After Caroline Lucas won the Greens’ first seat in the House of Commons, one of her campaign managers, Alex Phillips, told a BBC reporter: “We’re no longer the party of socks and sandals.”
She re-tells the story as she urges her party to widen its appeal now, then says with a wry smile: “The camera panned down to my feet … I was wearing sandals.”
She adds quickly: “But I wasn’t wearing socks!”
Like many of her colleagues, Alex Phillips has had to learn fast as the Greens have emerged as a political force to be reckoned with.
She joined the party almost ten years ago. And almost three years ago to the day she won a council by-election to give the Greens their first seat in Hove. She has since been re-elected to the council.
Now, a few weeks after her 27th birthday, she is campaigning to become deputy leader of the national party.
The ballot papers will be posted out to members in the coming week, with the result due on Monday 3 September.
At the same a new national leader will be elected to replace Caroline Lucas, who has served two two-year terms.
Dr Lucas said that she wanted “to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election”.
Others have suggested that she is stepping down to focus on keeping her seat, not least because boundary changes are anticipated.
Either way, four people are standing – three of them women. If any of the three women win the contest, Councillor Phillips cannot become deputy leader because the party has a gender-balanced leadership.
A male leader must have a female deputy and vice versa. So, not just because she’s a Scouser, she will be pinning her hopes on a victory for Peter Cranie, the man who revived their party in Liverpool.
Her rivals for the deputy leadership include only one other woman. Also on the ballot paper is former Preston Park councillor Richard Mallender, who moved to Nottinghamshire five years ago.
Given Councillor Phillips’s track record as an election campaigner and the bookies offering favourite’s odds on Peter Cranie, she could be forgiven for feeling quietly optimistic.
Instead she shows no signs of complacency. She has been travelling around the country trying to drum up support in places such as Huddersfield, Liverpool, Solihull, Worthing, Lewes and Bristol.
What does the deputy leader do? “There’s no job description,” Councillor Phillips said. “I’ve written what I think it should entail.
“The leader could have a public facing focus and the deputy could focus on nurturing and growing the party.
“Since I moved here I’ve learnt the tricks of the trade from some of the best. I want to share the success here in other parts of the country.”
This is an unsurprising trait in someone who has been working as a secondary school teacher. Councillor Phillips has been giving French and German lessons at a school in Croydon.
She has previously lived in Paris and Brussels, working for Caroline Lucas when she was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
Having recently been selected as the Greens’ second choice candidate at the next European elections in 2014, Councillor Phillips could follow in her footsteps.
To succeed, she believes that the Greens have to do better at getting their message across: “We need to persuade people we’re not a single issue party – and take the party with us.”
She wants to see the Greens spell out their position more clearly and more often on issues such as health, education, welfare reform.
She said: “The Green Party, at present, is seen as anti-growth, which can be very frightening for those people worried about prosperity and jobs … we have to be ahead of the national conversation as we have to shout louder to be heard.
“Job growth should be the beating heart of our 2015 manifesto.”
Councillor Phillips said that she would also be looking to increase the party’s membership as it aims to become a regional and national force.
And she is genuinely keen to shed its socks and sandals image too.