Green, left, growing – lessons from the Greens in England and Wales

[My first piece for the Green European Journal]

‘Neither left nor right, but forward’ has been a semi-official motto of many Green Parties across Europe since their inception in the 1960s and ‘70s. But as the Green Party of England & Wales’ (GPEW) Autumn Conference drew to a close this weekend, the party appears to be maintaining or indeed continuing its leftward drive. The implications could be promising both for Britain and for Green Parties elsewhere.

It’s an interesting time for British politics, with less than a year to go before the General Election. But what space does the Green Party hope to fill in the UK?

THE PARTISAN CONTEXT

One answer could be the space vacated by the Liberal Democrats, a party which joined the right-wing Conservative coalition in 2010. Previously seen as a centre-left party, all traces of this perspective seem to have disappeared with the onset of the austerity agenda, and in particular the near-tripling of university tuition fees early on in the government’s term.

At the same time, however, the Labour Party has been equivocal in its opposition to these policies. Despite the election of Ed Miliband to the leadership in 2010,a man previously thought of as on the centre-left of the party, they have pledged to maintain the government’s harsh spending plans for at least the first year of office, arguing “the next Labour government will have less money to spend.” This is despite the wealth of the richest 1000 Brits soaring by 15% over the past year alone to $874bn. He has also pledged to cut welfare benefits for the most vulnerable, with a cap on social security spending.

This means there is a large ‘gap’ to the left of the Labour Party for those who disagree with austerity, alongside the still significant proportion of people who agree there is an urgent need to tackle climate change. This was the defining message at Autumn Conference – the Greens positioning themselves as the ‘true left’, and ‘taking the fight to Labour’.

Yet there is another interesting – and worrying – dynamic currently at play. The rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) threatens to pull British politics even further to the right, feeding on (and equally, fuelling) an atmosphere of euroscepticism, welfare-bashing and anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s an atmosphere manifesting itself in an internal Conservative Party split, but, despite the non-proportional First Past the Post electoral system, it is a split that will still damage all those who value social justice and ecology as UKIP appear set to win their first Parliamentary seat next month.

Moreover, as the Conservative Party internalises UKIP policies, from an EU referendum to even harsher attacks on migrants, UKIP’s appeal does not decline. Why? Because it stems from a hostility to the ‘establishment’ and ‘the political class’, however mislaid it may be. In this context, a privately-educated, wealthy, white and male former stockbroker can pose as anti-politics if he speaks convincingly enough. This is how, with the help of extensive media coverage and generous funding, Nigel Farage has come to exert such a powerful and noxious influence on the British political makeup over the past three years. All this while the UK battles to discover what its true identity and place is both within itself – via the Scottish independence referendum – and the world, through the EU.

RADICAL GREEN SOLUTIONS

What should the Greens’ response be to this? As with the rise of the populist right in the rest of Europe, it cannot be to mimic reactionary policies. Instead – based both on principle and pragmatism – Greens can reassert how our message is different to all the parties.

Green Party members appear to have in part reflected this view last week, electing an ecosocialist as a deputy leader in Amelia Womack, alongside Shahrar Ali, a key figure in London. Womack came first in the ballot, arguably reflecting a desire for the party to adopt a radical response to the current political context. Incumbent left-winger Will Duckworth also came within a few dozen votes of winning the second deputy post.

At the same time, the party is promoting its key policies for the General Election which include a wealth tax on assets over £3m and the renationalisation of the railways, water and energy networks. Last weekend’s conference also saw the launch of a demand for a £10 (~13 EUR) minimum wage by 2020. Such ideas are backed by a vast majority of the public – yet are ignored by politicians.

Pushing these policies has been at the core of (now-re-elected) leader Natalie Bennett’s strategy over the past two years, as well as standing up for workers’ rights. The latter – as well as being morally right – has been at the core of attempts to win the backing of trade unions in the UK. Trade unionists now regularly speak at Green Party conferences and events (with several leaders and activists speaking at the most recent conference). Similarly, both Bennett and Lucas have spoken at a number of trade union conferences, including the still-powerful National Union of Teachers, and Trade Union Congress (TUC) fringes.

Though in the medium term it’s unlikely that the largely Labour-supporting unions will switch allegiances, support from the six million grassroots members and local branches will be vital in the coming years; indeed on a local level, unions such as the rail workers’ union RMT have donated to and campaigned for Green candidates. Meanwhile the Green Party’s welfare spokesperson and Trade Union Liaison Officer (a recently formed post) is also co-chair of Britain’s anti-austerity movement, the People’s Assembly. It’s an important symbolisation of the space that the Labour Party has vacated, and how the Greens see the terms ‘green’ and ‘left’ as symbiotic.

There are countless more examples like this – the fact that the party now asks for information on trade union membership on its joining forms, the Young Greens launching a campaign to get members unionised in their workplaces (‘Get Organised!’), a Philosophical Basis which states ‘inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet,’ and a recent core policy on employees being granted the right to take over their companies as co-operatives.

All these factors generate a view that GPEW is a real, progressive alternative to neoliberalism, contributing in part to public support for the party increasing dramatically over the past four years.

STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Despite a lower overall vote share, the Greens secured a third MEP in May through the South West Molly Scott-Cato, a green economist in a rapidly growing region for the party. Membership has approximately doubled since the election of Caroline Lucas to Parliament, from around 9,000 to over 18,000 today, and there are now nearly 170 Green councillors; successes exemplified in the highest poll ratings for the party since 1989, with the Greens increasingly equalling the Liberal Democrats in public support, at around 7%.

The growth of the Young Greens is also astonishing – a 70% rise in members since March to over 3,000, perhaps dialectically spurred on by the rise of UKIP.

REJECTING THE RIGHT

These statistics are than mere numbers but reflect a new vibrancy in a party keen to re-elect Lucas and potentially secure one or two more MPs next year. Being a ‘UKIP of the left’ – a fighting force that shakes up the political structure of the UK – could, ironically perhaps, be part of that. Meanwhile the politics of fear is pushing many towards the Greens’ ranks out of the need to challenge a rising threat.

Is the UK a unique case in these discussions? Certainly, few other countries (except perhaps Spain) are facing the kinds of constitutional and political destabilisation currently taking place in the UK because of the Scottish independence referendum. But the rise of the far-right is something that Greens are uniquely equipped to tackle, proudly able to say, for example, that unlike many social democratic parties, they genuinely oppose both the language and actions of intolerance that are spreading across the continent. Moreover, the scale of disillusionment with mainstream politics is not unique to the UK – distaste for the political establishment is widespread across Europe and must be drawn upon lest other more reactionary forces do so.

Crucially, we can also show that these parties pose no answer to the questions of devastating climate change, environmental destruction, or the politics of austerity that are blighting the lives of ordinary people.

With a discredited far-left, and a social democratic ‘movement’ that has capitulated to failed economic and ecological strategies, Greens in the UK – and perhaps in the rest of Europe too – are able to show that that when brave enough with our ideas and outspoken enough to present them, we can inspire those who have been left behind.

Cornwall Greens announce parliamentary candidates

From the Membership & Supporters Officer of Mid & East Cornwall Green Party:

Dear Friends,

It gives me great pleasure to announce that, following a count of the votes of Mid & East Cornwall Green Party members,  all four of our candidates have received an overwhelming endorsement and have been successfully elected to contest all four of the the electoral constitiencies we cover.

Amanda Pennington is contesting North Cornwall. She is a Director of Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network and a Wadebridge Town Councillor. WREN is a community interest company which aims to help Wadebridge generate its own energy and works with the community helping people to reduce their fuel bills.

Martin Corney is contesting South East Cornwall. Now retired, he previously worked in Devonport Docks and is Vice-Chair of St Ive Parish Council. He is a board member of Growing Project CIC. A founding trustee and treasurer of Pensilva Youth Projects and a vollunteer at Callington Food Bank.

Steve Slade is contesting St. Austell & Newquay. He is self-employed, running a renovations company, and is a Newquay Town Councillor. Steve has a degree in Ecology and previously ran “Ecological Garden Design”, creating and promoting wildlife gardens for inner-city schools.

Sharron Kelsey is contesting Truro & Falmouth. She has previously worked in the Deparment of International Development, helping deliver aid to fragile countries, such as Somalia and the Palestinian Territories. She is a volunteer for the National Trust and Newquay in Bloom, and she is studying Environmental Management at the Open University.

This is the first time Mid & East Cornwall Green Party is contesting all four parliamentary constituencies (I believe the Cornwall Ecology Party last contested North Cornwall back in the 1970s.) and you will be hearing more from us as we promote our Green Team in local and social media, and update you on our activities and opportunities for you to become involved in the campaign.

We’re really looking forward to #turningcornwallgreen

Steve Haynes.

The results of the Green Party leadership election are out…

The results are now out for the Green Party Executive election – a ballot which included the election of the leader and deputy leaders of the party. Sadly it received little attention, but I think it merits some.

Firstly, big congratulations to ecosocialist Amelia Womack on being elected in the first round, and commiserations to Will Duckworth, a working-class left-winger from the Midlands who will be missed as deputy by many. But congrats to Shahrar Ali who as a confident public speaker and a strong profile will do well I’m sure.

And of course, congrats to Natalie Bennett for her (uncontested!) re-election.

Turnout hasn’t been worked out yet but going off a conservative 16k mailout figure I estimate it’s just over 15%.

Newly re-elected Green Party International Coordinator Derek Wall has posted the full results of the election on his blog here.

Reposted here from the email to all party members on Monday:

The results of the Gpex elections 2014 were as follows:

Party Leader: Natalie Bennett was elected 2618 Re-Open Nominations (RON): 183

Party Deputy Leaders:
In the first round – Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, Will Duckworth’s 1108
In the Second round – Shahrar Ali was elected 1314 to Will Duckworth’s 1277

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101
Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181
Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161
External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkins were elected 2586 to RON 147
Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82
International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891
Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94
Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839
Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

Steady gains through shifting left – the future of the Greens?

Reposted from Chat Politics

It’s been a strong few years for the Greens. Membership has surged past 18,000 – up from around half that figure before Caroline Lucas’ success in Brighton. There are more Green councillors than ever, 170, and this May’s European elections brought an extra MEP in the South West’s Molly Scott-Cato, bringing the number of Green European Parliamentarians to three.

Leader Natalie Bennett, a surprise victor back in 2012, has proved more radical than some would have expected. Prioritising the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, as well as joining picket lines across the country for a Living Wage and workers’ rights; she has arguably entrenched the leftward pull on the party that has grown since the election of Lucas as an MP.

The growth figures – both in terms of electoral success and members – suggests this strategy has worked, picking up disenchanted ex-Lib Dem and Labour voters and becoming the third party of students and ‘the youth’ through the Young Greens.

All this has led to the highest polling figures for the Greens since the historic 1989 European election, where the party polled 15%. Greens are currently level-pegging with the Lib Dems for the General Election. That’s both new, and very exciting.

What does this mean for the next year? It could bring an extra couple of MPs. Natalie Bennett is pouring plenty of work into her Holborn and St Pancras constituency, while activists are dedicated to re-electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. Although many expect the party will lose the council there, it seems likely that Lucas, a popular and hard-working MP, will retain her seat. However, Labour, targeting the constituency, are determined a Green alternative isn’t heard in Parliament which could threaten their position as ‘the’ ostensibly progressive party.

At the same time, Bristol is rapidly becoming a hive of Green activity, tripling the number of Green councillors at the recent local elections and becoming the first party by popular vote across Bristol West wards. The ramifications of this could be enormous, potentially securing a Green Parliamentary seat in local environmental campaigner Darren Hall. Alongside Scott-Cato, the South West could become a future stronghold for the party. Meanwhile, Greens expect to pick up further council seats in the Midlands, alongside Cambridge, London, Oxford, Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere.

But there are ideological differences bubbling underneath these steady gains. Although you probably don’t know about it, there’s a leadership election going at the moment. The Greens are picking their team for the next two years. Well, sort of. The leadership position is uncontested, effectively guaranteeing Natalie Bennett another two years in her post. But the two deputy posts are contested among five candidates. Three come from broadly the centre and centre-right of the party – admittedly still on the left of the so-called ‘political spectrum’.

But the other two; incumbent Will Duckworth and Young Green Amelia Womack, are proud ecosocialists who intend for the Greens to stress a radically different vision for Britain compared to the neoliberal consensus. One which proposes systemic change, not just cautious reforms.

We don’t know who will win yet, but it seems likely that Duckworth, with the incumbency advantage of recognition and popularity as a working-class non-Londoner, will keep his post. And Womack, so far the only self-declared female candidate, is effectively guaranteed a seat through the gender ‘balance’ rules, although she is pushing for a strong first preference vote nonetheless.

What this means for the future of the Greens is that, for the first time in the history of Britain, a de facto ecosocialist party could be – if it isn’t already – the third or fourth national party. And that is something that gives hope to those on the left, whichever political tribe they come from.

New songs, albums and radio stuff, plus a big move…

Some updates on my acoustic singer-songwriter side of life. Because you asked*.

I’ve got some new songs (you can have ‘em for free)

As usual, they’re home recordings, i.e. I’ve stuck my phone on a random surface and hoped it came out OK. Most of the time it vaguely works. I think…

1. A cover of Defiance Ohio‘s brilliant rallying cry against modern society:

2. An instrumental piece inspired by Cornwall and the summer:

A new ‘album’

I’ve stuck together a collection of my recent demos in a free compilation thing called Luddite Ballads. Which I might use as the title of my actual new EP thing coming out soon from Rack Mount Records. More on that in a mo.

Actual new album thing

The proper EP I’ve been recording over the past year (feels like forever!) is finally coming out soon on iTunes and Spotify and all that stuff, so I’ll have something official for once. Which will be great. Keep your eye out! Just being mastered etc. at the moment I think so I’ll wack it on the blog when it’s all done.

On t’ Radio

I did a BBC Introducing session the other week with Radio York, as part of their York and North Yorkshire Introducing programme to get up and coming artists heard. You can still listen to it here. I’m 43:30ish in so listen out.

I play three of my own tracks, two of my favourite artists (Bragg and Guthrie) and have a general chat/interview about life, politics and music. It was good fun. Hope you enjoy it too.

On me travels

And with that, I’m off to Belgium to live for six months, working as a (paid!) intern with the Green European Foundation, a think tank linked with the Greens in the European Parliament. It should be exciting and a nice chance to live abroad (despite my lack of French/Flemish). I’ll keep the blog going and will keep strumming. See you soon.

—-

* That may or may not be true.

The Rotten Apple: How Your iPhone Crushes Workers’ Rights

I thought I’d share this email from SumOfUs.org, a great online campaigning organisation in the spirit of Avaaz and 38 Degrees.

It’s basically another example of multinationals getting away with human rights violations through delegating responsibility for production (and therefore employer ethics) to sub-contractors in other countries.

Of course, the contracts won’t say ‘you must ban unions’, but the production (inc. labour) costs will be so cheap as for the employer at the top of the chain to understand that will probably be the case.

Apple will be able to pressure over its suppliers, whether through financial or competitive means – i.e. saying we’ll ditch you or we’ll give you more dosh to cover better working conditions. Is that going to happen? Not without pressure from the public. Reputational damage can be a good ally to industrial action and can be a crucial way of those outside of the workplace (and indeed country) exercising cross-border solidarity.

In short, sign and share the petition, please. It’s important.

——

“You’re fired!”

That’s how one of Apple’s key suppliers, NXP, responded to 24 workers in the Philippines who were attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement in May. It’s a disgusting attack on workers rights, and Apple has to stop it.

The iPhone 6 will reportedly contain technology from NXP, and so we have an opportunity now to move Apple to act upon its commitments to workers. The company wants buzz about new product features, not flaws. If thousands of us stand up now, Apple can be forced to demand that NXP reinstate the 24 workers.

Tell Apple to demand that its supplier NXP Philippines reinstate the workers who were wrongfully dismissed.

NXP, which is reportedly supplying technology for Apple’s new iPhone 6, fired the 24 workers under the pretext that their failure to work on a number of public holidays amounted to an illegal strike.

But we suspect something much more insidious is happening. The workers have been protesting for months to get their jobs back. It appears that NXP now wants to pay them off to shut up and go away, basically acknowledging that they were wrongfully dismissed.

The NXP 24 don’t want to be silenced and trade their fundamental rights for corporate cash — and they shouldn’t have to. Apple claims to ensure that its suppliers treat workers with respect and dignity. Apple could weigh in to get the workers back their jobs now, but so far the Californian IT giant has done nothing to fix this serious issue.

The 24 fired workers are leading members of a trade union, the MWAP. For months now they have been without work and pay, but their spirits are kept high by the solidarity they receive from friends and supporters like you around the globe. NXP’s dismissal of all of the union leadership is an attack upon the rights of all workers to freely associate and organise.

Nobody wants the products they buy from Apple to be tainted by the abuse of workers in developing countries. What’s more, Apple says that it is serious about supplier responsibility. Now it’s time to put those words into action–to demand justice for the workers who were illegally fired.

Apple needs to demand that the 24 workers get their jobs back immediately.

It took years of sustained pressure from conscientious consumers and activists like you before Apple agreed to make serious changes to the way it treated the workers in its supply chain. Now the company must deliver on those promises.

Thanks for all that you do,
Jon, Eoin, Marie, Martin and the rest of us.

**********

More information:

iPhone 6 supplier NXP ramps up intimidation and delaying tactics, IndustriALL Union, 16 July 2014
NXP sacks union leaders, Electronics Weekly, 16 July 2014

Could you go five weeks without money? Under a new DWP plan you might have to

[Reposted from Left Foot Forward]

Further punitive restrictions on Universal Credit are on the way

Job Centre ncrjThe latest development of Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme will soon mean that people made unemployed will have to wait at least five weeks before getting any financial support.

At present it’s two weeks; still a long time to wait when you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

Some of this is administrative delay, but with the new five week wait it will be a deliberate strategy to force people into immediate work or push them into penury – the latter being more likely in an economy where jobs increasingly can’t actually fund even basic necessities like housing and energy costs.

That’s why the TUC have launched a campaign to ‘Stop the Five Week Wait’ as part of their Saving Our Safety Net project, launching a petition against IDS’ impoverishment strategy.

It poses a very clear question: how long could you go without any income? Even for those in work, many have to scrape together money from friends and family at the end of the month in what some call ‘scrounge week’. Imagine that week becoming five.

Why so long? A whole calendar month will be spent ‘assessing’ the amount of benefit you’ll be able to receive. Then you’ll have to wait a week for the DWP to actually arrange your payment.

But you’ll also have a week-long period when you will be unable to even apply for Universal Credit. The government is deciding whether this will be during the assessment period or beforehand, meaning potentially sixweeks in assessment, admin and spiteful restrictions.

And this from a government that supposedly hates bureaucracy and red tape.

There will be some emergency support available. But the rules on who can claim it will be so strict that very few able to claim Universal Credit will be eligible. Richard Exell at the TUC writes that “one reason for being turned down, for instance, will be that your family has debts that might make it hard for you to repay the advance.” Unbelievable.

The public are against it, understandably – by 70 per cent to 18 per cent when told about the policy. Even the vast majority of UKIP and Conservative voters oppose the wait.

But there’s a problem: just 13 per cent have actually heard of it. We need, therefore, to spread the word fast if there’s to be any chance of stopping this disastrous scheme going under wraps.

The policy can be summarised quite simply: the state safety net being outsourced to food banks and payday loan sharks. This is a government hand-out to Wonga and co, while returning to the Victorian welfare state of unreliable charity. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has branded it+ ‘cruel and vindictive’.

It comes in next April – just a month before the General Election. With a strong enough campaign, it can be halted or pushed beyond that date. So there is an opportunity for the opposition to succeed. Millions of people who might be made redundant over the coming years are relying on that outcome.

You can read the TUC’s report on the five week wait, Universal Credit: Solving the problem of delay in benefit payments, here.

Please share this and spread the word against this deeply disturbing plan.