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.

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How can Zac Goldsmith think he still has the Midas touch?

The decision by Zac Goldsmith to seek re-selection in Richmond Park in the upcoming General Election seems like a desperate plea for attention combined with a lack of understanding of reality. The fact that the local Conservative party has now actually chosen him defies belief. How many elections does Zac Goldsmith need to lose before the Conservative Party stop viewing him as their golden boy?

Last year, when I stood aside in Richmond Park, I said: “I am taking a principled stand, hoping to send a real message to this government: Richmond Park does not want an MP who has failed his constituents over Heathrow and Brexit and is endorsed by UKIP – the people of south west London want a tolerant Britain, not the closed, small-minded one offered by this Government.” 

These factors still apply.

Goldsmith made Heathrow expansion his calling card, but was unable to stop it happening. Clearly he is just one person, but even when he was a member of the party of power, his powers of persuasion failed. An ex-civil service friend tells me Zac was not regarded as effective, since he preferred to stay in his office emailing ministers rather than actually meeting with them. So, not a persuader nor a team player. Further, Westminster data shows (as highlighted by Twickenham resident and political commentator Chris Key) that Goldsmith spoke in Parliament a mere eight times in the year preceding his resignation. Tim Brake, LibDem MP for Sutton, and Tania Mathias, Conservative MP for Twickenham, spoke 153 and 58 times respectively. Re-electing Goldsmith in last year’s by-election would not have put the brakes on Runway Three. Electing him now will be equally pointless.

Leaving the EU is in Zac’s blood. His father James Goldsmith set up the Referendum Party. The younger Goldsmith does not want the UK to be in the EU, whereas Richmond voted overwhelmingly to Remain. There is a complete disconnect between what Zac fundamentally believes and what his residents want. They told him that in last year’s by-election when they deserted him in their droves overturning the 23,000 majority they had given him just 18 months before. Richmond is still Remain – if the local Conservatives had chosen a pro-EU candidate then a race might really have been on between them and LibDem Sarah Olney. Now it appears they no longer respect their voters, making the assumption that he will win their support their again.

The Conservatives could not be more wrong. Voters still remember Goldsmith’s racially divisive Mayoral campaign, with its attempts to link Sadiq Kahn with extremism and terrorism and his leaflets with messages to the Indian community saying Labour supports a ‘wealth tax on family jewellery’ (if the electorate has forgotten, you know rivals will remind them). His campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, was fingered as the one responsible for these vile tactics and, almost as unbelievably as Zac being back, Crosby is now at the heart of the Theresa May’s election campaign. Maybe this General Election will show that like Goldsmith, he and the Tories have lost the golden touch.