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The Greens should fear Zac Goldsmith

In an election where the party must aim to do better than the good showings of 2008 and 2012, Zac Goldsmith poses a real threat, warns Jon Bartley.

I’m going to be straightforward. Zac Goldsmith has done more for the green cause within the Conservative Party than anyone else. He’s taken opposing positions from his own party’s leadership, most probably at the expense of a promising Cabinet career. On opposing Heathrow expansion and giving constituents the right to recall their Member of Parliament I, like many others, would be in agreement with Zac.

This makes Zac Goldsmith the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party at next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly election.

But Londoners must not be taken in. While Zac Goldsmith talks a good game, he shares the same economic values as the rest of the Conservative Party. On taking steps to remove the UK from Europe, ending the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for college students in England and dismantling social security for those who physically and mentally cannot work, Zac Goldsmith has been a loyal Conservative and marched through the same lobby as David Cameron and George Osborne.

When it comes to creating opportunities for new Londoners from overseas, fixing the scourge of the free market in the private rented sector and making local economies more resilient to the volatile antics of banks, Zac Goldsmith has been absent.

The unrestrained economic model Zac Goldsmith and George Osborne both subscribe to is not only the underlying driver of the environmental and energy crisis we are facing, but it is also inhibiting the solutions we need to mitigate the impact of climate change on our standard of living.

I’ve been telling Greens that I believe next year’s election will be a make or break moment for the party. While previous showings in 2008 and 2012 were good for the Greens - despite the squeeze from Boris and Ken - a Zac Goldsmith candidacy poses a new threat, not only with traditional Green voters but voters we hope to win for the first time.

When I was part of Jenny Jones’ mayoral campaign team in 2012, the focus was the usual green issues of safer cycling, air pollution and London’s ongoing housing crisis. These are all important. But the problems are a symptom of a much bigger issue; every aspect of London life is being turned into a commodity.  

Commercial haulage is prioritised over the lives of cyclists. Property speculation is encouraged at the expense of those who just want a decent home. Polluters are favoured over those who want clean air to breathe.  Cuts to public services are the result of pursuing credit-fuelled, and often illusory, growth. Everything is assigned a price. The highest bidder wins.

It is imperative that Greens move out of our comfort zone and show our widespread appeal. This won't be a referendum on air quality or climate change, but a battle for the kind of city we all want London to be. This is why I’m proposing a practical Green offer for every single Londoner.

London is a world-class city. But what Zac Goldsmith might not realise from his seat in Richmond is that too often Londoners aren’t getting the world-class jobs or the world-class services we deserve.

Good jobs for young people, affordable homes for every family, opportunities for new Londoners, stronger local economies and a transport network we can all be proud of. That’s my offer for Londoners if I’m selected as the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor.

The Green Party cannot fight this election from our historical strongholds and cannot consign ourselves to speaking solely to the City’s protest groups. London’s Greens need a candidate for Mayor who can take our offer to Londoners whether they are in Richmond, Redbridge or any other borough.

All the frontrunners from the two big parties are experienced, battle-hardened politicians. They know how to play the game. Greens need to select a candidate who can go toe-to-toe with Zac Goldsmith and provide a renunciation of his economic values. More importantly, they need a candidate who can articulate an offer that can appeal to every Londoner and a candidate who is capable of building a competitive campaigning organisation in all thirty-two boroughs.  

Zac Goldsmith is perhaps the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party in the capital but Green Party members can seize the moment and make next year’s election a genuinely Green one.

 

Jonathan Bartley is running to be the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London. He is the Green Party's national Work and Pensions spokesperson and was the Parliamentary candidate for Streatham at the 2015 general election. He is a founder and co-director of Ekklesia, a radical Christian think-tank. He tweets as @jon_bartley

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear