Caroline Lucas

With Labour in open revolt against Corbyn, I’m sticking with the Greens

Originally published on the Norwich Radical

It’s now three months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. For Greens, it’s posed some interesting questions.

For a start, Greens didn’t really know how to respond to the new political context. The party positioned itself as the left party for so long (and rightly), but few had thought about what might happen if the Labour Party actually turned left. Suddenly, the political space for the Greens appeared to shrink dramatically. And for a while, there was silence.

But when the time came, Greens welcomed the election of Corbyn – albeit in varying terms. Both Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas praised his election as a boost for progressive politics. Members were cautiously pleased.

There remain, though, some crucial distinctions. While membership fell back slightly, most Green Party members have thus far stuck around. Why?

  1. Greens are in it for the long game. It says something that it’s a truism, but few in the Labour Party think Corbyn will last the full five years. Even many in Corbyn’s camp think he’ll be out before 2020. The Greens are pretty solid on their feet – it’s serious business being in a party, and it’s a choice people don’t make lightly. Many in the Greens are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to ostensibly left-wing Labour. It seems like a wise move. Years of the Greens being socialist won’t be undermined by a few trembling months of a progressive Labour Party under Corbyn.
  2. Only the Greens are pushing hard on issues like democratic reform and environmental action. Labour has thus far remained silent on policies such as reforming the House of Lords, introducing proportional representation or keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, as is effectively mandated by the science if we are to keep below catastrophic levels of global warming. Given these are policies that few in Labour – including Corbyn – appear to feel strongly about – and that they are policies Greens feel very strongly about – the lack of overlap is clear.
  3. The Labour Party machine appears un-reformable. Any attempts to deselect right-wing MPs will be struck down before they get off the ground. The 91% non-/anti-Corbynite Parliamentary Labour Party remains the most influential part of the Labour machine – after all, it is they who vote on our laws. So a shift there looks unlikely anytime soon. Just last week, the Labour right triumphed in the influential backbench committees of the PLP. They are not going anywhere. Talks of a coup are not even behind the scenes – Labour are in open revolt against their own left flank – and the potential upcoming vote on Syria will bring the crisis to the fore.
  4. Westminster Labour is not Labour in Brighton, Glasgow, Manchester or Cardiff – council chambers are, needless to say, not echoing with Corbynite speeches across the country. Politics, for most people, is not party conferences. It is the local. And at the local level, Labour has a lot of answer for, if you’re services are being outsourced in Hull or your housing estate is being sold off in Lambeth.
  5. Political traditions matter a lot in politics. And the Greens have a fundamentally different approach to politics. In next May’s devolved (and proportional!) elections in London, Wales and Scotland, it will be the Greens pushing for radical grassroots democracy, for real public engagement, for direct action against housing evictions and climate change, and for a new way of doing things.

The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

The Labour Party is in a period of flux, and the Greens are still navigating a new and confusing political terrain. But there remains a place in British politics to praise the good and challenge the bad from outside the Labour Party. The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

What it comes down to one is thing: Labour is far too broad a church to remain a consistently left-wing party. Under First Past the Post, it is a party of both neoliberals and Marxists – a contradiction that can’t be reconciled.

All the best to socialists in Labour, but my place is in a party that’s comfortable with being radical.

10 things I took away from Green Party Conference

[First published at Bright Green here]

There weren’t many big headlines from this Autumn Green Party conference, which drew to a languid close in sunny Bournemouth on Monday. But it was a mixed bag in the aftermath of both the General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s swoop to power in Labour. Here’s ten things I took away from the weekend:

1. Corbyn felt like the ‘elephant in the conference hall’.

While Natalie did mention Corbyn in her speech – to the chagrin of some in party HQ, apparently – there appeared to be little debate in Bournemouth about what the role of the Greens is now that there is a left-wing Labour leader. A pretty big question, to say the least.

Deputy leader Shahrar Ali’s speech focused on the concept of ‘truth in politics’ – a fairly philosophical talk on his core values. And Amelia Womack’s speech focused on the Greens’ role in the General Election, next year’s devolved elections across the UK, and the Greens’ vision for society. But not much on Corbyn – even from members.

2. It was a pretty big event – but didn’t necessarily feel it.

There was no buzz. As one activist put it to me: “The venue wasn’t great; the plenaries felt so sparse and empty – we weren’t quorate for ages on Sunday and lost half an hour of plenary because of it. It all just felt like we were collectively in a major funk.” It didn’t feel like there was a surge going on – sadly, because there isn’t anymore.

Officially around 1100 people were registered to attend, according to a party press officer I spoke to – but there were probably more like seven hundred (max) present, at its peak – and plenty of empty seats in plenaries.

The Bournemouth International Centre was an ambitious venue, in all fairness. I was there just a few days before for the Liberal Democrat conference, and it was absolutely packed in the main hall, with over 1,000 voting and watching Tim Farron’s speech. Green Party conference, in contrast, didn’t have the buzz of Lib Dem conference (bizarrely, given the latter’s trouncing in May). There was plenty of confusion about the Greens’ role in this new political context – unlike the Lib Dems, who can now pitch themselves as the real ‘centre’ party.

3. Caroline Lucas’ call for electoral pacts between the Greens and Labour was the only major attempt to get to grips with Britain’s new political constellation.

With a socialist Labour leader, Caroline embraced the idea that ‘fighting in essentially the same terrain [as Labour] for the same issues and fundamentally the same belief set is madness, when it simply lets the Tories in’. ‘We are stronger when we work together’ – including on individual issues with Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP and others. Conference appeared to agree, given the applause. 

The discussion continued in Compass’ event on proportional representation on the Sunday. Challenged by Compass chair Neal Lawson for the Greens to admit standing in Brighton Kemptown last election was wrong, Caroline Lucas accepted that was the case, arguing the ‘excellent’ Green candidate Davy Jones should have stood ‘somewhere he could win’ (as she emphasised on Twitter) – though it’s unclear where this would be.

4. A new generation of potential Green MPs is coming through.

Lucas’ launch of a new ‘Generation Green’ training scheme for top talent in the young ranks of the party is a bold and wise move, preparing the party for the future. Starting with five of May 7th’s election candidates, it will offer training from Lucas’ office itself.

DSC_0379

5. London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry is a potential future leader.

Lucas ended her own speech with a tribute to her. With a seat on the London Assembly next year (she is top of the proportional list), she will be the capital’s most prominent Green – leading the Greens in a city with nearly a fifth of the national party’s ~65,000 members.

There are already soundings being taken as to whether she will stand – and encouragements. It’s unclear if Natalie will stand again, so these are interesting times indeed, a year ahead of next September’s leadership ballot.

6. The Greens are leading the way on the refugee crisis.

It was a stroke of both benevolence and political nous to hold a collection for the refugees in Calais – with dozens of items donated – nearly £2,000 was raised by the end of conference in cash. That’s a lot tents and blankets for the cold winter in northern France. The Greens were the only party to hold such a collection. Not only was it the right thing to do, it solidifies the Greens as the strongest and most consistent party on this issue.

7. Population Matters – the campaign group who oppose, well, poor people having children – still represent a major divide in the party.

The organisation, which has argued Britain should refuse to accept any migrants from Syria and backs an extremist ‘one in, one out’ immigration policy, caused a stir when the group’s opponents attended their fringe and asked rather hostile questions. It led to the three leadership figures to call on members to ‘oppose ideas, not individuals’ (Natalie Bennett).

Yet there are big concerns about the group, with calls for a ban given that they paid for entry to the conference – Shahrar Ali even raised the prospect of ‘cash for access’ in the leadership Q&A. Whatever the case, the whole issue is a continuation of the deep green/eco-socialists split that many thought was diminishing as the former wane in influence.

DSC_03918. The Greens will back a ‘Yes’ vote in the EU referendum – to the surprise of few.

‘Green Yes’ received the endorsement of conference after an emergency motion was passed. But member support for the campaign may depend in part of the results of Cameron’s ‘re-negotiation’ of terms over the next few months. If social and environmental rights are stripped back, will Green backing take a hit?

9. The need for electoral reform is still on the agenda.

Natalie Bennett made it a focus in her leadership speech, it was the reason for Caroline’s call for electoral pacts, and both my own Electoral Reform Society and Compass held packed-out panel discussions on it, featuring prominent speakers. Meanwhile, conference voted to back the Single Transferable Vote for local elections (the ERS’ preferred system). The issue of fairer votes hasn’t died down in the party – activists are still, understandably, angry.

10. Bournemouth is stunning. More conferences in beautiful sunny beach locations, please. Oh, and Natalie Bennett unwinds by crocheting scarves. Just FYI.

Addendum: two other things – the Deputy Leaders of the Green Party will now be paid roles, as opposed to voluntary, opening up the positions to those from diverse backgrounds, and taking a lot of the strain off the current leaders who can now focus on their official roles full-time. It’s something that we at Bright Green pushed for strongly so it’s a major step forward for accessibility and equality in the party.

Secondly, there was a serious members-only debate about the future structure of the party – should we become a co-op, or a Limited Liability Company? Should we elect our CEO? It’s a decision that will come back to a future conference – keep your eye out on this site for updates…

The ‘Green Surge’: what’s behind it, and where next?

This article was first published here in the Green European Journal

UPDATE: Ofcom’s decision not to give the Greens major party statusthis week led to nearly 300 people joining on the same day, bringing total UK-wide party membership to well over 40,000.

If they weren’t thriving before, 2014 put the UK’s Green Parties firmly on the map.

Amid a breakdown in public trust of the political mainstream, smaller parties have of course been on the rise. The growth of the hard right UKIP is well known, fuelled by big donors, ex-Conservative defectors and a fawning press. But the Greens have seen their own surge – partly in response – both in Scotland and in England & Wales. Two separate parties with strong links, they each have their own reasons for entering the political arena – the independence campaign playing a huge role for the Scottish Greens, while the dismal unpopularity of an austerity-obsessed Labour party in the rest of the UK played its part too.

December saw several high-profile new members come into the Scottish party’s ranks, including Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP)John Wilson, following John Finnie MSP’s ‘defection’ in October. Both were previously in the governing SNP but differed with the party over issues such as NATO. In England and Wales, high profile figures are turning to the party too, including many former Liberal Democrats in light of a gap on the left of the political spectrum.

The developments in Scotland are important because they in effect bring the size of the Green group up to four, joining co-convener Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone MSP in Holyrood. Though both new recruits will remain officially Independent until standing as Greens in 2016, the party has nonetheless enjoyed an overnight surge in credibility.

Importantly, it adds to the massive momentum building up behind the Greens before and in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum on independence, after they formed a crucial pillar in the Yes campaign. In the run up to the #indyref, the Greens outflanked the SNP from the left and put up a strong grassroots campaign, both independently and as part of groups such as Radical Independence, a coalition of left-wing activists that saw over 3,000 gather for their post-referendum conference in November. The extent to which this built up the party’s prestige among the Scottish left cannot be understated.

In quantitative terms, these developments have seen the Scottish party’s membership surge from around 1,500 to nearly 8,000 since polls closed – more than quadrupling in size in just a couple of months. Many of the new recruits are energised, more socialist-inclined, and young – the latter being pivotal in a country where 16 and 17 year olds are soon to get a vote in ordinary elections (75% of them voted in the recent referendum).

40kIt’s not just the separate Scottish Green Party which is benefiting from a surge however – the Green Party of England and Wales more than doubled in size in 2014 to over 31,000 members. Adding the Scottish and Northern Irish Greens therefore puts the party just a few thousand behind UKIP (42,000) and the Liberal Democrats (44,000). If both can win MPs with that membership, in theory so could the Greens. The thousands more foot-soldiers for upcoming elections will be crucial for the years ahead, if the momentum can be sustained.

Explaining the rise is difficult however, as there are a huge number of factors. We can summarise some:

The rise of UKIP

  • The Green Party’s growth correlates to a certain extent with anti-UKIP sentiment – as UKIP grows, the need for a progressive response to it does too, pushing greens of all shades into action. It’s a dialectical relationship that in some ways means UKIP’s worrying emergence could strengthen the Greens, at least in the short-term – although it is arguably an unstable basis for success.

The sorry state of the Labour Party

  • In Scotland this was seen through the recent dramatic resignation of the leader Johann Lamont, who said the Scottish Labour Party was run as a ‘branch office’ of Ed Miliband’s Westminster party. In a nation as independent-thinking as Scotland, it was an insult of the worst kind – and has seen Labour’s poll share plummet (mostly, admittedly, to the SNP’s benefit). It’s an opportunity for the Greens too, however. And Labour’s dire situation is unlikely to change any time soon, after electing the Iraq war-supporting Jim Murphy to the leadership after Lamont’s exit.
  • In the rest of the UK, Labour’s failure to challenge austerity, fracking and countless other social and environmental evils have seen a mass exodus of young support, putting the Greens on nearly 20% among ‘the youth’, much of it at Labour’s expense, as well as the Lib Dems whose tripling of tuition fees meant reneging on firm promises in 2010.

The ‘Media Blackout’ of the Greens

  • Much publicised plans to exclude the Greens (as well as the SNP and left-wing Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru) from next year’stelevised General Election debates have been a blessing in disguise for the party, with a petition against the plan reaching over nearly 300,000 signatures, while anger at the ‘BBC Blackout’ of the Greens during the European elections saw nearly 85,000 register their rage According to a recent poll, 79% of the public want to see the Greens on the TV debates, against Nigel Farage. Even Labour have been swayed by the pressure.

A self-perpetuating cycle

  • As these factors piled up, Green support has further grown – leading to more coverage, more members, and more support. Polls now frequently put the party ahead of the discredited Lib Dems, while the party’s only MP, Brighton’s Caroline Lucas, has forged a10-point lead over Labour in her constituency. It shows that Greens can win, and can be popular, too.

A shift to the left

  • 2014 has seen the Greens pitch themselves as a serious party of the left  consciously and openly. Not only has it won over thousands of former Liberal Democrat and Labour voters, it is the expression of a trend that has been in course for several years now. As such, it’s both a principled and pragmatic move, which when bolstered by progressive alliances with the SNP and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, significantly contributes to the #GreenSurge.

2015 and beyond

All this is in addition to the Greens’ growing social media attention (#GreenSurge, and #InviteTheGreens for the TV debates, have frequently ‘trended’ on Twitter), as well as its rapidly expanding infrastructure in terms of staff and local branches across the UK as a whole.

Moreover, the Greens’ embrace of crowdfunding and small donations is bolstering these factors, and has the potential to lead to a democratisation and expansion of party funding in the UK –pitching the Greens as a party separate to big business.

What are the implications of these developments? Firstly, it could see more Greens elected next year, including Bristol’s Darren Hall. But given that in 2010 the Greens achieved just 1% of the vote, keeping hundreds of election deposits with a result of even 5% or more would be a breakthrough for the party on both sides of the border. After that, the Green surge could be unstoppable – going into the Scottish election in 2016 (where they’re set to win 10 MSPs) and beyond.

A difficult road ahead

The challenge, however, is to retain this energy and radicalism as the parties grow, internalising the thousands of new members and to not only elect more representatives, but more importantly to use this new dynamism to achieve real change – as it already is. Avoid the centralisation that institutionalisation and organisational growth can bring will pose difficulties for the Green movement, heightening pressures on internal democracy and through increased media scrutiny.

All the while, it must be remembered that the aim of increasing support isn’t for its own sake, but for making a real difference to people’s lives in Britain and beyond. Uniting with other progressive parties is and should continue to be part of this. That is why the Greens’ definite shift to the left in 2014 has been so central – the Greens are now the only major self-declared left-wing party.

There are major stumbling blocks however which shouldn’t be ignored. The electoral system is woefully unfair, meaning opportunities for large-scale seat gains are unlikely. The Greens still suffer a personality problem, with few voters knowing anyone other than Caroline Lucas or leader Natalie Bennett. And mainstream partisan debate appears to be shifting to the right the more that figures such as Farage fill the airwaves. There’s also still a huge psychological gap between the numbers who would support the Greens if they thought they could win, and those who would vote for them now – 26%would vote Green if they thought it was a ‘worthwhile’ vote. Breaking that psychological barrier has to be at the core of Green strategy in upcoming elections.

But there’s significant cause for hope. Something exciting is bubbling under the surface of British politics. The party system is breaking apart – ironically with the help of the enemy of the left, UKIP. People are becoming active in party politics again, finally inspired to engage with a previously discredited ‘formal’ politics.

If 2015 will be anything like how 2014 has been for the Greens, then it will be a good year indeed…

Darren Hall on the three horse race in Bristol West

Republished from Bright Green

With less than six months until the next General Election, the campaign is in full swing for Greens. Across the country, members are canvassing, crowdfunding and getting serious about achieving some solid results in 2015. They’re even talking about electing a couple more Green MPs.

With this in mind, last week I thought I’d speak to someone who many see as potentially the next Green Party MP – Bristol’s Darren Hall. He told me about the Green surge going on in his city at the moment, and his prospects next year…

Josiah: What brought you into the Green Party, and politics more generally?

Darren: About 15 years ago I realised that climate change and the destruction of our natural ecosystems were the biggest challenges facing humanity, and I became more and more interested in the green agenda. Five years ago I got a job managing the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, and led the team that helped win the European Green Capital Award for Bristol in 2015. However, I disagreed with the way it was being run, and on leaving my job, I felt it was time to take a stand.

What do you think has caused the Green surge in Bristol and elsewhere over the past few years?

Partly good old fashioned hard work of local parties in establishing Green Party Councillors and showing that positive politics can get things done. On a broader basis, I think there is widespread dissatisfaction with short term mainstream politics and the culture of point scoring, as well as the worrying rise of UKIP, coupled with the Green Party being much clearer about its social justice agenda as well as its environmental agenda. We are definitely not a single issue party any more.

How did you get selected to become a parliamentary candidate? What’s your platform?

There were two hustings at which I presented my thoughts to Party members, and then an on-line vote. My platform was really my variety of experience and my credentials as someone who can get things done. I am an ex RAF Engineering Officer, with 4 years in the private sector, 10 years in the Home Office and 5 years in local government! The ever growing gap between rich and poor makes me really angry, and the dreadful way in which we treat the planet’s natural resources that are the source of life makes me sad. The only way I can cope is to get stuck in!

What do you think should be the most pressing issue for the Greens during the next election?

Not being seen as a single issue party, and that voting for us isn’t a wasted vote. A lot of people will be tempted to vote tactically, but the reality is that a tactical vote won’t really change anything. Voting green will.

Is the seat winnable – what do you think your chances are?

Definitely. It’s a three horse race, and if you look at recent local voting, we have polled more than any other the other local parties. Bristol West seems to vote for values, rather than party politics, and I think this will be a key element in May next year. The Green Party stands up for the long term and more and more people are thinking about the legacy that they will leave behind for their children and grandchildren.

How is the campaign going so far? What has your support been like?

The support has been fantastic. Green Party membership in Bristol has more than doubled in six months. We have a good story to tell, and I think people are looking for a genuine alternative. Green Party politics is very friendly too, and I have some great colleagues around me who are equally determined.

Some people argue the party’s sole focus for next year should be ‘Keeping Caroline’ – what would you say to that?

It is rightly our number one priority. Caroline is fantastic and deserves to be re-elected, more than anyone else I know. But we now have enough support to broaden our focus and make sure that the Green Party has an even greater voice in Parliament. In any case, Caroline has told me she would love some company!

What do you think is the most likely outcome from the 2015 election for the Greens? And who do you think will ‘win’?

I’m going to duck that one as it is so difficult to tell at the moment, but we will know more soon as the main polls are now including us as a real force in UK politics (even if the BBC aren’t!). I’m really glad that the Scotland debate has re-energised people’s interest in politics, particularly around the devolution agenda. I’m also really pleased to see people fighting back against UKIP. The Green Party is being really clear about its social policies, so expect to see our overall vote share increase massively. It’s just a shame that our voting system doesn’t reflect that.

To help Darren Hall’s campaign in Bristol West email bgp@bristolgreenparty.org.uk

This article is part of a series of ‘Green Challenger’ articles in the run up to the General Election. Read Adam Ramsay’s interview with Edinburgh’s Peter McColl here.

Josiah Mortimer is Green Movement Co-Editor at Bright Green.

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.

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.

Autumn Conference could solidify the Greens’ place on the left

[Cross-posted from my article at Bright Green]

The 13th-16th September will see hundreds of Greens from across the country descend on Brighton for the party’s Autumn Conference. And from the look of what’s made the final agenda, it’s shaping up to be an interesting and radical one, further entrenching the party’s position as a significant force for progress in British politics.

For those who aren’t involved with the Green Party of England and Wales, the party’s holds its conferences every six months, a necessity given that members make the entirety of policy from the conference floor – one member, one vote – and any member can turn up.

Members also vote on what makes the conference floor itself, unlike the usual mainstream-party stitch-up with executives deciding what will be given time (and what won’t). For this conference, nearly 200 people voted in the ‘prioritisation ballot’, almost double the usual average of just over 100. A small proportion of the overall party perhaps, but a sizable chunk of those who will actually be there in Brighton.

And in a city with some of the highest train fares in the country, the motion which came out on top may prove to be very popular. In time for Caroline Lucas MP’s new Private Members Bill on rail renationalisation, the item which tops the agenda, ‘C01 – Rail and Public Ownership’, reiterates the party’s ‘long-standing commitment to bringing our rail system, including track and operators, back into public ownership’ and ‘recognises the need to ensure our rail services are more democratically accountable at local and regional levels’. Proposed by London Assembly members Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, the motion focuses on London’s local commuter services and calls on them to be handed over to Transport for London (which already runs much of the London Overground network).

Hot on its heels after being voted second on the agenda  is ‘C02 – Keep the East Coast rail franchise in the public sector’. No prizes for guessing what it might be. The policy puts it simply – ‘The government proposes to re-privatise this franchise before the next general election. The Green Party opposes this and believes that the East Coast rail franchise should be kept in the public sector’, noting that the publicly-owned East Coast service has contributed £640m to the exchequer over the past three years. Pretty uncontroversial stuff.

Not everything to hit the conference floor will be entirely uncontroversial however. Monetary policy, as dull as it sounds, has for some time been an ideological pivot-point within the party (along with population and, more recently, immigration), with one side associated with the monetary-reform campaign group Positive Money arguing that ‘the power to create money must be removed from private banks’ and calling for ‘a programme of banking reform’ based around reigning in banks’ lending power, and those on the more explicitly socialist side of the party arguing the problem is more systemic and requires more radical change,  insisting banks’ ‘lending power should be socialised’ alongside ‘social control [of] the financial sector’. The former group have proposed ‘C03 – Monetary and Banking Reform Composite’, amended by those on the left to state ‘a Green government would seek to bring all banking institutions into social control’, beginning with the transformation of one of the existing nationalised banks into a genuine ‘People’s Bank’. Watch out for which side comes out on top.

But in the wake of the ramped-up seizure of common land by multinational corporations across the globe, International Coordinator Derek Wall’s motion opposing Land Grabs may prove more immediately pressing. The policy asks that the Green Party ‘affirms its support for indigenous peoples, peasants and their social movement allies in opposing land seizures’ and back collective ownership of land. It states that in the case of land, ‘free market mechanisms should always be overruled by the principles of sustainability and social justice’ and demands the UK government act to prevent the destruction of common land ownership by multinationals. All calls that should go down well in the world’s first One Planet City.

There are plenty more fascinating and worthy policies to be debated, from the Green-led national campaign to ban advertising aimed at children, anonymisation of CVs to prevent discrimination, an elected head of state, the de facto reversal of last conference’s Philosophical Basis change (don’t get me started …), and proposals for a locally-implemented Progressive Council Tax to stop the cuts – made more urgent by the recent refuse-worker pay dispute.

Yet perhaps most important and most telling after Labour’s Falkirk scandal will be the presence of trade union figures at the conference, with National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower speaking on education, rail union figures discussing Britain’s privatised transport system and the PCS having a stall – encouraging signs of a growing realisation in the union movement of Labour’s failure to challenge neoliberalism.

All this alongside speeches from Reinhard Butikofer (Co-Chair, European Green Party), GPEW leader Natalie Bennett, the freshly-released Caroline Lucas MP, council leader Jason Kitcat, Will Duckworth and others, in the home of the first Green-run council, Brighton and Hove. See you there, folks.

The final agenda for Autumn Conference is available here: http://my.greenparty.org.uk/news/final-agenda-autumn-conference-2013-brighton, and you can book your place here.

@josiahmortimer is a student, blogger and activist based in York, and will be hosting a Young Greens Skype debate on the 9th September for next month’s conference – https://www.facebook.com/events/698458290170926/.