Labour Party

‘Roses and Thorns’ – a song to the left

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written a political song (or a blog on here, for that matter). Considering I consider myself a political songwriter that’s says something – mainly about the fact that I’ve genuinely just been too depressed at the state of it all.
But I really had to vent, because I think what is going on in politics at the moment is genuinely scary.
We’re all being stripped of our European citizenship because of a campaign arguably based on misinformation. Right-wing populism is growing in the UK, and across the continent. We have a Prime Minister seemingly set on ripping up everything that was good about the EU in these negotiations – with scant claim to a mandate.
And yet the left is in total disarray. I’m a proud Green, but I’m also a pluralist, and I think it really matters for the whole left that Labour is in turmoil – i.e. that we don’t really have a functioning opposition.
And as someone who wants a progressive alliance, it scares me that Labour are 17 percentage points behind the Tories. It’s too easy to blame one side of the party or the other, or to scream simplistic, mono-causal assertions about what’s led to this, because we are where we are, and there is fault on both sides. It’s churlish and dogmatic to deny it.
While it’s easier said than done, the left as a whole needs to learn how to communicate, how to work together, how to reach out beyond those who already agree with us, and find a some kind of a path forward. We have to.
Because if we don’t get our arses in gear we’re handing a free reign to those who want to rip up all that we value about this country – from our NHS to our diversity, from our social safety net to our internationalism. The situation is too urgent for us to waste time navel-gazing, name-calling and pointing fingers.
So, I’ve vented. Here’s the song I had to get off my chest. I’ll write much more positive stuff I hope soon, but for now this is a plea to all those who consider themselves progressive to turn their guns away from each other and to focus on the real battles ahead.
*Exhales*

Roses and Thorns

Now is not the hour
To be battling inside
Both sides hunting witches
When the fight’s to stay alive
To keep the red heart beating
To stir the fire sleeping
Because there’s few of us already on our side
 
And in these new times
A hard rain is falling
In these new times
The day is far from dawning
And it don’t feel like
Something better’s calling
So think faster
Dream deeper
This could be the last chance
We’re gonna get
 
And now is not the hour
To be arguing who’s clean
You’re writing just for rallies
When the fight’s to be believed
By the ones for whom the red heart
Doesn’t beat for them
Oh there’s roses but there’s thorns here
You’ll have to start again

Young Labour may back Proportional Representation this month #yl16

Young Labour, the youth branch of the Labour Party across the UK, could soon back Proportional Representation if a motion in favour is passed at its upcoming conference this month.

The conference for members between the ages of 14-26 will be held in Scarborough on the 26th and 27th February – and electoral reform supporter George Aylett is proposing a motion for the organisation to support the Single Transferable Vote.

If you’re a member/supporter, get behind the ‘Young Labour advocates replacing our current voting system, First Past the Post, with the proportional Single Transferrable Vote (STV).”

Here’s the motion in full:

“Young Labour notes that:

  1. The 2015 general election saw the Conservatives win 51% of seats in parliament with just 36.9% of the vote; that this is the result of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, which has consistently produced a similar mismatch between votes and seats in previous elections;
  2. There is growing support for reforming the electoral system to make seats proportional to votes, with 57% of the British public agreeing with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” in recent polling;
  3. The TUC and STUC have recently resolved to support reforming Westminster’s electoral system to make it more proportional.

Young Labour believes that:

  1. The limitations of FPTP have contributed to a wider trend of falling engagement and rising mistrust in politics
  2. While the Labour Party has benefited from this system in the past, it has encouraged us to take ‘safe seats’ for granted, which has led to the loss of disillusioned former supporters to UKIP, the SNP, or disengagement from electoral politics
  3. It is in the interests of communities to have an MP to hold accountable and to discuss local issues with, so the link between community and MP should not be broken.
  4. Electoral reform in itself is no panacea for a wider crisis of democratic politics, but must proceed alongside widespread economic reform to give working people more power in their workplace and in public services as well as in parliament.

Young Labour therefore resolves: 

  1. To support conducting future British elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) – a proportional system which keeps the link between communities and their MPs. This model is used in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scottish local elections.”

 

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

The Trade Union Bill, and getting party funding reform right

The issue of how our parties are funded is at the core of Parliamentary democracy. And today, peers in the House of Lords are debating a major change to the current system in the Trade Union Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

The change is a major one – but it’s one-sided. By insisting in the Bill that union members should ‘opt-in’ to unions’ political funds, the Government will effectively be cutting Labour’s funding by £6m a year.

Party funding reform is a crucial issue. The Electoral Reform Society can reveal today that 77% of the public believe big donors have too much influence on political parties.

In fact, the Trade Union Bill could be the start of a process which sorts out our hopeless party funding system for good. The public are sick to death of the perceived influence of big donors on parties – and that includes the influence of unions on Labour as well as wealthy private individuals on the Conservatives. A cap on individual donations is one of the measures needed for a cleaner party funding system. Under an opt-in system the money provided to Labour by unions effectively comes from many individuals rather than one ‘baron’, which should make Labour more open to a donations cap.

But we badly need a cross-party deal on party finance reform. Otherwise it simply isn’t sustainable. This stuff can’t be done in isolation against one party, or else we could see decades of unsustainable retaliations as parties get into power and attack their opponents’ source of funding.

Our polling released today also shows that 72% of the public agree or strongly agree that the system of party funding is ‘corrupt and should be changed’ – up from 61% when the same question was asked in 2014.

57% also believe that a ‘state-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have’ – up from 41% in 2014.

Fundamentally, campaigners such as ourselves are concerned that the Trade Union Bill is currently one-sided in its approach to reforming Labour’s funding, undermining the ‘Churchill convention’ (named after the man himself) that matters directly affecting political parties be dealt with in a multi-party manner.

But what today’s polling shows is that the public are deeply concerned with Britain’s broken party funding model. Party finances in the UK are in dire need of reform, following years of scandals and voters’ rising disgust about the role of money in our politics.

There’s growing appetite for reforming the way parties are funded, and you can see this among people from across the political spectrum. Measures in the Trade Union Bill to ensure union members have to ‘opt in’ to pay into political funds could form part of a fresh settlement.

But by targeting Labour and not tackling the issue in the round, the Government is risking decades of parties indulging in tit-for-tat raids on each other’s sources of funds. We need all parties to get around the table and deal with this once and for all. Frankly, there is no other way of finding a sustainable solution and avoiding accusations of constitutional gerrymandering.

Now is the time for all parties to get to grips with the mess that is Britain’s party funding system. The fact is, Labour is seen by the public to be at the behest of barons, and the Tories at the behest of bankers. All parties need to tackle the big donor culture which makes party funding an arms race rather than an open democratic process.

The ERS are calling on Peers to back the motion today to set up a cross-party committee on the Trade Union Bill, so that it can form part of a new settlement on party finances across the board.

In 2014 the ERS published ‘Deal or No Deal: How to put an end to party funding scandals’. Read the full report and recommendations here.

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

Originally published on the Norwich Radical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 things I took away from Green Party Conference

[First published at Bright Green here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_0379

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.