A Wasted Vote? Bunch of Yoghurt-Knitters? Single Policy Party?
When you hear the words “The Green Party”, what images does your mind conjurer?
- Would it likely involve a group of stereotypical vegan hippies protesting over the cutting down of trees for a new airport?
- Possibly a political party with well-meaning individuals but lack credibility and who are too idealistic in policy-making who are unlikely ever to govern?
- Maybe you see former leader Natalie Bennett stumble over figures in an interview with LBC ahead of the 2015 General Election?
- Or perhaps you envisage the sight of Caroline Lucas elected in the constituency of Brighton Pavillion in 2010?
On Sunday, 29 March 2015, I made the independent decision to become a member of the Green Party of England and Wales. This post explores my relationship with this particular political party over the past nearly five and a half years of my life and why I am proud to endorse the critical messages of the party.
Disclaimer: I recognise we all have our individual political opinions, and I have no intention to dismiss yours even if you have no determination to vote or become a member of the Green Party.
If you wish to comment on this post, please respect my political views. I also ask that you value other individuals who may have commented on this post too. I have outlined in my commenting house rules on my About page.
Politics during my childhood and teenage years (1989 to 2009)
When I was born, the United Kingdom was under the governmental rule of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. The Iron Lady had been Prime Minister for ten years; however, her time at Downing Street would come to an end in November 1990. Thatcher was the first woman to hold that office and had an infamous triple election success. Despite this, things were starting to wane for her, and her Conservative government, especially with the introduction of the Community Charge (nicknamed “The Poll Tax”), which saw riots in protest occur most notably in Trafalgar Square.
However, it would be her previously so faithful, deputy Geoffrey Howe tending his resignation criticising Thatcher’s handling of the UK’s relations with the European Economic Community (the formal name for the Common Market) which changed the direction. This episode of mutiny had echoes of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as another of her infamous pro-Europe former cabinet ministers Michael Heseltine exploited this crack and proposed a leadership contest.
Under the rules of a Conservative leadership contest, there are a series of ballots voted for by the Conservative MPs and conducted by the Conservative Private Members’ Committee (also known as the 1922 Committee). Margaret Thatcher knew to remain in her position as Prime Minister she needed the absolute majority and a lead over the runner-up of 15% of the total electorate (not just those who voted, in November 1990 a majority of at least 56 votes).
If no candidate achieves a sufficient majority, nominations re-open; therefore, this allows new candidates to come forward. A second ballot takes place one week later, at which only an absolute majority would is the requirement for a candidate to be successful. If necessary, the top three candidates from the second round would then go forward to a third and final round held under the alternative vote system.
Many believed that, if Margaret Thatcher did not achieve outright victory in the first round, she would either have to step down or else might suffer further challenges from heavyweight figures. Heseltine was considered a strong leadership contender in his own right, but many saw him as the opportunist and one to pave the way for victory by a new candidate in a later round, which turned out to John Major.
Thatcher stepped out of the race following the first ballot after falling four votes short of the required 15% margin. A week later, Heseltine pitted his wits against John Major and Douglas Hurd. This time Major won however still missed out the absolute majority, but instead of going to a third ballot, both Heseltine and Hurd stepped out of the race, meaning John Major would be invited by the Queen to form a government.
Major repaid his competitors by including them in his cabinet. Labour leader Neil Kinnock pushed Major for a General Election throughout 1991; however, it was not until the following year did the United Kingdom go back to the polls. Many pollsters were surprised that Major held firm and kept the Conservatives in power for a fourth successive term.
Five months following success, Major’s second ministry faced it’s first real blow with 16 September 1992 called Black Wednesday. This event was when the British government had to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) after a failed attempt to keep the pound above the lower currency exchange limit mandated by the ERM.
The rebounding of the British economy in the years after this episode led to a reassessment. As the Major government’s adoption of an inflation targeting policy as an alternative to the ERM set the foundation for a prospering economy in the years before the Financial crisis of 2007–2008, and the British public turned increasingly Eurosceptic.
Continued internal feuding over the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe seemed to be also affecting the confidence in a Conservative government. The recession concluded in April 1993 after nearly three years, and unemployment – which had been at almost three million by the end of 1992 – quickly began to fall. It had dropped below 2.5 million within two years of the recession’s end, and by the end of 1996, it was below two million. Freed from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the British economy outperformed the rest of the continent for the first time in a generation.
Although this opinion polls were still seeing a surge towards Tony Blair’s “New Labour” which saw oversaw changes in the way the more socialist party operated and moved forward. By 1997, the Conservative majority was decaying following several by-elections. In the Spring of that year, the United Kingdom voters changed the guard for the first time in eighteen years.
I still have faint recollections of seeing Blair’s victory parade boosted by the anthem of their campaign, D:Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better.” Blair was the firm leader that Labour had been hoping for in response to the Conservative stronghold. He continued to lead the country until June 2007 and equalling Margaret Thatcher’s successive electoral successes, even if his leadership alienated many traditional Labour voters as the rebranding took the Party away from the working-class roots and values many associates with the Party.
Following Blair’s resignation, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, took the reigns after beating John McDonnell comfortably in a leadership contest. Brown’s time in Number 10 was short managing just one ministry and two years and ten months in a job he had idealised over.
Making my vote count (2010 to 2015)
The 2010 General Election was the most significant for The Green Party as it finally saw the House of Commons doors open for a winning candidate. It would be a memorable occasion for Caroline Lucas as she ousted Labour’s David Lepper, who had become the first non-Conservative to win the seat in 1997. This would be a historic moment in British Politics and would see people take some notice of the Green Party.
This General Election was also the first I officially could vote in. As I had turned 18 in February 2007, my first few years of adulthood, allowed me to vote in local and European elections without much of a philosophy of who I wanted to succeed. I also did not know what each candidate or party had pledged. I just knew I felt it was essential to use my vote to say something.
My interest in politics was also developing all the time. I achieved this by watching comedies such as the BBC programme Yes (Prime) Minister, which explored the fictional rise of James Hacker played by Paul Eddington and ITV’s The New Statesman, which focused around the antics of Alan B’stard portrayed expertly by Rik Mayall. Both satirised the politicians and governments at the time of airing. I had also started to enjoy Spitting Image, a puppet sketch show, and understanding jokes and quips on other TV and radio comedically looking at the events in Westminster and beyond.
However, by the time the first General Election, I was starting to develop a mindset of which party could make my choice for and who I would like to see in government. However, I was not able to vote Green in the constituency of Derby North, where I was living at the time. Even though there was no indication of that was where most of my values lay and had no determination to join a political party.
So by the time Thursday 6, May 2010 came around, I had some idea of the different parties’ key policies. The candidates I had the opportunity from on my first ballot paper, included ones from Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, British National Party, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Pirate Party UK, and an independent.
The 2010 General Election brought with it a surprise outcome as the UK faced a hung parliament, which meant that no political party was able to command a majority in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party came the closest to getting over the magic number required and therefore persuaded the Liberal Democrats into a formal coalition. These discussions lasted several days as the country faced in a wait of knowing what the future would look like, however, in the end, David Cameron’s leadership brought to the period of thirteen years of Labour holding the keys to Downing Street.
Following this result, it was the first time I had started to see how politics operated. I was not too happy with the decisions to devise an austerity programme and reforms to the benefits system and National Health Service. Along with seeing some individual politicians being appointed onto the cabinet and holding particular power and position, so I was starting to get a determination to do something positive with my emotions towards these governmental decisions.
In 2012, I was fortunate to watch a live broadcast version of James Graham’s “This House,” a play which focuses upon the events during the turbulent mid-1970s and the Conservative and Labour whips continuing to oust one another in votes for motions. This play was undoubtedly enlightening to me as I felt that the structure of UK politics resembled rival football supporters more than a proper debate, and I felt there was more than this partisan two-party system.
As the Conservative-Liberal coalition ran the country and my interest in politics intensified, I felt I wanted to join a party that I shared some common values with and could genuinely support. I spent a while in the early weeks of 2015, knowing that I needed to look through the various parties’ different manifestos to gauge where they stood along with my own. After looking at the Green Party website and the highlighted policies, I felt that this was the place to be and began paying a small fee for membership. There was no going back now.
Joining The Green Party and being thrown into the deep end (2015 to 2017)
In June 2015, a few months after I had joined and shortly after the General Election, which had seen the Conservatives get the majority they needed to push away the Liberal Democrats, my first chance to get actively involved at the local level arrived. The then coordinator of the city of Derby group had called a meeting in the hope of encouraging new blood to take some responsibility for increasing the Green voice and awareness. I saw on his list was the desire for a social media/webmaster and felt that this would be my calling.
So on Wednesday, 24 June, I made my way following a day’s work to the Aston Court Hotel, which sits opposite Derby Midland railway station and nervously waited to see who else would turn up. Thankfully by the time the meeting started, 7 pm, I was joined by a select handful of individuals around my age who also had actively answered the call via email.
Following the meeting, my new colleagues and I made our way down the road to The Brunswick Inn for a follow-up drink and to celebrate the success of forming a new team. Eventually, this would become a more permanent meeting place every month from the Autumn of that year, where we quickly started to develop friendship and a working model to try and get our Green voice more audible.
One of these ways included inviting leader Natalie Bennett to the city to help promote our pursuit to try and get one of us onto the city council. On the day I had also planned for two fillings, I supported my colleagues in chauffeuring and being present. Natalie was graciously helpful, and by talking to local radio presenter Ian Skye, canvassing residents in our target ward, and then doing a speech in one of the University’s lecture theatres, she created positive energy by her presence and delivery. I was pinching myself as the Australian born spokesperson took a high level of interest in my story and considerations.
After the success of Natalie’s visit, we started to put plans together, which saw us generate a magnificent seven candidates, six of which would be paper candidates and the majority of resources going into one targetted individual. I agreed to stand as a candidate for the Normanton ward, a firmly Labour-supporting area of the city. I mainly attempted to boost my chances of getting some extra votes by talking up our policies and plans on Twitter. I also helped in our target ward, doing many rounds of leafleting either alone or with my increasingly developing friendship group, which took up many weekends during the Spring.
Following one last day of action on the last Saturday of April for our target candidate, we toasted our hard work on the doorsteps by having a drink in a local pub. The final week and a half saw our campaign focus more on spreading the message via social media. I had decided to take Thursday 5 May and Friday 6 May off work so I could attend the overnight spectacle of the count.
After visiting my local polling station and casting my vote for our target candidate, I returned home and rested until early evening. Then I made my way to our target candidate’s home, where all seven of us Green candidates gathered and discussed our optimism in attempting to chisel some success. Once all had arrived, we set off across the city towards the newly built Derby Arena.
At the count, our bags and persons went through a similar experience to airport security, and all mobile phones were not supposed to be on when we went in the central area of the count; however, we could have them on in the bar area. Soon after, candidates and their supporters from other political parties joined us in preparation for the long night of waiting for confirmation of the different ward results. Polls closed at 10 pm, so we spent time pacing around the various tables, having discussions among ourselves and or rival candidates.
As the night wore on, the building became quieter as more people headed home, either celebrating success or wondering how they could have done better. In the end, none of our magnificent seven upset the expectations, but we celebrated each vote as a mini positive. Our target candidate came a respectable third earning nearly 18% from the voters who had turned out in our target ward.
After many hours and the dry air within the arena making me want to return to bed, and the sun was starting to rise, I was pleased to hear it was my time to listen to the fate of my “campaign” I wasn’t surprised to hear that I had not won. However, understanding that 107 people wanted a Green voice in the Normanton ward without me being too public in that part of the city due to being a paper candidate was a real delight.
Shortly after, we headed home. I decided to get a partial sleep at our target candidate’s home until mid-morning when I stumbled home feeling fatigued before getting into my proper bed for the rest of the day. Two weeks past and at that point, I decided to take a hiatus from political activism due to growing weary, combining it with my day-to-day job. Members of the group were sorry to see me take this step, but I was looking after my mental wellbeing.
That summer saw the infamous European Referendum with many Green Party individuals encouraging the public to remain. The Green Party’s stance on the debate was to stay within the European Union with the determination for significant reform.
I agreed with this stance, and on 23 June, I returned to my local polling station and cast my vote. Despite having work to go to the following morning, I attempted to stay up until it was clear of the indication of the United Kingdom’s future with Europe. Disappointed in the outcome and sleep-deprived, I trudged to work and attempted to busy myself as I had taken the result a difficult pill to swallow.
We now may be over four years after this referendum; however, if there had been a second referendum, I would have voted to “Remain” again. As I still agree with many of the Green Party’s arguments for having a chance of being able to debate in the European Parliament. However, I recognise the reasons why some individuals may have voted “Leave” in that ballot.
I returned to support the city of Derby group in late August following a cross-party debate on Proportional Representation, where I reconnected with Natalie Bennett just before she concluded her two-year term as leader of the Party. During my final months of activism, I also finally got a chance to meet Caroline Lucas as she visited the city as part of doing a talk at a regional meeting.
The final action I did for the group was being an election agent for our candidate for the Derby South constituency in the surprise 2017 General Election. The election saw the Green Party suffer a loss of votes due to struggles to field candidates in all English and Welsh constituencies either due to financial reasons or wishing to support non-right wing candidates in a bid to lower the Conservative majority. Following this, I started my pre-arranged hiatus when returning to study at the University of Derby.
If not now, when? (2019 and beyond)
My main New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to “Find Joy in Every Day” with a new determination to continue to rebuild my self-confidence and re-find purpose and fulfillment. So I decided on the fourth anniversary of my membership that I wanted to go to a Green Party conference and to return to activism. I made this decision because I felt that it would give me something positive to do in my spare time away from my university studies now I had more time following my switch to the Writing and Publishing course.
A look at the Green Party website meant that I could see that the 2019 Spring Conference would take place in the town of Scarborough. So with this knowledge and a bit of moral support from my Dad, I coordinated my travel, accommodation, and place for a long weekend at the seaside resort. Two and a half months past quickly with the conference on my horizon. I was also looking forward to visiting the town as I had never been before and it would give me an excellent opportunity to take in a new place.
During the wait for the Conference, I had also exchanged emails with my now local party. In these emails, I agreed that I would meet a couple of members there, and that would give me reassurance in starting the next chapter by sharing anecdotes and my reflection on being a Green Party member.
After returning to Derbyshire, I decided to attend my first Green Party meeting in over two years, where I was proudly elected in to become the Membership Data Officer for the local party, a unique role created with me in mind. Twelve months on, it still feels a great honour to have that role, and I am thankful for the positive feedback I continue to receive from others for the way I have handled the responsibility.
Following an enjoyable time at Scarborough, I felt motivated to go to the Autumn one, which was in Newport in October. Once again, I embraced my long weekend in South Wales when the time arrived, as it served as a real chance to explore another part of the unknown UK to me and more opportunities to develop more confidence. At this conference, I also finally built enough courage to introduce myself to talk and get a photograph with Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack, as well as co-leaders Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry.
Before COVID-19 postponing various social events, I had also planned to travel to Brighton. The popular resort would have hosted what would have been my third event. However, the Green Party events team rightfully postponed events such as these until it was suitable for large groups to mingle and embrace.
The conference is dependent on the state of the planet and the recovery from the pandemic. However, if all is well, I will look to make an appearance and hopefully reunite with the many positive Green Party individuals attending the event.
I also recognise my opportunity to attend will also depend on how busy my university studies make me, as I will be focusing upon writing a dissertation or producing an independent project along with my final undergraduate modules. Despite this, my future in politics will continue to be alongside the Green Party and hope to remain to embrace every opportunity it presents me. I also hope others will join the Green Party and or even vote for what I feel would be a positive change of tune in UK politics.