
1993–1994 John Cornford Jan Clark
1994–1995 David Taylor Jan Clark
1995–1996 David Taylor Peg Alexander
1996–1997 David Taylor Peg Alexander
1997–1998 Mike Woodin -Template:Huh
1998–1999 Mike Woodin Jean Lambert
1999–2000 Mike Woodin Margaret Wright
2000–2001 Mike Woodin Margaret Wright
2001–2002 Darren Johnson Margaret Wright
2002–2003 Darren Johnson Margaret Wright
2003–2004 Mike Woodin Dr Caroline Lucas
2004–2005 Keith Taylor Dr Caroline Lucas
2005–2006 Keith Taylor Dr Caroline Lucas
2006–2007 Derek Wall Sian Berry
2007–2008 Derek Wall Dr Caroline Lucas


  1. The Green Party of England and Wales' Philosophical Basis
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wall, Derek, Weaving a Bower Against Endless Night: An Illustrated History of the Green Party, 1994
  3. Young Greens: LSE
  4. Green Yes Website - Copy of the Full Motion to Conference on Creating a Leader and Deputy Leader or Co-Leaders
  5. Siân Berry's New Statesman Blog - A leader for the Greens?
  6. The Electoral Returning Officer's blog 'The Daily (Maybe)' on the result
  7. 7.0 7.1 Green Yes Website
  8. Mark Lynas' New Statesman Blog - Even Greens need leaders
  9. 9.0 9.1 BBC News | Politics | Greens consider getting a leader
  10. 10.0 10.1 Green Empowerment Website

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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