Progressive Alliances should not just happen at elections

When the two local Green parties took the decision to stand aside in last year’s by-election, we did so considering three things:

  • the national interest
  • local interest
  • and, party interest, or put it another way, self interest.

For us, reducing the Conservatives Govt’s majority was of national importance as was sending them the message that Richmond does not want Brexit and neither does it want the closed, small-minded Britain offered by the Theresa May’s Party.

In terms of the local interest, Zac Goldsmith was not a good MP. In his leaflets for the London mayoral election – when he wasn’t accusing Sadiq Khan of extremism – he claimed the following successes:

  • Campaigning on Heathrow, well we all know well he did there;
  • Stopping cuts to Kew Gardens, he wasn’t the only one to fight that fight
  • and finally, getting a cash machine in Barnes!

Not exactly a stellar record – residents deserve better.

As for the party interest, well, standing for election gives you the chance to share your policies with the electorate at hustings. And, I know from having stood in 2015, that these played an important part in us getting the number of votes we did. We got 6% of the vote – the best we’ve ever polled and the first time we kept our deposit. So for us not to stand means we’re denied this opportunity and the possibility of getting more members and supporters.

I can’t tell you how difficult this decision was for the local members. We all joined a political party because we want to see Greens in power, taking the decisions that affect all of us – over education, housing, climate change, the NHS. The Green Party is not a pressure group, we’re a political party like the LibDems and Labour – our aim is to get elected.

Many of you may not know this – but members of political parties tend not to talk to each other, seeing each other as rivals to be defeated rather than colleagues to be collaborated with.

But the Greens like to do thing differently. We’ve been talking to the LibDems in Richmond borough since 2015, a year after they lost control of the Council to the have a Conservatives. In no small part due to the fact the Green Party stood in every ward in 2014. You could say we split the progressive vote and allowed the Tories to leapfrog to victory.

So we’ve been discussing with the LibDems about a local alliance to ensure this doesn’t happen again and bring an end to the Conservative majority. Which is where the party interest came in. We’re realistic. As much as I’d like to be the MP for Richmond Park, that’s just not going to happen any time soon. Getting councillors however, is a distinct possibility and working together with the LibDems can make that happen, sooner, and in greater numbers.

But, would standing in the by-election help that aim? We came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t. If we were truly keen to work with the LibDems to defeat the Tories at a local level, then we had to be prepared to do that a national level.

We spoke to Sarah Olney and got reassurances over Heathrow, Brexit, the environment, Hinkley Point and Proportional Representation. We got assurances from local LibDems that our discussions over wards would be pursued more enthusiastically.

And, you know what happened. The Greens decision to stand aside – while reaching out to local Labour activists to do the same – had an impact. The Labour vote in 2015 was over 7,000. It went down to 1,500. Activists were out canvassing the day before the by-election telling people not to vote Labour. This would NOT have happened if the Greens had stood. Us not standing made it about alliances, and about grown-up politics and doing the right thing for the people and the country.

Roll on to today’s General Election. The same factors still apply.

In the national interest, the Greens want to keep out the increasingly authoritarian Theresa May, who appears to be running her government by diktat, while pandering to the most ardent Brexiteers in her party.

Locally, unbelievably, the Conservatives have chosen Goldsmith again as their candidate. While I have faith that the electorate won’t vote for him, we have to make sure that on June 9th, the lyrics “once, twice, three times a loser’ are trending on twitter.

But at the end of the day, national and local interests have combine with the party’s interests for both the LibDems and Green. In Ham ward the LibDem ward councillor, Penny Frost and I are already working together on a number of campaigns and we need to see that happening more and more across the borough over the coming years.

If a progressive alliance is to work it can’t be something politicians do when there’s an election, it should be something we do all the time. The electorate are tired of playground politics, with winner takes all results and votes that don’t count. We politicians have to start co-operating now and forever, for the common good, for all of us.

NHS, Housing and Schools – solving the crises

I finally caught up with the leaders debate last night. Watching it without the hype of a live broadcast exposed the tropes that each of the main party trots out, as they have for the last 20 or so years :

  • The Tories say you can’t trust Labour because they’re tax and spend.
  • Labour says Tories are all cut, cut, cut.
  • While Nick Clegg actually said ‘we would cut less than the Tories and tax less than Labour’! You can’t make it up.

I didn’t think Leanne Woods came off as badly or Nicola Sturgeon seem as wonderful as the polls suggested, while sadly Natalie Bennett didn’t have much chance to shine, although she managed to get some key policies across.

Worst of all was Farage who, at the very least, exposed him and UKIP for what they really want – to take us out of the EU. And this, when they have 24 MEPS – the hypocrisy of a party funded by the very institution it wants to leave knows no bounds.

What I would say about UKIP is that they’re very good in defining the problems besetting the British people, while blaming the wrong causes (migrants) and suggesting poor solutions (leaving the EU).

1 Housing – UKIP says the pressure on housing is because of immigration.

NO. The strain on housing is caused by Right to Buy which has taken council houses away from the poorest in this country, and have not been replaced as promised. On top of this not enough homes have been built to meet demand, instead, this Coalition government has put house prices up by guaranteeing mortgages with their ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. Plus, giving landlords tax relief on the interest on their mortgages has just helped private investors and inflated prices up while taking these properties out of the reach of first time buyers.

Solution – build council homes. Allow councils to borrow money so they buy land and properties on which to put social rented homes. Build on brown field. Stop developers riding roughshod over councils in their pursuit of profits by letting them buy their way out of providing ‘affordable homes’ within their developments. Remove the tax relief for landlords, and change tenancies from 6 months/1 year to 2/3 years, so that tenants have more security and rental costs don’t keep being put up every time the contract is renewed.

2 Schools – UKIP says the pressure on school places is because of immigration.

NO. The squeeze on school places is caused by local councils being so strapped for cash they haven’t been able to invest in the land or property that becomes available in their area so they’ve sold it off to developers instead, so creating further demand down the line. And, now under the Coalition, the Free School fiasco ensures councils have no controls over where and when schools are created, as they are reliant on Academy Trusts putting in bids to the Department for Education and then the Education Funding Agency buying a site, within its limited budget, appropriate or otherwise.

Solution – give councils back the ability to buy land and property as needed for schools and the funds to do it with. Only when local authorities can buy land or brownfield sites in their areas to do with as required, whether it’s for schools, homes or health centres will the problems our communities face over lack of infrastructure be properly dealt with.

3 NHS – UKIP says the pressure on doctor’s appointments and our NHS is because of too many migrants coming to the UK for our health service.

NO. Labour introduced market forces into the NHS, which have added been to by the Tories in the Coalition government. Plus, changes in GPs contracts under labour allowed them to stop providing out-of-hours care – while paying themselves more at the same time – which then forced more people to go to their local A&E rather than their local surgery.

Solution – keep the NHS free at the point of access, tax the top 1% wealthiest in the UK to raise around £21 billion to pay for it and reform GPs contracts so the out-of-hours care is not forced on to local hospitals instead.

What’s wrong with being a tree hugger?

Some people think the Green Party is full of tree huggers who put the environment before humanity.

I take issue with this statement, because I believe we have forgotten just how important trees have been, and still are, for our survival. We have used them in so many ways – building our homes and crafting furniture with them, burning them to keep us warm and to cook our food for us, pulping them to make paper, eating their fruits, making boats and ships with them to conquer the seas and catch fish from. Humankind’s development over the millennia would have been very different without trees. Look at Easter Island, where the community died out after they had made use of every last tree.

And, even more fundamentally, we cannot exist without trees. Their leaves convert the C02 humans breathe out into oxygen so we can live in Earth’s atmosphere.

As for prioritising the environment over people, I don’t go that far, but I do believe that every decision we make – political and economic – needs to take into account the impact on our natural world.

So yes, call me a tree hugger, it’s a title I’m happy to embrace.