Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Saturday, 28 May 2011
Thursday, 26 May 2011
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
Saturday, 21 May 2011
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Sunday, 1 May 2011
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.