Sending an elected politician to the House of Lords is the “right thing to do” – an interview with Andrew Cooper
Andrew Cooper is no stranger to Green Party of England and Wales internal elections. He has twice challenged for the deputy leadership – in 2016 and 2018. Both times, he came a strong second in a crowded field of candidates – picking up 25% of first preference votes in 2018.
Now he’s seeking a different office. Standing in the party’s selection for its next member of the House of Lords, he’s again found himself on a ballot paper with a broad spread of prominent candidates. Among them is Amelia Womack – who defeated him in the previous deputy leadership elections – as well as former MEP Molly Scott Cato, and Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Rupert Read.
Putting an elected politician into the House of Lords
In this context, all have had to hone down what makes their candidacy unique. To this end, Cooper is centering his experience in local government and the fact that he is currently a sitting councillor in Kirklees. He has around twenty years’ experience in local government – a length of service rare among the Green Party, whose councillor tally remains low, despite recent gains.
When Bright Green spoke with him, his local government background was central to Cooper’s pitch. He says that “being an elected politician in the House of Lords” would make him a “unique” candidate in the selection process. This is something he has made a lot of noise about already. It features as the first point in his platform. And according to Cooper, sending a sitting councillor to the Lords would be “pretty powerful”.
I think that what I would bring is having a constituency, representing people. And there’ll be all sorts of unelected people in the House of Lords. I’ll be an elected person in the house of lords. I’ll be somebody who sees those issues and those problems.
And in that way I can speak with authority and authenticity about a lot of the issues that you come across. And I think when we’re talking about an institution as unaccountable as that is, I think that’s pretty powerful.
He goes further, arguing that selecting an elected councillor to the Lords would be “just the right thing to do”:
I think the Green Party sending an elected politician to an unelected institution is just the right thing to do.
Implementing Green policy
It is from this experience in local government that Cooper draws another of his key messages – that he has a track record of implementing and delivering Green policy. He says this puts him in an “unusual position” for Greens. For most Greens, power is an elusive concept, so Cooper naturally leans into this:
I’m in the fortunate position of having been able to get some pretty substantial policies implemented, which have had far reaching implications.
He makes his case here by contrasting his experience with the other candidates in the race. Both Scott Cato and Read have also been elected councillors, but Cooper still highlights what he sees as a key difference between them:
well Molly and Rupert have got experience in this. Yeah, they have, they’ve been councillors, I think the difference is, I would suggest, is what the outcomes have actually been in terms of implementation of policy.
Naturally, other candidates in the race would contest this depiction – not least Scott Cato. In an interview with Bright Green, she also claimed to have a “unique” position of delivering policy, drawing on her time as an MEP.
But Cooper substantiates his argument by going beyond talking solely about his time as a councillor:
I’ve spoken at select committees. I’ve been a lobbyist for the renewable energy industry, dealing directly with ministers. And so I know my way around government. As a member of the EU Committee of the Regions, I managed to pass UN policy on climate change.
So whichever institution I’m involved in, whether it’s a council, whether its Committee of the Regions, even a parish councillor, I always try and find different ways of finding what the levers are to make that work.
But it is, as expected, his time in local government, where he describes his concrete achievements – especially around energy and climate change:
The first ever universally free insulation scheme. 50,000 homes insulated, millions saved on fuel bills. The first ever policy which basically banned fracking in a council area, which then led to setting up the chance for other councils to do the same thing.
Tackling climate change in the Lords
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Cooper has spent a number of year’s as the Green Party’s energy spokesperson, it is climate that he intends to prioritise were he to enter the Lords. Indeed, he says that his priority would “obviously” be “addressing the climate emergency”, delivering a “zero carbon economy” and pushing for a “2030 target” for net-zero carbon emissions.
And he claims to have already been bringing his background in climate policy to the team in the Green team in the Lords, saying:
When Jenny was on her own she was saying that the housing and energy policy background I’ve got would be of real value to her
It’s not just me talking about something. I’ve developed those policies at a regional level. I’ve advocated those policies at a national level. I’ve influenced at a global level. So […] this is a tangible tranche of work that I’ve got behind me.
And pursuing these policies in the Lords is something Cooper is keen to do, despite the anti-democratic nature of the chamber. The Scottish Green Party refuses to take any seats in the Upper House because of it being an appointed, rather than an unelected body. While Cooper says he understands the Scotitsh Greens’ position and that he supports a “wholly elected second chamber” with a “revising” role, he still sees value in sending Greens to the Lords as currently constituted:
people like Natalie and Jenny are doing sterling work in the House of Lords and without those voices, we are lesser for it. So I want to get in that because I want to represent Green Party voters, who at the moment are not represented.
Going further, he justifies the position by citing the nearly one million people who voted Green in the 2019 general election who were left with only one Green voice in the House of Commons, branding it “appalling”. This, combined with the flaws of the House of Commons are reason enough for the legitimacy of Greens taking office in the Lords:
Well, let’s have a look at the commons shall we? And when I’m thinking about the Commons, I’m thinking about all those sheep, who are told how to vote by the party whips, often against things they’ve actually said, and trooped in and herded into the lobby to vote one way or the other. And you think how representative a lot of the time are those MPs?
So there’s a lot that needs to change, and having more Green Party politicans, whether it’s in the Lords or the Commons, gives us a fresh independent voice that otherwise wouldn’t be there. So yes, there’s good reasons to criticise the House of Lords but there’s some really good reasons to criticise the House of Commons as well.
Three questions in the last day of voting
But Cooper’s ambitions for delivering on Green policy, and his desire to bring a “fresh” Green voice to Westminster will be dependent on the membership of the Green Party putting their faith in him. There’s no denying he has a core base of support. He picked up around 1,800 votes in both his 2016 and 2018 deputy leadership bids, a figure largely unchanged despite a variance in turnout.
There are nevertheless three key questions that will be answered once all votes have been cast and counted.
First, whether he has been able to hold on to that core support in a more heavily contested field. Will his supporters stick, or are they tempted over to the campaigns of Scott Cato and Read?
Second, whether he has been able to reach out to new voters, with the electorate significantly expanded. There has been a notably low interest amongst the membership in the House of Lords selection. But it is the first contest members are prompted to vote in on their ballot – before the leadership and deputy leadership. It’s therefore probable that more will vote in this election than in his previous deputy leadership campaigns. Has he brought these new voters on board?
And finally, whether the lack of interest from the membership en masse will suppress the turnout for his competitors. Will he be able to sneak up the order by virtue of a diminished turnout of his opponents’ base? Having been comprehensively defeated by Womack twice before, and up against two other candidates with a higher national profile than his, this may be the determining factor.
Ultimately, this will all become clear soon. The last members are casting their ballots over the next day – until Monday 31 August 10pm. With results apparently due on September 9, we will soon know whether Cllr Cooper will likely someday soon become Lord Cooper of Kirklees.
This is the second in a series of interviews with the candidates for the Green Party’s next member of the House of Lords. In addition to these interviews, we also hosted a hustings for candidates on July 26, a recording of which you can watch here.
PS. We hope you enjoyed this article. Bright Green has got big plans for the future to publish many more articles like this. You can help make that happen. Please donate to Bright Green now.
Image credit: YouTube screengrab