Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Photo: Getty Images
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The Greens should relish, not fear, the chance to take on Zac Goldsmith

The last election showed that London is not a Conservative city - and is there for the taking, argues the Greens' Sian Berry.

My excellent colleagues Jonathan Bartley and Jenny Jones have both in recent months made comments implying that Green voters may be tempted to switch or transfer to the Tories if they select Zac Goldsmith. I think they are both mistaken.

I believe Jenny’s comments were really a criticism of Labour that was not quite correctly spun by the Evening Standard - essentially that there isn’t a lot to choose between the right wing Labour candidates like Tessa Jowell and Tories like Goldsmith.

Jonathan’s more recent proposition, on these pages, is less easy to understand. He says that Goldsmith would be “the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party at next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly election”.

He’s brushing over a simple and important fact, however. Zac Goldsmith, though he has an eco-sheen, is still a Tory, and all of the research and data on who votes and who might vote Green tells us the same thing: most Green voters would rather grate off their own nose than vote for a Tory who has backed austerity budgets five years in a row and a benefits cap which will drive poorer people out of our city. People really are not so fickle with their votes.

In the general election, London showed that it has a significant anti-Tory majority. The political opportunity for Greens next year, therefore, is to excite and mobilise this majority. Not to triangulate on the basis of an imagined flight to the Conservatives.

Like Jonathan, I’m standing to be the Green candidate for Mayor of London - I did this in 2008 and my experiences were written up for the New Statesman. want to represent the party again because I believe that we have a unique chance to build on the magnificent ‘green surge’ and engage our new supporters and the wider community with a campaign based on fully fledged Green politics.

I’m inspired by the campaign for Yes in Scotland, which saw a wide range of radical and community-based organisations engaging almost every single member of the population to join in a real political debate about what the future of their country might look like, and I want the same in London next year.

I think that to focus too much on the substantial powers of the Mayor and what our candidate can ‘offer’ to voters (particularly Tory voters) misses out an important part of the Green Party’s philosophical basis: our commitment to empowered, self-governing communities and “a society in which people are empowered and involved in making the decisions which affect them”.

In Camden where I serve as a councillor, I work with a very wide range of campaigners and civic groups. I spend as much time working with the Highgate Society and supporting my local library as I do working with unions, helping residents save trees on their estates and supporting single parents who are challenging the council’s new housing policies.

We need to show people a vision not simply of what we can give them if we win power, but of ways in which we will help them, individually and through their community organisations, to shape London for themselves if there’s a Green Mayor in City Hall. 

Building on what local Green parties are already doing, this is about working alongside local campaigns, making sure that when Canary Wharf Group comes in to talk to the Mayor we bring London Citizens into the room too, and also about real participation in decisions like budgeting - bringing people together to decide how to spend London’s funds for transport, police, economic development, housing and the fire service. In all these areas of policy, the people should set the agenda and decide the Mayor’s priorities in an ongoing and involving way.  

Groups like Reclaim London and Take Back the City are already exploring these ideas, linking up local campaigns, talking about about new ways of doing democracy and holding participatory meetings to find out what people need to live better lives in London.
As Greens, we should be backing these campaigns and acting more like them ourselves, not more like the Tories, if we’re not only to take City Hall but also help to give City Hall back to the people as well.

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
Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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