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
Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

0800 7318496