Green Party

As we pick up the pieces: 9 thoughts on Brexit

Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.

But as we try and pick up the pieces and make sense of the situation, here are some thoughts on Brexit:

1. No one on the left knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.

2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, undemocratic and elite-driven. This is a result of alienation.

3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.

The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.

4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.

Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.

5. At risk of stating the obvious, British politics is now in turmoil – if it wasn’t before. Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over Corbyn’s alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. And he is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.

So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.

6. Another Union is breaking apart. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations.

Nicola Sturgeon pledge for a second independence referendum has already met strong support, support that is likely to be far higher than last time. Polls are already showing a significant chance of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote…).

Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, tensions are rising there too.

7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated UKIP — who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart — including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.

But Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a conservative nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and embolden reactionary forces. How does the left respond?

8. The left is, understandably, in a state of mourning. It will take time, but we have to to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come back – but we have to start trying to now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.

With Labour in turmoil (not least following Hilary Benn’s sacking), it is left to other movements and parties to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements likeAnother Europe Is Possible, which campaigned for a progressive Remain vote, to do this. The left is in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections — but it is in our hands, and we have to get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.

9. We are still European. It’s vital progressive movements across Europe continue to keep their arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.

Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together, and have to keep working as such.

For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.  

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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.

Short-changing voters: Why the cuts to opposition funding are wrong

This week the government will formally announce final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.

According to the Independent today, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut.  It’s an incredibly backwards step.

UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.

Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.

Polling for us by BMG Research at the end of last year showed that 57% of the public think a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the big-donor dominated one we have now. And this cut will do nothing to improve people’s perceptions of politics being stitched-up by the big parties.

Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account, so this cut could be deeply damaging for accountability. Indeed, an OECD report recently released shows that Britain already has one of the lowest proportions of public funding for parties among developed countries, spending just a tenth of the European average.

The whole party funding system is a complete mess as it is, but this measure risks making it worse. By reducing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.

Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.

Let’s hope the government think again and stand up for the millions whose voices were ignored last May.

Beckett report: It wasn’t the Greens that cost Labour the election

We’ve all seen the headlines from Labour’s inquiry into its election defeat released last week. ‘Miliband seen as weak’, ‘Labour not trusted on the economy,’ and so on ad infinitum. But in listing four reasons for defeat, one thing was pleasingly notable for its absence: the Greens.

The Green Party have long been an easy cop-out for some tribalists within Labour to explain defeats. The ‘stealing votes’ narrative is well known by Greens, and can generally be met with a groan and a fatigued opposition to the idea that Labour ‘own’ votes. But the Beckett Report is surprisingly magnanimous – and it is by no means meant to be – in its handling of the Greens in terms of the 2015 General Election. The ‘Greens cost us the election’ argument – thankfully on the wane though never quite dead – is swiftly dealt with.

Here are four reasons the Greens didn’t cost Labour last May’s election, according to Labour itself:

  1. Firstly, and simply, the Greens didn’t take any Labour seats. They already had Brighton Pavilion. And Green wins add to the anti-Tory bloc. The report states: “Both UKIP and the Greens made large gains in votes but won only one seat each. Analysis suggests that votes that went to UKIP and the Greens did not significantly affect the overall outcome of the election, i.e. the number of seats won by Labour and the Tories.”
  1. It’s not just that Greens didn’t win seats though: Green votes mainly came from the Lib Dem collapse rather than Labour voters: “There were 43 English (mainly South and Midlands) and Welsh Labour target seats where the Green vote rose by more than the Labour vote. While some people switched to the Greens from Labour, they were probably few in number. The increase in Green votes came overwhelmingly from the 2010 Liberal Democrats and was correlated with those constituencies where the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed the most, including some of the seats that the Liberal Democrats lost to Labour.”
  1. There’s almost a hint of praise for Greens’ tactical voting – Greens tend to vote Labour in marginal seats: “What is certain…is that there was significant tactical voting by Green supporters, including many who voted Green in the local elections, who backed Labour in marginal seats. We can therefore conclude with some confidence that Labour was successful at attracting the support of Greens and that their rise played little part in Labour’s defeat.” Whether they attracted that support on merit or simply so that Greens could keep out Tories is neither here nor there: Greens use their votes carefully under our broken First Past the Post voting system. Indeed, Labour’s only Southern victory can be put down to tactical Greens, suggest the authors: “Our only gain in a southern town was Hove, where we had a very strong local campaign and probably benefited from tactical voting by Green supporters.”
  1. Finally, the report offers a welcome rebuttal to the tired ‘Labour was too left wing’ mantra. “Many of our most “left wing” polices were the most popular” – indeed the Greens’ quadrupling vote share can no doubt in part be put down to its positioning as the ‘true’ left party in the face of Labour wobbling. The left-wing policies Labour did have (rent controls, gradual rail renationalisation etc) “were the kind of policies the public expected from Labour.”

Indeed, they were quite probably a boon: “An analysis by BES suggests that some of those who supported us would have been less likely to had they seen us as less left wing.” Left-wing policies are often the vote winners: “Both the SNP and Greens gained votes in this election and arguably they were seen as to the left of Labour.”

So, Greens are absolved. It wasn’t the Greens that lost the election for Labour: it was Labour itself.

This piece was first published on Bright Green

Just three days left to decide which motions are heard at Green conference

Green Party members have just three days left to vote in the ballot that will determine which motions are heard at Spring Conference next month.

Every Green member gets a vote in the ‘Prioritisation Ballot’ to determine what order motions will be heard on the conference floor at the Harrogate International Centre between the 26th and 28th February. The vote closes at 23:59 on the 25th January.

You can vote in the Prioritisation Ballot here. Turnout is generally very low – although rising every year – so every vote counts:  

There are motions on removing the minimum membership time requirement to stand for leader, to ban Greens from entering the House of Lords, and to reform conference voting, as well as policy motions on housing, LGBT+ rights and energy, among much much else.

The deadline for motions to the final agenda was on the 15th January, and on the 31st January the final agenda will be published following the results of this ballot. You can read the first agenda with all the motions here: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/sites/my.greenparty.org.uk/files/First%20Agenda%20Spring%202016.pdf

Here’s that link again: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/news/spring-conference-first-agenda-and-prioritisation-ballot-now-published

Spread the word!

Democratising devolution: how the Greens can lead the debate

Under the surface, a quiet revolution is taking place with our constitution.

The government’s devolution agenda for England isn’t exactly at the top of the national conversation. But it marks a re-working of the British state – and it’s a debate that Greens can’t ignore.

Of course, the devolution agenda comes alongside big cuts to local government – putting many authorities in a difficult situation. But councils do want these powers, and the extra investment that is coming alongside some of the deals (over £30m extra every year for West Midlands and Liverpool). Last week these deals were signed – with the former being the biggest handover of power to date. And there are around 30 deals going through as we speak across the country.

If the Greens are about anything, we’re about democracy. That’s why it’s essential we don’t let the push for devolution go by without getting involved in the conversation.

On Tuesday, Caroline Lucas published a piece on Left Foot Forward arguing that “We can’t have our constitution written on the whims of the great and good – with politicians writing their own rule book. It’s time for citizens to lead the debate on our democratic future.” She’s absolutely right.

So far, devolution deals have been negotiated and signed behind closed doors, to ridiculously tight time-frames, and often with ‘commercial sensitivity’ preventing the public even looking at the documents. The conversations about powers and resources have been at a top-level, with almost zero public involvement.

But what is localism if local people aren’t involved? Here is a real chance for the Greens to carve a niche, calling for a democratised devolution agenda with real public involvement. Labour have so far been fairly quiet on the issue – they’ve had their own disputes and issues to deal with. The Greens though, have the space to work on this issue – and previous form, with the party’s reputation as a grassroots-led, democratic force for empowerment.

This month, the first ever ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ in the UK on local government finished in Southampton. Run by universities from across the country together with my own organisation, the Electoral Reform Society, the project aimed to give local people what politicians haven’t so far given them – a say on the devolution deals currently going through.

What the ‘Democracy Matters’ project – based on two Assemblies in the Solent region (in Southampton) and South Yorkshire (in Sheffield) – has offered is a chance for citizens to debate the power-transfer for the first time. Up to now, many feel they’ve been left out in the cold. A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Northerners haven’t even heard of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – a sign of the extent to which the public have been engaged in the discussions.

How about Greens call for Citizens’ Assemblies when devolution deals are going through locally? And if the councils don’t agree, set up ‘People’s Panels’ of residents to do a similar thing? Greens could be raising some key points:

  • Negotiations could be minuted, with documents released to the public. No more secret deals.
  • Mayors should not be imposed against the wishes of local people. But if areas get mayors, shouldn’t they be accountable to an elected assembly, rather than just other council leaders?
  • Genuine consultation should take place on the initial deals – with a real chance for the public to change the outcome.
  • The deals could be ratified by a referendum after extensive public debate.
  • What about our voting system – do we want to consolidate power in the hands of single-party states under First Past the Post? We need to open up the conversation on electoral reform
  • Local people should help determine the area the authority should cover, the powers they want for their authority and what kind of democratic set up they think should go alongside the new powers.

Let’s not let the biggest power-shift for decades in England pass us by without comment. It’s time for Greens to call for a democratised devolution agenda that puts people at the centre – not a handful of officials in back-rooms.

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.