I joined the Green Party in 2012 – at the height of the coalition govt and their imposition of austerity and making the poor and the vulnerable pay for the bankers crash.
I joined a political party because being a member of pressure groups, emailing my MP and signing petitions wasn’t enough.
I joined a political party because we can’t keep asking the wrong people to do the right thing. However ‘eco friendly’ a labour, libdem or Tory politician might be, the planet is not fundamental to their thinking.
Yet, very quickly I realised that joining a party and getting elected are two very different things. One is as easy as signing up online, the other requires members, money, time, press coverage, social media presence and door knocking. I don’t need to tell many of you here how many leaflets a voter needs to see before they’ll even read it, let alone vote for the Greens!
I, and others in my local party, know that even if we follow ‘target to win’ to the letter, we could we waiting for a Green councillor for around 12 years! I’ll be retiring then – if I’m so lucky.
The only way we can make this happen quicker is if we stop fighting our nearest rivals and come to some kind of agreement with them. In Richmond and Twickenham we have a Conservative council – in part because the Greens put up a candidate in every single ward in 2014 (for the first time) which split the vote and allowed Tories to leapfrog to victory. So we have a twofold aim – bring an end to the Conservative majority and get Green councillors elected in 2018.
We started talking to local LibDems about this in 2015 when they were at their nadir. They’d been punished at the General Election for the coalition and looking forward couldn’t see how they’d even get enough people to stand in every ward in 2018. In our target ward, we even talked about standing one LibDem and two Greens!
But, then Brexit happened, and the LibDems repositioned themselves as the party for the EU and began their renaissance. Locally, they were still talking, but now saying they had more than enough people who wanted to stand for them and were looking to field three candidates in our target ward.
Roll on autumn 2016 and the by-election in Richmond Park, brought about by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith’s resignation over Heathrow. I stood against him in 2015, when the residents loved him so he was returned with a huge majority. Then he stood for London Mayor with a racist campaign that dented his popularity and he backed Leave in the referendum.
For months our local party had been asked what we’d do if there was a by-election? We’d been told there was a ‘celebrity’ who might consider being a candidate for either the Greens or a Progressive Alliance. I met with them in September, and having discussed all the angles and permutations decided it was not in their interests or ours for them to stand.
We were then asked to hold off a bit longer with our selection as the Green Party were exploring other options and ‘big name candidates’. I was contacted by various people asking if we would consider a pro-EU, Unity candidate.
During this time, the two local parties in the constituency got on with planning their campaign and setting up canvassing and leafleting. Kingston Greens were incredibly keen to run a candidate as they saw this as an opportunity to get support from other Greens across London to gather data and talk with voters in their target ward. Richmond & Twickenham Greens were less keen as we were very concerned about how our vote would be impacted.
In 2015 we got 6% of the vote – the best result in any of the London outer boroughs, and the first time we kept our deposit. We couldn’t see how we would maintain this percentage. The LibDems were not the pariahs of 2014, and as we all know, their ability to the throw everything plus the kitchen sink at a by-election is legendary.
Then we met with Caroline Lucas, Judy Maciejowska and Kingston Greens where we explored whether we it would be in our interests to stand aside for the LibDems. We said yes, but Kingston Greens said without Labour doing the same, this wasn’t a Progressive Alliance, it was just giving up. In the face of their intransigence we agreed to fight on.
In the background to all this was the Witney by-election with Larry Sanders standing for the Greens. Even with that level of fame cast by him being Bernie Sanders brother, our vote was decimated. Yet, if we had stood a Progressive Alliance candidate, we would have beaten the Conservatives.
The morning of the result Jonathan Bartley called me to ask what we were doing in Richmond Park for our campaign. In Witney the LibDems had over 1,000 volunteers in place and got out over 10 pieces of literature! I knew we could only manage around 4 rounds of leaflets and a 100 or so people.
It was looking more and more like we would have the same result as Witney, our vote squeezed to 1% or so. We couldn’t risk that. Our negotiations with the LibDems over council seats were on hold during the by-election, but we knew the result would have an impact on them.
If we stood and they lost, they would hold it against us. If we stood and they won, they would say they didn’t need us. Us standing was a lose-lose. Our vote would be squeezed, we would be made to look irrelevant and the LibDems would no longer see us as partners to bring and end to the Conservative majority on the council.
We spoke to the LibDems in Richmond and Kingston, offering not to stand, and got written assurances that they share wards with us in 2016.
And, yet, and yet, I wanted to stand for the Green Party. We needed that opportunity to explain our policies, to tell voters why we’re different, to say why we’re the only ones they could trust over Heathrow. But this was not a general election, it was a unique opportunity to oust a Leaver from parliament, kick out a so-called independent endorsed by UKIP and reduce the government’s majority.
The two local parties took a vote and we decided to stand aside and give the Lib Dems a clear shot to run on a Remain ticket.
All of a sudden, the dynamic changed. We actually had more power by not running. Denying myself and the Green party a platform had more impact than if we had ran. And, we still canvassed in our target ward, and we managed to leaflet nearly the whole constituency, to tell them why we weren’t running. It became about us not standing and why, about alliances and Brexit, rather than Heathrow alone. We got more press coverage, social media interest and positive reactions on the doorsteps than if we had stood.
And we did make a difference. By polling day, Labour were telling people not to vote for them, and when the results came in they got less votes than they have members in the constituency – the result was a ray of hope across the country in the wake of Brexit and Trump. Voters are clever enough to know which way the wind is blowing and to make decisions for the greater good.
This is the time for all parties to take national political responsibility. Labour, Lib Dems and Greens should be working together across the country to stop the Conservatives marching us over the cliff of hard Brexit. No one opposition party 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, education cuts – and we need to fix it, not leave a divided, broken country for the next generation.
It’s not time for a progressive alliance, or even a rebel one. It’s time for a National Alliance to bring our country back from the brink of extremism, isolation and division. It’s time for us to take power, so we have more politicians like Caroline Lucas in Parliament. And if that means not standing in every constituency at the next General Election so we can actually get Green MPs elected in winnable seats then that’s what we have to do.
Remember we need PR, we won’t get it without getting a Progressive Alliance.
Remember we’re going to lose 3 MEPs and that has a big impact on our standing and our influence – with a Progressive Alliance we could replace them with MPs.
Remember that under the new boundaries, Caroline Lucas’s seat becomes vulnerable. With a progressive alliance, we could ensure her seat is ‘safe’.
Remember, we are a political party. Our aim is to get elected. Our objective is power in order to change society and make a difference for everyone.