green

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.

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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.

 

Green Party membership now over 19,000

25 September 2014

Membership of the Green Party of England and Wales is now over 19,000 following a massive surge over the past year.

Green Party membership has risen by over 40%, now sitting at 19,357 as of the 26th September, according to figures released by the party’s membership office.

Meanwhile membership of the Young Greens is now well over 3,000 following an increase of over 70% in the past six months alone.

The Scottish Green Party, a separate party, has seen a tripling of membership over the past week following the independence referendum in which Greens played an active role. The party now boasts nearly 6,000 recruits.

Commenting on the news, Clifford Fleming, Young Greens Co-Chair and Green Party Executive Member said: “Thousands of people are flocking to the Green Party for its vision of a more progressive Britain. Our call for a decent Living Wage, a publicly-owned railway network, workers’ rights and fighting climate change are inspiring people up and down the country.

“With over 19,000 members, the Greens are now in a fantastic position to run in next year’s election and pose a serious challenge to the mainstream neoliberal parties, with a plan for social justice and radical green action.

“The growth of the Young Greens has also been incredible this year. We now have dozens of branches across England and Wales full of active members keen to push for positive change and a world that puts people and the planet before profits. Young people are increasingly pushing for free education and not a system that places the market at the centre, and the Young Greens are fully behind them.

“It’s onwards and upwards for the true party of the left in England and Wales, and our counterparts in Scotland.”

For interviews call Josiah, YG Press Officer, on 07454397816

PR taken from here.

Why I’ve Complained to the Statistics Authority…

I’ve just written to the UK Statistics Authority over the House of Commons Library’s recent publication ‘Membership of UK politics parties‘, released on Tuesday. It’s a highly interesting document that myself and other political geeks love to read every year. But there’s a few clonkers in there.

 

1. They talk about ‘the Green Party’ as if it was a UK thing. They at no point clarify they are talking about the Greens of England and Wales. This skews the membership stats and fails to compare like with like – a massive statistical error.

 

2. They have very recent SNP membership stats (from this week!) but the latest Green Party stats are from December 2013 – despite it being widely known Green membership in E&W is now over 19,000 – see below (from the members’ site, but it’s all over social media). So they list ‘Green Party’ membership (again implying UK-wide numbers) at 14k, ignoring the recent membership surge.

 

national party

 

3. In doing all this, they completely ignore the highly successful Scottish Green Party, an entirely separate entity, and the Greens of NI (again, separate). This is unfair. The Scottish Greens’ membership has tripled over the past week to over 5,600 – 4000 new members. So UK Green membership is probably nearing 30,000 now. Yet the figures obfuscate this/leave it out entirely.

 

On another note, they’ve also missed out the Scottish Socialist Party which has also added thousands of members over the past week – something not mentioned while the SNP’s growth is. In both cases, the percentage rate of growth of the SSP and the Scottish Greens is far higher than the SNP (as impressive as it is). Anyway.

If you are annoyed by these glaring mistakes email papers@parliament.uk and authority.enquiries@statistics.gsi.gov.uk

Here’s my email below to the House of Commons Library and the UK Statistics Authority.

 

Dear Sir/Madam,
 
I am getting in touch regarding you recent publication ‘Membership of UK political parties’. In it, it states that ‘in 
December 2013 membership of the Green Party was around 14,000.’ This is misleading, as it is written alongside total UK membership of the other parties – when in fact the 14,000 figure is for the Green Party of England and Wales. The Scottish Green Party and Green Party of Northern Ireland should be listed in the statistics as separate parties. This takes the UK membership of the Greens up significantly. 
 
This is an issue of failing to compare like with like. For example, you write ‘Membership held level just below 13,000 in 2010-2012, before rising slightly to 13,800 members as of 31st December 2013.’ This is the England and Wales party, something not stated. As written below morover, more up to date member figures are available. 
The 14,000 figure is not the latest statistic, despite you showing very recent SNP member updates. GPEW now has over 19,000 members in England and Wales, and the separate Scottish Party has over the past week seen a tripling of membership to over 5,600. This is publicly available knowledge.
 
I am emailing to request that you make these important factual clarifications:
a) With regards to the completely separate nature of the different Green Parties of the UK – there should be separate sections on the Greens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and E&W, and it should be clearly stated that the stats currently used refer to England and Wales.
b) With regards to the latest membership statistics – there are now over 19,000 members of the Green Party in England and Wales. This is publicly available information (although the screenshot attached is from the members’ site). Moreover, such information is widely available regarding the Scottish Party – https://twitter.com/scotgp – but official current figures will be available by contacting the national offices. I suggest you do this.
I hope you can resolve this complaint swiftly.
Yours faithfully,
Josiah Mortimer
Young Greens National Committee

The Yes campaign may have won the #indyref

Update: The SNP now look on track for 60,000 members after hitting 50,000 yesterday and now standing at 59,000 (as of 1pm Wednesday – no signs of slowing, either). They have overtaken the Lib Dems’ and UKIP’ total British membership numbers by a long stretch. Meanwhile the Scottish Socialists are processing over 2,000 membership applications and the Greens over 3,000 (plus hundreds more in England, too). 

The SNP’s doubled membership means that over 1 in every 100 Scots are now members of the party – a higher proportion than party memebership of ALL parties across the UK as a whole. A back of the envelope calculation puts the membership fees gained from the over 33,000 new recruits shows if they all paid:

  • The recommended fee – £5 a month: The party would rake in £2m in extra subs for the next year
  • The lower fee: £3 a month: £1.2m in extra subs for the year ahead
  • The minimum fee: £1 a month: £400,000 extra for the next year

That’s a lot of money (in addition to the tens/hundreds of thousands that will have been donated over the past week – genuinely). It’s also 33,000 additional foot-soldiers who have an experience of campaigning.

Something incredible is happening in Scotland – people are actually getting excited about democracy. Meanwhile a poll puts the SNP on 49% for Holyrood and catching up with Labour for the Westminster election next year. 

The article below was originally published at Left Foot Forward

With pro-independence parties seeing record-breaking membership growth, the indy camp could be the real winners after all

Who do you think won the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday? You’d probably have a fair claim to say it was the unionist campaign, winning 55 per cent of the vote.

But a few facts suggest that in the long run, it could be the parties that campaigned for independence.

Why? Over the past three days, membership of the SNP has risen by at least 14,000, nearly half of which joined in the 24 hours after polls closed. To put that into perspective, that was the SNP’s total membership ten years ago. They’ve now added that since Thursday night.

This now makes the SNP by far the largest party in Scotland with over 45,000 members – far more than both UKIP and the Lib Dems’ total membership across the whole of the UK. It’s also, according to a Green Party activist I spoke to, nearly four times Labour’s membership in Scotland.

It’s hard to even accurately assess the extent to which people want to sign up: the SNP’s website crashed on Sunday for two hours when 500 tried to join in one hour. There were fascinating stories circulating on social media – such as an extended family of 18 people simultaneously resigning from Labour to join the Nationalists.

This has to be a total rarity in modern British politics at a time when membership of the mainstream parties is stagnant or plummeting. People are, whisper it, actually getting excited about politics.

It’s not just the SNP that is facing this surge either. 2,500 joined the Scottish Green Partybetween polls closing and Saturday evening – a faster rate than the SNP. Earlier this year the Greens had just 1,200 members in Scotland, meaning in a few days they have doubled or more in size. The impact? They could end up with over dozen MSPs in nine month’s time; their highest ever.

It’s hard to fathom the impact that could have on politics north of the border. The combined membership of the England & Wales and Scottish Green Parties is now around half that of the Lib Dems nationally. They’re gaining ground, a fact reflected in the polls, too.

Even the Scottish Socialist Party has seen a minor revival, with another 600 members in the two days following the referendum.

I could go on. But the key issue isn’t the numbers here – as impressive as they are – but the issue of why, and what impact this could have on Scottish politics.

Yes Scotland shared a Facebook status pointing to the astonishing recruitment figures (it was shared over 2,300 times). Of the more than 1000 comments, almost all were from new activists. And many are deeply interesting.

One of the most popular comments appears to sum up the mood:

“I will not lie down and accept this result. I will not suck it up, and move on. Nobody achieved anything in life by rolling over and accepting the status quo. I will continue to hope for an independent Scotland in my lifetime. I’ve never really taken an interest in politics before this referendum, but today I’ve become one of the 4000+ people to join the SNP in the last 24 hours. We are the 45 per cent and we will not be silenced.”

Another:

“We lost the battle but were not losing the war.” Again: “Yesterday we cried, today we move forward with renewed determination to claim what is rightfully ours.”

All these reflect the fact that the referendum was not the end of the road, but perhaps the start of a process. Many were disgruntled with the BBC and the rest of the almost entirely unionist press, 70,000-strong allegations – however ridiculous – of vote rigging, and the apparent reneging on promises to grant further devolution just one day after the referendum.

But they were also impressed by the principled move of Salmond to stand down upon losing the vote, and the vibrant radical grassroots campaign which mobilised working-class people who had long been ignored by neoliberal politics.

Those activists are now becoming party political: “Now that there’s no referendum campaign to be involved in, these people, who have been politicised for the first time in many cases, are looking for some political activity to get involved in – they’re not going back to their sofas,” Edinburgh Greens’ membership secretary Mike Williamson told me.

They also, crucially, have experience of campaigning that will help them in next year’s election. Paper members they shall not be.

The vast reawakening of the democratic spirit in Scotland on the Yes side in the months running up to the #indyref suggests it is a political resurgence that will not go away quietly. We can laugh at the rhetoric of ‘We are the 45 per cent’ [the total Yes vote] – but the major party leaders may not be laughing come next year’s elections. Johann Lamont’s own constituency voted overwhelmingly for yes, after all.

With pro-independence parties all seeing record-breaking membership growth (and thus resource growth – finances and feet on the ground), it looks like the indy camp may be the real winners after all.

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.

Greens are showing ‘Votes at 16’ is more than a phrase

[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.

Hustings will take place in London this Saturday 18th, 2.00-4.00pm at ICO Conference Centre, 22 Berners Street, London W1T 3DD. The European #GreenPrimary runs until the 28 January.

Josiah Mortimer sits on the National Committee of the Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green Party of England and Wales.