The Green Party admits this election is about building momentum for success at the General Election 2020.
At the North East launch of its manifesto at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle, parliamentary candidates and members running in the local elections said their support had quadrupled in the past six months, which had set the scene of the party becoming a serious challenger over the next decade.
The Newcastle party now has 400 members and has five times as many candidates standing in the local council elections compared to 2014, and four times as many General Election candidates since 2010 across the North East.
However nationally it holds just one seat in Brighton, represented by former leader Caroline Lucas, and the party is yet to make inroads on any local council in the region.
Former Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Peter Thomson, who switched from Labour to The Greens, said:
“We believe we are going to pick up a lot of support. We’re not so stupid to think we can win a raft of seats but there’s a distinct possibility of more than one. For us it’s a process of building and the next election in 2020 will be the one where we will see a significant Green breakthrough.”
“In much the same way the SNP have proved themselves much more attractive, you are going to see that in the country as a whole – people will realise that there is a viable opportunity.”
As a representative of those who have shifted from Labour, Mr Thomson said the Green manifesto this week had proven that the party is one of the true left.
“I was a former Labour councillor for Elswick, but I’ve moved across to Green in the last year. I drifted across from the Labour party because I didn’t believe that it really did fight for social justice anymore or recognise the really serious nature of the neo-liberal crisis that effects the whole of our international economy and until we face up to that we are in deep trouble.
“This means we need to start addressing climate change and the things that drive it like unbridled development. I would have found it very difficult to be part of the city’s Labour council as they put through their Core Strategy for building new homes and I would have found it very hard to have sat through the cuts that Labour has been forced to make.”
Joining the parliamentary and local election candidates at the rally was Peter Pinkney, who is running for MP in Redcar, and as the president of the RMT union, one of the Green’s most high profile candidates.
He said Green party leader Natalie Bennett was a ardent campaigner on the RMT’s behalf against the privatisation of the railways.
“Whenever we have a campaign about re-nationalising the railways, or there’s picket lines and demonstrations – she’s there.
She’s given us support all along, as has Caroline Lucas, who moved a private members bill to re-nationalise the railways which is more than any Labour MPs have done.”
He said the fact Labour has set up a task force to attack the Greens was telling of the party’s threat of swiping votes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Apr 2015
Darlington: currently held by Jenny Chapman (Lab)
Jenny Chapman (Lab),
Mike Cherrington (Green),
Anne-Marie Curry (LD),
Peter Cuthbertson (Con),
Alan Docherty (TUSC),
David Hodgson (Ukip)
Hartlepool: currently held by Iain Wright (Lab)
Hilary Allen (LD),
Sandra Allison (Save Our Hospital),
Phillip Broughton (Ukip),
John Hobbs (Ind),
Michael Holt (Green),
Stephen Picton (Ind),
Richard Royal (Con),
Iain Wright (Lab).
Middlesbrough: currently held by Andy Mcdonald (Lab)
Craig Baker (Ukip),
Simon Clarke (Con),
Hannah Grahm (Green),
Richard Kilpatrick (LD),
Andy McDonald (Lab).
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: currently held by Tom Blenkinsop (Lab)
Tom Blenkinsop (Lab),
Martin Brampton (Green),
Ben Gibson (LD),
Will Goodhand (Con),
Steve Turner (Ukip).
Redcar: vacant – Ian Swales (Lib Dem) standing down.
Christopher Gallacher (Ukip),
Philip Lockey (North East Party),
Josh Mason (LD),
Peter Pinkney (Green),
Anna Turley (Lab),
Jacob Young (Con).
Stockton North: currently held by Alex Cunningham (Lab)
Mandy Boylett (Ukip),
Alex Cunningham (Lab),
Christopher Daniels (Con),
Adrian Sycamore (LD),
John Tait (North East Party).
Stockton South: currently held by James Wharton (Con)
Louise Baldock (Lab),
Drew Durning (LD),
Jacqui Lovell (Green),
Ted Strike (Ukip),
Steve Walmlsey (Ind Against Social Injustice),
James Wharton (Con).
We haven’t yet ordered our coffee and already Shirley Ford, a school administrator and lead campaigner for the North East Green Party, is racing through her lines.
“As of this morning, we had 22 candidates selected with another five possibles,” she says, as we find seats at a quiet South Shields seaside cafe.
“But things are changing so rapidly now. If you had asked me before Christmas, I would have told you something entirely different. We are a small party, we don’t have much money so it is all about candidates’ enthusiasm.”
She seems nervous, but it is an extraordinary time for the Greens. The so-called surge is in full swing.
Calls for Natalie Bennett to be included in the TV leaders’ debates intensified until the dam broke and broadcasters changed their stance in what has been celebrated as a watershed moment for the party. Now, after 20 years on the sidelines, the region’s handful of Green councillors find themselves in the spotlight and, sometimes, the firing line.
“Yes, but that is exactly what we wanted – to be taken seriously,” said Shirley.
And, it seems, times are changing. The party in the region has tripled its number of parliamentary candidates since 2010 and, Shirley, who is sporting a fern green jumper and matching coat, does not by any means predict a win, but she is brimming with optimism.
“Five years ago, we ran just seven candidates and that tells you where local parties’ strength was at,” she says, with a wry smile.
“We stood someone in South Shields, Gateshead, the three Newcastle seats, Tynemouth and Wansbeck. This time round we are looking at standing candidates in all but two seats. We might struggle to stand in Sunderland but things are changing every day.
“We didn’t think that Blyth Valley would have a candidate but suddenly we have had some key people joining there that have made it possible for members to select.”
The media glare, she says, is winning the party support but the Greens’ operation on the ground is gathering strength.
“I think that national and local media does make a difference as to what people think something is happening,” she said. “We don’t have very much money. It is up for members of each local party to raise the money for their deposit and for any research or materials.
“We have to be creative. We don’t have the resources to go and knock on everyone’s door or to carry out a poll of the constituency, but we are doing what we can.”
Shirley, who will stand in South Shields, was an organiser for the local Stop The War Coalition and has lobbied government as part of the Women in Black campaign against injustice, war and militarism.
“I joined the Green Party 11 years ago but I grew up in a family interested in politics,” she said. “I campaigned against apartheid when I was a student and I was always interested in human rights.”
She says people are finding the party via the Greens petitioning on specific issues, such their campaign against the Newcastle/Gateshead One Core Strategy, which could allow for homes to be built on greenbelt.
Greens are renowned for their passion for the environment and so have been smart in joining with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage to organisation clean-ups.
But what does it all add up to? Where does she think the Green Party will do well in the North East?
“Newcastle East is one to watch – we have been focussing campaign work in the Heaton area and we are very active in Jesmond,” she said.
“We campaigned during local elections on local issues, including on transport and housing. We have been in that area for two or three years building that campaign level up.
“We have been championing more affordable housing and we have seen a good response in the Newcastle North area. I think in Northumberland, in Hexham and Berwick, we will do well. The two parties wanted to link up on energy campaigning issues, such as the Druridge Bay opencast coal mining campaign.
“There has been a lot of – what’s the word – a lot of synergy. They have been linking up on local issues that they are passionate about and I think that comes across.
“We want people to get the message across we want renewable energy projects that are small scale that are not going to be having such a huge impact.”
While it isn’t likely the Greens can unseat the former Labour Minister Nick Brown in Newcastle East, it shows which demographic supports the Greens – students.
“In Durham, the party had been quite dormant but in the county council local elections we stood 15 candidates and we came second in the City of Durham division of Neville’s Cross,” she said.
“A good number of student residents live there. We also did well in other wards in the city where there is a high proportion of students.
“We have maintained the momentum that that gave us.”
So, the Green Party is relying on the region’s student vote?
“That is part of the strategy, to engage students and to encourage students to stand. Some of our parliamentary candidates are students. Middlesbrough and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are students, while others are Young Greens.”
The Greens are also popular among socialists after announcing the party would scrap Trident, renationalise railways and offer everyone a single payment ‘citizens income’, though the party has yet to set out exactly how that will be paid for.
> Well, just scrapping Trident alone would save around £1.5 BILLION a year, not to mention the plans to spend over £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.
But, Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT Union, is standing for the party in Redcar as a result, proclaiming that “the Greens are now the party of the left.”
Shirley said the move was welcome news:
“Peter has been a member for quite a long time now and he spoke at the Green Party conference 18 months ago on the whole railway issue. The national part is very excited about it.
“It is really exciting.”
It comes as the Greens announce membership nationally has grown by 120% this year. Now, their leader will share a platform with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
“It gives people a sense of a change and there might well be a place for a smaller party,” said Shirley.
“This lets people hear our policies and gives people a chance to make their own mind up.
“Last time, we imported the American presidential debate but that isn’t how our system works. You vote for your local candidate on policies and the debates last time didn’t reflect that.”
And it is on local issues that the Greens stand to make the most ground in this election.
The Coal Authority has granted licences for companies to explore parts of the North coast to see if underground coal gasification is possible.
The Green Party is mobilising its forces and it is when talking about this that Shirley is most animated.
“We are going to campaign on this off-the-coast, underground coal gasification because this issue has been bubbling along,” she said.
“We are keeping an eye out to see if there are any actual planning applications for anything onshore for both the drilling rigs and the processing plants.
“The argument that is always made is that we have got to have jobs – jobs jobs jobs – but they don’t think about the jobs that will be put at risk, such as tourism jobs and fishing jobs.”
Shirley is keen for the party not to be seen as an extension of eco-charities but as a party with a social agenda.
“We have petitions on particular issues in lots of places,” she said.
“Here in South Tyneside we have a schools campaign to bring back glass bottles and in Jarrow we have a petition to save the walk-in centre.
“We are trying to find solutions to the things that really matter to people.”
Winning in a region where Labour is so strong will be tough. On this issue, Shirley found herself agreeing with the leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who branded the North East a “one-party state” ruled by Labour.
Shirley says because of this dominance by the big parties, the Greens’ long game will be to campaign on voting reform.
“It is sad,” she said “It is partly our electoral system. All of the focus is on those marginal seats and if you are in a safe seat then you are very much taken for granted.
“That is one of the things we want to change.”
She added: “In 2010, a lot of people in the North East told us that they support Green but that they were going to vote Labour because of fear that the Tories could get in.
“Well, the Tories did get in anyway.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Feb 2015
The leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council has hinted that he could stand as a Green Party candidate after being deselected by the Labour party.
Councillor George Dunning, who expects to be removed as leader on Thursday, was one of ten Labour members who last week tore up their party card outside the office of the party’s would-be Redcar MP, Anna Turley.
The veteran Labour councillor was not selected, alongside his deputy Sheelagh Clarke and several members of his cabinet committee, by the party to fight in May’s council election.
Now he said he could stand as an Independent councillor but says several of the members have been approached by the Green Party.
Mr Dunning said:
“I expect to be thrown out as council leader as the Lib Dems move a motion of no confidence in me for a second time, the last time was September 2013. I expect that following Thursday’s council meeting I won’t be the council leader after being the longest serving Redcar and Cleveland Council leader. Options for me, and the other former Labour councillors, will then be considered.”
The news comes as a leading union official announced that he would be standing for the Green Party in the Redcar constituency.
“Obviously the Greens commitment to bring railways back into public hands struck a chord, but also policies to invest in the NHS, build social housing, institute higher taxes for those who can afford it, and put forward progressive policies on immigration informed my decision to stand.
“As a life-long socialist, I could see that most of the policies were what the Labour Party once had, but those days are long gone with Labour.”
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Feb 2015
The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015