Sian Berry: ‘Khan and Goldsmith wouldn’t meet the Greens’

The Greens’ London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has said that the Labour and Conservative teams refused to meet with the party to discuss who Green supporters should back as their 2nd preference on May 5th.

Speaking to me for NovaraMedia, Berry claimed that ‘neither of the candidates wanted to meet with us to talk about them’ – despite the fact that 2nd preferences have been decisive in every single Mayoral election since the London Assembly’s first election in 2000.

She said that “Sadiq specifically turned [a meeting]…down’, while Zac Goldsmith simply “didn’t arrange” one. Labour’s response was apparently dismissive – “[Sadiq said] he didn’t want to seek the 2nd preference recommendation.”

It follows a meeting of the London Federation of Green Parties on Monday to debate and vote on who the party should recommend Green supporters back as their 2nd choice. In 2008 and 2012 the party asked members to vote for Ken Livingstone after Jenny Jones.

Under the capital’s Supplementary Voting system, Berry’s voters’ 2nd choices are counted if she doesn’t win enough support to make it into the final round – a likely scenario.

It was widely thought that the Greens’ would back a 2nd preference Labour vote this time. However, statements from Sadiq Khan on various issues and a refusal to meet have frayed relations between the parties: “You’ve got some real red lines there – Sadiq’s [pro-expansion] position on Gatwick, and Zac has been appalling on the Silvertown Tunnel [i.e. in support]. Those are things that either of them could easily have given way on.”

Berry stated that two candidates are “really hard to tell…apart – [Khan] visited the City and said he’s going to be a mayor for big business – that’s not what you expect from someone who says he going to be a mayor for all Londoners.”

This election the party put forward four ‘red lines’ to the two lead candidates, which they would need to give ground on to win official 2nd preference support – an end to road building, airport expansion and enforced council estate demolitions, and to reduce London’s inequality.

Discussions outside of official meetings had proven unhelpful. “We’ve had chats with them, including during debates. One example is [council] estate demolition – I’ve challenged them a number of times during hustings to condemn the councils that are doing it and they’re doing it on Labour and Conservative councils – and they haven’t.”

Berry also hinted she is against the system of recommending Green supporters back a 2nd choice – “This whole idea that we should instruct our voters who to vote for anyway is a bit wrong – they can think for themselves what kind of campaigns the others are running.”

Outgoing Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson wrote for MayorWatch that ‘London’s Greens have grown over the past 16 years, it’s no longer appropriate to endorse rival mayoral hopefuls’.

Around 50 members of the London Federation of Green Parties debated the Mayoral race on Monday, at the final ever meeting in the party’s traditional North London HQ Development House, with members voting unanimously not to back a 2nd preference.

Members also voted on whether to make a statement against the Goldsmith campaign, which has been viewed as ‘divisive’ on Khan’s faith. Members voted by around 4-1 to not officially condemn the Conservative campaign, in what may be seen as a boost for Goldsmith. Berry was among the minority voting to condemn the Tory campaign.

With Berry battling it out for third place with the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP, last Monday’s vote may turn out to be a key moment in the Mayoral race.


100 days to go: six thoughts on the Greens and May

First published at Bright Green

We are just 100 days away from the General Election.

With this in mind, let’s look at the Greens prospects for May and the months ahead.

1. The effect of both the steady Green surge of 2014 (doubled membership) and the Green tidal wave that has been January thus far (membership leaping past UKIP and the Lib Dems to nearly 55,000) on the Greens’ seat prospects are by no means clear.

It is very likely – touch wood – that Caroline Lucas will keep her seat. What will happen in Bristol West and Norwich South though is extremely uncertain, with us standing a fair chance in Bristol – a city with the second highest Green Party membership in England & Wales after Brighton. Whether our final vote share under First Past the Post will actually match our current polling levels of ~9% is also unclear. People, sadly, do vote tactically, and surges don’t last forever. But we can hope. Moreover, there will be plenty of council seats on May 7th for Greens to win.

What is clear is that our national vote share will be significantly higher than in 2010 (1%) – with a 5%+ average vote meaning dozens more candidates will at the very least keep their deposits. At £500 a pop, that’s good news in itself, but even better news for the narrative that the Greens are a growing party, and setting us up well for 2020.

One thing is certain – we have a lot more feet on the ground, a lot more campaigning acumen (recruiting campaign co-ordinators in every region) and a lot more money; both through increased subs income, extensive use of crowdfunding, and things like, you know, Vivienne Westwood’s £300k donation.

2. The Labour attack dogs are out.

This has been clear for a while, with the establishment of the Sadiq Khan led anti-Green unit. But Labour will be jumping on any policy flaws or cock-ups by Green candidates in the coming months – and promptly sending them off to the press. We have to be on guard.

3. The media have spotted the Greens, at last. But…

While media coverage is excellent for our profile – it’s a double edged sword. They will do anything they can to pick apart party statements, past embarrassments, internal spats and minor controversies. This week we saw an article in almost every paper picking up one side comment from Natalie Bennett on putting the Queen in a council house. The Telegraph went further in a piece called ‘Drugs, brothels, al-Qaeda and the Beyonce tax: the Green Party’s plan for Britain’, while the Spectator followed suit. And today’s Sunday Politics interview with Natalie Bennett was shocking, in the sense that Andrew Neil was at his most vicious, consistently picking on obscure policies and refusing to let Natalie answer. His treatment of Jim Murphy was, funnily enough, incredibly tame.

What is interesting is that many of the attacks are coming out in the right-wing press, rather than from more centrist/lefty media operations that would in theory back a Labour win. What does this mean? Well, the right are getting scared that Green party policies might actually get implemented.

4. The TV debates will be a game-changer.

Being excluded was already a huge victory – it energised activists, bolstered the narrative of the ‘alternative’ and the ‘underdog’, boosted our coverage and recruited thousands. But being included in the debates could do the same – it will establish us as a truly ‘major’ party, whatever Ofcom says. In part of course, this depends on performance – Natalie will have to do well to see anything like the Cleggmania of 2010 happen for the Greens (a poisoned chalice?). But the very act of appearing on two of the three debates will set a precedent: having boosted our 2010 vote, we’ll have to be in the 2020 debates, too.

5. Voter registration and core demographic turnout will be key for the Greens.

Our support is incredibly strong among students. Yet under the new voter registration system, nearly a million people could be left off the Electoral Roll – mostly students. We need to get them registered and get them out on polling day, something which will need the kind of organisational structure and efficiency we’ve not traditionally been famous for as a party.

6. The next government could be the most left-wing we’ve had in decades.

All the predictions are that Labour will be the biggest party, but not by much, meaning the minority government could have to rely on SNP, Plaid and potentially one (or more!) Greens’ votes. The red lines have already been drawn, and the latter three parties – a parliamentary left-wing alliance – have set Trident as their condition for a confidence and supply agreement. Labour are in meltdown in Scotland, on track to win as few as four seats to the SNP’s 55. Austerity and rail renationalisation will of course be two other agreement-breakers. Add to the potential Europe-wide ramifications of Sunday’s Syriza election victory in Greece, and it could be bye-bye neoliberalism. Let’s hope so.

See you on the doorstep.  

BREAKING: Green Party membership overtakes UKIP and Lib Dems

Originally published on Bright Green

UPDATE: After overtaking UKIP on Wednesday, UK Green membership also overtook the Lib Dems on Thursday evening after gaining over 6,000 members in just two days. There are now well over 45,000 Greens across thee UK.

In what appears to be the biggest Green Party membership surge since the movement’s inception, we are proud to be the first to report that membership of the Greens across the UK overtook UKIP’s on Wednesday.

Well over 2000 people joined the party on Wednesday following anger at the Greens’ exclusion from the TV debates, and coverage of the ‘Green Surge’.

The figures comes from the Green Party of England and Wales’ online membership records, which when added to the figures put together by OpenDemocracy’s Adam Ramsay put the Greens’ membership at more than UKIP’s 42,500 for the first time ever.2000

The cause of the surge appears to be the enormous coverage of the membership figures themselves, which went viral on the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mirror sites on Wednesday. The reporting claimed that Green membership across the UK could overtake UKIP’s within a week – something that has now been far surpassed.

It looks like UK Green membership could overtake even the Liberal Democrats’ over the weekend.

How this will affect the TV debates following Ofcom’s ruling earlier this week is as yet unclear, but Al Jazeera appear to be following the Guardian consortium’s lead in planning TV debates which will include the Greens.

Bright Green will cover developments on Thursday as they emerge.

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…

‘The Blackout’ – My Poem on the BBC and the Greens

I don’t generally write poems (I prefer songs), but I was so annoyed about the BBC (and other broadcasters, for that matter) excluding the Green Party from the TV General Election debates that I felt compelled to write one. Let me know your thoughts.


The Blackout

This is the blackout –
when our broadcaster,
owned by us,
refuses us the chance to hear another view.

When a million Green voters are blocked of their voice
because the Beeb doesn’t have a clue
that the party system is ripping open,
breaking apart,
that politics is different now.

This is the blackout.

It’s a blackout when one rising party gets a slot,
but another doesn’t.
When four white, rich, ageing men
get yet another platform
but a left-wing woman
has to wait it out.

When we’re allowed to hear
from the up-starts if they’re pro-austerity –
radicals can forget it.
Auntie likes her comfort zones,
likes not to rock the boat too much.
She likes the establishment –
and it can be in blue, red, yellow or purple
But not Green.
No, not that.

This is the blackout

And it’s a blackout
every time our state media
ignores the return
of Occupy, ignores a million marching.

It’s a blackout when songs people
support are vetoed,
independence campaigners
are mocked and cold-shouldered,
when 50,00 sign a petition against this blackout
and are fenced off and ignored,
or 200,000 call for democratic diversity –
for a Green voice, an alternative –
and get a pro-forma response from arbitrary auntie.

This is the blackout

Believe me, Beeb.
Your license fee payers aren’t happy.
Greens are surging.
You will be left behind.
And people will remember the #BBCBlackout


A new era for the Young Greens…

Well, it’s official. After what I hear was an amazing weekend in Brighton – the Young Greens‘ largest ever convention, and the first where the NEC was elected via national online ballot – I am officially no longer YG Press Officer (I decided not to restand – they didn’t kick me off!). It’s been an amazing year, I’ve learnt a lot and worked with some brilliant people, and it’s nice to hand over the reigns to the very capable hands of Georgia Elander.

I would say I’ll have a lot of time on my hands, but I’ve got my first meeting for the Editorial Board of the online publication Bright Green tonight – an interesting new chapter! No rest for the wicked. Although I will be focusing more on my journalism over the next year, I also (obviously) plan to stay active in the Young Greens.

I’m really excited for the future of the Green Party, but in particularly our youth branch. It’s dynamic, radical and engaged. I’m sure another good year lies ahead for the new committee, who I think will do a great job at maintaining the upward trajectory of Britain’s third largest party for young people. It has doubled in size in less than a year, and has more local and regional groups than ever. I’ve seen it go from strength to strength – and I think it’s going to get even better.

Thanks to the previous committee, congratulations to those elected, and commiserations to those who weren’t voted in.

Onwards and upwards – viva la revolucion!

Those elected via national ballot for the Young Greens were:

Non-Portfolio Positions: Shihab Basit, Thomas Pashby, Fiona Costello (incumbent), Sophie van der Ham (incumbent), Thom French (incumbent), and Georgia Elander

Structures and Procedures Committee: Charlene Concepcion, Matthew Clark, and Joseph Clough

Co-Chairs: Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming (both re-elected)

Treasurer: Thomas Bolitho

House of Commons corrects massive error about the Green Party…

I’ve just had this reply from the author of this week’s House of Commons report on party membership regarding my complaint to him and the Statistics Authority here. 

The report made a number of errors – talking about ‘the Green Party’ next to UKIP, Labour etc., without noting that they meant the Green Party of England & Wales (and thereby writing off the Scottish and NI Greens with thousands of members). It also listed ‘Green Party’ membership at 14,000, when it’s actually more than 19,000 now.

So the clarifications mark a bit of a success – turns out making a fuss works.

I’ve emailed back to ask that they:

a) Mention the Northern Irish Greens – an extra several hundred members, and again, a separate party

b) Include the latest GPEW membership statistics (though it’s good they mentioned Scottish growth figures) – over 19,000.

Here’s their response to my complaint:

Dear Mr Mortimer,

Many thanks for your email to the House of Commons Library regarding the note ‘Membership of UK Political Parties’.

As you note the Green Party (as registered with the Electoral Commission 25/02/1999) and the Scottish Green Party (registered 04/04/2001) are two separate entities, each registered independently with the Electoral Commission as parties of Great Britain. To clarify, the primary name of the Green Party (England and Wales) as registered with the Electoral Commission is the ‘Green Party’.  Our note focuses on membership of political parties as represented in the House of Commons. It therefore reports membership of the Green Party (as currently represented by Caroline Lucas MP) and not the Scottish Green Party; in its accounts published by the Electoral Commission year ending 31 December 2013 the Green Party reported a membership of approximately 14,000.

Before publishing the note we were sure to contact each party press office regarding up to date figures; on this occasion we did not receive a reply to our correspondence from the Green Party office. Membership figures included within the note are, unless otherwise stated, based upon submissions by UK political parties to the Electoral Commission. For those parties from which we received up-to-date membership statistics, or where press releases published after 31st December 2014 were found, such statistics have been quoted alongside official submissions to the Electoral Commission.

Nonetheless, we welcome your correspondence and your suggestion to make clearer the distinction between the Green Party and the Scottish Green Party within our note. For this reason we have updated our section on the Green Party to clarify this distinction and quoted up-to-date figures for membership to the Scottish Green Party.

So whereas before, the report said:

Membership of the Green Party appears, according to submissions to the Electoral Commission, to have held level at approximately 5,000 members between 1998 and 2002.

It now says:

Membership of the Green Party (England & Wales)…

That’s an important clarification.

They’ve also added a large section on Scotland that wasn’t there before – previously there was no mention of the Scottish Greens:

Membership to the Scottish Green Party stated in accounts ending 31st December 2013 was around 1,200; a party press release issued 22nd September 2014 reported membership has
‘passed the 5,000 mark’ following the Scottish Independence Referendum.9 Please note,
however, that the ‘Scottish Green Party’ is registered with the Electoral Commission as an
organisation separate from the ‘Green Party’ (England and Wales); consequently throughout
this note figures for ‘the Green Party’ refer to the Green Party of England and Wales only.

So it’s a minor campaign victory. Of course it all sounds petty, but actually this is a pretty politically significant document that is used by a large numbers of researchers, wonks, students, and political writers etc. This stuff matters.

You can read the updated report here. It’s gold dust for political geeks.