An exclusive guest post today from Natalie Bennett. Natalie has announced she is standing to be leader of the Green Party following Caroline Lucas’s decision not to restand in September. Her website is here: http://www.natalie4leader.org/
In the 2001 general election, having just moved to Walthamstow, east London, I went to the polling station to vote Green. I was surprised, and disappointed, to find that there wasn’t a Green Party candidate. The moment came back to me five years later, when I decided it was past time to make doing something about the state of the world a personal priority.
Joining the Green Party of England and Wales – helping it stand in places like Walthamstow – seemed the natural step, but if you’d told me then that six and a half years later I would be standing for the leadership of the party south of the border, I would certainly have thought you’d been looking at the carbon emissions graphs for too long.
Yet in a way the path from Walthamstow to here is clear enough when I look back.
I’ve been through some great highs with the Green Party, and some pretty tough lows – a high in 2006 in the central London borough of Camden when we won our first two councillors, and a low in 2010 when we lost two of by then three councillors to the general election Labour swing.
I’ve learnt a lot about the party, and politics, since 2006. As an activist, candidate, and now chair, of Camden Green Party, and as founding chair of Green Party Women, I’ve seen how much there is to do, and how difficult it can be to shape lots of enthusiastic volunteers and minimal financial and physical resources into a high-functioning whole.
I’ve become utterly convinced that a Green political approach is the only appropriate response to the current economic and ecological crisis. It’s so screamingly obvious that we can’t continue to treat the world as a combined mine/rubbish tip, and can’t keep discarding to a life of poverty and fear millions of people, whether they are trapped in low-wage jobs or on inadequate benefit payments.
Yet it’s also clear that the Green Party itself is at a critical point. We’ve made the huge leap to our first MP. We’re now identifiably the third party in London following the mayoral/Assembly elections.
But still, for many people up and down the country who might like to vote Green – and we know that when presented with our policies, unbranded, they’re the most popular with voters — there’s no sunflower logo on their ballot paper. And for many others, the Greens have yet to establish themselves sufficiently locally to look like a viable choice.
This needs to change. Fast.
We need to work to ensure that by the end of the decade everyone has at least one Green rep, an MEP. We can certainly treble our number of MEPS in 2014 as a starting point, covering six regions.
Over the next decade we can put at least one local councillor in every major town and city around the country and have a spread of serious Westminster target seats around the country.
To do that, we have to transform how our party works. The Green Party believes in localism; we have local parties, not branches, who decide their own activities and direction. Lots of good in that – just look at the dreadful results of centralised diktats from other parties, from Tony Blair’s pager MPs downwards.
But we’ve also in general interpreted that as leaving local parties to their own devices, to sink or swim. Some have powered on confidently – Brighton, Norwich, Lancaster, more recently Solihull – but many, without targeted, organised support, have not. Under a first-past-the-post electoral system, it is hard to get a real foothold.
Local parties need to work together as teams. Regions need to act as a coordinated unit. The national party needs to bring it all together into a supportive, coherent whole.
And we need to stand up proudly with the courage of our convictions. We have a model for an entirely different kind of economy and society that the public is crying out for, yet we haven’t done enough to develop it and to put it into ordinary language, in mass circulation news outlets.
On many policies – drugs, nuclear weapons and prostitution to name just three — we have what the Daily Mail would call shocking ideas. Yet these are ideas that the majority of the public actually back – and sometimes we’re not brave enough in proclaiming them.
Neither of those points is a criticism of Greens working hard up and down the country. We don’t need them to work even harder – that would hardly be possible. But we do need to work smarter, and in a more coordinated way. And we need to make sure we’re telling the public about what we’re doing, convincing them to vote for us, to support us, to join us.
Then we can ensure that everyone not only has the chance to vote Green, but the opportunity to contact an elected Green rep with their concerns, at every level of government. And we can move confidently on to be the third party in the country, then beyond. And in doing that we’ll not only elect more Greens, but start to pull the centre of political gravity in Britain back from the hyper-capitalist neoliberalism that’s nearly shredded our economy and society.