Environmental viagra and the Green Goddess…

I heard on the Sunday of conference that I had been elected as the new female Principal Speaker of the Green Party, which is nice. Slight understatement; in reality it’s incredibly exciting, and a huge honour to be trusted by the Greens with being the public voice of the party, particularly as I’m taking over from Caroline Lucas MEP who has done such a fantastic job over the past three years.

Whenever I speak to anyone from outside the Greens, Caroline is always the person they know best from our elected representatives and always their favourite too. If we’re honest, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of us in public speaking terms and an almost impossible act to follow. I didn’t get into this for an easy life though, so I’ll press on and see what happens.

The title ‘Principal Speaker’ probably requires a bit of explanation too. In keeping with our radical roots, we eschew the ‘traditional’ models of leadership of the other parties, and the Shakespearean notion of concentrating power in one fragile individual. Instead we have a whole team of people who share the running of our affairs, including an executive committee with a Chair and a regional council made up of reps from the various regions, which performs check-and-balance type functions on the executive. Within the executive, we have two people - one man and one woman - who fulfill all the public functions that a ‘Leader’ from the other parties might. These include speaking engagements, TV and radio appearances and so on – hence they are called our ‘Principal Speakers’.

There you go, all perfectly simple, but most journalists refuse to include the above 128-word paragraph in their articles in order to explain our progressive stance on this matter. I can’t imagine why.

The first bit of coverage for my new role was an interview with the Independent on Sunday, who met me on the Friday of conference and then went away and produced this article. It was a pleasingly large bit of coverage, and the way they arranged the pictures with me on one side versus the three leaders of the other parties on the other (each with their eco-betrayals splashed across their portraits) was great, but the various nicknames I was given were a bit grating. ‘Green goddess’ is just too obvious and the best response I’ve had so far to the ‘pure environmental viagra’ line was from one of my day-job colleagues: “Nice work, keep it up!” Worth a prize I think.

I’m meeting the Daily Mail later on today. Given that the viagra comment came from the IoS of all places, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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