New County Council
Hey ho. We are entering the final stages of a general election campaign which looks like cementing our out-of-date two party system in place for at least another five years.
Labour have failed to put a proportional voting system into its manifesto. Despite calls from many in his party, Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his script that he does not need it to win, nor does he want it – oh and he can win the Green’s only seat in Brighton. So Labour are asking for your vote on the basis of maintaining the unfair voting system which has given us a majority of “safe seats”, expenses scandals, indifference to voters and all the rest of it.
Social media is full of idealistic people saying they wish Greens and Labour would work together. Well that will only happen if people vote Green rather than Labour in this general election.
Across the pond in Canada, Greens in the Canadian province of British Columbia have just agreed a deal with the New Democratic Party (the Canadian equivalent of Labour) which will overturn the winner-takes-all voting system in that province and bring in proportional representation. It will also restrict private and union donations to political parties.
The Greens were able to do this because the New Democratic Party (NDP) needed the three newly elected Green MPs to form a majority Government. In the British Columbia elections last month, the Liberal Party which had ruled the province for 16 years lost seats to bring their total down to 43. The NDP won 41 seats. The Greens tripled their representation from one to three MPs.
A party can not form a government just because it has more seats than any other single party. It can only form a Government if it has more seats than all the other parties combined. If it does not it must seek a deal with some other party to give it a majority. So both the NDP and the Liberals knew they had to do a deal with the Greens. In the end the Greens went with the NDP because they promised to fight against a massive proposed oil pipeline and to scrap first-past-the-post voting and introduce proportional representation.
Both parties have hailed this as an example of the sort of non partisan co-operation that voters want and are urging Canada’s central Government to follow suit.
Over here in the UK it just so happens that some pollsters are now predicting that there could be a hung parliament in Britain after this election, with Conservatives winning more seats than the other parties but unable to form a Government, because their seats will not outnumber the total of other parties’ such as Labour, SNP and Greens.
We heard this before the 2015 election and it did not happen and it seems unlikely again this time but it does make the point that Greens are needed in parliament.
If Greens double their number of MPs from one (Caroline Lucas) to two – with a win against Labour in Bristol West, then the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever leads Labour after June 8th, to end Labour’s official resistance to a fairer voting system would be intensified.
The SNP also support proportional representation, but they are not standing in England, and UKIP too support it but are unlikely to win any seats anywhere, including their former seat of Clacton (where the popular Douglas Carswell is standing down).
So if you want Greens and Labour to cooperate it is no good voting Labour in seats that are either safe Conservative or safe Labour.
The Green Party has tried to seek a pre-election deal with Labour. Labour has refused and has refused to put a fairer voting system in its manifesto. If voters want the two parties to work together, they need to pressure Labour, not the Greens. They need to send a message to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn by voting Green in safe Labour and Tory seats. A larger Green vote will be noticed, a larger Labour one will not in seats that they either can’t win or are sure to.
And then there is Bristol West. Here the Green Party came a close second to Labour last time (LibDems and Conservative were in 3rd and 4th place). Many left-Green supporters think they must vote Labour in Bristol West to ensure that Labour have as many seats as possible so that they can form a Government.
But this is to misunderstand the way Governments are formed. A Green win in Bristol West will serve to cut the Tory majority just as well as a Labour win. And it will have the added advantage of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to make a fairer, proportional voting system Labour policy.
So if you want a fairer voting system, and you want to get rid of the Conservative government, vote Green, not Labour.
In my last blog on Jeremy Corbyn I suggested that his halo had cracked because he was not entirely honest about his thoughts on Brexit.
Because he did not believe in remaining in the EU himself, he failed to support Remain wholeheartededly. His USP (unique selling proposition) had been that he was a man who stood by his principles. He failed to do that. Bang goes the sole reason for his popularity.
Four months on, he is now openly supporting Brexit, but not, he says, because he believes in it, but because the people have told him to. His comments on Blair’s speech about the dangers of a right wing Brexit are telling:
“Well, it’s not helpful. I would ask those to think about this – the referendum gave a result, gave a very clear decision on this, and we have to respect that decision, that’s why we didn’t block article 50. But we are going to be part of all this campaigning, all these negotiations about the kind of relationship we have in Europe in the future.. The referendum happened, let’s respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result.”
This does not sound like a conviction politician. It sounds like someone trotting out an ill-prepared line. Blair made some valid criticisms of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to be landed with, one that would see the feeding of the NHS to American private health providers, and the undermining of employment and environmental protections. Where is Jeremy’s criticism of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to get?
Since the referendum (or even before it), Jeremy could have come clean about wanting to leave EU. He could have unveiled his vision for Brexit if he thinks it is a good idea. But either he doesn’t have a vision, or he is not sure whether it is a good idea or not. So why support it? One is forced to the conclusion that he is afraid of his heartland voters.
This is a man in a muddle. He is finished. The truth is, he was always an accidental leader, as this piece in Business Insider explains.
Along with Diane Abbott and John McDonnell he is a member of Labour’s “Socialist Campaign Group”. This band always try to have a candidate for Labour leadership elections to represent the few remaining die hard socialist MPs. But all had received derisory votes when they had stood before. In June 2015 when the Campaign Group MPs got into their huddle, they decided it was Corbyn’s turn to have his name put forward. The Guardian asked Corbyn, why you? “Well, Diane [Abbott] and John [McDonnell] have done it before, so it was my turn,” he replied. He said he was running only reluctantly “All of us felt the leadership contest was not a good idea – there should have been a policy debate first. There wasn’t, so we decided somebody should put their hat in the ring in order to promote that debate. And, unfortunately, it’s my hat in the ring.”
He never expected to win the leadership battle and in a revealing interview with John Snow he refused to say that he wanted to be primeminister. The rumours are that at one stage he wanted to resign but John McDonnell persuaded him it was his duty to remain. But his apparent honesty and apparent loyalty to the package of values labelled socialism fuelled the hopes of thousands. I was not one of those people. To me socialism is a tarnished ideology and tacking on Greenery to it was never going to be an answer to the calamity of overconsumption by the wealthy western world. State ownership doesn’t deal with the need for healthy, decentralised local economies and communities, nor the need to protect future generations. The natural world can’t support our current rate of consumption. Yes we need some redistribution. But just divvying out the spoils is not going to protect future generations. It’s about cutting our economic cloth to fit the environmental reality.
But even I would admit that there could have been an opportunity nonetheless to tweak the national narrative. Corbyn, had he the personality, could have risen to the occasion, used the platform he was unexpectedly gifted to lever in some new ideas into the national consciousness. A people’s quantative easing, a funding of the transition to sustainable energy, a basic income for all. All Green Party ideas that John McDonnell has toyed with, ineffectually.
But Jeremy’s brain was stuck in old Labour ways – full employment, listening to sector pleading from unions, even when the unions are trying to prop up a harmful industry.
Confronted with a Welsh mining community his instinct was to promise to look at reopening coal mines. Faced with losing a byelection in nuclear powered Copeland, he abandoned his opposition to nuclear power, promising the workers a shining new nuke station. Back in June 2015, trying to appeal to Green voters, he promised “no to new nuclear“. Asked for a fairer voting system and a deal with other parties trying to remove the Conservatives, he ruled it out. The Labour Party comes before fairness, it seems. He has not risen above his party to lead the people, he has sunk into it.
He is a Labour tribalist first and foremost. Only the blindest of socialist heroworshippers can still think that he will lead Labour to a victory in 2020. The only question remains now whether he is loyal enough to his party to quit as leader before he ensures his party one of the worst election defeats in its history.
The thing Jeremy Corbyn had going for him, as far as the general population is concerned, was his integrity, his refusal to compromise, his refusal to schmooze and simper and smarm. His apparent ability to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of what was deemed establishment opinion, rightly earned him the respect of people from all walks of life and political views. He did manage to crack the establishment consensus that austerity is the only solution. Conservative strategists like Lynton Crosby saw that in his character and in their souls feared it. There is no one in the Conservative party who could win in the integrity stakes against Corbyn.
But during the EU referendum campaign Corbyn failed to be true to that. He adopted a tactic of laying low and appeared half-hearted in his support for Remain. So he was absent from many of the big Remain rallies and media appearances. The few speeches he did give sounded passionless and flat. Opinion polls show that many of the people who voted Labour in the last general election (about a third of them) were intending to vote Leave. Another big chunk, lacking guidance from anyone they trusted, are likely to be a part of the 28% who stayed at home and sat on their hands. If Corbyn had been as active as Cameron in standing up for EU membership maybe those people would have been emboldened to go and out and vote and the ballot would have gone the other way. That is one reason why not just Blairite MPs but strong, left wing Remain campaigners have turned against him
He also got principles confused with reality. I too was initially ambiguous about which way to vote in the referendum. But as I saw how the leaders of the Leave campaign were deliberately manipulating people into blaming immigrants for many of the country’s problems I realised I couldn’t afford to sit on the fence. Much though I disliked a lot of what the EU stood for, I realised voting Leave would embolden and legitimise racists, without achieving much change for the good, and without even reducing immigration by a significant amount (assuming that was the desired outcome for many people). Corbyn must have seen this but he perhaps loved his left-wing principles more than the reality and he wasn’t going to bend. So Corbyn not only betrayed the Remain side by being half-hearted, he also helped embolden racists.
But if he believed in Leave then why should he have loyalty to Remain? The Labour Party forced him into that box, as did probably the majority of the new young members who voted for him. So the deeper betrayal was to his own persona. His image of integrity has been tarnished because he is seen to have been untrue to himself. If he wanted to Leave he should have come out and said so. If he decided that Remain was the right thing to do, however reluctant he was, he should have come out and said so properly. He should have described publicly his own battle with the issue. Instead he bowed to pressure to support the Remain side, even when he did not really believe it. THAT is the key error. That is just what St Jeremy was not supposed to do, speak for something he doesn’t believe in. The halo has slipped badly. If he wants to get his image back, he needs to acknowledge the mistake he made in the referendum campaign. Come clean, admit his true position on Europe and apologise for not being clear about it before. Unless he does that he will never repair the deep crack to his reputation. But I am not sure he has the personality to admit he is wrong. The very inflexibility in him that has won him support is about to destroy him.
I have been wrestling with how I am going to vote in the Euro referendum. I feel the Green Party of England and Wales rather rushed into supporting the “in” camp. It was decided by a single “emergency” motion at the conference in Bournemouth – well before Cameron had come up with his half-baked deal with Europe and a referendum date.
To me this was not the way the Green Party should have done this. An online ballot of all members would have been more suitable. It may well have reached the same outcome, but at least more people would have had a say.
But regardless of this conference “decision”, the Green Party is sensible enough not to force its members to speak with one voice and to tolerate those – like Jenny Jones and Rupert Read – who go against the party line on this.
So where do I stand? In or out, or neither?
The arguments from all three sides have been singularly uncompelling and unsatisfying because they never delve properly into analysing what is wrong with the EU and what can be done to fix it. The Innies say Europe has given us loads of environmental and social goodies without saying what it’s flaws are, while the Outties linger on its fundamental flaws but then usually assert that it can not be reformed, because of its fundamental nature, without really adducing any evidence.
So if we are to vote one way or t’other we must first examine the flaws and then see if it is true that they are unfixable. So what are the failings of Europe, as far as Greens are concerned?
Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s most prominent “out” campaigner, argued back in July 2015 that there was something “rotten at the heart of Europe”. She is right to an extent. She points to the EU parliament’s approval of TTIP and the EU’s treatment of Greece as evidence that the institution has neo-liberal corporatism at its heart. She says that “Green and progressive voters will lack any leverage so long as we tolerate a bad EU for fear of something even worse.”
Rupert Read (who intends to #VoteNeither and spoil his ballot paper) uses the example of the agricultural policy of the EU, which he rightly says has industrialised and marketised farming in Eastern Europe at the expense of the environment.
But to call the EU “bad” is like calling a barrel of apples bad because half of them are rotten. To me that means the rest are still good and can be saved. Greens across Europe have to keep pointing to the rot and pushing to remove it. And both Jenny and Rupert are wrong if they say there is no realistic prospect that the EU can be reformed for the good.
The story of the EU is one that is rarely told properly by either side, pro or anti. Though it is true that the earliest 1951 version of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, had as one of its goals cementing peace between France and Germany, and it surely succeeded within a decade in this aim, it’s aim was to do this via trade and to boost production, consumption and economic growth. It was a trading bloc designed to compete with the might of the US.
As such, it was profoundly un-Green. “Maximise production!” could be said to be its battle cry. But something happened in 1979 that began to subtly alter that agenda. What was originally meant to be a mere add-on talking shop thrown a few bones by the founding Council – “the Consultative Assembly” – became a directly elected parliament. This put the democratic cat amongst the bureaucratic pigeons. Ever since, the history of the EU has been one of the parliament using its democratic mandate to gain more and more powers over the bureaucrats of the European Commission – who see their role as bolstering trade and competitiveness of Europe against other nations – and the often self-serving national politicians of the European Council.
This process is still by no means complete but it would appear to be inescapable. The creation of a fairly elected body in the heart of a cosy bureaucratic trading group has unleashed a “democracy virus” within the EU that is irreversible. The MEPs are largely elected for the presumed ideals of the political parties they represent. The ideals of at least 50 of them (the Green bloc) include turning the EU into a supporter of sustainability and ending its constant chasing of economic growth. Ever closer integration is not in the manifesto of many of these parties. Nor is taking more powers from sovereign nations.
The European parliament (though not perhaps the EU as a whole) can now be truthfully said to be more democratic than Westminster with its outdated first-past-the-post electoral system.
But the European Parliament is still the only accountable and responsive head of the three-headed beast that is the EU. The other two heads – the European Commission and the European Council – are appointed. Council members are appointed by the individual Governments of the nations, while the Commission President is appointed by the Council.
From its earliest days, though it was given no powers to do so, the pesky European Parliament began to draft proposals to reform the functioning of the EU. From the 1980s it began holding votes on proposed Commission Presidents, even though it had no formal power to appoint or veto them.
In 1999 the parliament forced the resignation of an entire set of Commissioners – led by President Jacques Santer – after it threatened a vote of censure following allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
Every time there is a new European treaty, Parliament has been able to use its democratic mandate to negotiate itself more powers over the Commission. It is now legally able to do what it had been doing using its moral authority alone – veto the appointment of Commission presidents. It has been granted equal rights to amend legislation as the Council of Ministers, and it can also approve or reject EU budgets.
There is still much to be done to improve accountability in the EU.
The parliament is keen to end its ridiculously wasteful trip between Strasbourg and Brussels but the decision about where parliament sits is still the gift of the Council of Ministers, not the parliament itself. It is also still unable to hire and fire individual Commissioners (though it can and does veto them) and unable to call them to account before its committees. Worse still, parliament can still not initiate legislation. That is still done by the appointed Commission.
However, back in 2010, in tough negotiations with newly appointed EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, a small group of parliamentarians, including the German Green MEP Rebecca Harms, got very close.
Barroso, fearing that the parliament would not approve his line-up of Commissioners, said that parliament already had a de facto right to initiate legislation. This was because, Barroso said, the Commission usually responded favourably to any “request” for new legislation from the Parliament. This amounted to a promise to do the right thing.
A final hurdle: crucially, parliament is still unable to appoint the Central Bank President, but Greens have been pushing for it to do so.
This shows why it would be wrong to blame the EU as a whole for forcing austerity onto the Greek people. The “Troika” that wielded the knife was made up of the unelected European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (whose president, the former Goldman Sachs executive Mario Draghi, was appointed by the European Council). If the European Parliament had been allowed to vote on Greece, it would have been more likely to force the banks to take more of a haircut and the Greek people less of one.
It is true that the EU parliament voted in favour of TTIP, the EU-US trade deal, in June last year. But subsequently, as a result of a wave of public opposition including 2.3 million signatures on a petition against it, in July the EU Parliament voted in favour of TTIP but only on the condition that a controversial part of it the Americans wanted was removed. This objection meant that America’s goal of sealing the deal by the end of the year was thwarted and there is now more time to apply public pressure on MEPs to reject the deal completely. Because the parliament is elected by proportional representation, few have “safe seats” and the MEPs are more likely to respond to pressure than Westminster MPs. The secrecy of talks, on which Americans are insisting, is also being undermined by public pressure, leaks and the opposition of many MEPs. British Conservatives have said they want to sign a trade deal with the US whether we are in or out of Europe. So leaving will not save us from a US trade deal in which the electorate will have zero input.
As for Rupert Read’s argument about the EU commoditising and marketising farming in Eastern Europe, he is probably right. But the instrument that the EU used was the Common Agricultural Policy. The CAP is a creature of the EU Commission. It was dreamt up by the Commission almost at the same time as the EEC was founded. It is only since 2013 – long after EU accession for most countries – that the parliament has been allowed to have a vote on reforms to the CAP. To change the CAP we must continue to push for the European parliament to have powers to initiate legislation and reforms to it. The CAP must be reformed so that it no longer subsidises wealthy landowners and environmental destruction but instead supports a transition to sustainable farming methods. Subsidies for sustainable farming have grown over the years but are still a drop in the ocean. The pressure to change the wasteful CAP however, is already intense. Allowing the democratically elected parliament to change it could make that pressure irresistable.
The shame is that need for a more democratic Europe is being lost in the arguments about whether or not to be in it.
For Greens, the EU must be seen as a work in progress, not for greater integration or greater trade, but for greater sustainability, deeper democracy and tougher controls on the transnationally rich and powerful. If we leave it, we will not be able to start again. There is no other organisation in town. The EU is it, undemocratic warts and all.
I support Rupert’s right to spoil his ballot paper and explain the reasons why, I also support Jenny’s right to vote leave and explain her reasons. I will be voting remain because I believe Europe can be fixed and used to get what we Greens want.
(and no more than one from London)
So who will be the leader of the Green Party now Natalie is going?
The question ought to be: “Who will be the leaders?”
There are 11 Green Parties in western Europe and many more around the rest of the world that regularly elect two leaders – a man and a woman. They have made it part of their constitution. And it works.
The New Zealand Green Party, for example, the world’s oldest, and currently the third largest political party in that country, elects a female and male leader. They are James Shaw
and Metiria Turei (pictured above). As you can see, Metiria is Maori, James is white.
The Swedish Party has always elected male and female co-presidents. The picture below shows current leaders Asa Romson and Gustav Fridolin. In Sweden, when Greens first began winning seats and coming into the national media eye, the TV outlets did not know who to invite on to their shows. The Greens insisted on having both. Eventually other parties, annoyed at the extra publicity the Greens seemed to receive from this,
began looking at copying the model, according to Per Gahrton, former Swedish Green MP.
The Green Party of England and Wales used to have two co-speakers. It did not work very well because the mistake we made was to constantly tell the media and the public that they were NOT leaders. This pronouncement, in a highly centralised state like Britain, made it sound as though we had no serious desire to govern or take public office. So I was one of the majority of members who voted in favour of a move to “leaders” not a co-speaker. But the ability to have two co-leaders, a male and female, was rightly retained in the constitution. Having two co-leaders is very different from having two speakers who are expressly not leaders.
Having two leaders addresses one of the long-standing problems many Green Party members have with the traditional party leader model. How can a political party proclaiming decentralisation, decisions by consensus and by as local a level as possible, allow one person to reflect the values of their organisation across the whole country? The centralised media in the UK obsesses with the personal quirks of the party leaders, for example Natalie’s dress sense, her clipped Australian tones, and so on. Any slip by a single leader can be represented by the establishment as “typical of the bumbling amateur Green Party”. Yet these have nothing to do with the policies or goals of a decentralised party like the Greens. Having two leaders, a man and a woman, reminds people that no one person is an embodiment of this political movement.
Also having two leaders allows them to share the burden of leadership: the constant 24-hour demand for your presence, the inevitable criticism of every slip and the pressures of public performing. Two people can share their time, giving them crucial space for a “normal” private life.
Perhaps most importantly having two co-leaders not only allows the genders to be mixed: it allows the ethnicity, the social background, the leadership style, the geographical imperatives of each to be mixed, ensuring better representation of the members and the country’s problems as a whole
Why not have a co-leader from London and one from the sticks? One from a city and one from the country? One from a Labour area, one from a Conservative. One black, one white. One with a business background, one from the public sector. And so on.
I welcome this. I see there is talk of Jonathan Bartley and Jennifer Nadel jointly standing. Both are good media performers and both would be an asset. But both are London based, just as Natalie, the two deputies and much of the Green Party staff and Executive are. This has been one of the problems that the party has suffered under for the past few years: a constant London-centric messaging based around a “housing crisis” and a refrain about having no limits to immigration, when one of the core values of the Green Party is that, unlike all other traditional political parties, it recognises that there are limits to growth. This is coupled with an absence of discussion or mention of the issues facing people in the countryside, even though many Green Party policies tackle them head on. These include such things as green field housing development for profit not people’s need, bulldozing of habitat for new roads, the collapse of the economies of small towns, the collapse of rural public transport, the effective subsidy of intensive, pesticide ridden farming, and the undermining of local democracy and communities.
So I would like to see each sophisticated metropolitan candidate seek to pair up with a regional/country cousin to give both constituencies a voice.
And, London hopefuls, if you want some out of town names to bandy with, how about, off the top of my head and with no idea whether these people are seeking office: Andrew Cooper, Jillian Creasy, Theo Simon, Vix Lowthian? Let the mixing and matching begin!