Jonathan Bartley: we need a clear proposal for every Londoner – not just activists – in the Mayoral and Assembly elections
Jonathan Bartley, one of the Green Party candidates for London Mayor and Assembly , arguing that the Green Party needs to make a clear offer to every Londoner—not just activist groups—in next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly elections. You can find more of Bright Green’s coverage of the Mayoral and Assembly elections here.
As all the Mayoral candidates have made their individual offers to Green Party members, some suggest that we narrow our focus to activist groups. I believe this would be a mistake.
I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with teachers campaigning against cuts to Further Education and successfully battled to save sheltered housing. I was dragged off the steps of St Paul’s during the Occupy evictions. Like many Greens, my politics were forged in the crucible of protest.
But I have also learned that elections are won through pavement politics and the hard graft of knocking on doors and talking to neighbours. This is what Lambeth Green Party did to move the Green vote from 8% to 30% and gain our first council seat in Streatham.
For the vast majority of Londoners, activism is not a part of everyday experience. For every Londoner that wants radical change, another wants security. For every voter who wants equal pay, there is one who wants a safer neighbourhood.
And come May, most will want to know what each candidate for Mayor is proposing to do for them.
We shouldn’t sneer at voters for asking. After decades of let downs from Tories, Labour and the LibDems, surely that is the right thing for Londoners to be asking?
I believe the Green Party has come of age. This is not the time for a crisis of confidence. Nor is it the time for old romantic notions of forging another ‘new politics’. We have answers. We’ve all seen the results from Vote for Policies surveys and blind opinion polls; Green policy is popular. But to convert that good feeling into votes, we must move out of our cultural cliques and engage ordinary people on their own terms.
In the months leading up to the 2014 council elections I met Barbara, a pensioner. Along with her neighbours she was facing eviction from her home by Labour-run Lambeth council.
Now I couldn’t very well go to her and say, “you should speak to Focus E15, get Russell Brand down and squat your homes”. She would have rightly told us to go take a hike!
Instead we got to know the community and fought alongside them. We saved their homes. Yes, through protest, but also working with colleagues at City Hall, to challenge the council. This gave us the permission to share what else the Green Party would do for older people, their grandchildren, and the wider community
A few days before the General Election Barbara invited me round for a cup of tea with a few of her neighbours. Before I got to my second biscuit she said “I have to confess we’ve invited you here under false pretences”. She pushed an envelope into my hand containing £140; “It’s not much but I hope it helps towards your campaign” she said.
I’m now fighting alongside Barbara to save more homes in another part of Lambeth, at Cressingham Gardens. And a big part of what we should offer to Londoners is new proposals to empower everyone battling to save their homes. We must continue to advocate for them, as Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson have already done, and welcome them into City Hall.
But these campaigns are fought and won because they are the right thing to do, not as part of an electoral strategy. And with good reason. We must go to Londoners where they are, not where we wish they would be.
“What would a Green administration at City Hall mean for me, my family and my community?” This is the defining question for this campaign. This isn’t retail politics. It’s realistic politics. If we find it distasteful or it makes us uncomfortable, then we have to examine if we’re serious.
I’m a Green because I want to win elections. This is not as an end in itself. It is so we can secure our environment, rebalance our economy, restore our social safety net and ultimately make people’s lives better. That is what Londoners expect from us. And I believe it’s what Green Party members expect from us too.
If you want to change the world through single pressure groups, charitable work and direct action, I’m right behind you! I’ll march with you, I’ll organise with you. But don’t ask me to convince the people next door to vote for you.
I won’t shy away from talking about having an offer for every Londoner. I won’t shy away from having a strategy that sees the Green Party challenging for votes in every borough. Because if Greens select me for their Mayoral candidate, I will be fighting the London Mayoral election to win as many Green votes as possible and put us in a winning position for the future.