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!

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