Is there an epochal significance for British politics in the upcoming local elections in Norwich?
By Rupert Read
Regular readers of my articles will no doubt have noticed that I sometimes use words like ‘epochal’ and ‘history-making’ when describing Green Party achievements. I use these ‘hyperbolic’ phrases to reflect reality. They are a reflection of the massive steps the Green Party has taken in recent years, and in anticipation of future milestones to be passed not too far further down the road.
For example: In the last decade we’ve had our first MEPs elected and re- elected, and our first MSPs. This year we finally returned our first MP to Westminster. Now we stand on the threshold of an occasion every bit as historic as those achievements, if not more so:
In the local elections on Sept 9th (See here for why these elections are happening), the Green Party can capitalise on years of hard work by becoming the largest party on Norwich City Council (we are at present just 2 seats behind Labour) and potentially then forming the first-ever UK Green Principal Authority administration (We may well emerge on Sept. 10th with more seats than anyone else in Norwich and form a minority adminstration. Though in theory the other Parties could still stop us from forming an administration, by coalescing together). This could be therefore a real watershed moment.
Having a Green MP constitutes a powerful voice for change, but only when the media listens. Caroline Lucas is a superb politician with insightful and passionate views but she is hamstrung by her lack of power, by the Green Party’s current lack of power and absence of a proven track record. Classic catch-22 stuff.
The media might come to her for a quote on matters which they perceive to be her areas of expertise or insight, but as a lone MP she runs the risk of being swallowed up by Westminster, becoming a token figurehead for a party perceived as niche, unless both she and the Green Party get more national exposure, and are seen to be taking decisions across a wide range of issues and areas.
The outcome in Norwich in four weeks’ time could help get us that wide- ranging exposure. Green ideas are, after all, only as good as our ability to put them into practice. From the morning of Sept 10th, we could at long last start to see some real Green political action. Ultimately we could see a seismic shift in UK democracy. Because, if we win the Sept. 9 local elections,
then, for the first time ever, Greens will be in power, alone, and we will be able to start to practice what we preach. (See here for our Manifesto).
If we put the current and future state of local government into a wider context then Green Party success carries with it a number of opportunities allied to a series of potentially intractable problems. Against the backdrop of a coalition Government seemingly intent on pushing Britain back into recession, draining the economy of public money, a Green Council, full of fresh ideas and untainted by the failures of the national party (something which befalls Libs,Labs and Cons alike) will have to show that we not only have a strong ethical stance but that we are sensitive to the needs of local communities and businesses and that we can really do the business of realpolitik. In a climate of savage government cuts, this will be hard. In a cash-strapped lower-tier Council with relatively few powers and a relatively small budget, it will be even harder. But we are ready to step up, and try.
A politically non-partisan friend recently expressed to me his desire to see the Green Party (should they be given the chance) offer a mature and commercially astute model for how ethics and economics can be brought together in a productive way. This model would need to show its suitability not just for rural or middle class locales but for urban areas which include pockets of social deprivation, joblessness and poverty. The opportunity to govern will introduce our policies and beliefs to groups other than what he calls the ‘Guardian reading middle classes’. We have been representing more working-class areas for years – the majority of my own ward is Council estates – but power will enable us to prove that Green governance can be good and inclusive, beyond the muesli belts.
All of this will ultimately impact upon how we might benefit from a positive outcome in next year’s AV referendum (See this & this). As things stand AV is unlikely to propel us into very many 3rd places which is where one needs to be if one is to have a chance of winning with others’ redistributed preferences – but a strong display of good government in Norwich (allied to
the national exposure that will surely accompany it) will send signals to the electorate that we are able, that we can govern, that there is an alternative.
Surely then Caroline will have more Green colleagues joining her in 2015, a Green Party presence that could begin to exert the same kind of influence our continental cousins have exerted in coalition governments in Scandinavia and Germany. A development that all pluralist-minded progressives and lefties would I hope welcome.
When it’s put like that, what other way is there to describe this enormous opportunity, other than ‘Epochal’?