Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Towards Effective Green Left Unity

From Neil Cafferky of the Socialist Party's national office:

The following is a statement produced by the SP following correspondence between the Lewisham SP and the Lewisham Green Party after a Green Party candidate was revealed to be on the membership list of the BNP:

ONE of the Green Party candidates who stood in Telegraph Hill ward, south London in the 2006 local elections appears on the list of alleged BNP supporters recently leaked to the media. This ward, in the London borough of Lewisham, is represented by two SP members, Ian Page and Chris Flood, who have been councillors there since 1990 and 2003 respectively.

When the list was published Lewisham SP was asked to comment. Aware that the list, leaked by disgruntled BNP members, did not necessarily imply support for the far-right party, we contacted the individual named, who informed us that he had never been a supporter of the BNP and their racist ideas.

We accepted his assurance but, as there were others on the list who have been Green Party members and who have also been BNP supporters, we also wrote to the Lewisham Greens for their views before we made any public comment.

Darren Johnson, a Lewisham Green councillor and London Assembly member, replied, saying that, “knowing him as I do”, he was convinced that the individual concerned had been “the victim of a malicious prank” and had given “no indication whatsoever that he shared the obnoxious views of the BNP”.

But Darren Johnson also conceded that their ex-candidate, who had no campaigning record in Telegraph Hill, “has had no active involvement in the Green Party for the past two years”, in other words, since the 2006 elections.

This raises a wider question: even if, as it appears, the candidate was not sympathetic to the BNP’s poisonous ideas, why did Lewisham Green Party conclude that he was a better representative of anti-cuts, anti-privatisation and pro-environment policies in Telegraph Hill than the sitting Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood?

The SP has consistently approached the Green Party to discuss whether we could come to an electoral agreement, at least to not stand candidates against each other where possible. Through the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, for example, we discussed this with the Green Party’s national election officer, who confirmed that such agreements could be made by local parties.

The SP and the Green Party have important differences. The SP believes that fundamental change is necessary to save our environment, which can only be achieved by democratic public ownership of the major companies that dominate the globe.

On Lewisham council the Green councillors have not always backed the Socialist councillors’ proposals to resist the pro-market agenda of the establishment parties – New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. But there is sufficient agreement, we believe, for us to seriously discuss possibilities for electoral agreements.

Unfortunately that has not been the approach of Lewisham’s Greens. Their strategy in the 2006 elections was to stand as widely as possible, regardless of who they were standing against or the record and commitment of their candidates.

The Greens stood three candidates in the three-seat Telegraph Hill ward in 2006, who each polled around 400 votes – well short of winning but far more than the gap between the New Labour candidate elected as the third ward councillor and the third-placed Socialist Party candidate, Jess Leech. Was it really necessary to stand in Telegraph Hill and allow New Labour to slip in? Especially as there were other, New Labour-held wards, in Lewisham where the Greens only stood one candidate?
Darren Johnson hasn’t accepted our offer to discuss what lessons from all this there may be for the future. But the SP plans to stand more widely in Lewisham in the next local elections in 2010 along with, we hope, local trade unionists and representatives of different campaign groups fighting to save council housing, defend education, and keep our NHS safe from privatisation. They too will expect that Lewisham Green Party would co-operate to maximise the electoral challenge to the establishment parties.

----statement ends----

I should emphasise at this point that this is NOT an attack on the Green Party for having an election candidate who has since appeared on the BNP membership list, although it is reasonable to seek clarification from the Greens regarding their knowledge of this person’s politics in response to quires from voters in the area. Nor is the SP trying to dictate to the Green Party who or where they can stand. That is, of course, a decision that must be taken by the members of the Green Party themselves.

What the SP is seeking from the Green Party in Lewisham, and elsewhere in the country, is clarification on their relationship with the rest of the Left on the electoral field. With the new mood of co-operation on the Left following recent setbacks in the quest for a new workers party and with the possibility of a general election in the summer it is vital that the strongest possible challenge is put up to all the establishment parties by socialist, trade unionists, community activists and environmentalists.

Hopefully this can be the beginning of a discussion between socialists and Green Party members on the best way forward to challenging the rule of profit, big business and environmental destruction.

21 comments:

Jim Jay said...

Well, initial response from me - non-Lewisham resident and not speaking in any capacity apart from a nosey person;

i) we've checked out the BNP list very thoroughly as you might expect and we're now satisfied not a single Green Party activist has ever become a BNP activist.

The tiny handful of cross over names are either inaccurate, or the results of complex situations resulting from people's personal circumstances that don't represent any hidden storm trooper tendency and never resulted in ex-Green activivists doing any work for the BNP.

ii) There have been a number of electoral deals proposed by the SP in Lewisham. However they've always been posed in a hostile way (do it or else we'll...) which made it difficult to form a working relationship or were offers of things we don't care one way or the other about.

For instance there was the offer of withdrawing the SP candidate at the GE in Lewisham - but the Greens *want* the SP to stand because they take more votes from Labour than the Greens, it's in our interests for the SP to stand - so it's not much of an offer, particualrly when Telegraph Hill is actually winnable for us.

iii) I'd like to see more left green cooperation, but I think that starts outside of the electoral field and requires a certain amount of trust to be built up. Which makes Lewisham SP's distribution of anti-Green literature that states we're pro-privatisation, for example, a barrier to the start of that process.

If we want to start that process of build unity between Greens and the left doing it in the context of the BNP list seems bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, thanks for your response.

I think we have made it clear that the issue is not whether the Green Party had an election candidate who subsequently appeared on the BNP membership list. This was the context that prompted the latest round of correspondance between ourselves and the Greens in Lewisham. I think you will agree we have been very discreet and have given both the indiviual concerned and the Lewisham Green Party ample oppertunity to put their side of the story.

The issue for us is on what basis this individual, who by Darren Johnson's own admission, seems to have dropped out of the Green Party almost immediately after the local election in 2006, was a better anti cut's, pro-environmental candidate than Ian Page or Chris Flood? What was his record? How rooted in the local community was he? etc These are the thing the SP will take into account when deciding to stand a candidate against a non establishment party candidate. What is the criteria in the Green Party?

Certainly, if the Greens feel the tone of the comrades was not to their liking, the SP will endeavour to be nicer in their tone, to the Greens in Lewisham. However I do not believe this, in itself, should be a barrier to negotiations with other Left groups. What do you think?
In terms of the GP actually winning the third seat I do not think this is correct. In a straight fight for the third seat in Telegraph Hill then it comes down to a contest between the Socialist Party and New Labour. In the 2006 local elections the three Green candidates got roughly 400 votes each (1260 in total), the SP's three got 2903 and the LP 2682. If the Greens really are an anti establishment party then surely it is in their interests in Telegraph Hill to maximise anti-establishment (in this case anti-New Labour) vote?
This is not simply a case of the SP greedily wanting as many councillors as possible in Telegraph Hill. In the 2002 election the SP came to an agreement with an anti-education cuts campaign LEAP even though that meant we lost one of our councillors. At that time the GP again failed to come to an agreement either with ourselves or LEAP and achieved a vote of 452.

As far as saying the GP is pro-privatisation the SP has not said that in our material. What we have done is distribute leaflets showing the voting records of the Tories, LP, Lib-Dems, Greens and SP in regards to motions relating to cuts and privatisations, where the Green Party, unfortunately voted with the ruling New Labour group. These are a matter of public record. If you like I am happy to publish what we wrote on the leaflets in regards to the GP voting record on the council for you to refute.

This, i think must be the basis of Green Left cooperation, that we agree on a minimum program that is anti cut's and anti privatisation and pro-green. Let's sit down and negotiate what that is rather than constantly running against each other, both in Lewisham and around the country.

What do you think is the way forward, Jim?

Neil.

Jim Jay said...

No probs Neil - It's good that different parts of the left are able to discuss these matters in a friendly way. Apologies for the length of this response...

My understanding was this guy was a long standing socialist activist who came from the socialist alliance and appears to have been a committed activist. We all know good people who've dropped out, sometimes never to return, sometimes keen to return when their personal circumstances change.

But the issue of his inclusion on the BNP list and electoral cooperation are unconnected and to bring them together in one statement looks odd and actually doesn't help the stated aim.

At the risk of stating the obvious the Socialist Party and the Green Party have a number of differences - some on political analysis, some on approach, some, less importantly, around matters of style and culture.

In short voting Green and voting Socialist Party is not the same thing. In this particular ward we beat both the Lib Dems and Tories and so we would have to think very hard before not standing in an area like that - as would you - especially if you were considering the fact that to build a strong enough base to win in the general election it's necessary to have a good vote in every part of the constituency.

We can compare Page with Stone and I'm sure they both have their own qualities - but the key distinction is not simply the quality of candidate but also the politics - and these are distinct.

There *are* many points of agreement. Our opposition to privatisation, low wages, war, the list doubtless goes on. I hope the groups can continue to work together on these issues, although obviously we are going to disagree sometimes on approach and have to go our seperate ways on those occasions.

I don't actually believe it's whether the SP was nice or not that was the barrier - but rather whether they were honest in desiring closer cooperation and whether it was felt that making any deal with the SP would be creating as many problems as it solved.

For instance I'd like to take you up on the offer of publishing those leaflets you mentioned online - I think that would be very useful so we can go through them in a little more detail. Let's do that.

The danger is we get bogged down in those differences though, so I hope we can do that simultaneously with working out ways of promoting common work between parties that actually operate in very different ways which both have quite different strengths and weaknesses.

My personal feeling has always been that where any groups hope to seek common ground they have to *do things* together and therefore learn more about each other through that common work. That has to happen more regularly, and successfully without significant problems, before the possibilities of significant electoral cooperation opens up in areas like Lewisham where both organisations have a real investment.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

there are some leaflets from lewisham socialist partyy online already - see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/ElectionCampaignLewisham.htm

The Sentinel said...

All very amusing.

That list was an amalgamation of members, publication subscribers, donors, and a members / supporters skills list - the BNP statement about names being added was just a legal caveat for members who wished to deny their involvement in order to avoid the embryonic Stalinist political persecution that could result - so you can be rest assured, if your 'brothers' names are on that list they have had some involvement with the BNP, if they not fully paid up members.

Being an 'eco-warrior' and conservationist might well have led them to the logical conclusion that while they worry about preventing whole species die out, they might just have some right- and pressing reason - to worry about their own race going the same way and their children's future with it.

Still, it could have been much worse for you though- wasn't David Icke quite a senior Green?

The Sentinel said...

All very amusing.

That list was an amalgamation of members, publication subscribers, donors, and a members / supporters skills list - the BNP statement about names being added was just a legal caveat for members who wished to deny their involvement in order to avoid the embryonic Stalinist political persecution that could result - so you can be rest assured, if your 'brothers' names are on that list they have had some involvement with the BNP, if they not fully paid up members.

Being an 'eco-warrior' and conservationist might well have led them to the logical conclusion that while they worry about preventing whole species die out, they might just have some right- and pressing reason - to worry about their own race going the same way and their children's future with it.

Still, it could have been much worse for you though- wasn't David Icke quite a senior Green?

Jim Jay said...

He was on the BNP mailing list, although he doesn't know how he got on it (he thinks his work mates subscribed him as a joke, which would fit with what we knew of his work situation at the time).

He knew he was on it but didn't do anything to unsubscribe - after all if your political opponents choose to waste money sending you their literature and it's not costing you anything why would you?

He was not a member, has never contacted the BNP, has never given them money and has never had anything to do with them.

Neil said...

Sentinel: As I have said we have contacted the individual and Darren Johnson regarding the list and are satisfied, in the absence of any other information, with their explanation.

Jim: I hope your reading of our material proves useful. Let me know if you wish to see other public material we have released in Lewisham.

Your point abut our political differences is interesting. In my first response I outlined what for the SP is a bottom line in terms of any electoral agreement, namely total opposition to any cuts and privatisations of public services in the area. What do you think is a bottom line for the Greens? Can this be the basis for preliminary discussions?

As far an "offer" made to the Greens on electoral pacts is concerned I am not aware of any officer to officer discussions between Lewisham SP and GP taking place. There have been letters and emails sent from the SP but no actual face to face discussions. This is something we would like to pursue.

I find your idea that the GP and SP must work together intriguing. What exactly do you mean by "working together" There are three broad based community campaigns at the moment in Lewisham which the SP is deeply involved in, Defend Education in Lewisham set up by the NUT branch (whose branch sec is an SP member), Hands Off Our Homes, which scored a magnificent victory over Hyde Homes in New Cross and Keep Our NHS Public. The GP in Lewisham has had little involvement in these. Recently there was a meeting to unite these campaigns into the People Before Private Profit. A Green councilor, Romain Phoenix is on the steering committee along with SP members and local activists.
I would also point out that the council the SP has backed every single motion the GP has put up where as the Greens have voted against several motions of the SP. So I would say we do try to work with the GP on the council for sure. In fact if you look at the public material we have put out on voting records you we would maintain the GP has the second best voting record against cuts and so on. I think the basis of joint work is there. What do you think is the kind of joint work we can engage in?

Sue said...

The simplistic table in the Socialist Party 2008 newsletter is misleading. By way of contrast, you can see our most recent newsletters here.

Now, dealing first with the accusation in that table that Greens supported hospital ward closures. This refers to a Socialist motion proposed in March 2006. The minutes of the meeting can be found here . The original motion said:
“Lewisham Hospital managers have recently announced plans to cut jobs and services, including ward closures as they strive to become a more 'efficient' organisation.

There can be no doubt that these cuts are stemming from impossible central government demands to "improve services whilst reducing costs." Extra costs from private finance initiative (PFI) schemes have also increased the burden of costs.

These cuts and closures will not serve the population of Lewisham well and this Council calls on the Government to fund Lewisham's health services deficit to enable these and other planned cuts to be averted”.

An amendment to the motion was moved by the Lib Dems, deleting everything in the final paragraph after “Government” and replacing with:
“…. to reconsider its policies of imposed targets so that hospitals and trusts have greater budgetary freedom to decide their own local clinical priorities”.

The amendment was carried by 40 – 2. Following debate, the substantive motion was put to the vote and was lost 30 – 10. Darren, who was the only Green councillor at that point (the rest of us weren’t elected until May 2006) supported the amendment and then the motion as a whole. Sounds reasonable to me and hardly amounts to Greens supporting hospital ward closures, whichever way you spin it.

As for the suggestion that we ‘abstained’ on defending community health services’ that is rubbish. We have been not only been the most vocal opposition party in Lewisham on defending adult social care, but we also managed to get £7m in cuts to the services reversed in the previous year's budget. As for the most recent budget; the Mayor accepted a number of the Green Group's amendments, but rejected others. We didn't vote against the entire amended budget, as this would have meant voting against a number of our own amendments, but were unwilling to support it as there were a number of cuts we were still unhappy with. We therefore abstained. See our press release from the time for further details on this.

Both Greens and Socialists oppose privatisation of public services, but I think it’s fair to say we have a more pragmatic approach than the Socialists. If we propose a motion at Full Council, our aim is generally to get it through and effect change, so we don’t word it in such a provocative way that there’s not a hope in hell of the other parties supporting it. We achieve what we can within the context of being a minority party in a New Labour council, with a New Labour national government and no likelihood of a socialist or Green national government in the near future, but rather a Tory or another New Labour one. When we campaigned for election we said that we would criticise and oppose New Labour where due, but we would also work constructively where we could and propose rather than just oppose. I think that is what we have done.

As for where we did and didn’t stand candidates in the 2006 local elections, back then, Lewisham West Green Party was a separate party to Lewisham East & Deptford. We stood a full slate across Lewisham Deptford and Lewisham East, but Lewisham West Green Party decided to only stand one candidate in each ward. Personally I think that was the wrong decision and they should have stood a full slate too. Since then the two parties have merged into one Lewisham Green Party and it is the party’s intention, as democratically agreed at our 2008 AGM, to stand a full slate across the borough at the 2010 Council elections.

Election results: Telegraph Hill was the Green Party’s third strongest ward in the borough at the recent London Assembly elections. On the assembly list vote (the PR one); we polled just over 22%, second to Labour on 39.5%, while the Left List polled 3.6%. In the Greenwich & Lewisham constituency vote, where Chris Flood stood for the Socialists and I stood for the Greens, Len Duvall, the Labour candidate, was comfortably ahead in Telegraph on 38%, I was second on 18% and Chris Flood was third on 13%. Constituency-wide, this result was Labour 36%, Conservative 25%, Lib Dem 12%, Green 11% and Socialist Party 1%.

General election results for Lewisham Deptford:
2001: Lab 65%, Conservative 12.4%, Lib Dem 11.7%, Green 6.5%, Socialist Party 4.3%
2005: Labour 56%, Lib Dem 17%, Tory 12.4%, Green 11.1%, Socialist Party 2.44%.

In 2005, we didn’t have the capacity to do much work outside 2 or 3 wards in the constituency and had 1 cllr. We now have 6 cllrs and a larger activist base and are regularly campaigning across the constituency. This is one of the top 3 parliamentary constituencies for the Green Party and saw the second highest vote in the country for us at the last general election, after Brighton Pavilion. We are in this for the long-term and to get a Green MP in Lewisham Deptford. We can’t do that without ensuring we get a strong vote in Telegraph Hill. There is no way in hell I would support us not standing in Telegraph Hill in 2010.

Sue Luxton
Green Party councillor in Ladywell ward, Lewisham.

Jim Jay said...

Neil: yes the leaflet was useful although now I'll leave it to Sue to reposte on the votes as she's much closer to the council "action".

I wasn't meaning to imply that the SP and GP never work together now in any way (although I don't blame you for reading it that way) but rather that the route to fuller cooperation starts at ground level - rather than as some negotiation among the most sizable cheeses.

Obviously I'm not someone who can negotiate in this - although it's my intention to move to Lewisham in 2009 so I'm not totally disinterested in what's happening.

As I say the Greens work in a different way to the SP - for example, the FBU financially backed Darren Johnson because of his actions ensuring that firestation cleaners got proper wages, and the council group fought tooth and nail to ensure the living wage motion was passed so that the council had to pay both workers *and contractors* well above the minimum wage - these weren't broad based campaigns but effective politics none the less that have made a very real difference to low paid workers. (I'm sure the SP supported both of these initiatives, btw).

In effect it's not the basic political program that is the stumbling block but the political method. It's not insurmountable, of course, with good will all difficulties can be overcome.

Off the top of my head I'll give a couple of examples. The Green Party is a decentralised Party with a loose progressive concensus. We don't use a heavy whip on our elected representatives nor do we expect them all to vote the same way.

The SP is highly critical of this and - from the tone - basically doesn't understand why this might be a good thing. How do we fit traditional democratic centralist organising methods with those newer, fresher, ways of working?

As I say not an impossible question - but one that has to be addressed.

The second example is over what I call positive engagement and Sue here has described as pragmatism. Take the "hospital ward closure" motion. You've interpretted Darren's behaviour as voting for ward closures when in reality he voted for your motion - but with the amendment to part of one sentance.

This all or nothing approach is common among organisations like the SP and the SWP but is generally absent in all other political currents who are far more tolerant of nuinance.

How do we build a working relationship between a principled, but uncompromising, organisation and a principled organisation that works towards delivering change, even when it falls short of what we'd ultimately desire?

If our pragmatic compromises are interpretted as selling out or are far short of down right opposition to say, cuts, it's hard to get a good fit that actually means something.

Again this is more than possible - but we're not there yet.

The Sentinel said...

"He was on the BNP mailing list, although he doesn't know how he got on it (he thinks his work mates subscribed him as a joke, which would fit with what we knew of his work situation at the time)."

"As I have said we have contacted the individual and Darren Johnson regarding the list and are satisfied, in the absence of any other information, with their explanation."


Then you must be as naive as they come. One name may be a mistake. But with the address, e-mail addresses and phone numbers? And then two names, and then three... Come on!

Like it or not, this was no 'prank'- these people are involved in the BNP.

Just like Keith Bessant two-time Green parliamentary candidate and Rev John Stanton, a former local Green party chairman for example. The only difference is that these guys had the courage to admit it.

A Green party spokesman said of Bessant: "“He formed the opinion that the BNP climate change policy was more radical than ours”

And that is something that is causing great consternation among the Greens and leftist: That the BNP has a robust and genuine green agenda, and many of it's policies will greatly contribute to the environmental (as well as economic) health of this country.

This article, although a bit rudimentary, is quite insightful.

In all reality that is probably why your comrades were involved - most likely members - of the BNP. That and the fact that they never thought they would get found out.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I think I have some problems with Sue's comments as to how to campaign to get a council to support 'progressive' policies.

Sue argues that we need to water down our arguements to make them acceptable to liberals/labour/tories. However, when I was in Huddersfield the way we would get our motions passed in the council was by mobilising local people - both the Save the Nursaries and Save Huddersfield NHS campaigns did this with dmeonstrations and large lobbies of the council - these were also part of large campaigns we helped to organise.
In regards to ammendments, in my experience SP members do way up the positive and negative aspects of the substantive motion when it gets voted on.

On a final point - if we did have an electoral agreement then surely it wouldn't be ruled out that we would advocate a vote for the green party standing on a platform agreed to in that electoral agreement - this could extend to other council seats or other elections.

Sue said...

"Sigh". That's not what I said. In any case, to be perfectly clear, Lewisham Green Party does not want to make an electoral pact with the Socialist Party. We discussed, we voted, we decided against it.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

hi Sue, could you clarify what you did mean then - that was just my interpretation of what i thought you were meaning, but my experiences don't support that.

"Lewisham Green Party does not want to make an electoral pact with the Socialist Party. We discussed, we voted, we decided against it."

can I ask why? i know the relationship between the green party and socialist party are different in different areas but we collaborate just fine up here (north wales) and i'm fairly certain we could come to an electoral agreement if we ever needed to (geographical locations of the local green party branch and ours are slightly different).

Sue said...

Having re-read what you said, maybe our views on this aren't a million miles away from each other. We don't have to change what we stand for, but it's sometimes surely better as a minority party to take a deep breath and accept some compromise, if it takes you closer to where you want to be, rather than to refuse to budge an inch and as a result make no progress whatsoever? The Socialist Party in Lewisham are very good at filling up the public gallery for Full Council meetings, but in my opinion it doesn't make the ruling New Labour group budge one inch. Regular bad press week after week and losing council seats, however, as was the case in 2006 over the new school/new pool issue, did eventually result in a change of heart.

Re the decision not to form an electoral pact: it's nothing personal against the Socialist cllrs, it's just that we are serious about winning the Lewisham Deptford constituency, and Telegraph Hill is the 4th strongest ward for us in the constituency, so we can't simply not stand there, it makes no electoral sense to us.

Phil BC said...

Re: an electoral pact, I'm not entirely sure either party would benefit, simply because the SP and Greens appeal to different sections of the electorate. I very much doubt the Greens would take votes from comrades Page and Flood if they stood in their seats. They're much more likely to win votes from the LibDems than socialists. I certainly think the SP should work with Greens where possible, but there's no need to get too hung up on electoral agreements.

Jim Jay said...

I agree with Phil.

It's not like cooperation electorally is the most important form of joint work so why get hung up on it - particularly when Lewisham Dept is one of the Greens target Parliamentary seats and they'll need to get votes from every ward to win it (if not this time then next).

Much better to get together so our areas of common work are more effective for both "sides" than worry about who's standing where.

Neil said...

I would not agree that whether the Green Party stands in Telegraph Hill or not makes no difference to the prospect of removing New Labour completely from Telegraph Hill and electing a third SP councilor. I will out line why in a separate post but first I want to respond to some of the points Sue has raised in her first post.

Firstly in regard to hospital ward closures. The amendment put forward by the Lib Dems was a wrecking amendment because it deleted the call for central government, who were behind the cuts, to fund the budget deficit. This let New Labour off the hook and stymies effective opposition to health care cuts.

As for the abstention I have to admit I find Sue's stance puzzling. The New Labour budget included cuts to the Children & Adults mental health Service and to Adult Care assessment staff. The Socialist Party voted against those cuts, while the Green Party abstained as Sue herself admits, this is all that we have reported on our leaflet! We do not agree with the Green Party's approach of funding concessions in one area by cuts in another for the simple reason that the council will most likely come back the next year and cut back the concessions. If we are to build an effective opposition in the community (which is the ultimate arbiter of whether cuts happen or not) then a clear signal must be sent from the council to the community that their councilors are totally opposed to attacks on their living standards. Given the widespread, justified, cynicism people have for elected politicians, suspicions of deals etc, this is absolutely vital in building the confidence of people that we are serious about opposing cuts.

In terms of putting provocative motions that cannot win on the council there are a number of points Sue has overlooked.
Firstly the GP and the SP are not a minority on a New Labour council. Crucially Lewisham is a hung council. This means the SP HAS won votes, with the support of the GP and others, most notably:
Opposition to the closure of Ladywell pool.
Opposing the £20 billion upgrade of Trident Nuclear Missiles, the only council to engage in the "debate" Tony Blair invited the country to take part in when he railroaded this costly white elephant through Parliament.
Supporting the TUC's NHS Together campaign.
Opposing Post Office closure and calling for the nationalisation of local PO's by the council.
This shows that the Left can win votes on the council IF the progressive votes hang together and co-operate.
So my question to you Sue is what, precisely, was provocative about our motions?

Neil said...

I have posted this primarily as a response to comments in Socialist Unity but include it here as well.

It seems to me that the Green Party’s position in Lewisham can be summed up like this:

1) The GP must stand in every ward for every vacancy as this is vital for their chances of getting an MP elected in the Lewisham Deptford Parliamentary constituency.

2) An electoral pact with the SP would serve little purpose as the electoral base of both parties is so different that it would make no impact on the outcome of a local election result and in fact may increase the vote for the Lib Dems.

I will deal with point number 2 first as this seems to have got something of an echo among other contributors such as Andy and Karl.
I would respectfully say both to contributors here and the GP that this idea is based on incomplete knowledge of the voting patterns in Telegraph Hill. There is an overlap between Green and SP voters that, although it may be small, still allows New Labour to slip through the middle and consolidates the hold of establishment parties on Lewisham council. We base this position on the fact that we have compiled huge amounts of information on voting patterns in the ward through extensive door knocking for decades of elections and supplemented by regular campaigning in between elections.

So in 2006, for example, out of the 10,000 or so electors in Telegraph Hill (in 6,000 or so households), we spoke to just under 5,000 in the weeks preceding polling day.

Of these we identified 400 people who were planning to vote Green or were thinking about it. The composition of these voters is revealing. In polling district DTF (the ward is divided into 6 polling districts) and is mostly composed of social housing we identified only one “possible” Green voter, whereas our “definite” voters were running at 40%.

However in the polling district near Goldsmiths College which has large amounts of rented housing, and also a 20% yearly turnover on the electoral register, the results were quite different. These people, mostly students, in a large majority wanted to vote against the establishment parties. Since they had just moved into the area they were not aware that the Socialist Party was the main challenger to New Labour in the ward. In fact many of them did not even know what a ward was!

Now this is merely the voters we were able to speak to, and when we were able to discuss with them fully and fill them in on the facts on the ground in Telegraph Hill, we were able to convince many of them to vote for us. But there were many more in that district we were not able to meet. The crucial point to grasp is that these were radical, anti-establishment voters who were looking for an alternative. They were not Lib Dem voters in Green clothing, so to speak. Unfortunately their desire to vote for an anti-establishment candidate if that vote was Green and not Socialist Party was a factor in New Labour nicking the third seat.

Think what this means in practice. Currently Lewisham Council is a hung council run by New Labour. This means motions of the SP calling for the nationalisation of post offices, opposing Trident, saving Ladywell Pool and supporting the TUC’s NHS Together campaign have been won with the support of the Green Party and others. This shows we can win things IF the progressive bloc hangs together. But it has also meant we have lost crucial votes like a motion to begin an immediate crash program of repairs on council housing have been lost by one vote, the vote of Robin Cross, New Labours councillor in Telegraph Hill. Think what we can achieve in 2010 if, in the context of a severe social crisis, the progressive vote in Lewisham co-operates. Can’t we explore the possibilities that might take us there?

Darren Johnson says that the deal he negotiated with Ken Livingston did not involve the GP standing down candidates. Fair enough. But as PaulC points out that is a luxury afforded to the GP because you were not dealing with a first past the post system. My question to the Lewisham Greens, indeed to all GP members is, are you willing to negotiate in first past the post systems, the dominant electoral system in this country? Did you do a deal with Livingston simply because you lost nothing or was it out of the principal that you perceived him as a progressive candidate and calculated a vote for him would be a good way of keeping a less progressive candidate out? Does the same logic apply to the SP and New Labour in Telegraph Hill? If not, why?

Finally let me sum up by assuring Karl we are not talking about fusing with the Greens, joining them in a government coalition or giving up any of our non negotiable principles, such as total opposition to privatisation, cuts, etc. We do not expect the Greens to give up any of their core principles either. What we are proposing is that we have discussions between our local election officers, councillors, leading activists, what ever, to see if some kind of common position can be hammered out. Perhaps in the course of these discussions we find that our political differences, which are real and serious, are irreconcilable and so there is no basis for a deal. Very well, but if a common position can be worked out I feel this would benefit both parties in Lewisham and the voters in that borough who are looking for the most effective opposition to the establishment parties.

Both Darren Johnson and Sue Luxton maintain a deal with the SP would be of little use to them. Why wouldn’t a public electoral agreement, with the SP standing aside in the Lewisham Deptford Parliamentary Constituency, while the GP didn’t stand against two popular local councilors – one of whom, Ian Page, has been elected and re-elected five times over 18 years in this ward! – not boost the Green vote in Telegraph Hill in a parliamentary election?

Renegade Eye said...

In the US the Greens are nearly dead. Pressure from the Democratic Party, caused them to kick out Ralph Nader, who took the structure, and many activists with him.

Each chapter is different. Some have nothing to do with electoral politics. Others don't like connecting issues as racism to the Green agenda.

Locally egos are causing their destruction.

Merseymike said...

I'm not a member of any party - but I wouldn't see the greens and the SP as obvious partners, politically.

Most of the greens I know are either radical liberals or anarchists - some are socialist, but I don't think that the Green party is socialist, certainly not marxist. It draws much more from left-libertarian and anarchist strands of thinking. Also, its organisational style is much looser and more akin to a network than a traditional party.