Rupert Read has posted some useful thoughts on how the Green Party in England & Wales can build on the historic election of our first MP, and on the rapid growth in membership in recent years. There’s much to agree with, particularly on making the internal systems and finances work. If anything, I think he has understated the importance of finances… even to stay still and retain our two London Assembly Members in 2012, our two MEPS in 2013, our MP in 2015 and over a hundred councillors in between.
Here in London, a lot of thought has gone into our electoral strategy following the near-wipeout in May. I won’t digress into the London strategy here, but Rupert echoes comments from many party members I have spoken to in emphasising the need to blend realism and ambition.
Rupert is also right to ask how we can tighten up our policies, which needn’t amount to a removal of anything radical as Jane Watkinson has suggested. My first concern is that we need to go beyond the dry policy documents to think about how we engage those high-profile elected politicians with changes, so we don’t get (justifiably) bad press like this after so much effort improving policy.
I have provided some advice to Caroline Lucas MP and the office on intellectual property issues, but I can’t be as quick in helping Caroline as I can be in my full-time job supporting our London Assembly members. How can the party provide the politicians with swift responses and germane guidance whilst relying so heavily on volunteers? When researchers employed for the politicians are often restricted in their dealings with other branches of the political party (as civil servants), how can we ensure consistency between offices? More money for researchers in the party office would be a big help.
Though I think Jane’s worries are unwarranted, she is right to ask how we resolve radicalism with realism. My second concern in building on recent success is that our politicians are actually effective, and that we are able to tell the stories of their successes. This is an age-old dilemma for a small party in a big-media world (new/social media are still a bit player when it comes to getting the message out beyond activists).
Trying to be a party of radical politics in Westminster, and one that bucks the “green = environmentalism” label without shrugging off environmental issues altogether, is a tough job. Trying to pick radical policies to advice where there is a realistic prospect of a political gain – i.e. actually changing something – or a prospect of good media coverage to inform the public debate – only makes it harder.
Our Policies for a Sustainable Society run to thousands of words over hundreds of topics. Our 2010 general election manifesto has detailed proposals across most areas of government. Caroline will only be able to notch up limited political gains and big media hits on a handful of national topics; she is only one MP.
Take the Green New Deal, for example, which Caroline is rolling together with an opposition to public service cuts. The current government is going to appear very green to most voters. That is partly because the previous government had such a terrible record; and partly because it is inheriting some fairly radical proposals such as these on energy efficiency. Will Caroline just look like the impossible-to-please nutcase on the fringe, or will she be able to establish a credible line of scrutiny, attack or productive lobbying?
So I am looking forward to hearing at the Autumn conference what she is going to focus on in Parliament, how that will connect with the work done by canvassers and councillors up and down the country, and how the party can continue to forge a distinctive and very focused image for the next tranche of Green voters.