Under first past the post, it is swing voters in marginal seats that shape policy

In the referendum aftermath, we seem a more divided, more intolerant country.

Worse, we have seen Brexit legitimising and empowering anti-immigrant views, leading to a massive jump in hate crime across the country. We face an uncertain future, with more demons being unleashed once Brexit has failed to deliver a new era of well funded public services.

Yet just when a clear political response on the way forwards is needed, we learn that neither side in the referendum had any meaningful plan for a Leave win. Cameron, who history will blame for calling this referendum, has neatly passed the Brexit buck to whichever hard right Tory succeeds him. Meanwhile, the victorious Boris, out-manoeuvred by his supposed ally Michael Gove, has quit the Tory leadership race altogether.

So a golden opportunity for Labour you might think. But just when the Tories are at their most divided, so most of the PLP turn on their leader in what seems like a well-organised coup. Scared of their electoral chances, they believe that a principled socialist and experienced politician is not what a democratic socialist party needs for a leader.

But surely a successful coup outcome is unlikely. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) must recognise the support Corbyn has within the party membership; and if he wins another leadership contest – then what? That said, the tone of the dispute between Corbyn supporters and the MPs is turning nasty. I don’t agree with what the PLP are doing, but using Twitter to describe these MPs as vermin, scabs and traitors is not helping.

Perhaps the real problem for Labour, is that to win, they have to appeal to a smallish number of swing voters in some 145 constituencies. So the problems facing this country, as well as the democratic wishes of the Labour Party membership, come second to the interests of this small group of voters in marginal constituencies.

And this of course is a symptom of our out-dated and undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system. If the only votes that matter are those from a small part of the electorate, then it is their interests that will shape policy. This, I believe, is why Labour will always revert to centrist policies in order to appear electable.

Of course in the referendum every vote counted. And while some people are looking at a possible legal challenge on whether or not the outcome is binding, it would be a brave parliament that ignored the wishes of the people. Indeed, only a general election, or another referendum on the actual terms of Brexit could morally overturn the result. Either way it will probably need a change of government to bring this about.

But with an electoral system against us, the odds of a don’t look promising. Caroline Lucas has advocated some type of progressive alliance to topple the Tories, something the Green Party leadership is now promoting. It could work but would take some organising. But getting a squabbling Labour party to agree is always going to be a tall order.

Inside the green party conference: views of a first time attendee #gpconf

Well one thing is certain, a Green Party conference is nothing like a Labour Party conference. For starters you don’t have to go through airport style security checks on your way in. Nor are there loads of people wearing suits, so I feelt quite at home in my usual jeans and t-shirt. Indeed, the whole event has a relaxed feel, and is all the better for it.

The fact is I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived in Bournemouth for the Green Party Autumn conference. My lasting impression was “laid back and friendly”. But don’t for one moment think this means the issues are not taken seriously. The final agenda is lengthy and the timetable detailed. For instance, before any plenary sesssion starts there is a choice of workshops on some of the policy motions, or instead you can choose from a wide range of fringe on topics as diverse as climate change to using social media. 

And that is how conference continues for the duration, going on well into the evening for the really hardened conference goer. 

The main hall was packed for Natalie Bennett’s address on the Friday when she received a loud and warm reception. Her speech was full of references to the failed policies of the Tories, but the need to tackle climate change was a central theme to which she returned throughout her address. Other inspiring speakers, and there were many, included both deputy leaders: Shahar Ali, who blended a little humour with a strong and serious message of truth in politics; and Amelia Womack, who I think epitomises the enthusiastic young talent that helps makes the Green Party so refreshingly different.

With workshops having already discussed the details, policy motions are dealt with more efficiently on the conference floor than at some others I’ve attended. This is due largely to speakers only actually getting up to speak if they have something useful to say; and keeping their speeches short. It meant that a wide range of decisions was taken in one short session, including a vote to support the single transferable vote for local elections, and to ditch the existing policy on copyright which caused so much embarassment in the election.

The laid back feel of conference was reflected by the way sessions were run. Jenny Jones, who chaired one of the plenary sessions, praised everyone saying “Well done guys” when the first piece of new policy was decided. It was a nice touch.

Some things are to be expected at a Green Party conference. There is an exhibition area, but unlike the Labour Party and even TUC conferences, there is a predominence of campaign groups rather than overtly commercial businesses promoting their thing. Indeed, the only buisnesses present were ethical ones, clearly reflecting the nature of the green audience. Likewise, I had no difficulty finding vegetarian food in the conference centre, as it was all veggie or vegan.

Of course it isn’t all about speeches, debates and voting. This year a large marquee on the beach was the venue for a number of social events, complete with vegan cafe and real ale bar selling the conference special called something like Nats Green Piddle. Highlight for me was Saturday night, when the amazingly talented Grace Petrie performed to an enthusiastic and supportive audience.

Sadly I wasn’t able to stay at conference for the full duration. It was however encouraging to spend time in the company of so many Green Party activists. With the climate change talks in Paris rapidly approaching, it wouldn’t have been a Green conference without more than several mentions of this vital issue. So for my final word I turn to Caroline Lucas, who in her conference speech said:

“And so in and after Paris, we will be articulating a vision of a fairer, more compassionate world, where energy is in people’s hands, not the hands of corporations, and powered by the sun, the wind and the waves. And sending a message, loud and clear, as we do from our own conference here today, that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.”

I look forwards to another interesting onference next year.

  

The threat to our planet is as serious as it gets, so I’m staying with @TheGreenParty

I was unable to stick it out with New Labour. The final straw came when Blair took the country to war. For years after I remained in the political wilderness, watching the Labour party consolidate its neo-liberal policies, until finally in 2014, I joined the Green Party.

At the time (and I guess like almost everyone else who follows politics) I never imagined that New Labour would be trounced so convincingly in a leadership election – ever! 

Now all of a sudden, many of the policies I have always supported are shared by the leader of the opposition; and a sense of hope permeates the British left.

Jeremy Corbyn is clearly a rare politician, putting principles before career (yes, I get the irony here). He sounds different, he looks different, and judging by the recent national anthem issue he clearly behaves differently. For me, and I’m sure many others, he’s a breath of fresh air. He will certainly shake things up.

What’s more, in Jeremy Corbyn, it seems Labour might finally have regained its soul. So should I rejoin the party?

Well….with apologies to my friends and colleagues who support Labour, my answer is no.

I believe the threat to our planet from human activities is as serious as it gets. For me a sustainable democratic economy is the route to social justice and equality. As well as ending austerity and tackling the gross inequalities in our society, we must deal with climate change and reform our political system into one that is engaging, decentralised, and genuinely democratic. 

So I’m staying with the Green party because their vision is basically my vision too: For a political system that puts the public first; and a society that is just, equitable and sustainable. It takes seriously the threat to our planet. As the website says, “Imagine a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs. Imagine a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come. That’s the world we want to create….”

Of course I don’t doubt that Jeremy Corbyn and others in the Labour Party share similar views – there are many areas of agreement – but 20 years worth of Blair’s legacy remains. Significantly perhaps, a sizeable amount of that legacy is sitting behind Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour benches. Winning the hearts and minds of rank and file members was perhaps the easy part. He now has to deal with the Labour party establishment. 

Yes I sincerely hope that under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour will become a progressive force for change. But I’ve already made my choice….I’m staying Green.

(Note: As for splitting the left wing vote…I live in an ultra safe Tory seat. Whether I vote Green, Labour or for Micky Bloody Mouse makes no difference. Under our undemocratic first-past-the-post system my vote doesn’t count.)

can 20 or more years of centre right policy be swept away by one person?

The ballot for Labour’s new leader is starting soon. Increasingly it looks like Jeremy Corbyn might win. So if he does, will he be able to change Labour’s policy as much as he would wish? Or putting it another way, will the election of a new leader set the policy and direction of the entire Labour party for the next five years?

Much as I would like to see Labour move to the left, I am somewhat intrigued by the thought that 20 years or more of centre-right neo-liberal policy can be swept away just by one person. But then again, if it can, what does that say about the state of democracy in the Labour Party? Surely the members have more say than just who they want to see as leader?

The coming weeks and months will not doubt provide answers….

Meanwhile I will be voting this month, but not for Labour’s new leader. Instead I will be voting to elect members of the Green Party executive; and then next month, helping to decide policy at the Green Party autumn conference.

so where do the greens go from here?

The general election is now recent history. But while Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties embark on the election of new leaders, What about the Greens?

Despite only winning one parliamentary seat, the Greens 2015 general election performance was surely a good one. Over 1.1 million votes (up by well over 300% on 2010), four second places, more third places and many more saved deposits than ever before, albeit from a record number of candidates standing. This came with a raised profile and yes, considerably more scrutiny. What’s more, it was all achieved on a relatively small budget.

Of course with Labour doing so badly in the election, could the Green Party might have done even better?  Well yes, possibly; and I’m sure some useful lessons will have been learnt as a result.

But with bookings for its autumn conference about to open, where does the Green party go from here?

The green surge has certainly continued, with membership reaching over 60,000. But in the absence of greater electoral success, how do the Greens ensure this membership growth is not in vain?

When it comes to scrutiny, it is policies, presentation and personalities that seem to matter. Certainly there was confusion over areas of Green policy, with some of its long term and very long standing ideas selectively quoted by the media to make the Greens seem out of touch, extreme or just simply just silly. These were not policies in the manifesto, but they were nevertheless pounced upon by a right wing media and picked over with relish by political opponents.

So before the next election the Green Party will, I hope, re-visit and update some of its older policies; and also make a clear distinction between its long term goals, and more immediate priorities.

But given the country’s antiquated and unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, I think a different approach to elections altogether is needed. Indeed, I’d like to see the Green party in future place much less emphasis on a detailed manifesto, limiting it to just a small number of key policies. Instead I believe that the party should focus on highlighting the principles that would guide prospective Green MPs if elected. For me that would mean making the environmental message central, but keeping it linked very much to social justice and a fairer society. But as Bradley Allsop argues on Bright Green, the Green Party shouldn’t opt for an easy option, giving people what they want to hear. Climate change and inequality are massive problems and so the Green Party must continue to challenge the status quo.

The approach I’m suggesting would help keep the focus on the broader goals and message; and make it less likely that spokespeople become bogged down with details on policies that will never see the light of day (not in the immediate future at least). What’s more, given that Labour appears to have lost its ideology and principles, the Greens have an opportunity to fill a void on the left with a distinct message linking environmental action and social justice.

Of course nowadays, like it or not, politics is also about personalities. It shouldn’t be, but sadly, the media dumbs down politics to a sort of X-factor contest where performance of the leader matters more than policy. The Greens learnt this to their cost early on in the election campaign. Once Natalie Bennett experienced her infamous brain-fade incident the going immediately became tougher. Whether she runs for a further term as Green Party leader remains to be seen, but like it or not, the choice of leader will be an important factor in future Green Party success.

There is though a world outside of elections. In recent years Greens have been good at reaching out and building links with like-minded organisations and individuals. Continuing down this path, making common cause with community groups, student unions, trade unions, and campaign bodies, will make the Green party more accessible and relevant. As part of this I’d like to see the party maintain its leading role in opposing fracking, and put itself at the centre of the anti-austerity movement and the campaign for electoral reform. Locally there may also be some limited merit, if the circumstances are right (and it’s a big if), in electoral agreements or alliances with progressives in other parties, but any such move must be approached with extreme caution.

So what about the rapid increase in Green Party membership? Vital for building a stronger organisation, but also presenting a challenge of sorts. New members need a sense of purpose and belonging; and there is plenty of talent to develop and experience to widen. Having once been involved in the Labour party, I know how easy it is to become disillusioned. So it is important that new members are welcomed and engaged. If the democratic and grass roots culture of the Green Party works properly, this shouldn’t be difficult. But like any membership organisation there is always a danger that people are put off with needless bureaucracy, domineering activists and/or badly run meetings.

Looking at Green Party organisation, funding will always be a problem. But I do hope it can up its game on press and PR. A professional approach to administration; and to leaflets, flyers and websites are also essential. But at the same time Greens should be proud of their difference to the Westminster bubble. After all, it is the establishment parties that so many, including myself, have lost faith in.

I’m sure there is a promising future for the Green Party, despite the prospect of five long years of Conservative rule. Only time will tell. In the shorter term there are elections to come in Wales, Scotland and the London Assembly. If the preparation for these starts now, the Green Party should see more success in the future.

the year is 2024. this is our future history….

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still shocked at what they’ve done to this country. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing, even now, almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.

Of course we new it could happen. After their election in 2015 the Tory government went on a rampage. Their first 100 days saw them put into place the powers needed to control the electorate and marginalise any opposition. First it was their snoopers charter, enabling electronic surveillance on a scale never before envisaged. Fear of terrorist attacks made it a popular move, and dissenting voices were ridiculed as soft, wishy washy, left-wing and unpatriotic. Of course this extra surveillance gave the government early warning of proposed campaigns and any unfavourable media reports against their agenda; enabling them to pre-empt and counter with tremendous effect.

Next came the anti-union legislation, coupled with new measures to speed up the privatisation of our NHS, social services, prisons, schools and colleges. Legal strikes proved almost impossible to organise; and new laws were brought in making it a criminal offence to organise unofficial action. Selling off the BBC was hailed as a golden moment by the Government and the media, all but wiping out any serious analysis of the government’s programme by the broadcast media.

Then we had further restrictions on what charities could say despite their rapidly growing role providing services that were once the job of the public sector; and in filling the gaps left by a series of severe welfare cuts.

The referendum that took us out of Europe the following year proved pivotal. Laws from Europe protecting workers and the environment were soon repealed, while a new British Rights Act was brought in based on so-called British values. This was big on rights to create wealth and own property; but proved totally ineffective at protecting civil liberty. Indeed, the right to protest was curtailed with limits on, among other things, the number of people that constituted a legal demonstration. Immigration was effectively halted; and many recent migrants chose to leave due to a climate of discrimination and hate that flourished in the post European era.

Alarmingly, the expected popular backlash against the government  never really materialised. A sympathetic media were very quick to undermine opposition leaders. labelling them as anti-British, against progress, and of course, left-wing. Their private lives were disrupted and some even criminalised for daring to organise protests. This soon become the establishment response; and sadly it gained traction in our increasingly divided society.

Most of us had pinned our hopes on the election of 2020, but the disappointment that night proved worse than in 2015. Despite securing an even smaller share of the popular vote than before, the Tories held on to power with a majority of two. Once again the first-past-the-post electoral system proved their saviour. The rebranded right-wing Labour party failed to make any headway, losing seats to the Lib Dems and to a confident Green party that secured over 7 million votes. 

For many of us the prospect of another five years of conservative policy was too much. By summer 2021 the Labour party had imploded. Three of its MPs joined the Tories, and a sizeable group refused the party whip. Many  activists simply resigned from the party. The only real opposition inside parliament was coming from a rump of whip-less Labour traditionalists, and an alliance of Green, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Paid Cymru MPs. Outside of parliament there were sporadic and sometimes violent protests, unofficial strikes and occupations at a number of universities.

But despite this period of unrest, the division between the haves and the have-nots meant that for the better-off half of the population, the country was a happy place. It was perhaps this fact, plus the relentless media messages and police harassment, that led eventually to the end of the unrest. People had grown weary and despondent. No doubt just what the government wanted.

Home owners, who by now were almost all aged over 40, were enjoying a surge in house prices; and landlords were exploiting their wealthier tenants like never before. Gated communities were proving popular; and a whole new service sector was springing up to cater just for their needs. Indeed the haves rarely needed to go far, with almost everything they needed being delivered to their secure and nicely painted doors.

But for those who could not afford to buy or rent anything decent, daily life was far from happy. Before the 2020 election there had been a growth in the number families sharing with others, pooling resources in order to get by. Housing co-operatives were now common, as was squatting. And in some cities whole areas were rapidly being dubbed the new shanty towns as homeless people improvised their own housing with boxes, tents, sheds, and caravans. Unsurprisingly with this hardship came poorer health, and reduced participation in education and civil society.

So with a year until the next election, Britain is a grossly unequal country. Social mobility is for much of the country, a thing of the past. But while the poor and vulnerable suffer and die, the better-off thrive and the wealthy propser. If you have money and property in 2024, you are well looked after.  

Personally I’ve been lucky. A reasonable occupational pension and a job with a charity means I don’t struggle. But I have no health insurance so the threat of serious illness always haunts me. Today I am joining some fellow activists. I expect we’ll be turned back a good mile from the fracking rig. But this ritual is being repeated by environmental campaigners all over the country on an almost weekly basis. If we are lucky the police will be expecting the protest at another fracking site, so we may get through. If we succeed, the plan is to stay until we are arrested.

it’s time my vote meant something, and that means going green

History was made last week when the Green Party was given an equal platform with six other parties in the leaders’ debate shown live on ITV. Until that moment, the Green party had been marginalised by the broadcast media, and at times ridiculed by the print media. But 7 million people heard Natalie Bennett offer an alternative to austerity and to the Westminster establishment.

If you liked what Natalie said I’m guessing you are no fan of the coalition. The bedroom tax, the cuts to public services, the privatisation of a wide range of local NHS services, the money wasted on so-called free schools and so on…

Also, chances are, you couldn’t support the Lib Dems, even if you did last time around. After all, they are the reason our right-wing government was able to cut and sell so much.

Like me, you might also be disappointed at Labour’s current direction. Disappointed, for instance, that it plans to make its own cuts to public services, that it has moved closer to UKIP on immigration policy, that it is lukewarm on the re-nationalisation of rail services, and that it wants to spend billions replacing Trident. You may also be nervous that some of the current government’s policies had their routes in previous Labour administrations. Just look at PFI, the market approach to the NHS, academy schools, and all the cuddling up to big business.

Sure, friends may be telling you that only Labour can form an alternative government to the Tories; and that you can’t help those who need it most unless you vote Labour. It’s a fair argument, and one made sincerely enough. Plus we all know that our voting system gives only two people a chance to walk through the door to number 10. So I can understand and respect anyone who feels that Labour is the only realistic option.

But it isn’t for me.

After all the election will be won and lost in the 150 or so marginal constituencies. So for most of us, the failings of our first-past-the-post voting system means we have no chance of affecting the overall outcome. Putting it another way, for most of us tactical voting is pointless.

So I will be voting Green on May 7 and here is why:

1. For the common good. Despite the nonsense written by some journalists the Greens aren’t going to ban cars, dismantle the army and put the queen in a council house! The Green party has a vision of a fair and more sustainable society such as increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, bringing academies and free schools under local authority control, publicly owned railways, an NHS free of privatisation, investment in renewable energy, and opposition to TTIP.

2. Because I can. In this election the Green party is standing candidates in some 90% of seats in England and Wales.

3. Because a Green vote still counts. By voting Green I’m sending a message of change to the main Westminster parties.

4. Because it’s the right thing to do. Why should I vote for second best or vote tactically? Indeed, last time tactical voting resulted in the Lib Dems putting Cameron into Downing Street. This time I have a wider choice – not just austerity heavy or austerity light. What’s more, a bigger Green vote strengthens the argument for electoral reform, and shows there is an alternative to the status quo.

So for the first time at a general election I will be voting Green.