Steven Agnew elected as the new leader of Green Party in Northern Ireland

European/Westminster candidate Steven Agnew is the new leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, winning 72% of the votes in the postal ballot.

In recent years the party had two co-chairs, one male and one female. In an extraordinary general meeting in the autumn, the party agreed to switch to mirror many of their affiliated European Green parties and elect a “clear and definable leader to act as both figurehead and primary spokesperson, particularly ahead of council and assembly elections”. The leader is elected for a four year term.

While the Greens don’t often get a mention on Slugger, their vote is growing, and their ambition to increase from one MLA and three councillors will be tested in the upcoming assembly and council elections. Their ability to pick up transfers (and to deliver transfers to other parties) may have particular influence in May’s results.

The leadership election was a Down battle between Steven Agnew in North Down and Councillor Cadogan Enright in South Down. Their biographies in a nutshell:

Before entering politics full time, Steven Agnew spent five years working as a Support Worker with the homeless. He stood as the Green candidate in the 2009 European election securing the party’s highest ever vote, and went on to contest the Westminster election in North Down. Up until now he was the Green Party’s spokesperson on Children and Young People and Animal Welfare as well being Research Officer for the Green Party’s current North Down MLA Brian Wilson who is standing down from the Assembly (but not from council) at the May elections.

Long time Green, Cadogan Enright is elected to Down District Council and is the party’s spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Investment. He was election agent for Brian Wilson at the successful 2007 Assembly elections and served on the (Irish) National Executive Committee of the Green Party as well as the Northern Ireland Executive of the party for many years.

Both candidates will be standing in the upcoming Assembly elections, with Steven Agnew hoping to take over Brian Wilson’s seat up at Stormont.

Ahead of this morning’s announcement, I posed some questions to the winning candidate. You can read Steven’s full answers in the other blog post.

Asked about the party’s expectations at the forthcoming Assembly and council elections, Steven was upbeat.

We currently have three councillors and I would be expecting us to treble that number in May’s elections. We should increase our representation on North Down and Down District councils as well as making a breakthrough in Belfast and Castlereagh. Based on our European election figures I would anticipate our vote increasing across the board so we might spring a few surprises in other areas as well. It is important that we capitalise on that growth in these elections by significantly increasing our representation.

There’s also a good Q&A featuring both candidates over on Jim Jepps’ blog The Daily (Maybe) including the candidates’ views on what can be learnt from the experience of the Irish Greens.

The Green’s poll was in sharp contrast to the ill-tempered UUP leadership campaign of Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea back in the Autumn.

  • The Green poll avoided bad headlines … in fact it hardly got a mention in the media.
  • Unlike the UUP which forced members to travel to the Waterfront Hall in order to cast their vote, the Green Party conducted their poll by postal ballot before Christmas, holding back the announcement until today’s press conference up at Stormont.

One of Steven Agnew’s campaigning messages has been that the Green Party isn’t all about the environment.

People rightly see the Green Party as environmental champions. However … it is not that the Green Party believes that the environment is somehow more important than people or the economy, but that environmental, social and economic concerns are all inextricably linked.

Answering a question that didn’t make it onto Jim’s blog – but was published on Steven’s own Littlep0int blog – he explained:

I am passionate about social justice. While environmental policies are important, I am not a ‘deep green’ in that I think they are only important in so far as they make life better for people and other sentient beings (I believe that animal rights have to be given a higher level of importance). So I think that making the lives better for the most vulnerable in our society should be our first objective.

I think the proposal for a national insulation scheme is a key Green policy and one that sums up the approach of our Party. It would improve people’s lives by making them more comfortable in their homes. It would help the economy both by creating jobs and by reducing the amount of money that we are sending out of our economy by spending it on imported fossil fuels. And of course it would reduce our emission thus helping in the fight against climate change. It is economy for people and planet.

I would like to change our branding. If I could borrow Marty McFly’s time machine I would go back and tell the founding members of the Party not to call it the Green Party. Every day we fight a battle against the public perception that we are more interested in protecting every blade of grass than we are in improving people’s lives. While improving people’s lives and protecting the environment in which they live are inextricably linked, this is a hard message to get across.

Or maybe I just want to change the name so I don’t have to listen to any more rubbish puns on the colour green. So I’ll finish with one I never grow tired of; “it’s not easy being green”.

While wandering around the Kings Hall as an election observer back in May 2009 before the European election verification got under way, one of the counters on the other side of the table pointed out Steven Agnew walking past. Two nights before she explained the she had been at home and heard her letterbox rattle. A leaflet from the Greens had popped through. She had questions she had wanted to ask them, so she put her head out the door and saw Steven Agnew’s long flowing locks going down the street. She chased after him and he stopped and talked. She said that she was impressed that he was handing out his own leaflets the night before the polls opened, and was very satisfied with his answers. She subsequently voted Green for the first time in her life the next morning. (For the record, I think this is the only time I’ve heard an election worker accidentally admit who they voted for.) The Green’s biggest chance of electoral success is putting winning people on the doorsteps with plausible policies.

I’ll give the last word in this longer than usual post to the unsuccessful candidate. While Peter Robinson used the word “shambolic” to describe NI Water’s reaction to the most recent freeze and thaw around Christmas, it was back on the 7 December that Cadogan Enright used the word in a press release that “slammed the Roads Service, the [Down] Council and other agencies for failing to meet and create a coordinated response to the [first wave of] severe weather”.

He pointed out that back at the beginning of December the southern Green Party Minister for Local Government and the Environment John Gormley had “convened a meeting of the ‘Inter-Agency emergency coordination Group’ with the Transport Minister and Minister for Defence to plan for the expected adverse conditions” supported by “senior managers from the Meteorological Office, the railways, bus companies, National Roads Authority, the Department of Education and the Department of Health”. He said that “this all happened before the first snow-flake fell”.

In contrast “in NI no senior group of N.I. Ministers have met … Highly-paid pubic sector managers are failing to respond at an inter-agency and regional level.”

And it only got worse when our snowy attention moved from roads to water pipes.

Don’t forget there’s a Q&A with Steven Agnew in a second post.