UKIP

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.

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Let’s make this the last ever ‘lottery election’

First published on Left Foot Forward

British politics is now truly a multi-party phenomenon.

In May, the SNP could win over 50 seats, potentially overtaking the Liberal Democrats, while UKIP and the Greens together currently have the support of over a fifth of the UK population. The era of everyone voting for the two main parties is long gone.

But what happens when this is combined with a worn-out electoral system like First Past the Post?

The answer is: chaos. May 2015 could be what the Electoral Reform Society is calling a ‘lottery election’ – where your vote is worth about as much as a lottery ticket.

The ERS asked polling expert Professor John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde to look at some of the possible post-May scenarios: he found that it could all depend on relatively small swings of the vote affecting the whole outcome of the election.

Take one example. Despite the surge of the SNP to double-digit leads over Labour, small swings in the vote and its geographical spread mean they could either end up with a handful of seats or dozens (see graph). A neck-and-neck Labour/SNP result would leave the nationalists with fewer than 20 seats to Labour’s near-40, while a ten-point SNP lead would almost completely reverse that result.

Scottish_Lottery_InfoG

When the Greens and UKIP are thrown into the mix, the result becomes even more unpredictable. What is likely, however, is that both parties will be disappointed, with UKIP potentially failing to build on their two by-election victories even with an expected 13 per cent of the national vote. At the same time the Greens – though likely to retain Brighton Pavilion – could fail to make any gains even with the 8 per cent they are currently polling.

Yet the Lib Dem vote could to some extent determine the election, with their support hitting the Conservatives harder than Labour. To illustrate this, a Lib Dem vote of 10 per cent would mean the Conservatives need a seven-point lead for a majority. But a Lib Dem result of 15 per cent would raise that to a full ten points (see graph).

ThatThreeway_Lottery_InfoG’s what happens when you try to squeeze six or seven-party politics into a two-party voting system. All the parties are affected by the lottery election one way or another, and while some may got lucky, others are going to be sorely disappointed.

Is this any way to determine the make-up of the next House of Commons? What can we do to make it fairer?

What we need above all is an electoral system that reflects how diverse British politics has become. One positive result of the May election might be that debates around electoral reform come back on the agenda. Perhaps we could even make 2015 the last lottery election.

Read ‘The Lottery Election’ here.

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.

Green, left, growing – lessons from the Greens in England and Wales

[My first piece for the Green European Journal]

‘Neither left nor right, but forward’ has been a semi-official motto of many Green Parties across Europe since their inception in the 1960s and ‘70s. But as the Green Party of England & Wales’ (GPEW) Autumn Conference drew to a close this weekend, the party appears to be maintaining or indeed continuing its leftward drive. The implications could be promising both for Britain and for Green Parties elsewhere.

It’s an interesting time for British politics, with less than a year to go before the General Election. But what space does the Green Party hope to fill in the UK?

THE PARTISAN CONTEXT

One answer could be the space vacated by the Liberal Democrats, a party which joined the right-wing Conservative coalition in 2010. Previously seen as a centre-left party, all traces of this perspective seem to have disappeared with the onset of the austerity agenda, and in particular the near-tripling of university tuition fees early on in the government’s term.

At the same time, however, the Labour Party has been equivocal in its opposition to these policies. Despite the election of Ed Miliband to the leadership in 2010,a man previously thought of as on the centre-left of the party, they have pledged to maintain the government’s harsh spending plans for at least the first year of office, arguing “the next Labour government will have less money to spend.” This is despite the wealth of the richest 1000 Brits soaring by 15% over the past year alone to $874bn. He has also pledged to cut welfare benefits for the most vulnerable, with a cap on social security spending.

This means there is a large ‘gap’ to the left of the Labour Party for those who disagree with austerity, alongside the still significant proportion of people who agree there is an urgent need to tackle climate change. This was the defining message at Autumn Conference – the Greens positioning themselves as the ‘true left’, and ‘taking the fight to Labour’.

Yet there is another interesting – and worrying – dynamic currently at play. The rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) threatens to pull British politics even further to the right, feeding on (and equally, fuelling) an atmosphere of euroscepticism, welfare-bashing and anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s an atmosphere manifesting itself in an internal Conservative Party split, but, despite the non-proportional First Past the Post electoral system, it is a split that will still damage all those who value social justice and ecology as UKIP appear set to win their first Parliamentary seat next month.

Moreover, as the Conservative Party internalises UKIP policies, from an EU referendum to even harsher attacks on migrants, UKIP’s appeal does not decline. Why? Because it stems from a hostility to the ‘establishment’ and ‘the political class’, however mislaid it may be. In this context, a privately-educated, wealthy, white and male former stockbroker can pose as anti-politics if he speaks convincingly enough. This is how, with the help of extensive media coverage and generous funding, Nigel Farage has come to exert such a powerful and noxious influence on the British political makeup over the past three years. All this while the UK battles to discover what its true identity and place is both within itself – via the Scottish independence referendum – and the world, through the EU.

RADICAL GREEN SOLUTIONS

What should the Greens’ response be to this? As with the rise of the populist right in the rest of Europe, it cannot be to mimic reactionary policies. Instead – based both on principle and pragmatism – Greens can reassert how our message is different to all the parties.

Green Party members appear to have in part reflected this view last week, electing an ecosocialist as a deputy leader in Amelia Womack, alongside Shahrar Ali, a key figure in London. Womack came first in the ballot, arguably reflecting a desire for the party to adopt a radical response to the current political context. Incumbent left-winger Will Duckworth also came within a few dozen votes of winning the second deputy post.

At the same time, the party is promoting its key policies for the General Election which include a wealth tax on assets over £3m and the renationalisation of the railways, water and energy networks. Last weekend’s conference also saw the launch of a demand for a £10 (~13 EUR) minimum wage by 2020. Such ideas are backed by a vast majority of the public – yet are ignored by politicians.

Pushing these policies has been at the core of (now-re-elected) leader Natalie Bennett’s strategy over the past two years, as well as standing up for workers’ rights. The latter – as well as being morally right – has been at the core of attempts to win the backing of trade unions in the UK. Trade unionists now regularly speak at Green Party conferences and events (with several leaders and activists speaking at the most recent conference). Similarly, both Bennett and Lucas have spoken at a number of trade union conferences, including the still-powerful National Union of Teachers, and Trade Union Congress (TUC) fringes.

Though in the medium term it’s unlikely that the largely Labour-supporting unions will switch allegiances, support from the six million grassroots members and local branches will be vital in the coming years; indeed on a local level, unions such as the rail workers’ union RMT have donated to and campaigned for Green candidates. Meanwhile the Green Party’s welfare spokesperson and Trade Union Liaison Officer (a recently formed post) is also co-chair of Britain’s anti-austerity movement, the People’s Assembly. It’s an important symbolisation of the space that the Labour Party has vacated, and how the Greens see the terms ‘green’ and ‘left’ as symbiotic.

There are countless more examples like this – the fact that the party now asks for information on trade union membership on its joining forms, the Young Greens launching a campaign to get members unionised in their workplaces (‘Get Organised!’), a Philosophical Basis which states ‘inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet,’ and a recent core policy on employees being granted the right to take over their companies as co-operatives.

All these factors generate a view that GPEW is a real, progressive alternative to neoliberalism, contributing in part to public support for the party increasing dramatically over the past four years.

STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Despite a lower overall vote share, the Greens secured a third MEP in May through the South West Molly Scott-Cato, a green economist in a rapidly growing region for the party. Membership has approximately doubled since the election of Caroline Lucas to Parliament, from around 9,000 to over 18,000 today, and there are now nearly 170 Green councillors; successes exemplified in the highest poll ratings for the party since 1989, with the Greens increasingly equalling the Liberal Democrats in public support, at around 7%.

The growth of the Young Greens is also astonishing – a 70% rise in members since March to over 3,000, perhaps dialectically spurred on by the rise of UKIP.

REJECTING THE RIGHT

These statistics are than mere numbers but reflect a new vibrancy in a party keen to re-elect Lucas and potentially secure one or two more MPs next year. Being a ‘UKIP of the left’ – a fighting force that shakes up the political structure of the UK – could, ironically perhaps, be part of that. Meanwhile the politics of fear is pushing many towards the Greens’ ranks out of the need to challenge a rising threat.

Is the UK a unique case in these discussions? Certainly, few other countries (except perhaps Spain) are facing the kinds of constitutional and political destabilisation currently taking place in the UK because of the Scottish independence referendum. But the rise of the far-right is something that Greens are uniquely equipped to tackle, proudly able to say, for example, that unlike many social democratic parties, they genuinely oppose both the language and actions of intolerance that are spreading across the continent. Moreover, the scale of disillusionment with mainstream politics is not unique to the UK – distaste for the political establishment is widespread across Europe and must be drawn upon lest other more reactionary forces do so.

Crucially, we can also show that these parties pose no answer to the questions of devastating climate change, environmental destruction, or the politics of austerity that are blighting the lives of ordinary people.

With a discredited far-left, and a social democratic ‘movement’ that has capitulated to failed economic and ecological strategies, Greens in the UK – and perhaps in the rest of Europe too – are able to show that that when brave enough with our ideas and outspoken enough to present them, we can inspire those who have been left behind.

The Young Greens’ letter in the Guardian today

The Young Greens are in the letters page of the Guardian today arguing that the Green Party are the real third party in British youth politics.

It follows a fawning Guardian article earlier this week on Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP.

I was pleased to write and sign the letter along with over 50 other Young Green activists and the entire National Committee.

Please share widely!

Young Greens’ growth spurt

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens

Greens now third party amongst students

Students are now more likely to vote Green than Liberal Democrat or UKIP, a recent poll has shown.

Support for the Green Party amongst students is now higher than ever before, with 14% of students backing the Greens – ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 6% and UKIP on 5%, the poll conducted by YouthSight found.

The poll, taken as part of the comprehensive Student Vote 2014 survey, follows another from the Tab this month showing Green support at 12% to the Lib Dems’ 10% and UKIP on 8%.

Siobhan MacMahon from the Young Greens, said: “The Green Party is the only party campaigning for university to be free, as it is across much of Europe. This is one of the many reasons students are leaving the Liberal Democrats and joining the Green Party. Pushing the Lib Dems into third place shows they have rightly paid a high price for their betrayals.

“Students are flocking to the Greens as a serious alternative to the right-wing consensus of the main parties, and Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should take notice.

“With Green support amongst students higher than ever before, our progressive message for a Living Wage, an end to zero hours contracts, publicly-owned services and a fair deal for the planet is resounding with thousands across the country.”

The Tab survey also showed students supported Green Party policies, such as same-sex marriage, legalising marijuana and remaining in the European Union. The Conservatives topped the poll with 33%, beating Labour into second with 30%, while YouthSight’s survey had Labour on 43% and the Conservatives on 24%.

The YouthSight poll was conducted at the start of April and surveyed over 1000 students. Over 5,000 students responded to the poll on the Tab’s website.

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.