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The time has come for the Greens to come of age

The Greens have a choice: persist with the old failed approach and get the same old disappointment. Or we can take ourselves seriously. 

I welcome the debate with my colleague Sian Berry on how the Green Party approaches next year’s Mayoral and Assembly elections in London. As I said last week on the Staggers, I believe it will be a make or break election for the Greens. Our party has come of age to meet the challenge but we cannot retreat to our comfort zone.

I’m glad Sian has engaged in this debate. Our decision on this question will determine our success or failure next year. There is now a clear choice for members in London about the kind of party we want to be.  

I believe I am the candidate who can best take the fight to the Tories and keep Labour honest, while winning new Green voters beyond our strongholds.

I made it clear last week that Zac Goldsmith is tied to the same unrestrained economic model as the rest of his party. But let’s be under no illusion, he will make a play for potential Green voters, and he is backed by the most ruthlessly efficient Conservative machine since Thatcher. Where I differ from Sian is that I won’t underestimate our political opponents. Nor will I write-off the half of London who backed Boris.

Blind faith in London’s anti-Tory majority broke many hearts as Boris won successive contests – including when Sian stood in 2008. How many commentators really believed that an old Etonian representing a rural seat in Oxfordshire could be elected the Mayor of metropolitan, liberal, anti-Tory London? Twice!

We can’t be complacent. The tactics of the past won’t cut it in 2016. The scale of our ambition must be greater than any election we’ve fought in our history.

This is not the time to throw away our hard-won gains on romantic notions of mass street protests. Nor can our election in London be based on the exhilarating ‘Yes’ campaign in Scotland; a cross-party endeavour that was years in the making.

We have to understand that the Mayoral election is not the general and it’s certainly not a local election. Traditional tribal loyalties aren’t prevalent when it comes to Mayoral contests.

If we follow the campaign model Sian advocates, we will fall into the trap set by the Tories and Labour, being little more than a marquee of pressure groups; sidelined and defeated. But now is the time for the Green Party to start showing its teeth.

If, when pensioners in Streatham had approached me to ask for my help to save their sheltered housing, I had suggested that they speak to Russell Brand and squat their homes, they would have rightly told me to go take a hike! What they wanted was political advocacy. That’s what I did and, together with my colleagues in the Lambeth Green Party and at City Hall, we saved their homes.

Of course we stand in solidarity with campaigners. The Green Party in London is united in our belief that Londoners need to be empowered. That’s fundamental to our values as Greens.

Yes, let’s renew our 2012 commitment to schemes such as participatory budgeting. And let us go further. Let’s give groups like Save Cressingham Gardens new powers to defend their estate. Let’s bring transport unions and cycling representatives onto the board of TfL. Let’s give victims a decision-making role in the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. But let’s not repeat the election campaigns of the past.

I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with teachers campaigning against cuts to Further Education, successfully battled to save sheltered housing and I was dragged off the steps of St Paul’s during the Occupy evictions. Like many Greens, my politics were forged in the crucible of protest.

But I’ve also seen political opponents attempt to exploit or co-opt campaigns for electoral advantage. It has been a monumental error. These activists derive their influence from being outside the political fray so they can hold politicians – like Sian and I – to account.

Groups such as  London Citizens – their leaders and organisers who are deeply rooted in London’s communities – are already ‘in the room’ at City Hall.

The Living Wage, ending child detention and securing 1,500 local jobs for the Olympics and Paralympics, were some of London Citizen’s finest moments and they achieved those wins without having to tie their fortunes to any political party.

This isn’t the time for comfort zone politics.  This isn’t the time to “act more like them”. It’s easy talking to the converted. But our core vote won’t be enough for the Green Party to make our mark in this campaign.

In 2012 over 20 per cent of Londoners trusted us with their second preference votes. They didn’t all live in Hackney and Camden, there would have been pockets of these people across London’s thirty-two boroughs. They aren’t activists and organisers, although some will be. Many of these people be will be hairdressers, call centre staff and even taxi drivers.

With Labour in disarray, trying to work out what it stands for, the Green candidate for Mayor will be the standard bearer for progressive politics in the capital. That is why we must not waste this moment.

We should have a conversation with all Londoners. Most of whom, whether red, blue, green or undecided, are not involved in activist politics. The Londoners who do the everyday things; dropping the kids off at school, jumping on the bus to work, collecting their pension, looking for a job, grabbing a coffee with friends and making the evening meal. This is where our conversation should be.

We know the Green Party has the right policies. We share the values of many people in this great city. But I want the Green Party to be a realistic choice for every Londoner.

If you want to change the world through single issue pressure groups, charitable work and direct action, I’m right behind you! I’ll march with you, I’ll organise with you.  But don’t ask me to convince my neighbours or the parents I speak to at the school gates to vote for you.
Being grown up about our politics isn’t Tory any more than it is Labour.  It is simply about having the confidence that the Green Party can get the best for Londoners. I want to seize this moment so the Green Party can take the next step towards becoming the third force in British politics.

Jon Bartley is a candidate for the Greens' mayoral nomination.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.