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Artillery Row

How the Greens blackened their name

The leadership of the Greens allowed gender fundamentalism to undermine the party

A crucial plot point in the movie Jurassic Park revolves around frogs that can change from female to male. The fact that some animals can change sex is uncontroversial. The fact that mammals cannot is also scientifically uncontroversial. Bizarrely, whether humans can is now one of the most highly charged questions in current politics. In particular it could now mean the extinction of the Green Party of which I was, until recently, a member. 

At the end of my last article about the sorry state of the party, I ended by saying I was seriously considering whether I wanted to remain as a member. Turns out I didn’t need to bother resigning — soon after, I received notice that I had been suspended from the party. My crime was my previous article which revealed, based on their own legal guidance, that the Green Party has been illegally discriminating against members with Gender Critical beliefs.

Of course, if my claims had been false there might have been some justification for action against me. But we now know that I was correct — the party has been unlawful. This was confirmed in an important court judgement released last week (9th Feb 2024).

Gender identity ideology … has taken over large parts of the party

Shahrar Ali is a significant figure in the Green Party. He was deputy leader from 2014-2016, and in June 2021 he was appointed as the party spokesperson on policing matters. However he is also significant because he is one of the few leading figures who has spoken out against the gender identity ideology that has taken over large parts of the party. 

Some people object to calling the promotion of gender identity over sex an ideology — but it involves a set of interconnected claims and policies (see the queerphobia guidance for a manifesto of sorts) and believers think that anyone who disagrees with these ideas should be cast out, which seems ideological to me. 

In the case of Shahrar, the activists made no secret of their desire to oust him — and his enemies went to the very top. Shortly after Shahrar’s appointment, Siân Berry, then co-leader of the party, announced that she was stepping down from her leadership role rather than share the front bench with Shahrar. So it was that a serious effort was made to remove him from his post.

The problem for his opponents is that having been made a spokesperson, Shahrar was very careful to stick to the rules. Most of the statements they complained about were from when he stood in the leadership election. During such an election, it’s important that candidates can be honest about their beliefs, even where they differ from current policy. How else do voters make an informed choice? Indeed, the party confirmed that Shahrar was free to state his own views during this period. 

His careful and considered behaviour mattered not. In Feb 2022, GPEX — one of two governing bodies in the party — voted to remove him as spokesperson. This is why, in 2023, the party found itself in court facing accusations of unlawfully discriminating against Shahrar on the basis of his belief in biological sex.

The court case has allowed us to lift the curtain on machinations that are normally hidden from gaze — and what they reveal is a shocking tale of bad faith. Prior to his removal, the leadership team attempted to alter the rules for spokesperson conduct so that he would fall foul of them. A senior figure gave the game away in an email complaining that “a process designed to remove Sharar (sic) as speaker is spilling over into general processes that is not in the best interests of the party”. When GPEX voted on the removal one of the attendees commented “…even though the discussion we were having … was about a breach of the [Spokespeople] Code of Conduct, what we were presented with … that’s not really any evidence — that’s not only not evidence of breaches of the Code of Conduct but it doesn’t even mention the Code of Conduct and breaches of it”. Evidence and process didn’t matter – all that mattered was which faction had more votes that day — and so Shahrar was removed from post.

You can see the full judgement for yourself, and I don’t think any fair person could read that and not conclude that Shahrar had been discriminated against on the basis of his beliefs. Case closed? Not so fast. I sat in on the last day of the hearing and it was clear that the judge, His Honour Judge Hellman, was extremely cautious about the courts interfering with the political process. After all, politics is all about discriminating (i.e. choosing) between different beliefs. How to balance the rights of freedom from discrimination with the rights to freedom of speech — and all without impeding the battle of ideas that’s central to democracy? 

This was the challenge Hellman faced. His solution is, I think, elegant and carefully considered. On the central claim, Shahrar was victorious — the Green Party had acted unlawfully when it removed him as spokesperson. The judgement states clearly  “he has been subject to unlawful discrimination”. The process to remove him is described as “procedurally unfair” which is a wonderful piece of legal understatement — rather like when medics pronounce a patient dead by saying they’d suffered from “irrecoverable heart rate drop.” The fact is he faced politically motivated, trumped up charges with no evidence provided and yet was punished anyway.

But Judge Hellman is also careful to make clear that many forms of discriminatory behaviour are legal in politics. The making of inflammatory, even false, accusations against someone you oppose because of their beliefs might be unpleasant but it is not the court’s role to take action against even “dirty politics”. Crucially, when it comes to picking key political posts, discriminating on the basis of beliefs is a core part of normal politics. After all, most parties have a version of cabinet unity — where senior members agree on the manifesto whatever their previous beliefs. Question the party policy in public and you’re out, which is how you get arch-Remainer Jeremy Hunt saying “Brexit is an opportunity”. 

So, the judgement says that the party is entitled to remove a spokesperson based on their statements about gender if the process they follow is fair. This is what’s so shameful about the Green Party’s behaviour. Had an open and democratic debate in the party agreed that GC members cannot hold senior posts then at least everyone would have known where they stood and could decide if this was a party they wished to join. But the gender war has been fought in the shadows, through opaque and biased processes behind closed doors. Judge Hellman is emphatic — that’s not on. Political parties are not above the law. They can discriminate on belief in certain circumstances but the courts may take a dim view if that discrimination isn’t done with scrupulous fairness.  

So what does this all mean for the Green Party? Its immediate problem is that there are a number of other cases in the pipeline from women who have allegedly faced even worse treatment than Shahrar and have been expelled or suspended. We won’t know the full details until they reach trial and the curtain is again lifted — but from what I’ve seen of these cases could be similarly full of “procedural unfairness”. The prospect of losing 3 additional cases (with the potential legal costs involved) could bankrupt the party.

In the past few months, the party purity police have been in overdrive

But even this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the past few months, the party purity police have been in overdrive. I already mentioned my own suspension — but anybody that attempts to stand up for freedom of speech has faced their own “procedural unfairness”. Green Party Women has raised concerns over how women with GC views have been treated, for which the co-chair Zoe Hatch has been suspended (joining her two predecessors who have also faced suspension or expulsion). Now it’s the Green Seniors Group which has refused to bow down — leading to 3 of their committee being suspended without trial (the infamous No Fault Suspensions). This includes Eric Walker — 99 years old and still highly active, making him an absolute legend of the party. 

Members at all levels, including councillors and parliamentary candidates, have faced the Green Party’s now provably unfair systems. My own suspension was a case in point. My single anonymous accuser bypassed the usual disciplinary process with its (very limited) checks and balances. Instead, the GPRC (the other leading committee) acted in secret as judge, jury and prosecution, with no defence and no opportunity to put my point of view. So believe me when I say that the party’s understanding of due process is flawed to say the least.

Assuming the party somehow survives the coming cases, well — what then? I think it faces an existential choice. Some in the party have already taken the message of the judgement as being tacit approval for a final purge of all GC members. They believe that if they get the right procedures in place they can then expel anyone who doesn’t sign up to all the tenets of their ideology and make the Green Party pure. This path is fraught with legal difficulty, I don’t think we know what a court would decide about applying such widespread discrimination to ordinary members. But more importantly, to paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, even if this could be done, it doesn’t mean it should be done. We have no idea how many party members are Gender Critical. The existing policy has only been passed by a few hundred delegates at conference — there’s never been a vote by the wider membership. If Green Party Women results are anything to go by, a majority of female members favour GC candidates. So, we could be looking at the expulsion or resignation of a huge chunk of the party including many of its most experienced and hardworking members. This would leave it a hollowed out shell — unable to be a serious voice on any of the issues that you might expect the Green Party to concern itself with. Like, you know, the environment.

I don’t write this expecting to persuade any of the self-proclaimed Trans Rights Activists in the party. But if you’re a member who wants the party to survive in some form then I urge you to get involved and put pressure on the party to see sense. Only a concerted effort by the sane part of the leadership to call a truce on the gender war can save the party from going the way of the dinosaurs. The party needs to be a safe space where different points of view on gender can co-exist just as people of different religious faiths can cooperate. Such a party could truly embrace Green Values and model respectful tolerant dialogue on difficult issues, whilst working hard together on the areas on which we agree. I did try to work towards such a truce in the party — proposing a motion of tolerance that might have been a small step to reconciliation — but my reward for all my efforts was suspension. Perhaps the court case will be the wake-up call the party needs — but I’m not holding my breath.

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