Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred