Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Beware the siren call of a strong Green opinion poll

The Green blogosphere has been energised in the last few days by a new IPSO/MORI poll for Reuters which has placed the Green Party at an unprecedented 6% in voting elections, if a General Election was called tomorrow. This level of support in a poll is exciting, but I'm afraid we should refrain from cracking open the champagne quite yet.

Looking at the detail of the poll, we can see that it is from a relatively modest sample of individuals (1008) and the pollsters themselves give the health warning that that the percentage for each party's share has a 4% margin of error. In our case, this means we could have any figure between 10% or 2% of the vote.

The truth of it is, polls are fickle things and we may hear from another pollster tomorrow with a radically different interpretation, due to their use of a slightly different methodology. We honestly need a consistent period of time to see if these figures hold up. If we are still seeing these sort of figures in three months, we can start to trust them more.

One question that isn't answered by the poll is why we might have received a bump in our electoral fortunes. I'd be the first to argue that we deserve it, with well-publicised victories at the General Election and in the recent Local Elections. We have a distinct policy offer in comparison with the dour, negative stances of our political opponents. But if this polling data turns out to be true, we need to analyse it carefully to see where it stems from and then build upon it accordingly.

Such an increase in support wouldn't necessarily be translated nationally into new seats. We still have the First Past The Post voting system to contend with - and other parties, most notably the Lib Dems, have found themselves at the mercy of this. Let's not forget the vast gulf between Clegg-mania at it's height and the shocking paucity of new Lib Dem gains at last year's General Election!

At the end of the day, we mustn't wait for polls to deliver us power. We have to work hard, building relationships individually, voter by voter. In allhonestly, can the Green Party argue yet that we've worked hard enough to prepare sufficiently-qualified candidates to step forward into Parliament? I'm not convinced - we should put our energies into THAT and the rest will fall into place in it's own time.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Messed-up morality: Conservatives fall "Back to Basics"

It must be dreadfully frustrating for David Cameron. He spent years (and a fair proportion of Lord Ashcroft's tax-free millions) trying desperately to detoxify the Tory brand and make their policies seem more palatable and human. However, now his colleagues are back in power, an unattractive tone of moral judgement and reactionary social engineering has crept back into public discourse around women and sexuality. Even if we were able to set aside Cameron's own recent patronising display of contempt to Angela Eagle when he told her to "calm down, dear" at Prime Ministers Questions, there are many other signs that there are unmistakable signs of a regressive social agenda bubbling under the surface of many of the Coalition's policies which infantilizes women and wants to draw a firm line under the successful gay legislative programme of the Labour Government.

Ken Clarke's comments about some rapes being less serious than others was a clumsy slip under fire whilst defending a wider cost-cutting approach to justice - but it still betrayed an unbelievably dismissive attitude towards the victims of sexual violence by the Justice Secretary.

Backbencher Nadine Dorries' 10 minute bill pushing for young girls to be taught abstinence (you read correctly -girls, not boys), leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth as it puts female sexuality in the dock as the cause of all lapses in sexual morality. This is at a time of diminishing budgets for HIV prevention and the tightening of health spending around sexual health. Nonetheless, this week it was announced that the well-respected British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been removed from the government advisory group on sexual health and replaced by Life, a conservative organisation that takes a hard-line stance against abortion and is strenuously pushing for abstinence programmes, even though they are known to be counter-productive in fighting sexually-transmitted diseases.

You would think on the positive side, that this is the sort of issue where having a coalition Government would put the brakes on these excesses. Right now (the argument goes), keeping the Liberal Democrats onside has meant that the Conservatives are working hard to ensure this remains a series of isolated incidents and does not become a larger narrative behind Government policy. Memories on the front bench are also short enough to remember John Major's ill-fated Back to Basics campaign, which crystallized the public's views of his party's hypocrisy around morality and sex.

Within the Home Office, Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone MP represents a trusted pair of hands as the current Equalities Minister. She is interviewed in this month's issue of Total Politics and hints that she clashes at times with her Secretary of State, Theresa May, over this agenda. That said, the article gives her a fairly gentle ride as she talks about ensuring the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is supported to deliver on equalities protection. The truth however, is that the remit for the EHRC has been severely restricted so that it works on the barest minimum needed to deliver it's core aims. Unsurprisingly, this has been accompanied with a significant funding cut.

You may also remember that I posted about the Government's Red Tape Challenge, which is currently consulting on whether we should scrap every law and regulation on the statute books. The presumption is that everything is marked for abolition to "reduce bureaucracy" unless a strong enough argument is given to retain them (or sufficient people can marshall a public stink enough to stop them). After years of campaigning by minority communities, the ink was not yet dry on the Equality Act before it fell into the firing line.

Until this attack, these policies and the funding that underpinned them were in the front line of ensuring that in a country where inequality has steadily increased over the last thirty years, we had an independent voice arguing for concrete changes to close this gap. They ensured that people were able to make adult choices around their health and were treated with dignity in their dealings with the state.

Gender and sexual equality is under more sustained attack than ever before. Cameron's rebranding campaign is over. The Conservatives have learnt a lesson - they are moving back to basics, but aside from the odd slip, this time they aren't making the mistake of telling us.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Notes from the online frontline...

As well as my regular posts, I thought it was about time I started highlighting things that have caught my eye: news articles that are falling beneath the radar, showcasing fellow bloggers in action and giving quick glimpses of topics I don't have time to be able to cover on Green Politics: Sustainable Futures.

So, here are some of the things that have I've been inspired, challenged or intrigued by in the last couple of weeks.

1. As a newly accepted member (!), I'll be heading up to London for the Compass Conference 2011 "Building The Good Society" on Sat 25 June. There will be an amazing mix of campaign organisations, NGOs, politicians and progressive activists throwing forward ideas on how to recapture the initiative from our current Government. Let me know if you're going and I'll try and say hi!

2. Over at The Daily (Maybe), Jim Jepps has written a strikingly robust argument in favour of the Ryan Giggs injunction and I surprised myself by being carried by his argument. Although super-injunctions are pretty toxic things and pose a more fundamental threat to serious investigative journalism, there is truth to the call for tightening constraints around public interest in these more salacious cases.

3. In the week that it seemed like Chris Huhne has scored victory in keeping the Coalition Government to it's carbon emission cuts, it was timely to read Derek Wall's article "The flaws in coalition climate policy" via Red Pepper to remind myself of how difficult this is going to be in reality - and how there are enough caveats and cop-outs built into their strategy to water down the effectiveness of their efforts.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you who have become regular readers of the blog over the past few weeks. It's really heartening to see it grow and provoke some constructive debates about how the Green Party can develop and grow in the next few years. Keep reading, I've got some really interesting articles coming up!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Is twinning the key to success for the Green movement?

Unsurprisingly, the big story for the Greens since the local elections has been the success achieved in Brighton & Hove, where we added a further ten councillors to our local party and took control of the local Council. Whilst this historic victory gives us a fantastic moment to savour, it has masked a deeper question we need to contemplate.

In spite of the unpopularity of each of the three main political parties, the Green Party only succeeded in increasing our number of councillors from 116 to 130. Taking into account the Brighton & Hove gains, this means in reality we just picked up four additional seats, although I appreciate the various losses and gains in different constituencies complicate the picture slightly. Nonetheless, with the higher profile of the party as a result of Caroline Lucas's election as our first MP and the consequent jump in membership and activists this resulted in, it does feel as we should have enjoyed a more significant upsurge in our fortunes.

A national strategic decision has been made in the last couple of years to focus our scant time and money in those seats where we are strongest and most likely to elect a Member of Parliament. Living in the parliamentary seat where this has reaped the biggest dividend, I'm not going to argue too strongly against that approach! I do think however, especially in light of the AV referendum failure, that we must now re-adjust our strategies in light of the real difficulties of obtaining further First Past The Post successes.

For that reason, I would argue that we now need to invest our energies in the short to medium term objective of increasing council representation. Where we do so, we soften the ground for the larger battles of general and European elections, consequently making success there more likely. The Local Party Support role on GPEX has been responsible for putting together the fantastically useful "Party in a Box" kits to assist activists in launching local parties in those areas where we have no active party structure. But I'm convinced we need to go further.

I would like to see a commitment from those established local parties to join a mentorship network across the Green Party that would share best practice and ideas from around the country. Local parties that volunteered to participate could be paired together. Of these, those parties fortunate enough to have elected at least one local councillor would become paired with another that has yet to do so. This would enable a larger spread of local parties to take part whilst not overwhelming bigger parties with demands for their assistance. The twinning relationship can be forged easily and cheaply: linking similar individuals with particular roles (Chair, Membership, Secretary, External Communications) and using email and video conferencing to have regular discussions around strategy, systems, processes and organisation. Visits can be arranged in person to provide bodies on the ground for canvassing and around elections time too.

Together, the partnership could focus upon targeting one council ward in the constituency over a period of two or three years. Where done well, the collaboration would spark creativity and enthusiasm on both sides at what can be achieved and also contribute to longer term investment in capacity building. From my experience, those constituencies where candidates achieve office for the first time will be transformed by the experience and will forge real credibility amongst their communities.

This work can be done with very little financial cost to either local party, but will gift the party nationally with a sense of solidarity, purpose and achievement. In providing concrete support, bigger parties can repay some of the confidence placed in them by the Green Party as a whole. Most importantly, at a time when the Green Party is expanding in size and influence, this would serve to strengthen and build relationships between our activists in communities spanning the country and ensure that we never write off any part of the UK as being out of bounds to a Green challenge!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Building Green success: The route-map to 2015 (part 3)

Throughout this week, I've been focussing on the fresh political landscape in Brighton and Hove. Whilst the UK is living through some of the most challenging financial circumstances in the last twenty years, those of us here on the coast are entertaining hopes that over the next four years, the Greens can forge a beacon of good governance and an inspiring alternative to politics as usual.

However, this historic opportunity leaves us with a great responsibility to prove that we can be trusted with holding power. Our performance here will have implications for the Green Party's reputation across the country. We can already sense that the national media and our opponents will be quick to use our leadership stance and policies here to extrapolate about the party as a whole, for good or ill.

I believe that to make this term of office a success, we need to identify a strong narrative for what we are hoping to achieve and communicate this relatively swiftly, so that voters feel able to measure us against it. In the current circumstances, we should not over-commit and aim for a series of incremental improvements to the city that leave it a more prosperous and unified place.

For me, the main achievement of a first term in office will be to persuade voters that we can be trusted to pay due respect to the core issues that matter to people. We need to ensure we focus as much on these "bread and butter" issues as the green priorities we have strong credentials upon. Ideally, we should be knitting these together to deliver on multiple outcomes at once.

So what are the main issues of importance for residents in the city? Simple. I think our principal focus has to be upon job creation and retention. Critical to this will be placing the Council's weight behind small businesses, to build an enabling environment within which they can flourish. On the expansion of green jobs, I noticed in response to one of my earlier posts, Ben Ramalingam argued for the active promotion of a commercial green network and to capacity-build these businesses in the Sussex area. We need to assess what our principal industries consist of and identify the extent to which these networks already exist for them. If not, we must take a role in convening these conversations so we become leading hubs of activity and market leaders in the country. I sincerely believe that this is an area where we can work productively with the other political parties as well as the business community

Alongside this, we need to stand firm on our principles that require the Council budget to be re-examined to try and avoid cuts to front-line public services. More than any other party, we stand on the side of the disadvantaged and those most likely to suffer the impact of our greatly reduced settlement from central government. That's why recent talk from the Greens about participatory budgeting and opening up the Council more to the public can only help accountability. You can only argue that "we are in it together" if you genuinely level with the public and propose solutions together in an accountable fashion.

The other area of great concern to residents has been the lack of new housing and the number of empty properties not being put to good use. Only 380 new homes were built here in the last year and this number is nearly half of the previous year. Already, the signs are strong that the new Green Council will reverse this and are aiming for at least 1,000 homes to be built in the next year. It is heartening that the new Leader of the Council and both of his Deputies have professional experience in housing, architecture and planning. I have no doubt this will remain high on their agenda.

What I believe the Green Party can offer Brighton and Hove is to bring all elements of the community into a pragmatic and honest conversation about the future. Our reputation as reasonable outsiders sits well with the view many Brightonians hold of themselves: cosmopolitan, moderate, yet iconoclastic. Perhaps we finally have a Council that can truly represent and articulate Brighton's unique identity?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Building Green Success: Launching Brighton's new Council (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I started my analysis of the transformed political context in Brighton & Hove following the local elections. As our direct competition for centre-left votes, I explored the implications for Labour of our success and cautioned our supporters not to view the result as a repudiation of that party. Labour's approach in the last two weeks has been measured and publicly respectful, however differently their activists may feel privately. Already, I sense an effective pincer movement between their reasoned opposition and the aggressive denunciation of our policies that the local Conservatives are conducting via the local press. We need to quickly find a voice that responds to their challenges and talks over their heads direct to the voters.

Which is why the right choice of Council cabinet is an essential pre-requisite for us to set the tone for the next four years. We announced the first Green cabinet late last week and whilst I have a couple of minor reservations, I am pleased with both the individuals announced and how they have begun to conduct themselves in their first statements on policy.

Bill Randall, our first Leader of the Council, alongside Amy Kennedy and Ian Davey as Deputy Leaders, have an established track record in leading the Green Group of councillors locally over the last couple of years. As well as a strong overview on the key issues facing the city, they are genuinely pragmatic team-players who have maintained respectful and constructive relationships with other political parties. They command respect amongst the local party and are also known as strong advocates for their constituents, regardless of party affiliation.

Amongst the remaining members of the Cabinet, we have a good mix of those councillors with direct experience of political office, alongside newcomers who have been brought forward due to their professional and private experience with particular portfolio areas. This is a sound foundation to work from. Promisingly, I know of several of our "backbench" councillors who could also do a fantastic job in these positions. I hope this first year in office provides these councillors with opportunities to shadow and assist those in the Cabinet - it won't hurt to nurture the largest pool of talent for the Green Group to select from over the course of this Council session.

One issue that is achieving some traction in the blogosphere is the notion that our cabinet could be more gender balanced - I have some sympathy with that view and would call upon the Green Council to ensure that their policies are impact-assessed to ensure that women, children and the vulnerable are not disproportionately affected by the austerity measures we are being placed under. I would also challenge my local party to bring equal representation to bear as a preferred approach in the future.

Later this week, in my final article of this series, I'll be looking at the key political issues facing the city, share my views on how the Green Council should consider tackling them and give thought to the broader narrative we should be building during our time in office.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Building Green success: Scanning Brighton's political horizon (Part 1)

Over the last few days, those of us living in Brighton and Hove have had our first inkling of what to expect politically over the coming council session. For all of the feverish excitement precipitated by our success at the local elections, the sharp realisation of what controlling our first local authority entails has been a sobering experience for the local party. In the next few days I'm going to write about the new political context in the city and take an educated guess at what challenges the Green Council will face over the next four years.

I'm going to start my analysis today with Labour. No sooner than the results came in at the count than Labour's local leadership moved fast to distance themselves from any talk of coalition with us. Their hasty press release sounded a constructive note and clearly acknowledged our mandate to form the next council, but their positioning neatly left us to shoulder the difficult decisions over the next few years alone. They are generously (!) giving us enough rope to hang ourselves with and leaving themselves space to robustly critique our every move. This is a role that served us well in the past and I don't begrudge their appropriation of it - I personally think it will be important to hold us to account and should assist in tightening our thinking, especially as we get used to our new responsibilities.

On Monday, the Green party membership met collectively to discuss our position and as a result of a sometime robust discussion, we decided to try and re-open negotiations on the budget signed off by the previous administration. In a statement, we asked Labour to work with us to try and reshape spending priorities on the budget in order to take the pressure away from cutting front-line services. Not only does this strategy succeed in drawing Labour closer to our stance of resisting the central government cuts agenda, but I think it sends a strong message that we will aspire to conduct politics more consensually in the city.

Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done. One of the major fault-lines of this particular election has been the souring of relations between Labour and the Greens. I'm sure my perspective differs from theirs, but it has felt to me at times that they seem to resent our appropriation of "their" voters. No party has a right to voter loyalty and our lack of expectation has kept our feet on the ground. This is one of the advantages of coming from nowhere and building up support street by street! Their anger at losing ground in the city is directed squarely at us. At this crucial juncture, it risks preventing us working in a united fashion to blunt the impact of cuts. Already, the tone from Labour activists on Twitter and the influential local politics blog (The Brighton Blogger), is barely keeping within the bounds of civility. Unless cooler heads prevail amongst Labour, this could cause damage to us both. I can foresee real difficulties passing our decisions through full council without some solidarity between our parties. The most vulnerable in the city need us to see beyond our self-interest.

What we must also remember is that in spite of Labour only retaining their current number of council seats, they did increase their share of the vote substantially upon the last set of elections, challenging the Conservatives successfully in some wards. For all of our gains, their share of the actual vote was only 1% behind us, although the spread of votes across wards meant that this didn't translate into actual seats. This signals to me that their poor organisation was more of a contributing factor to our success than we'd like to think, examples of which I observed on the day of the election itself. With a thorough analysis of the hard data and a post-mortem on individual ward performances, we can expect Labour to build substantially upon this support at a future election. Incumbents tend to lose their voters, rather than gain them, as they begin dealing with the compromising realities of wielding power.

Finally, Labour nationally have larger resources and profile than us and it is likely that over the next four years, public attitudes towards the coaltion government will harden, especially now as the public sector job losses are starting to come through and will impact upon our economic growth performance. This could benefit us, but we have to acknowledge that it will provide a compelling case for Labour too.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Beyond the AV vote: Why Greens should see this result as an opportunity

Last week produced some fantastic results for the Greens across the United Kingdom, including an amazing opportunity here in Brighton for us to prove our mettle as a viable local authority. That said, the results were tinged with the depressing resolution of the AV campaign, which was comprehensively lost with 68% of those who voted rejecting a change to the voting system. To many Greens that I’ve spoken to since the referendum, a mood of resignation has descended, especially for those areas where results weren’t as favourable for the Green Party. The prospect of reform seems further away than ever.

However, I was always a little concerned that we were putting a lot of eggs in one basket. Pinning hopes on a change that will produce modest gains in support for us isn’t a sustainable strategy. It felt like a panacea for our electoral ills and risked letting us off the hook of undertaking the heavy lifting of developing local groups around the country. Yesterday, I read an interesting piece on The Daily (Maybe), which highlighted the close relationship between those local areas who voted “Yes” to AV and those that had (or until recently had) successful Green representation in their local council.

For me, the lesson is clear. We have proved in places like Norwich, Lewisham, Brighton and Oxford that with strong organisation, sound local policies and tenacious candidates, we can make gains even with a voting system stacked against us. We need to concentrate now on winning seat by seat. Over the longer term, this provides us a stronger base and voice with which to make the case for reform, if and when the next opportunity occurs. This ties in with a point I made in my last post, when I argued that one of the greatest challenges to the Green Party is capacity-building and mentoring potential activists and candidates. Now more than ever, successful local Green parties need to invest time back into sharing their strategies and working methods with regions where we need to expand, such as the North-east of England.

Coupled with this, we need to understand why the AV referendum failed. It became a proxy verdict on the Liberal Democrats entering into coalition with the Conservatives. As I mentioned in my pitch for people to vote yes, it was terribly difficult to disentangle the fair rationale for change from party political advantage. We need to make the case better and argue for a more proportional system than AV alone would have delivered. (I would favour AV Plus, which steps toward proportionality but retains the constituency link that British voters treasure). The Green Party needs to draw together our best minds and work out two or three killer lines to sell on the doorstep, alongside two or three on why First Past The Post doesn’t work any longer in multi-party politics. We didn’t quite nail it last time. Lets leave criticism of our opponents out of it. The silver bullet is to make a cast iron case for fairness to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.

There is going to be no short-cuts on our journey, but we have momentum and the right arguments on our side.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gay political representations in the Green Party: the next phase

In one of my recent blog posts, I talked about the challenges those of us interested in LGBT rights within political parties need to wrestle with in the next couple of years. After thirteen years of unprecedented change in both legal and social terms, coming to terms with your sexuality has become a little easier for most young people. There is still a great deal more to do for these changes to be grounded permanently in the fabric of national life.

For me, the struggles that we need to confront in the coming years are four-fold:

1. Transforming the education system to protect LGBT students from bullying, whilst becoming more comfortable in educating all students clearly about sexuality.
2. Working closely with LGBT communities across the globe to support their struggles for equality in ways that make sense for them, rather than imposing Western cultural values or strategies.
3. Binding the solidarity between lesbian and gay men to truly embrace transgender and bi equality and to renew the links between the LGBT movement and those striving towards gender equality.
4. Breaking through the barriers of representation in every walk of life.

The final of these has a resonance within the Green Party. We've been rightly proud of being the most progressive, consistent and uncompromising on the equality agenda and those within the party who have worked on this deserve our profound thanks. Their work has kept our political opponents feet to the fire on these issues and contributed to the political consensus that shaped the Blair government's legislative programme for LGBT citizens.

However, looking at the work being undertaken by other political parties, we are slipping behind on building up our capacity in this area. In structural terms, the LGBT Greens group has relied upon the over-stretched time of a very small core of committed people. Without a constitution, terms of reference or even job descriptions for the officers, it is unsurprising that nobody new is coming forward to get involved. Elections for these positions are very informal and therefore not as transparent as they should be. With the massive influx of new members to the Green Party, this isn't conducive to harnessing fresh energy.

I am really keen that at this year's LGBT Greens AGM at the GP Annual Conference, we bring more clarity and take the time to fix the foundations of the group so that it can achieve even more. We should be using the opportunities afforded by the Green Party members site, Green Activist magazine, other publications and websites and conference fringe events to publicise membership more frequently. We should be identifying prominent LGBT champions within the national party to speak on our behalf. We should work to mentor or twin younger or newer activists with more experienced role models so that we can build upon the successes of electing LGBT representatives to date. (The new crop of councillors in Brighton & Hove are an excellent example!) And we should be undertaking modest fundraising from our supporters to give us the resources to do so, in much the same way as the Young Greens are beginning to translate their energy into concrete achievements and a stronger profile with non-political campaign organisations. We have so much untapped potential in the party.

Finally, and possibly controversially, we should seek to work with our counterpart LGBT groups in the other political parties where possible on joint campaign work. Half the battle is changing the mood music on political issues and a united front across the board would assist this. I am a firm believer that there are bigger issues than party political advantage.

This is a considerable programme of action - and I am personally happy to put my money where my mouth is and put myself forward to help deliver on some of this. I'll be speaking up for this at the September Conference and I hope others will join me in striving for an energised group, orientated once more to become leaders in the equality debate as it enters a new chapter.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Green election victory in Brighton: But what next?

I can scarcely believe it. Early indications on Thursday night looked positive enough for us to hope we’d held firm and made advances in new areas. Even so, the scale of success for the Greens in the Brighton & Hove Council elections yesterday was shocking, even for those of us who had followed and worked on the campaign.

The results were:

Greens 23 (up 10 seats)

Conservatives 18 (down 8)

Labour 13 (no change)

Liberal Democrats 0 (down 2)

For me, this was definitely an election where local factors were as important as the national trends. Building upon the incremental progress over previous elections and the return of Caroline Lucas as the MP for Brighton Pavilion, our campaign has been characterised by good central organisation and tight devolved ward teams working closely in communities around the city.

As a campaign, the Greens remained wedded to our core principles and didn’t feel the need to be opportunistic or use underhand tactics. In a generally clean campaign, this wasn’t always the case with our competitors, who occasionally painted apocalyptic images of the city under Greens or tried to muddy our image amongst the LGBT community. In spite of this, our main message shone through: we remained steadfast against cuts aimed at front-line services. This continuity of purpose helped convince people that we deserved a chance to try something different.

However, in spite of the elation we feel today, unprecedented challenges already circle us. Of our new Councillors, the vast majority are newcomers to elected office and will have little time to make the leap from activism and electioneering to the realities of public administration. Greens don’t agree with the UK Government’s decision to cut the deficit so quickly. But now, as the largest party in the Council, we are responsible for dealing with unavoidable cuts to our settlement from central government and making sure the city continues to provide the services and support that our citizens depend upon. We must acknowledge that we will have to take decisions outside of our comfort zone.

How do we make this work? The enormity of this challenge means we have to look both outwards and inwards. After a relatively strained campaign with Labour, we need to mend fences quickly, identify the areas where our values mesh well and make common cause. At stake is the formation of an alternative to the ‘small state’ abandonment of those on low incomes. More than ever, we need to get serious about engaging business leaders about how we can marry green policies with an economic growth agenda.

Looking inwards, as a local party it would be easy to ignore the risks we confront as we bask in the warmth of this result. The rigours of this campaign have stretched our organisation beyond capacity. We need to ensure that we take the next few months to refashion our working methods in a way that strengthens the party’s ability to support our elected officers and hold them accountable internally. We need to invest in inspiring a new generation of party activists to replace those now charged with responsibilities to their constituents. This means a Party Executive that has the time and space to reflect upon the strategic horizon and lead, rather than acting as party administrators.

Most importantly, we need to realise that decision making amongst our Green Group of Councillors needs to be done more collectively. Coming to a consensus amongst 23 people will not always be possible. We should learn lessons from the Liberal Democrats and spend time together identifying our red line policies and principles where we vote as a bloc - whilst providing space for individual Councillors to vote according to their judgement on other issues.

Already, our opponents and the national media are looking to see how we function in office when given the chance to prove ourselves. It is no exaggeration to say that the reputation of the Greens nationally as a force depends on us here on the south-east coast getting this right.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Local Elections 2011: The battle for Brighton commences!

Early this morning, I found myself walking in drizzle towards a polling station in a staunchly Conservative corner of Brighton. I have to admit it felt that my start to this year’s local elections was an inauspicious one. In spite of first appearances, it is turning out to be quite a special day.

What has really struck me is the solidarity I felt with the people I’ve been matched with outside polling stations. I’ve chatted to more Conservative activists today than I’ve ever done before and in spite of being diametrically opposed to many of each other’s policies, it has been enjoyable to get a different perspective on Brighton life. On top of that, it’s heartening to hear from people passionate about putting their energies into our local community. My faith in human nature has received a boost today from the most unlikely quarter.

But how is the election looking on the ground at 7pm? I’ve spent around six hours monitoring votes outside polling stations throughout the day and I’ve been surprised at the complete lack of Labour or Liberal Democrats activists working alongside us. In both wards I’ve been in (Withdene and Queen’s Park), Labour is the obvious challenger to the incumbents, yet I’ve not seen anybody gathering up data for tonight’s “knocking up” of voters. This will cost them valuable time tonight in mobilising their vote.

That lack of organisation, especially in Queen’s Park, where they have put a massive amount of money, activists and time in to try and dislodge our three Green councillors, has taken me aback a little. Others are reporting a similar lack of sightings of Labour activists in both this ward and others. Either there is a strategy to focus heavily elsewhere in the city or the rumours of their renewed strength have been exaggerated.

It is obvious that turn-out is going to be a little lower than expected too. Although I’ve worked some of the less prominent time-slots, I was surprised at how patchy the numbers were coming through the door. That said, those individuals coming in were younger than I’ve seen previously, so we may be getting the vote out well for the Greens and potentially the AV referendum.

I’m heading out again to try and encourage voters into the polling booths fairly soon, but will try and tweet updates from both the street and the count in the next few hours too. Watch this space and my twitter feed for more detail!

Next week, I’ll be analysing the impact they will have upon Brighton Council in some depth and how the Greens locally should react to the new political circumstances here. I’ll also be unravelling the aftermath of the AV campaign, which at this stage is looking exceptionally disappointing for those of us who support a change in the electoral system.

And a final word for all my colleagues within Brighton & Hove Green Party, who have been an inspiration for their commitment not just to working the campaign, but for taking the time to engage so regularly and energetically with the people we hope to represent. I really hope that their efforts translate into a chance to build and sustain new ambition for this city.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The blogging story so far... green shoots

I thought I’d throw up a very quick and short entry to take stock of where things are with the Green Politics: Sustainable Futures blog. Just making regular time to put pen to paper has been really inspiring for me, as it is forcing me to sharpen my thoughts about policy and strategy more clearly than I’ve ever done before. I’m hoping to translate this into practical action in the coming months. Watch this space for more on that!

I’ve really appreciated hearing from those of you who have also provided feedback. I'm hoping to take into account your views and ideas in my writing of future articles, as well as working up an analysis of what I feel these current elections mean for both national politics and Green Party strategising. I’m keen that this blog is as interactive as possible, so I'm keen for you to continue writing in or commenting upon the articles, especially if there are topics you’d like me to feature or consider more closely.

In practical terms, the blog has received over 400 hits in the two weeks since I started and the number of followers on Twitter is steadily climbing above 100. I am announcing the publication of each new article there and give additional short updates on current news events. I’ve also added an option to subscribe by email or add yourself as a “blog follower” on the main navigation column of the site too. If you missed any of the earlier articles, you can access them through the right-hand navigation too - worth a glance!

To finish, I wanted to add a link to one of the most established and consistently well-written Green blogs, the Daily (Maybe). It recently published an examination of the state of play for the Scottish Greens going into the assembly elections this week that really excited me and I’d encourage you to take a look, as in the current climate positive news seems especially welcome right now!

Onwards and upwards...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

When politics gets in the way of reform: lessons from Student Pride

Now the royal wedding has passed, it feels like the national conversation is turning squarely to the local elections and AV referendum later this week. In line with the temperature rise outdoors, this debate is becoming increasingly heated.

I’m quite enjoying a flurry of Green Party activity: canvassing voters, press-ganging my loved ones to help me stuff piles of direct-mail envelopes and yesterday, manning a stall here in Brighton with LGBT Green colleagues at Student Pride 2011

I confess it was my first visit to Student Pride and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. First impressions were worrying: the VIP-only champagne lounge that most people seemed to have access into (I never saw the delights), free slices of pizza handed out faster than club flyers and streams of staff from event sponsor Ernst & Young dashing around trying to look busy.

But then the students arrived and I have to say how impressed I was with them. Whilst everyone was obviously enjoying their weekend away meeting new people, there was a tremendous appetite for political action. Caroline Lucas drew the loudest cheer from the audience for her introductory address and she succeeding in marrying some of the fiercest concerns of the audience to the wider political issues facing the UK.

Of the other speakers, John Amaechi, the ex-NBA sports star cum political commentator definitely proved himself worth following more closely. When talking about homophobia within the school system, he struck a challenging yet mature stance. He argued that we need to understand the motivations behind children’s fear of difference and work to problematise casual homophobia as thoroughly as we have with racism. He pointedly resisted the urge to demonise anyone. At an event where the need for positive LGBT role-models was frequently cited, his involvement was a sound choice.

Of the main political parties, only ourselves and the Liberal Democrats made a decision to attend and speak directly with students. In quite a savvy move, I noticed that the Lib Dems were eager to detoxify their brand, as their display consisted of around 90% Yes to AV material. Whilst we gamely offered to help with selling the AV campaign and had some considerable success in changing minds, I have to confess they were less respectful to us as we were to them!

What clues did our experience hold for the election? Mainly, that the Green Party enjoyed a deepening level of support amongst the students here. Yet this was tempered by the realisation that many of these same students rejected AV vigorously. When we talked about how AV would benefit the smaller parties, it became apparent that a great deal of people still didn’t know much about the issues. Comparing AV to X-Factor voting works wonders, however!

Most concerning was that nearly all the students we spoke to who came out automatically against a “yes” vote argued that it was because the Liberal Democrats were championing it. That was the most shocking part of my experience - how visceral the sense of betrayal and subsequent hatred has become towards them. I honestly don’t see how this level of toxicity towards the key architects of this referendum can be defused before Thursday. In the short term, this rejection of the Liberal Democrats can reap us some political dividends, but the loss of momentum towards electoral reform threatens our longer-term prospects much more. Things are about to get much harder.