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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Goodbye to Terry Pratchett, the only writer who ever truly conquered my inner cynic

Finishing The Shepherd’s Crown was a double sadness: not just goodbye to Terry Pratchett, but goodbye to a younger, less cynical version of myself.

This is the season of goodbyes. At the weekend I visited perhaps the most beautiful museum on earth, the Louisiana art gallery in Denmark, and stood in the sculpture park next to the beach, watching the sailboats bob across the water. It was a perfect day, and its perfection made me unhappy. It was a ready-made memory: the last day of summer, 2015.

Still, I knew it wasn’t just the fading sunshine that was making the day so bitter-sweet. On the train out of Copenhagen, I had started to read The Shepherd’s Crown. It is the final Discworld novel; its author, Terry Pratchett, died of early-onset Alzheimer’s on 12 March, leaving behind dozens of brilliant books, and dozens more left unwritten. (His assistant Rob Wilkins notes in the afterword that “we will now not know how the old folk of Twilight Canyon solve the mystery of a missing treasure and defeat the rise of a Dark Lord despite their failing memories, nor the secret of the crystal cave and the carnivorous plants in The Dark Incontinent . . . and these are just a few of the ideas his office and family know about”.)

Pratchett was diagnosed with the illness that killed him in 2007. He called it “the embuggerance” and set about making every remaining day count. He wrote books even when he could no longer write, dictating them to Wilkins, and became an impassioned advocate for euthanasia. He wanted to die in his garden, he said, drinking a brandy, with Thomas Tallis on his iPod. (“Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’”)

Since March, I have been reading the few remaining Discworld books I never tackled during Pratchett’s lifetime. I had never got round to reading his series about the junior witch Tiffany Aching. Shamefully, I think I saw “young adult” and my inner dowager duchess reached for the smelling salts.

That was my stupid mistake. The Aching books are some of Pratchett’s best, and I fell so instantly in love that I had a passage from one of them at my wedding this summer. So The Shepherd’s Crown was a double sadness: not just goodbye to Terry Pratchett, but goodbye to new adventures for Tiffany Aching, to Nanny Ogg, to Greebo the smelly, one-eyed tomcat and to Magrat, the drippy hippie queen who nevertheless shot an elf in the eye with a crossbow through a keyhole when her friends were in danger.

Most of all, it was goodbye to Esme Weatherwax, who dies right at the start of the novel. Like all witches, she gets some advance warning – in her case, the premonition comes as she’s cleaning the privy. She spends her last day scrubbing her tiny woodland cottage from top to bottom, choosing a spot for her grave and weaving a makeshift coffin from switches of willow. And then she goes to her bedroom and dies.

The quietness of it is what punches you. Like real deaths, there is no spectacle. It’s not freighted with meaning. It doesn’t function as a major plot point. It just is. And everyone else just has to go on.

If you haven’t read any of Pratchett’s books, it is hard to explain what Granny Weatherwax represents. She is probably the closest thing I have to a religion. She believes in hard work – delivering babies and clipping widowers’ toenails is a larger part of being a witch than using magic – without seeking glory or material reward. Like Samuel Vimes, Pratchett’s other great moral hero, she is unyielding (her nickname among the dwarves is Go Around The Other Side Of The Mountain) and immune to bribes or flattery. She is not without ego or pride but is always determined to do what is right, not what is most pleasant or easy. She is stubborn and austere and lives alone, but that is the price of doing what she does.

And I love her. I love her wholeheartedly, and without a wisp of the usual cynicism I would reserve for anything or anyone who is too good to be true. I love Terry Pratchett, too, and have done since the moment I picked up Mort, his fourth Discworld book, on a rainy holiday in Brittany two decades ago. His world-view has always been so humane, patient and forgiving, without ever lapsing into permissive do-gooderism or pessimistic libertarianism. Reading his books made me love the human race.

And that is what I was really saying goodbye to, as I snuffled quietly to myself on the train, surrounded by strapping Danes on a day trip to the countryside. I’m never going to love another author like I loved Terry Pratchett, because that love was born of being 13 and fat and lightly bullied, and because the internet these days is just a giant machine for telling you what’s wrong with the things you like. (There’s a dispiriting Tumblr called Your Fave is Problematic. Spoiler alert: all your faves are problematic.)

Scepticism is healthy, but cynicism is corrosive. And yet the tone of modern life is overwhelming cynical – how could it not be, when enthusiasm feels so uncool and criticism is so easy? Just as a pessimist is never disappointed, a cynic is never humiliated by the crushing of a deeply held belief.

I’m not exempting myself from this criticism. Just before I left for Denmark, I went to a Jeremy Corbyn rally at the Union Chapel in Islington. I felt like the only atheist at an evangelical church meeting. Everyone else seemed . . . happy. Uncomplicatedly, straightforwardly optimistic. Meanwhile, I was sitting at the back drafting snarky put-downs for when I retold the story.

Perhaps those people are doomed to disappointment over the next few months (although knowing all the words to “The Red Flag” suggests a certain resilience). Perhaps all the confident naysaying is right, and Corbyn will be a disaster. But still, his supporters will have experienced something I don’t think I ever will again, by daring to believe in a cause so unreservedly and wholeheartedly. Now that Terry Pratchett and Granny Weatherwax are dead, I worry that I will never again be more than a cynic. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses