Archive for May, 2010

For a National Living Wage Unit

Everyone, regardless of which party they belong to, has an affinity or commitment to a particular policy, something that makes them really proud to belong to that party. In my case, it is the Green Party’s commitment to a national living wage for the lowest-paid earners.

The origins of this aspiration extends right back into the 19th century with Catholic social teaching, enshrined in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which contains an early notion of the living wage (“wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner”).

The first, real UK campaign for a living wage started with the London Citizens movement, who launched the London Living Wage Campaign back in 2001. During his 2004 re-election campaign, Ken Livingstone proposed the establishment of a Living Wage Unit to calculate the cost of the real minimum wage needed in London to ensure that London’s lowest paid workers received an annual income above the poverty threshold. This unit was welcomed by the Green London Assembly Members (AMs) and remains a cornerstone of Green Party policy in the capital and beyond.

We must now turn our attention to lobby the Government to establish a National Living Wage Unit to highlight the forgotten issue of poverty pay. Whilst cynics out there will doubt that there is any realistic chance of the Con-Dem Government establishing a National Living Wage Unit, if Greens were to lead on this issue, working alongside community organisations, trade unions and faith groups, then the momentum could certainly get behind the initiative.

If we are looking to put down our flag at Westminster, this is it. But, the campaign can go beyond Westminster and feed directly into our local election campaign right across the country in every unitary, county and district authority, all levels of Government have a duty to combat poverty pay within their own structures, but also in their own locales. We must draw upon the campaign success of London Citizens, and propel the issue to the forefront of British politics.

Whilst the other parties are all talking cuts, we can respond by talking about pay, poverty and the ever-growing wealth gap. By running a campaign as a national party, with Caroline Lucas acting inside Parliament raising the profile of the campaign through questions and other Parliamentary means, we can really get the public to ‘think again’ about the party and our trajectory.

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‘No’ to the “progressive majority”, ‘Yes’ to reform

At the moment, we are hearing talk from Labourites, social Liberal Democrats and even some Greens, about the potential for a “progressive majority” coalition or, as the right-wing press likes to call it, a “coalition of losers.”

Some debate is happening about the role of Brighton Pavilion’s new Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in such a coalition. This morning, on Radio 4’s ‘Today Show’, Caroline Lucas said the following:

“This has been getting called a progressive coalition, but I have to say from our perspective there isn’t very much that’s progressive about Labour or indeed, in many respects, the Liberal Democrats.

So this is hopefully a coalition of reform, but I think in order to earn that name, if you like, then thorough going electoral and political reform absolutely has to be at its heart.”

This couldn’t be more true. As Greens, we really have to question the “progressive” nature of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Just like the Conservatives, both parties propose cutbacks and further privatisation as a means of “economic recovery”, neither party wants to accept that what we really need is a massive Government investment package in jobs, the scrapping of our entire nuclear arsenal, the cutting off of tax loopholes and the raising of tax for the well-off and, the protection of every last public service that activists and campaigners have fought tooth and nail to see materialise over the last 50 plus years.

We can of course support any move closer to proportional representation and fundamental reform of our electoral and political systems. Our Parliamentary codes and practices have not undergone any radical change since the 19th-century and now, more than ever before, we have to look at fixing the broken system.

Whilst full and proper PR is desirable, it remains unlikely that we’ll see a voting system where every vote counts. The Alternative Vote (AV) isn’t good enough and is not nearly democratic enough, let alone being proportional. As a cynic, I think the best deal progressives could wrangle would probably be a referendum on AV+. Once again, not perfect, but it is considerably better than AV. If anything more proportional looked likely, I would argue for that but, this is significant, throughout the election the Lib Dems were not talking up the single transferable vote (STV), they’re not even discussing that now.

But, what should the Greens demand? We should demand for the most proportional offer that any party is talking about whilst pointing out the faults and deficits of AV and AV+. We should also be talking about how it is not only just Westminster elections that need reforming but local ones too. We need to be arguing for PR to be introduced for local elections right across the country, along with devolving more power and authority to local councils. We should not be forgetting about reform of the House of Lords. We need to remind the public that 2/3s of our democratic institutions are not elected by them, but are either hereditary or nominated by sitting MPs, usually from the Government benches.

However, and this is important, if in the event that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party decided to enter upon any agreement, be it a “progressive” coalition or a “reform” agreement as Caroline has suggested, then it would be down to Caroline’s constituents, the voters of Brighton Pavilion, to have their say about what kind of role Caroline Lucas should have. It is not for us as a party to decide, it is for those people who did the bold, brave and brilliant thing of electing Caroline to be their MP. A public meeting, open to all shades of opinion from her constituents, would be the most open, honest and transparent way for Caroline to make her decision.

I say, let the voters of Brighton Pavilion be the Kingmakers, not us.

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The one thing we can be absolutely certain about from the General Election is the fact that every single party lost. Brown lost seats and lost the popular vote, Clegg lost seats and failed to capitalise on the post-Leaders Debate momentum and Cameron failed to get an overall majority. Only three parties gained seats on the night, the Conservatives, the Alliance Party (who took Belfast East from Peter Robinson and the DUP) and, of course, the Green Party, who took the seat of Brighton Pavilion.

This is an historic first for the Greens. These are uncharted waters made even more complicated by the fact that we have a hung Parliament. However, Caroline is used to firsts and will have no trouble getting to grips with the intricacies of Westminster politics.

But, and this is perhaps the most important thing of all, despite the squeeze felt in London and elsewhere, the Greens have momentum.

For the Green Party in Brighton, this momentum could be translated into another historic first in a year’s time – the first ever Green council. Critics might point out that across Brighton and Hove, the combined vote put the Greens in fourth place, behind the Lib Dems. I don’t dispute this but, and critics need to know this, we were also fourth across Brighton and Hove following  the 2005 election, only to then turn the momentum into 12 council seats (13 since last year’s epic win in the Goldsmid by-election).

So, how can this come to be? Where can the Greens possibly take seats? Well, whilst I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the returns from Thursday night’s count, I believe there are several seats in play come next May.

The Greens need 27 seats to take the council and secure a majority, a big ask but, the Greens have a habit of doubling their council numbers in Brighton and Hove. Let’s see what they can take.

The Greens already have one seat in Preston Park (the always brilliant Amy Kennedy) and should be able to bag the other two this time round.

Following on from Alex Phillips’ win in the Goldsmid by-election last summer, the Greens can target the remaining two seats in the ward.

Another opportunity for the Greens in Hove, might be the ward of Central Hove. Currently Tory, but bordering Goldsmid, Central Hove is a vulnerable seat that may succumb to a Green surge across the city.

Also up for the grabs is the Lib Dem ward of Brunswick and Adelaide. The Lib Dems will be throwing everything they’ve got at trying to hold it but, Lib Dem voters might be swayed into going Green at the prospect of the Greens taking majority control of the council.

Coming back to the Pavilion constituency, all the remaining seats should be Green targets. The Conservative vote has proven to have flatlined across the constituency, including the “heartlands” of Patcham and Withdean. The Greens have every chance to take a seat (or more) in both.

Going after Labour seats, Hollingdean and Stanmer Park could easily fall to the Greens who can now bank on the student vote making a strong showing. With enough work, and careful targeting of their key demographic, the Greens could potentially take all three seats from Labour.

Likewise in Moulscoomb and Bevendean. Currently a mixed ward of two Labour councillors and one Tory, the Greens can force Labour onto the back foot. Considered “safe”, the Tories pinching a seat in 2007 is a sign that this is far more vulnerable than previously assumed.

The final ward which, to some, will seem laughable is, Rottingdean Coastal. Probably the longest shot for the Greens, this “safe” Tory ward has probably been taken for granted, with new voters from the urban city centre moving out to the village over the past three years, the Greens might be able to take at least one seat off the Tories. Don’t rule it out.

So, if I was to work out the numbers on this, the Greens would need to take the two seats in Brunswick and Adelaide, at least one in Central Hove, the remaining two in Goldsmid, all three in Hollingdean and Stanmer, at least one in Moulscoomb and Bevendean, two in Patcham (yes, I am that optimistic), two more in Preston Park, one in Rottingdean (wait and see) and one in Withdean (maybe two). Thus bringing a net gain of 15 new Green councillors. Combining this with the 13 existing councillors (with no losses), the Greens would have a grand total of 28 councillors and a majority administration.

I would not rule out the possibility of the Greens taking majority control. Critics will detract from this but, they will not have factored in the “Lucas effect”, nor the Greens “big mo.”

It is no easy task, far from it, it is a colossal challenge. However, with the current leftwards trajectory, the fact that the Greens are ideologically identifiable as a left-wing party committed to social justice, fairness and protection of public services, makes it far more likely for the Greens to attract idealistic and progressive voters to the party and our positive politics.

In the meantime, the Greens need to get on the ground, to continue campaigning, to further improve our links with trade unionists and the labour movement, to work with community groups, taking on casework from those outside of the wards (and constituency) we currently represent and to make the case for a Green, progressive Brighton in 2011.

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Caroline Lucas: Our First Green MP

Sorry for my lack of posting anything for nearly a month. I have been absorbed in this election and my energies have been directed elsewhere. But, after a long, hard slog, she did it, Caroline Lucas is now Caroline Lucas MP!

This is a big first, this is massive for the Greens and even bigger for Brighton Pavilion. After seeing the Greens get squeezed in London where, unfortunately, we lost a number of council seats (well done to Darren Johnson holding on in Lewisham and Maya de Souza in Camden), we got the big one.

Caroline Lucas MP (I can’t stop adding MP) will raise the Greens national profile tremendously. It dispels all the old myths that the “Greens can’t win”, that “a vote for the Greens is a wasted one” or, my favourite one from Labour activists, “voting Green lets in the Tories.” Actually, a vote for the Greens lets the Greens in.

Brighton has done something amazing. Voters in Pavilion ignored the politics of fear whipped up by the two parties that it is either going to be Labour or the Conservatives and instead voted for something they wanted. They have given the Greens a majority of 1200 on an 8.4% swing from Labour. A massive well done to Brighton Pavilion voters, you have done Britain proud.

A another big well done (and a massive thank you) needs to go to everyone in the Green campaign team, all the councillors, all the volunteers, even those who came from far away and abroad (yes, a couple of Canadians came over to help Caroline). Without the help of every last person, from the press office to those delivering leaflets, it could not have been achieved without the input of every last person who was involved in the campaign.

The hard work now begins. Caroline and the party have a lot of people to thank, a lot of people to see and a lot of people to work on behalf of. Caroline’s priority is to Brighton Pavilion and her constituents. Her record will be judged by Pavilion voters and Pavilion voters alone. I have no doubt that Caroline will be an excellent constituency MP. As an MEP she always put the South-East first, she put her constituents first, and she will do the same for the people of Brighton Pavilion.

Commiserations to Nancy Platts and Charlotte Vere. I know both put a lot of  time and energy into fighting the seat. But, at the end of the day, voters ignored the national polls, they ignored the national picture and they voted for what they wanted, a Green MP. That is what they got, they now have a local champion in Caroline Lucas MP.

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