I hate living in Tory land. We have a Tory government, Tory local councils in Richmond and Kingston and up until Zac Goldsmith’s disastrous mayoral campaign, a Tory mayor. At least we can thank Zac for that – we now have a Labour mayor. Of course, I’d prefer a Green one, but better a left of centre one, than right-wing, anti-EU, pro-austerity Zac Goldsmith.
And, of course, I’d prefer to have Green MP in Richmond Park. I would have liked that to be me, but despite increasing our vote by 6% in 2015, we are not the party with the infrastructure or the funds to take Zac down. And, that’s what elections under our First Past the Post system are all about – who has the biggest backers and who has the biggest army. The Conservatives spent twice as much on the 2010 general election than Labour, that’s £12million to £6million. In the Witney by-election the LibDems gathered over 1,000 supporters to pound the streets for their candidate.
Currently, the Green Party can’t match the other parties for spending prowess or people power, but should this stop us from getting our message to the voter. I don’t think so. In the General Election I used to tell voters at hustings and on the door step to look at Voteforpolicies.org and see how their views matched the parties. The Green Party would routinely come out on top. When I talk to people about what we stand for they get it, when I speak at hustings people get us. People get the Green Party, but they just don’t get to vote for us in a meaningful way. When they do, you can see the results – our Mayoral candidate was placed third and as a party we came third. But we can’t even hope to replicate that result here in Richmond Park. Why, because here, under First Past the Post, it ends up being a race between the two front runners.
It has been like this for 15 years or more, in the Richmond Park constituency Labour and Green voters are disenfranchised. When I was pushing a Labour candidate on Friday last week not put themselves forward, they said: “but we must give our members someone to vote for”. Why? The reality for many people here is a choice between putting a cross next to what the commentators call the “holding your nose while you vote for someone you don’t believe in’ option to stop what I call the “please no, never in a million years” proposition.
So, if we’d stood, what would have happened. Chances are our vote would have been squeezed as people chose the supposedly independent Zac Goldsmith or the LibDem Sarah Olney. What impact would that have, minimal you might think. Well no, for our activists it would have been disheartening after the work we’d put in. To voters it would make us look like a party going nowhere. And looking towards the 2018 local council elections where we have greater chance of success, a poor result now would have had wider ramifications on the alliances we’ve already been working on.
And, that’s the crux of this matter for Greens in Richmond and Kingston. This election is not just about Heathrow, Brexit and a Conservative-UKIP candidate masquerading as an independent, it’s about our chance of winning council seats in 2018. We have already been talking with local parties in Richmond borough about how to end Tory domination of our council, so not standing a candidate now – which also gives all voters in this constituency a clearer path to getting rid of Zac – is part of those negotiations. And, when we spoke to the LibDems in Kingston about our decision to stand down, they immediately recognised the sacrifice we’d be making and offered to set up talks about ‘smart targeting’ for Kingston wards in 2018.
We have to do this to improve representation for residents. Our democracy shouldn’t be a binary choice. No one party truly reflects an individual’s views, and when the only way to get your voice heard it to pick between ‘worst and less worse’ or ‘best and next best’ (depending on your viewpoint) then we have an electoral system that’s failing its people.
And it seems to me that this failure is partly responsible for the referendum outcome. People voted against the EU in protest, people voted OUT because their voices hadn’t been heard for years, people voted to leave because they thought it didn’t matter how you voted for, things stayed the same. Yet, now, because of our ‘winner takes all democracy’ just over 1.2million votes have determined we leave the EU. Brexit, if it actually happens, is as close to a revolution as you can get. Fixing our country needs equally radical steps, and by not standing a candidate in Richmond Park, we are taking the first one.
We the Greens don’t want to consigned to being a protest party trapped by our unequal electoral system, we want to be on the right side of history and change our country for the better, for ourselves and for generations to come. I call on other parties across the country to follow our example and create progressive alliances across the country so that the day after the next General Election we still don’t wake up in Tory Land.
Labour, LibDems and the Greens, need to realise that no one opposition can win the next General Election. We need to co-operate, now, because the country is in a dire state – climate change, refugees, NHS, Brexit, Heathrow – and we need to fix it, not leave a divided, broken country for the next generation.