The Labour party has recently accepted that the Green party is doing on the left what Ukip is doing on the right, if a little more slowly. Acknowledging with alarm the “Green surge”, it has created a national anti-Greens unit, headed by shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, to “reach out to a group of voters who lie to the left”. But will the unit offer those voters anything real to vote for? Or will it just attack the Greens, saying whatever it likes to harm the party of real social change?
In its first few weeks, the new unit’s work has merely reinforced the very reason why Labour voters are increasingly turning to the Greens: Labour doesn’t offer a positive vision or a progressive political platform of its own but instead spends its time bashing those who do. It no longer offers an alternative to the vested interests of big business and the establishment because it is immersed in that establishment.
And rather than address this failure, Labour instead speaks about it with a forked tongue. While Labour leader Ed Miliband talks of defending the NHS, bolstering local government and standing up for working people and the disadvantaged, shadow chancellor Ed Balls promises to out-Tory the Tories on cuts to government and welfare. Labour talks of a half-hearted mansion tax but not a wealth tax on the top 1 per cent, and of addressing climate change while failing to oppose fracking and growth in the fossil fuel industry.
That forked tongue stretches into Khan’s anti-Greens lair, where Plan A is to try to discredit the Green vanguard in Brighton and Hove, which is home to Britain’s first Green MP and first Green council, and which Khan has recently visited.
That plan got its first public airing recently on the Staggers, where Steve Bassam, Labour’s chief whip in the Lords, laid into Brighton and Hove’s Green council.
He launched his attack with: “Elected on a ‘No Cuts, No Privatisation’ ticket, they’ve delivered cuts totalling 50 per cent”. But he has dreamed this up. In fact, the Greens were elected on this ticket: “Resist, to the greatest extent possible, the service cuts and privatisation imposed on local councils . . . “ And that is what we’ve been doing, to the greatest extent possible in a local authority whose purse strings are controlled by Whitehall and where, elected without a majority, Greens need the cooperation of opposition councillors.
Have the Greens “delivered cuts totalling 50 per cent”? Cuts of around that figure have been imposed by Westminster, yes, but by intelligently husbanding resources, rooting out inefficiency and greening the council’s building stock, and with great support from council staff, only a very small fraction of cuts have so far been passed on to the frontline of council services.
To date, for example, we’ve kept all libraries and children’s centres open, imposed no compulsory redundancies on council employees, continued financial support for the third sector, significantly increased spending for the city’s most vulnerable and have not privatised any in-house services. Indeed, our first act on coming to office was to raise the earnings of minimum wage council employees to the Living Wage.
There is probably not a Labour council in the land that can claim to have scuppered coalition plans so effectively. Some have presided over carnage. Look at Newham’s decision to evict single mothers.
Meanwhile, egged on by Bassam, Labour in Brighton and Hove has consistently tried to wreck Green spending plans. For three years running, it has vetoed all Green proposals for modest council tax rises to offset cuts. It prevented the launch of a food waste scheme and then complained about recycling rates. It has tried to block investment in the city’s business infrastructure. All this refusal to cooperate (Labour also turned down several invitations to form a coalition) has earned the Labour leader the nickname “Councillor No”.
On the Staggers, Bassam goes on to claim, “They said they would build 1,000 new affordable homes but have not even reached a third of that”. Again, just not true. Our commitment was to “begin a programme” on that scale and we’re doing well: 751 affordable homes are already in the programme (with almost 400 delivered) and we’ve also brought a staggering 876 empty homes (private and council) back into use.
And so it goes on. Bassam attacks the Greens’ record on education when we’ve seen A-level results rising above the national average,the best GCSE results ever and a new secondary school in the pipeline.
He attacks our radicalism, yet we were the first English council to refuse to evict for bedroom tax arrears while Labour councils were happy to do the government’s dirty work. We’re also widely praised for groundbreaking work on equalities, particularly for LGBT people, and in finally introducing genuine equal pay for male and female council staff at a time when, elsewhere, women still lag behind men by 15 per cent.
Economically, we’ve won almost £60m in external funding, which has paid not just for new housing but for miles of reconfigured roadways, cycle lanes and the restoration of inner city parkland, significantly reducing road deaths and casualties, improving the look and air quality of the city and winning a slew of awards.
And our economy, thanks in part to support for our key creative, technical and tourism industries, has grown throughout the recession and is blossoming.
Rob Shepherd is a Green Party media officer and a Green candidate for Preston Park, Brighton, in the 2015 council elections