Over the summer, almost unnoticed amid the blanket coverage of the Olympics, the future of one of our political parties is being decided. Across the country, hustings are taking place to allow the Green Party to decide its next leader.
One of the four candidates is Pippa Bartolotti, a former fashion designer and businesswoman who was arrested and jailed by Israel after participating in the “flytilla” last year.
Ms Bartolotti’s chances were improved last week when favourite Peter Cranie said he might have to reconsider standing if he were expected to support his young family on the London “living wage”, as is proposed by his party. (Ms Bartolotti is wealthy enough to live on expenses only).
Pippa Bartolotti’s slick leadership website contains some interesting insights: “I have lived in Cuba, backpacked round India, and driven a convoy of humanitarian aid across Europe to Gaza. In Syria, though I bear no arms, they call me Mujahadeen.”
She proudly adds: “In July 2011, whilst attempting to enter Bethlehem and visit Palestinians living on the West Bank, I was arrested by Israeli security and imprisoned in Givon jail, Ramla.”
What she doesn’t say in her leadership pitch is that she was famously pictured holding the flag of the Syrian Socialist National Party, an authoritarian ultra-nationalist party often accused of links to fascism.
Answering a question in the website’s comments, however, Ms Bartolotti claims she was given the flag “in friendship with the understanding that it was a secular and socialist party — as are the Greens” and only later did her research into the SSNP. Quite an oversight.
Jewish Chronicle readers will also be familiar with Ms Bartolotti’s role in the “dual loyalty” row over Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould.
When she was arrested during the “flytilla” demonstration against Israel’s blockade of Gaza, she questioned Mr Gould’s independence and objected to being represented by a member of the UK diplomatic staff with a Jewish name.
She told this paper last December: “I questioned the wisdom of having a Jewish Zionist ambassador in Israel and stated that their loyalty was a matter for the FCO to investigate.”
She added: “The vice -consul was called Levi. From the university of life I have learned that Jews often have a conflict of interest in matters relating to Palestine.”
The Green Party was later forced to issue an apology on her behalf.
Why does it matter that a small political party with just one MP to its name should consider such a controversial character as its leader?
It matters because the function of the Green Party is to act as the conscience of liberal Britain. In recent years the party has moved towards the mainstream of UK politics and forced the major parties to take environmental issues seriously.
At the next election, there will be many disillusioned Lib Dem voters looking for a new home and a significant section of the anti-war left who still feel unable to vote Labour. Both groups will be welcomed with open arms by a Green Party led by Pippa Bartolotti. They should be extremely wary of her embrace.