Taking a lead

The race is on to be the first ever leader of the Green Party. Here candidate Caroline Lucas MEP set

I've applied for a new job, and next weekend the selection panel will deliver its judgement. I'm standing to be elected as the first ever leader of the Green Party, and on 6 September the result of a ballot of every party member will be announced at our autumn conference.

It would definitely be the biggest challenge I've ever taken on - but it’s also a vital opportunity to take the Green Party into the heart of British political debate.

So what are we proposing that is so radically different, and so urgently needed? Let me outline just a few of the issues.

With the impact of the credit crunch biting deeper every day, re-regulating our financial system has to be a priority, and not in a timid or piecemeal way. Successive governments have listened only to those arguing in favour of greater profits for the financial industry.

Greens believe the banking system should be regulated for the benefit of the consumer - not for maximum profits – and would ensure that ideas like the Tobin tax on currency speculation are actually pushed forward, and implemented for social as well as economic benefit.

But we don’t only face a financial crisis. In fact, it’s a triple crunch of financial meltdown, an accelerating climate crisis, and soaring energy prices underpinned by an encroaching peak in oil production, all of which have their origins firmly rooted in the current model of globalisation.

That means that we need not only a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, but also a massive and sustained programme to invest in energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.

We need a “carbon army”, trained and ready to take up the huge job opportunities that will come from a switch to a zero carbon economy. That means skilled jobs for a massive switch to micro, small scale and more localised power generation, a huge expansion in public transport provision and investment in energy efficient technology.

There is another crucial reason why Britain needs Green leadership now. Voter turnout at all elections has been falling. Fewer than one in four people vote in many local elections. Most people simply can't see any difference between politicians from any of the three main Westminster parties. Minor divergences in economic management emerge from time to time, but the paradigm of privatisation, liberalisation and free market dominance has killed off many progressive policies.

A lack of respect for the British people on European issues, with the government of the day promising a referendum on a constitution, but no referendum on an edited version which passes through Parliament as a Treaty, undermines the social contract between voters and politicians. Angry, and faced with such lack of choice, where are increasing numbers of voters heading? We've seen that the Greens have continued to make progress, but so have the BNP. Our politics of hope are being pitted against their politics of hate and ignorance.

In next year's European Elections, the race for fourth place really does matter, as Raphael Behr's recent Observer article makes clear. The proportional system of elections means that only in the very largest regions, have more than four parties won seats. In regions with eight seats or less, no fifth placed party has ever been elected.

Most political commentators seem to expect UKIP's vote to collapse, as it did in the London Assembly Elections. During this Parliament they have lost three of their 12 MEPs through financial scandal or internal bickering.

No one expects a repeat of UKIP's Kilroy-Silk fuelled protest vote in 2009.

That means the onus is on the Greens to grow faster and ensure positive politics and the opportunity for real change leaves the BNP where they should remain – out in the political cold. To do that, we will need to beat them in every region where they pose a threat, including London, where the BNP won an Assembly seat this year, and the North West region, where Nick Griffin has installed himself as the BNP's lead candidate.

But the politics of hope relies on activists willing to help us get our positive message out to every disillusioned, demoralised and desperately unhappy voter in the next two years. We need inspiration from the bottom up as well.

We need many of the 200,000 members who once supported the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, but have drifted away disillusioned with a lack of delivery, to re-engage with politics. The Green Party wants to renew the hope and the belief that politics can and will make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, something central to the record of Green councillors up and down the country. A professional, and progressive team are ready to take the Greens to the heart of British politics, not just at a local level, but also at Westminster. In both the Brighton Pavilion and Norwich South constituencies, local support for the Greens is stronger than for any other party, and we believe there will be Green MPs elected in two years time.

We need a Green vision at the heart of British politics. We need activists willing to become leaders in their own communities. Leaders who deliver warmer homes for pensioners, lower fuel bills for young families and who deliver real jobs for communities dependent on low paid service industry work that is evaporating as the British economy grinds to a halt.
 
I have to wait until 6 September until I know whether I get the job, but if you are persuaded about what we are trying to do, what are you waiting for?

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser