Prospective Mayoral candidate Caroline Russell: ‘As a lone Green councillor, you must be tough’
As voting gets underway for the Green Party’s candidates for London Mayor and for the London Assembly, Joe Lo talks to Caroline Russell who is in the running for both. You can find more of Bright Green’s coverage of both elections here.
After campaigning on road safety and transport issues for many years, Caroline Russell was recruited to Islington Green Party in 2009. A late but enthusiastic convert, she has now run for the Party in the full range of general, council and London Assembly elections and, in 2014 became the Party’s only councillor on an otherwise all-Labour Islington Council.
“Being one out of 47 in the council chamber, you have to be pretty tough, clear-thinking and articulate,” she says, “and I’m surviving it. In fact, I’m more than surviving it, I’m using the council chamber as a way to get Greens heard in Islington and to be able to make a difference to peoples’ lives.”
On top of this, her councillor experience has also brought her an understanding of governance and scrutiny and how to involve communities in the scrutiny process. This, she says, will be valuable as a Mayoral candidate and is an experience she shares with only one her Green competitors, Camden councillor Sian Berry.
Isn’t being a local representative and campaigner though, very different to running for Mayor and being the figurehead of a London-wide campaign? There’s a lot more broadcast interviews, for example. “I’ve done plenty of mainstream, broadcast interviews,” she replies, “I’ve done World at One and breakfast TV. I’m the party’s national spokesperson on local transport so I’m completely used to it.”
Radical and credible?
What kind of message would she be putting across when interviewed? The selection debate can be crudely characterised as one between, on the one hand, potential candidates who want to be radical firebrands, inspiring activists outside of the party to campaign for it and taking votes from left-leaning Labour supporters; and those who wish to present our policies as common sense, calmly and ‘credibly’ and reassuring centrist and Tory voters.
Most of the candidates would presumably reject this framing of the debate, claiming that candidates can be both radical and credible at the same time and Russell is the same. “That dichotomy is beside the point. People understand that we need a paradigm shift. We can have broad appeal for radical policies.”
So is she unafraid to be labelled a “lefty” by the Evening Standard and others in the media? “If you’re Green and you subscribe to Green Party policies then of course you’re a Lefty,” she replies.
Is a Green Mayor possible?
One of her rivals, Sian Berry, told Bright Green recently that she would be aiming to win the mayoralty, if selected, but Russell is not letting her hopes get that high. “I love Sian’s optimism but, given the scale of what we have to do, to hold our position in third place and to make it stronger with more assembly members would be a real achievement for any Mayoral candidate. To win the Mayoral election is certainly worth fighting for but I suspect it is quite a long shot.”
Although she disagrees with the term “stepping stone”, she links the 2016 Mayoral and Assembly elections with the 2018 council elections in London. “If we don’t use this election campaign to build our local parties, so that we are ready for the 2018 election campaign, we will have utterly failed our party. The fact that there are only four councillors elected in London is just awful. We have to make sure that we are ready to get a lot of Greens elected next time.” Crucial to this, she says, will be how we engage all the new members who joined in the Green Surge. Her local party, Islington, has gone from 130 members to 600 which requires different strategies and a different level of organisation. “The biggest challenge is how to organise an explosion in campaigning in local parties. Every member must feel able to participate.”
Although she respects and likes Jeremy Corbyn, who she ran against in 2015, she doesn’t want to comment on Labour’s candidates for Mayoral selection other than to say she admires Christian Wolmar’s policies on transport.
On the Tories, she vehemently denies that Jenny Jones said, as quoted in the Evening Standard, that many Greens may back Zac Goldsmith as a second preference. According to Russell, “[the Standard] spun it, they were very mischievous”.
Her view is: “I can’t imagine many Greens or Green supporters voting second preference for Zac but I don’t think we should make assumptions about how they are going to vote, especially until we have seen the manifestos. It may be that the Tory manifesto has some better stuff in it than the Labour one, we just don’t know until the manifestos come out.” She continues to say that she will choose who her second preference goes to on policy lines, not party lines.