There are critics on the sidelines who say the Green party isn’t needed any more. But without it, vital policies will slide down the agenda

The next leader of the Green party will have one big question to address: what is the party for? Since its birth in the 1980s it has pursued an erratic course. If it was a bird, its flight pattern would be like a nuthatch’s, off the ground but sometimes breathtakingly close to it. At first it was unquestionably a single issue green party, preoccupied with issues around sustainability that it fought to make fashionable. From the early 1990s, it became an environmental party with social policies. At the last general election it was an anti-austerity party, the fate of the planet reduced to only one of six objectives. Now that Natalie Bennett, after four years as leader, is standing down to give her successor time to refresh its appeal before the next election, serious thinking is needed. Is it a potential party of government, or is it a party that seeks to disrupt and to challenge? What sort of a leader does it need; why does it still matter?

The well-liked Ms Bennett, a former Guardian journalist, retires after a respectable if not dazzling tenure. She campaigned hard on the doorstep, and the results in the elections earlier this month were reasonable, if not quite as good as had seemed possible after the general election when the party won a record million-plus votes. It held on to its only parliamentary seat in Brighton, home of its former (and possibly future) leader Caroline Lucas. Membership is at a record high, up from 13,000 to 60,000 in the course of Ms Bennett’s leadership, ahead of Ukip, and on level pegging with the Lib Dems. Yet that moment in early 2015 when the Greens challenged for the space left by a lacklustre Labour party clinging cautiously to the centre ground came and went. And under the constraints of first past the post, an insurgent party can only break through on the back of strong local organisations that, outside Brighton, the Greens lack. Its standing in the polls now seems static at around 5%.

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Source: Guardian Environment