Green Party Leadership Interviews: Cllr Rosi Sexton

(Solihull Council)

As part of a series of interviews with candidates for the leadership of the Green Party of England and Wales, Cllr Rosi Sexton makes her pitch to Liberal Base editor, Tom Parkin.

Rosi, you’ve made ‘serious about success’ a key component of your bid to become the next Green Party leader. What does a successful Green Party look like to you?  

Success in politics can come in a variety of different forms, but I’m specifically talking here about electoral success. As the political wing of the Green movement, it’s our responsibility to be an effective political voice. This means that we need more Greens elected at all levels, from local government, to assembly members, Mayoral elections and Parliament itself. In the medium term, we should be looking to obtain our second MP, representation on over half the councils in England and Wales, representation on the Senedd Cymru, and more London assembly members. It is not enough to act just as a pressure group or campaigning organisation; we cannot rely on the establishment parties to carry our cause for us and to do the right thing. We should be looking to position ourselves as a major force in British politics in our own right, and ensuring that we have Green representation everywhere that important decisions are being made. 

What is the greatest single achievement you hope to make as party leader?  

In concrete terms, the greatest single achievement would be more seats at Westminster. To achieve that, we must change the image of the Green Party. Too many people still see us as a lifestyle movement for white, middle class vegans. We need to be seen as a serious, credible political party capable of governing.

Will the Greens change their approach to local and national campaigning now the UK has left the European Union? If so, how?  At a local level, I think very little will change. Nationally, the Brexit debate has obviously occupied a huge amount of bandwidth for all political parties over the past four years. The nature of that discussion has now changed, and our messaging must change with it. More broadly, we need to make sure that we’re talking confidently about the whole range of political issues: from education and health policy to social policy or economics – as well as the environmental issues we’re more often associated with. The climate emergency is a huge issue for all of us, and it’s right for us to make it a high priority; however we need to make sure we’re also talking about the day to day challenges people face and presenting ourselves as a truly progressive alternative to the establishment parties. 

What is the most controversial aspect of your platform to stand as leader that may be difficult to implement/convince party members?  I’ve made it clear that we need to focus on becoming more credible as a party. To me, a key part of that is a focus on evidence-based policy making. In the Green Party, policy is made by members. Some of it is excellent; for example I think our new drugs policy is a shining example of good practice which involved consultation with a number of experts and professionals working in the field. Unfortunately, not all of our policies have been developed to the same standard of rigour and some are outdated and need to be reviewed. We need to look at how we can embed good practice within our policy making process in order to ensure consistent regard for science and best practice. I think every political party has its blind spots, and topics where policy is influenced by dogma. Convincing people to look again at long held beliefs and examine them again in the light of new evidence isn’t always easy; but I believe that doing so is essential. 

You’re a councillor on Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. What advice do you have for anyone considering standing for local office, but worried about the public exposure that comes with the role?

Having a public profile as an elected representative can be daunting, and it’s definitely something I worried about when I first agreed to stand as a candidate. I know that the negative attention that can occasionally come with that does sometimes put people off, although my own experience is that the positive interactions and feedback very much outweigh the negative. I’m fortunate in Solihull to be part of a fantastic group of Green councillors, so I have lots of support. For councillors who are part of a smaller group, or on their own that can be harder, but the Association of Green Councillors also does some fantastic work in supporting our elected members around the country. I think that a little media coaching and social media training can also go a long way in developing confidence and skills for dealing with any potentially tricky situations. Overall, though, I’d emphasise that if your heart is in the right place and you want the best for your local area, your residents will see that and most will be only too happy to hear from you!

Are there any changes you’d like to see made to the Green Party constitution? If so, what are they?

I’ve already talked about the need to make the policy making process more rigorous. I also think there are a few other areas that need to be tightened up, such as the disciplinary process. Our constitution was developed when we were considerably smaller, but as we’ve grown it’s become clear that some of the structures and processes aren’t robust enough to deal with the challenges that go along with being a major political party and need to be rethought.

Under your leadership, would you be keen for your party to advocate rejoining the European Union at the next general election, or should the Green movement ‘move on’ from the issue?

Now isn’t the time to be talking about rejoining. I think our focus has to be on what is in front of us; we have to engage with the reality of our situation, which is that we’ve left the EU. The urgent priority is shaping what our ongoing relationship with the EU is going to look like. Our role now is to hold the government to account where they are failing to deliver on their promises and to call for protection of things like workers’ rights, migrants’ rights and environmental and animal welfare standards.

In 2019, Change UK launched as a new political force and also advocated greater evidenced-based policy making. What would you do to ensure the Greens have greater electoral success and avoid the mistakes made by Change UK?I think

Change UK were somewhat naive about the difficulties involved in launching a new political party. They had a handful of MPs, but with no real activist and local councillor base they were always going to struggle to hold their seats. The Green Party sees national success as something that builds on local successes, that in turn come from years of hard work. We recognise the importance of strong local democracy and working with local communities, and this gives us the strong foundations that I believe will translate into longer term political success. 

Why have you chosen to run for the leadership now

The Green Party is at a crucial crossroads, and we have a choice to make about our future. We’re the fourth party in English politics, and we should be rightly proud of how far we’ve come in the last few years. We have some influence, and we’ve seen a number of our policies being (badly) recycled by the establishment parties. In order to take the next step, though, and become a major political force in our own right, we need to do some things differently. We need to shake off some of the old stereotypes of the Green Party that hold us back. We must be serious about inclusion, serious about credibility and serious about winning elections. I believe that to make the changes that are needed we need a fresh set of eyes and a new energy. I think that’s something that I’ve already demonstrated in my campaign, and it’s what I can bring to this role.

Some have criticised the Greens as overly ‘woke’ and too concerned with minority rights issues, at the expense of ‘bread and butter issues’ to gain significant traction. Is this a fair critique?

I think that our focus on issues of equality and minority rights are a core part of our philosophy, so while we still have minority groups who are marginalised and who suffer disadvantage because of who they are, this is not something we can “move on” from. I don’t think that should detract from “bread and butter issues”; on the contrary, our belief in social justice informs much of what we do. I would love to live in a world where minority rights are something that we can take for granted, but until we do we should fight for them. Inclusion is something that I’ve focused heavily on during my campaign; we need to make sure that our movement is truly representative of the country as a whole, and that everyone – regardless of who they are – can feel at home in the Green Party. 

(A question I asked Natalie Bennett) – Is the ‘green wave’ here to stay or is there a risk of it losing momentum?   This is just the beginning. Over the next few years, we’ll see it growing in size and pace as the climate emergency becomes more apparent, and as a generation who face the consequences of it comes of age. We’re currently seeing the consequences of a government’s disdain for experts, and prioritising private profits over principles. The mismanaged response to the pandemic has cost thousands of people their lives and the upcoming recession will cost even more their livelihoods. There’s a growing demand for a new kind of politics fit for the challenges of the 21st century, and this is something only the Green Party can offer. If we make the changes that are necessary – if we can present ourselves as a truly credible alternative – then we can change the political landscape of this country.