9pm Update: Nearing 14000 signatures! Look out for coverage in Monday’s Morning Star newspaper…
9pm Update: Nearing 14000 signatures! Look out for coverage in Monday’s Morning Star newspaper…
[Reposted from my Shifting Grounds article here]
It seems like the distant past now, but I was the irritating age of 16 when the race was in full swing for the 2010 general election that brought the coalition government to power. 2010 was also the year that Educational Maintenance Allowance was slashed, the year my college mates had their tuition fees nearly tripled, and the year that sweeping cuts to the education budget were announced. All of this – and I couldn’t have a say over any of it.
Myself and thousands of other students and young people watched the first televised election debates in history, went to hustings, and quizzed the candidates. Some of us even door-knocked, leafleted and stayed up watching the results. But when push came to shove, we had no say over the policies that would be enacted in our name by the most reactionary government since Margaret Thatcher. We didn’t even have a chance of stopping them getting in.
Even those who can vote aren’t turned on by the process, with just 44% of 18-24 year olds voting in the last general election. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy – the young don’t vote because they are ignored, and they are ignored because they don’t vote. It’s no shock to learn that the over 65s – while not unscathed – have been relatively cushioned from austerity. 76% of them voted in 2010 – most of course, for the Conservatives.
That’s why many are excited to see a radical experiment in democracy currently taking place. And, in what will come as a shock to those on the right of the Tory party, it’s happening in Europe. 16 year olds are finally getting a chance to vote.
It’s passed largely unnoticed in the Westminster bubble, but the European Green Party – the fourth largest group in the European Parliament – is taking the radical step of holding a pan-European ballot to determine who their two lead candidates for the 2014 European elections will be.
Funnily enough, UKIP, predicted by some to sweep the board in the upcoming May vote, won’t be joining the Greens in this exercise in grassroots participation. Or any of the other parties, in fact. And it’s no surprise – Green parties across Europe are widely known to be the most participatory. Here in the UK, we’re currently voting on which motions make the conference floor (to which anyone can submit ideas) at the upcoming Spring Conference in Liverpool.
It’s safe to say democracy isn’t new to the movement, with most Green parties operating on a similar non-hierarchical and bottom-up basis. Democracy, after all, is at its heart about empowerment, and the ‘rank and file’ running the show – including otherwise-disillusioned 16 and 17 year olds unable to vote at their national elections.
For the first time in history, this model of youth participation has now been extended across the continent, with anyone over 16 years of age who supports Green values able to vote online at www.greenprimary.eu. Free, simple and online, it’s direct democracy in action – something it’s fair to say the EU has been lacking in since its inception.
With austerity ravaging not only Britain but the whole of Europe, it’s time for those hit hardest by the cuts – the young – to have their say and to take part in a new and radical democratic project. One that we hope will spread in the pursuit of a fairer, greener and less market-obsessed world.
Young people’s chances to engage in this age of mass youth unemployment and disillusionment are sadly few and far between. Thankfully, the Greens are turning that around.
This article was originally written for the website Bright Green
It’s a question many Greens are asking themselves – whether to put their names to the Left Unity project, the nascent party which has thus far seen nearly 10,000 people sign up in its first few months, a figure not all that far off Green Party 11,000 membership. It’s a choice that’s becoming all the more urgent given that Left Unity’s founding conference is coming up this November – and the Greens’ Autumn Conference in just a couple of weeks.
Although ‘it’s much easier to fill out a short form than it is to hit the streets week in week out campaigning’, as Salman Shaheen from the National Coordinating Group told me, the project’s rapid growth (with around 100 local groups set up already) is nonetheless both impressive and unprecedented in recent years. Yet so far it doesn’t seem like the Green Party has been too keen on engaging with the initiative, bar a few honourable exceptions like Sean Thompson’s and David Smith’s pieces on the Left Unity site here and here. Both are Green Left activists. So where’s the rest of the party?
Some Green responses to the project have been understandably annoyed at the emergence of a new force on the left, adding to the already frustrating alphabet soup that is Britain’s radical smorgasbord. ‘There’s no need for another party of the left. The most pressing need is instead to strengthen the largest left party – the Greens’, writes my University of York Green Party friend and comrade Nick Devlin. The Green Party ‘are showing in words and action that there already is a vibrant, radical force in Britain’. Deputy Leader Will Duckworth made similar remarks commenting on the Left Unity website.
The points are valid. And yet we’ve obviously failed to win the whole left over, as LU’s surprising rise, and the Greens’ still rather small size demonstrate. We don’t have a monopoly on the political truth, and though the largest ‘sect’ (in Thompson’s words) on the left, we have to face the fact that there are 57 other varieties of radical party, many of which are explicitly socialist, who haven’t joined the Greens en masse, and obviously for important reasons of their own – the betrayals of pro-austerity Green Parties in Europe, the perceived failure of the Greens to overtly define as socialist – and most of all perhaps, the Brighton debacle.
Yes, Brighton. The refuse worker dispute earlier this year, and the shambles that was the Green administration’s handling of it, had a fair few considering jumping ship to LU, including at least two members of national Green committees (others such as a Young Green executive member had already flown the nest for Ken Loach’s project before the dispute broke out).
One of the founders of Left Unity itself is ex-Green James Youd, who quit the party in February 2012 over Brighton & Hove council voting for cuts. Brighton, therefore, is an issue that cannot be ignored, not just to stem the periodic flow of resignations, but because no one else on the left is ignoring it – indeed, the former Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker chooses it as the core of his article ‘Just How Left Wing is the Green Party’.
But on the whole, within both the Greens and Left Unity, there seems to be growing support for mutual critical engagement. Such cooperation could prevent the ‘rightwards drift’ Green Parties in other countries have seen ‘when the whiff of government entry filled their noses’, one straw-poll respondent noted. ‘I don’t see what we have to lose’ writes Bright Green’s own Adam Ramsay. There’s widespread demand for a Portuguese or French-style electoral bloc, provided the party is firmly environmentalist. ‘Let them contest a few elections and see if they can match our vote in seats’. If they can, and they are willing to work on a friendly basis with the Greens, ‘we can give them valuable election organising help’. Otherwise, ‘I don’t want to risk activism time building a movement that will collapse in a few years when that time could be spent solidifying a local party’, a Young Greens national committee member wrote.
Though paid-up membership figures aren’t yet publicly known, it’s obvious that Left Unity already has ‘a significant number of activists building the soon-to-be party from the bottom up’, including several high-profile figures such as RMT President Peter Pinkney. ‘We are committed to founding ourselves as a democratic one member one vote organisation’, says Salman Shaheen. As well as preventing any partisan takeovers, this offers a fresh start for a divided left. Shaheen himself is a former Green, and says there are ‘quite a few’ others like him in Left Unity. ‘For the most part I have only seen friendly words exchanged between Greens and Left Unity people. The Greens and Left Unity have a lot in common’ he tells me.
Let’s be clear. I think the Greens are the best chance those who oppose the current economic system have, and the best chance for the planet. But with the serious possibly of a sizeable and pluralist eco-socialist party (environmentalism, alongside feminism in the wake of the SWP’s Comrade Delta scandal, has been stressed at every point) breaking through, we have to be a part of it, or at least cooperating with it, not least if we want to avoid having three or four radical candidates – TUSC, Respect, LU, Green and so on – standing against each other in every election. An electoral pact has to be on the cards, with the appropriate safeguards, and Greens need to be talking about this with (and within) Left Unity at both grassroots and executive levels. At the moment this isn’t happening, except for a few in Green Left turning up to the odd meeting.
With the ‘end of the beginning’ on the horizon – the 1,000-strong founding conference in November – it is not yet too late for Greens to engage with Left Unity. And although the party is already in talks with TUSC, no decisions about elections and pacts will be taken until after the November launch. Speaking personally however, Shaheen says he ‘sincerely hopes’ Left Unity and the Greens will be able to come to an electoral arrangement, along the lines of past Green/Respect cooperation – ‘I would not like to see Left Unity standing against Caroline Lucas’ and ‘would be strongly pushing for mutually beneficial electoral pacts as I think the Greens are our natural ally’ he says.
Greens need to engage with Left Unity, sooner rather than later, if we take coherently tackling austerity and free-market capitalism (or indeed capitalism more generally) seriously. This is a rare moment for unity that the left – including and especially the Greens if we are indeed the party of social justice – can’t afford to ignore. Natalie Bennett has spoken a lot about the need for a UK-version of Syriza, Greece’s anti-austerity coalition. Now’s our chance.
I’ll be signing up today, as a Green Party member hoping for a united eco-socialist movement in Britain. Go on. Join me.
@josiahmortimer is a student, writer and activist based in York.
[Reposted from my Green Party column at The Yorker]
You’d be forgiven for thinking amid all the hype about UKIP that the Greens had dissolved as a party and headed to the pub to drown our sorrows.
But the striking thing about the council election results is that though a certain hard-right protest party has crept ahead of the Greens in terms of councillor numbers – though not by much – the Greens remain distinctly the constant fourth party in British politics.
The party made some real breakthroughs, and continued a steady march towards becoming a major force, stepping on to councils in Essex, Cornwall, Kent, Surrey, Devon and Warwickshire for the first time. And on Warwickshire County Council, the Greens not only won extra representation, but kicked out the Tory council leader by several hundred votes. That’s what it’s all about folks – a definite highlight of the political year. The York Young Greens’ youthful counterparts won seats in Bristol and Oxford, too
Our reach is spreading, setting us up for next year’s European elections, where a mere 2% swing could see the Greens tripling our number of MEPs from two to six. Easily achievable – especially after this election extending the Green hand to previously untouched areas, and continuing the rapid conversion of the West Midlands to a Green heartland.
So what do this week’s council elections show? Aside from a new presence on six councils, and a net gain of five seats, it shows the Green Party message of sustainable and local economies is getting through in these tough times. It shows that our message of a Living Wage for all is speaking to people whose wages have stagnated over the past 30 years under a failed neoliberal economic model. Our opposition to austerity and its ramifications – cuts, privatisation, outsourcing, reduced public services – is resonating. The party’s growth is steady – unlike UKIP’s flash-in-the-pan anti-politics which could fade now that they hold the balance of power in some councils.
The Green Party now has 141 principal authority councillors. Yet the coverage of our successes has been dismal. Why? Well, the party itself is less sensational than a collection of EDL-supported candidates and conspiracy theorists rising from seemingly nowhere. But beneath that, there’s a sense that the largely right-wing media have reasons not to fall in love with us like they have the party of the public-school educated stockbroker’s-son Nigel Farage.
So the Greens have to work much harder than the anti-immigration lot do to get a positive front page in the Daily Express or the Sun. But if we wanted their endorsements, we wouldn’t be the party we are. And that’s something to be proud of. A party without wealthy ex-Tory backers, without xenophobic rhetoric, and without ecstatic tabloid coverage is gaining ground, slowly but surely. The real fourth party of British politics – one that actually has an MP – is, possibly unlike UKIP, here to stay. And with a positive message of social and environmental justice, the Green Party’s steady growth is potentially unstoppable.
The Green Party’s new election broadcast for next month’s council elections has now been released. And it’s fantastic.
It’s a strident, progressive (or socialist, even) video, and one which shows the Greens to be at the forefront of the fight against neoliberalism and its manifestations – the bedroom tax, runaway finance and privatisation. The fundamental message is that ‘austerity has failed – the cuts aren’t working’.
The most uplifting part of the video though – as highlighted over at Bright Green – is the line ‘we’ll return our energy, water and rail networks to public ownership’. Combined with an environmental message, it’s bang on, and I must admit I gave a little cheer when I heard it. Because the majority of the public stand against the privatisation of our utilities, pioneered by Thatcher in the 80s – 61% of them do, in fact.
It’s not just going with opinion though – it’s saying what Labour won’t say, and it’s saying something central to Green values – public ownership over private profit. Exactly the kind of message we need to convey, and showing real leadership on an issue so often unquestioned in the media.
The Greens are standing around 1000 candidates in the council elections, and we’re expecting gains. Last year’s elections saw about a dozen extra wins, something we can build upon this year. With around 150 councillors, the Greens are now showing that we’re the party of social and environmental justice (as leading ex-Labour figures recognised last week…) – and this latest broadcast makes that incredibly clear.
[Cross-post from The Yorker]
It’s one of those jokes that has a distinct ring of truth to it, but the phrase ‘dear leader’ is one used with not all that much tongue in cheek about Green Party leader and MP Caroline Lucas. It’s a veneration that will flavour the next couple of months we pick our next figurehead after Lucas announced that after four years in the role, she’ll be stepping down in September.
Being the kind of party that we are, it is only in 2007 that we actually created the role of leader – and for some on the left of the party it is still a position of contention. But since the office was created membership has soared (many of the new recruits are students), the party has its first council, and the Greens have gone from fourth to third party in London – ahead of the Lib Dems. No small feats for a few years.
The next steps, however, are crucial, and will determine which direction the party takes. The most important shift that can be made, and I think must, is a move towards the North. The recent local elections boosted Green representation in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, with a record number of candidates fielded in the North West and Manchester. Last week also saw a defection from the Lib Dems in Solihull, near Birmingham, the Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem group who realised that to oppose austerity, it’s wise to be part of a party consistently doing that.
But at the moment, at least off campus, recycling pops into most people’s heads when they think ‘Green’. That’s a perception that needs to change – and the places to make that happen are the areas hardest hit by the cuts – Yorkshire, Newcastle, Birmingham, Lancashire.
I’m not suggesting any dramatic shift. But with Caroline Lucas standing down to make way for fresh blood, it would be a symbol of changing times if the Greens elected a leader who comes from somewhere facing the brunt of the coalition’s slash-and-burn policies. A leader perhaps not from, dare I say it, a professional background.
There is a huge space in the political sphere of this country for someone who can offer leadership to the rising discontent felt by library closures, dying Sure Start centres, the near-abolition of EMA and the tripling of fees. All of which, when raised by the Labour Party, are met with the battle cry of not ‘stop!’ but ‘please, could you possibly slow down a bit?’
Caroline Lucas was and is that figure – but with fresh leadership elections next month, ‘seize the day’ should be the phrase of the moment. All three main party leaders come from wealthy elite backgrounds – Clegg, son of the chairman of United Trust Bank, Miliband, offspring of the left intelligentsia, and Cameron…well. There’s only so many times you can read the word ‘Eton’ before you realise that it has given us 19 Prime Ministers and yet educated just 0.00035% of our population. It’s time to buck the trend.
One problem – it’s incredibly difficult to do so unless you can actually make a living. By that I mean the only way someone from an ordinary background can be expected to take on a full time role is if they’re actually paid for it. And that’s not the case at the moment. A motion is expected to be put forward to the next conference in Bristol that the role of leader is paid, so that activists who don’t have paid elected roles are able to take the helm.
With around 60% of MPs coming from professional or business backgrounds, it’s up to a different party to the main three to turn the tide. Contrary to the ‘middle-class’ myths surrounding the Greens, there are plenty of people out there who fit the bill, too. Just don’t ask me for any predictions.
This article is featured here at Socialist Unity – comments welcome
It’s fair to say the left in Britain is in a pretty sorry state. The sheer number of miniscule, bickering left-wing groups indicates the scale of the problem. The left’s crisis is reflected throughout Europe – France and Germany’s ‘New Anti-capitalist’ Parties have come to little, nominally social democratic governments have been ejected from office in Portugal, Spain and elsewhere, and in Britain, the Labour party – again social democratic by name – refuses to reject the cuts consensus, while Trotskyite sects argue at the side-lines.
Until Galloway’s election in Bradford, there was just one electable social/ist democratic party – the Greens. In Brighton, the Green council have rejected privatisation and spent months consulting unions and community groups on the first Green budget, which though not uncontroversial, is impressive in its participatory nature and the fact that it had strong union support against attacks from Labour and the Conservatives which saw over £3m worth more of cuts forced onto it through rejecting a council tax increase. The introduction of a Living Wage and pay ratios show what left-led local councils can do even when faced with massive central government funding cuts.
And yet in May – if Labour lose a number of seats to Respect – Brighton could be potentially joined by as a left-led council by a Labour/Respect coalition in Bradford. Unlikely, of course – yet then again so was the election of a Respect MP until just a couple of weeks ago. Even if Labour still firmly hold the council, which they no doubt will, they may well have a number of vociferous socialist councillors to contend with in the council chamber, and could be pressured to implement progressive policies – like the Living Wage, reinstating EMA on a council-wide basis (as, somewhat surprisingly, Cornwall Council appear to be doing) and building resistance to the cuts. It’s not impossible off the back of a huge electoral victory that come May, a sixth of Bradford council could be Respect seats. Sweeping gains may not be a pipe dream.
Yet there is a problem. 127 candidates are fighting for 30 seats – and among them, competing left candidates. Socialist Labour are standing against Green councillor Martin Love who leads the Green Group and has over the past few years pushed for renewable energy for new housing and won for Bradford millions of pounds in green investment. Respect are standing against Green candidates in Heaton, Manningham and elsewhere. I’m a biased observer as a Green activist – but anti-cuts activists opposing elected anti-cuts activists seems like a strange tactic and a clear example of the Pythonesque Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea politics that has not helped the left one bit – except to spruce up splinter group paper columns.
To consider the solution we first have to accept a few facts. A Labour council is in general better than a Tory one. A Green council would be (and is) more progressive still – and perhaps likewise for Respect. But where left candidates stand a good chance of being elected, I think we must accept that party allegiance should be put aside.
In short, we need an electoral alliance. We cannot have absurd situations like the Socialist Party standing against John McDonnell MP back in 2001, or Socialist Labour standing against Caroline Lucas in 2010. And that’s without even mentioning the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
The prospects of a left alliance look bright post-‘Bradford Spring’. Such an alliance might consist of candidates standing aside at the next election to allow whoever out of Respect and the Green Party previously got a higher percentage of the vote to stand – and if possible, cross-party activism and public support. It might be uncomfortable, but under First Past the Post, it may be time to realise that it’s also necessary. In sum, we have to accept what Dawud Islam– the Green candidate for Bradford West and now Respect council candidate – has said: ‘Caroline Lucas MP and George Galloway MP [should] agree some sort of electoral pact between the parties in the future, as I certainly view the Green Party as a progressive party of the left.’ Though in Parliamentary terms the parties are now equal, it must be remembered that before Galloway’s election Respect had less than 700 members nationally.
There is clearly a high degree of overlap with both parties – both promote ‘investment not cuts’, nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from Afghanistan and NATO, strong public services, rail renationalisation and an end to anti-union laws. The difficulty, though not a significant one, is environmental policy – but it’s hard to see Respect rejecting environmentalist concerns.
After the May elections, Respect and the Greens – and TUSC, for that matter – should seriously consider an electoral alliance of some kind. It has been done with success before, though not apparently in England. In France, the Left Front are making huge headway in the polls, and present a situation that should be aspired to here, where they are forcing Hollande’s moderate Socialists to support measures like a 75% top tax rate. More relevantly, the Socialists have offered a number of seats where they will not stand against the Greens, in return for broad cross-Parliamentary support.
Predictions, as Bradford showed us, generally fail. So I only make the suggestion – to pragmatically accept party overlap, and support electoral alliance as the best chance for overall success. Because truly, none but the most dogmatic can deny they were cheered by Respect’s success in Bradford as setting an alternative to the austerity agenda. So it’s time to adopt that painful but often successful tactic which has for too many decades been ignored – alliance.