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The Greens and the General Election

Matt Sellwood


 

The Green Party of England and Wales enters this election year in the best shape in its history. In the European Elections in June 2004, we polled over a million votes, and retained our two sitting Members of the European Parliament, Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas, narrowly missing out on gaining several more seats. With 63 Principal Authority councillors on 28 local authorities, and 2 members of the London Assembly, we are by far the most successful progressive party in England. Our reputation as an honest, radical and competent alternative to the mainstream parties of 'business as usual' is growing as we gain representation across the country, and on a whole host of issues we represent the tradition of the left. Renationalisation of the railways, defense of asylum seekers, and the restoration of trade union rights are all areas on which we find common ground with leftists, and we also share the emphasis on democracy and grassroots control that runs through the tradition of socialism in Britain. Increasingly, disillusioned Labour supporters are finding that Green policies match their own ideals, and are plunging into Green Party activity. Peter Tatchell, former mainstay of the radical Labour left and new Green recruit, has recently written that the Green Party 'offers the most credible left alternative to Labour's pro-war, pro-big business and pro-US policies. Greens put the common good before corporate greed, and the public interest before private profit.'

 

Of course, progress in the forthcoming General Election, with its First Past The Post voting system and large constituencies, will be much more difficult than electoral success in the European Parliament or London Assembly, where Greens were elected by proportional representation. For a long time the Green Party has found itself unable to break through the barriers that prevent small parties from achieving representation at Westminster, but at long last this is changing. In a number of constituencies across the country, the Greens are emerging as the main challenger to a Labour Party that has proven itself to be reactionary, complacent and contemptuous of its own core voters. Brighton Pavillion, where Cllr Keith Taylor is standing against the Labour incumbent David Lepper, is one such constituency. Cllr Taylor, who is Male Principal Speaker of the Green Party, garnered 9.3% of the vote in the last General Election, which represented almost 4,000 votes. This time around, he is rapidly establishing himself as the main challenger to the Labour candidate, who has a 9,500 majority and has taken his electorate for granted over the last four years. Another example of this strategy can be found in Lewisham Deptford, where Cllr Darren Johnson AM, the Leader of the Green Group on the London Assembly, is challenging another Labour incumbent. Cllr Johnson is only 2,000 votes behind the Conservatives, who are in second place, and with no other party targeting the seat it looks very likely that the Greens will overtake them and eat into Joan Ruddock's 15,000 strong majority.

 

Of course, despite the very real possibility of the Green Party shocking Labour in several constituencies in the this General Election, like all progressive parties we do not have the resources to contest elections to Westminster across the entire nation. While we are confident that we will field our best ever number of candidates this year, that will still only enable a third of the electorate to vote Green. A strong radical challenge to the right-wing agenda of New Labour will only be possible when all of us on the left co-operate with each other, and abandon the sectarianism that has so often characterised efforts to work together in the past. While our interactions with the Respect coalition have sometimes not achieved this positive harmony, we will continue to work towards improving relations across the left. In particular, we are looking forward to constructive conversations with the newly formed Socialist Green Unity Coalition, which combines various leftist groups including the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Green Socialism. While we certainly don't agree on everything, everyone can recognise that we are much closer to each other than we are to the mainstream parties, who offer nothing in terms of the environment, social justice or real democracy.

 

In sum, the Green Party is confidently predicting its best ever showing in the General Election this year. In a number of places across the country, we are in a strong position to provide the main challenge to Labour, and hopefully to raise the banner of progressive politics in Westminster once again. We recognise the scale of the task, however, and we cannot do it alone. If we are to change the direction in which Britain is headed, all of us on the left of the political spectrum will have to work together. If you live in an area where the Green Party is standing, we appeal to you to get involved united we stand, divided we fall.

 

 

March 2005

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Cllr Matt Sellwood is Deputy Leader of the Green Group on Oxford City Council and a member of the Green Party Regional Council.

www.matthewsellwood.blogspot.com
 

 

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