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Green politics?

 Two weeks ago someone rang up early in the morning saying,

“Could I speak to Councillor Jackson?”

“Who?” I said.  There was an uncertain pause.” Oh, you mean me!”

two pwople beside a large 20mph signWe started campaigning last November, me and Sam who was standing to be re-elected as a county councillor – one of the only two in Lancashire. At the time I was going to contest an unwinnable county seat in order to raise the profile of the Green Party in an area which had potential for more Green votes.  Twice a week for a couple of hours at a time “on the knocker” as they put it, talking to local people not about elections but about local matters: greenfield and brownfield land development, traffic and parking issues, introduction of 20 mph zones, care for the elderly, oh and dog muck of course. 

Twice a week became three times a week then four as we moved from a cold winter to a colder spring.  Others joined us as my unwinnable seat became a by election opportunity in a ward which was all Green councillors. Proper election campaigning began.

“Not so much cold calling as frozen calling, “ my now fellow councillor, Andy, would quip as he peered through the hail at some poor resident his cheerful knock had called to the door.

 

You get brownie points for canvassing out in the snow and ice and as we got into April and Sam energetically called in some generous canvassers from Preston, Manchester and Liverpool, the weather didn’t improve. When, I wailed internally, am I ever going to get a proper tea again?  We were out for six each night, back at eight by which time all appetite had gone.  And so the election got closer and door knocking ramped up to twice a day as we surveyed the streets in the ward and the campaign manager, Tim, anxiously scanned the canvassing returns and worked out who had been visited and how many times we had gone back to the “outs”.  The opposition appeared on the same streets too and we contested for which party could get most posters out, which election leaflet was best received.

man going in to the polling stationThe last few days were a blur of organisation for election day and a knot of apprehension in my stomach.  My best friend died on the Tuesday after a long, long illness – a day off to be there and back on the doors the next afternoon, out till dark in the evening, Then election day itself, sharing a stint on the polling station with a fellow candidate and being loudly harangued about the way the Greens had prevented all business development in the town for the last 10 years. All good, clean fun.  A lovely local mum told me how she had minded the baby for some neighbours so they could get down to vote.  At 9.45pm a couple of the people I had talked to the night before appeared to cast their ballot and give the thumbs up as they left..

The count was bitter sweet.  Sam lost her county seat by 100 votes after all her fantastic work as a councillor but we retained the other county seat.  And did those few votes matter to me? Well , if you win by 16 votes after 3 recounts suddenly it all seems like serendipity!

Woman in robes and gold chainSo was it worth it and what has it got to do with Transition?  I look at the emails about committee work and the internal wrangling between councillors and wonder.  So far I have attended the ceremony of mayor making which was a bit like Burns Night with a woman in robes deputising for the haggis and first full council which revealed more effort being put into grabbing power and being unpleasant to each other than respect for the work in hand.  We’ll see.  There are many  opportunities to work with residents;  councillors have chances to bring the Green agenda into the thinking of council officers – a long job but the Green councillors who have been there a long time report some success; just to be one of the group of eight Greens is important in itself. 

Just at the moment, like many an initiative, I am mulling.  What could the role of councillor do to advance the concerns and activities of Transition in my ward and in our whole area?  Should I do anything at all - after all Transition is not political?  Ideas please, experience, please – I’m all ears.

Photographs: County Cllr Sam Riches and Prof John Whitelegg (Green World) election ballot (LEP)Mayor of Lancaster Catherine Ashton (Lancaster City council)

Comments

Chris Hart's picture

Of course it is worth it. To

Of course it is worth it. To say transition is not political is a complete misnomer to me. Politics is really about the battle of ideas in society, what frameworks do we need to set for civil servants, officers, businesses, communities to operate with. While bins and dog pooh are at one end of the spectrum the other is the whole economic and social structure of society. Transition and the Greens share an approach to this spectrum in that there is a view  that local communities can participate in this process rather than either having it all run by the council or state or else selling it all off to private companies to do. On a larger scale the Transition/Green view is one of creating a certain bold and ambitious view and story of the world. That we support a commons-wealth, were land and production is held in common for all now and into the future. We hold a view that the future can't be discounted, that social justice vital to communities, that we have compassion and assertiveness in 'winning' these political directions. I think we are both internationalists as much as localists - the think global act local but hold solidarity for all. Transition holds a general line on food security and permaculture and housing that these are best done with some form of tenderness and protection, not a wild west, hormone fuelled free trade wild west but a more symbiotic method. These are 100% political issues - A green political view is taking these ideas into the policy forming halls. I feel very passionately about this and think that the 'apolitical' stance of FOE, GreenPeace and dozens of other organisations over the last three decades has been a mistake and left the neo-liberal capitalist ideology rampant and unchallenged. Now a huge space has arisen of an almost neo, potentially national socialist UKIP to fill. Extreme, maybe, but worth considering. Good luck Caroline but be really bold or else is will be waste - you have worked so hard and are the right person, this is not a time for the faint hearted.

Simeon Jackson's picture

Congratulations!!

Congratulations from one Councillor Jackson to another!! I just became a City Councillor in Norwich!!  Very well done on yours!

In terms of answering your question, I took a step back from Transition stuff anyway a little while ago, because I've just not had the support amongst the other members of my initiative and not enough spare time or money (due to unemployment) to be able to really get anything done.  This is in stark contrast with the Green Party here in Norwich, where we're very lucky to have a very committed team of activists who have been monumental in giving me the encouragement and support I needed to stand and get elected.  I'm truly grateful for them for that.

I'd like to see Transition Norwich grow again, and I'm very willing to be around to help and support it when it does, but I certainly can't lead it, and with all the pressures of being a councillor (including both political and non-political stances that have to be taken in different circumstances), I think its best not to complicate the matter by being too active in a Transition Initiative at the same time.

But who knows how it will all turn out! Without Transition, I wouldn't be a councillor now, but without being a councillor now, I doubt I would ever have been financially stable and time-flexible enough to be able to campaign for the Transition agenda that I think so important.

I look forward to meeting you at the AGC conference, if you're going!!

Mark Rotherham's picture

I wish it was true that we

I wish it was true that we could somehow self-organise our way through change, allowing those who are political and those who think they are not to each do their bit for the good of all. Unfortunately, this experiment tried over the last half century has failed, often catastrophically. There is no virtue in the voluntary sacrifice of power. It just makes life more difficult and dangerous for those who remain politically active. Economic, institutional and/or hereditary power is an elite preserve. For the rest of us safety lies in numbers - democracy! If the Transition Movement fosters ideas that undermine those numbers then 'transition' will move in a direction that most of us (I hope) would not want to see - transition further to the Right. Before BNP popularity was absorbed by UKIP the far right was very enthusiastic about the need for relocalisation and used transition and peak oil to give political thrust to its own purposes. If the Transition Movement does not get political on its own terms then others will be more than happy to step in and give theirs.  

Some historical perspective would help with the 'to be or not to be' of politics. The 1960's Student Movement was soon met with brutal repression and so turned instead to a softer target than the state. People set about changing themselves. The guiding belief was that if enough people could change themselves then the system would inevitably change too. Thus the Commune Movement arose among disaffected and defeated former political activists. And alongside them many more joined who had no connection, experience or understanding of the authoritarian rule compelling this turn within. To later followers it just looked like fun. If it didn't look like a dance party they weren't interested! It was not self organised groups but the organised self interest of elites that won the 60's revolution and continued business-as-usual politics creating an even more unequal and damaged world - the one we live in today.

Positive thinking became the popular ideology. What was forgotten was the defeat and despair out of which this thinking had arisen. Like a kind of Ghost Dance movement, people believed that positive thinking could stop bullets; if only you can think 'positive' enough you can somehow absorb the bullets without harm. A more sober spirit would have kept its eye on elite interest groups working lawfully within existing structures of power. The only threat to those cabals comes from voiced, mobilised political consensus focused on policy. Any movement that lacks political will is easily tolerated and even welcomed by the status quo. Let people exhaust their time, talent and energy on anything other than politics. 

At a local and national level the question of Transition/politics matters because one piece of legislation has the power to counter the good intentions of a million people doing good and kindly acts. Turning off the tap is preferable to constantly mopping up. And the Transition Movement is in danger of becoming handmaid to elite power, duly mopping up the mess left by cuts to welfare and public services. The Green Party is the only political and parliamentary organisation that gives radical voice to social justice and ecological sanity. Being political isn't about 'party politics' - that common putdown by the confused and disingenuous - it's about policies. And thanks to the hard work and foresight of the Green Party those polices are worked out and waiting to be voted for. The Transition Movement is still in its infancy. As it matures it must connect veggie boxes with ballot sheets.

Congratulations Caroline and thank you for making that connection so resolute. 

 

Diana Korchien's picture

Transition, Environmental NGOs and the Green Party

Having read this blog and all 3 comments on it, I'd like to share my personal perspective which is the result of work to clarify my own thinking. In my triple-hatted capacity of Green Party Campaigns Committee member, Transition steering group member and Friends of the Earth local group co-ordinator, I enjoy switching between these identities and comparing the current thinking and energies within each organisation.

Firstly: the Green Party. Attending the 40th anniversary Conference in Nottingham this February, I brought along a goodly supply of the first issue of TFP. It sold out. I also gifted copies to the original founders of the Green Party, and to other, current officers of the Green Party (national). Let it be said that I was somewhat surprised that a few of these people had never even heard of the Transition movement. Clearly we have a lot more educating to do within the Green Party - at all levels. In my view, the Party is simply not Green enough! And if the Green Party is to have a fighting chance of countering the dangerously menacing rise of UKIP, then it will need to supply a strong new narrative based solely on the environmental perspective to issues that UKIP are, so far, successfully selling to the British public. To definitively distance itself from UKIP, the Green Party will need to be mindful at all times of emphasising its credo of social inclusiveness.

Secondly: Transition. Transitioning to me is the process of generating realistic and practical solutions to practical everyday problems of survival, so that we can continue to function as a reasonably sane, reasonably civilised society, despite the prospect of huge lifestyle changes - which are already underway. Inasmuch as the general public are broadly apolitical, I think Transition, in order to gradually attract and win over growing numbers of folk, must, for this reason, never wear an overtly political hat. And, like with the Green Party, Transition must always be, and be seen to be totally inclusive.

Thirdly: Friends of the Earth. It is untrue to say that FoE do not have a political agenda. I cannot speak for other environmental NGOs as I have not had the degree of involvement with them that I have had with FoE. The great majority of FoE's national campaigns have a strong parliamentary element, either recently CBE (Clean British Energy) and The Bee Cause, or, famously, in 2008, The Climate Change Bill which received Royal assent after 3 and a half years of dedicated campaigning.

By the time that the majority of people are living by Transition values, there will be little need for environmental pressure groups to exist. I often wonder too, whether at this point, we would have a one-party state!