Turning green shoots into political roots

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.


  1. Adam Ramsay said:

    Hi Tom,

    I think this is spot on. The Scottish Green MSPs have a Parliamentary Reference Group, which is basically an email list (we meet occasionally) of people who either represent groups in the party, or have specific expertise. The group has no formal authority or right to decide anything, but can give a bit of a steer, or advise on specific things.

    I don’t know if that’s a good idea, for Caroline, but would maybe be worth considering?


    1st August 2010
  2. Again with the environment/social justice dichotomy. Please, this is a misunderstanding propagated by mainstream journalism. Ours is a party founded on political ecology. Ecology is the study of the relationship between an organism and its environment. Physically, that means we start our economics with ecology – distinct from the anthropocentric alternatives. Socially, it means that we set individuals in their social context. Our environmentalism and our quest for social justice arise from the same root – ecology. LibDems and others try to bolt their environmentalism onto their LibDemmery, etc, which is why their environmentalism is so unstable and weak.

    1st August 2010
    • Tom Chance said:

      Richard, you and are are starting from the same place. Unfortunately very few others are.

      In this post I considered engagement with big media and general audiences who won’t have time to consider a full explanation of a political philosophy rooted in ecology. If they see a Green Party MP mainly talking about nuclear power and insulation they will continue to perpetuate their misleading equation of “Green Party” and “political environmentalism”.

      That’s something we have to deal with, it can’t be wished away with blog posts espousing our viewpoint.

      1st August 2010
  3. Nick said:

    The problem is that its all pie in the sky. The government has debts of 5-6 trillion pounds when you include pensions. All rising with inflation.

    The government raises 500 billion a year from taxes. Don’t forget people are in particular companies are mobile.

    So 12 times mortgaged, and with high requirements to spend on health and education, roads etc. It’s not going to work.

    So a question for you. Why nothing in you post on the costs and how to pay for your wishes?

    11th August 2010
    • Tom Chance said:

      Nick, I’m afraid you’re the one who is “pie in the sky”, or at least failing to grasp the basics of economics.

      All money is debt anyway, has been for a long old time. What’s important for a household or company is how you manage your debt and use it prudently to improve your prospects. For governments it’s even less of an immediate worry, something I’ve written about before and that was covered in rather a good Q&A by Red Pepper.

      The other side of the coin is that we are currently experiencing historically low levels of taxation, much lower even than when Thatcher was in power. The Green Party disagrees with the Chancellor, who thinks we are “overtaxed”.

      If you’d like to know how we’d pay for our wishes read our 2010 manifesto, it contains all the relevant calculations.

      11th August 2010

Comments are closed.