Denyer and Ramsay are best placed to speak to people beyond the Green bubble
Before I became involved with Solihull Green Party, I had very little idea what local politics was about or what local Councillors did. I think in this regard, I was in a similar position to many party members; I saw politics as something that was done on a national stage, and about the big issues that were reported on the news and in the media.
Since becoming a Councillor, I’ve learned a little about what doing politics is really about. It’s been a steep learning curve; both massively rewarding and depressingly frustrating by turns. But what does being an elected Councillor have to do with being a party leader? Surely being a leader is about the big picture, not the details that local politicians have to focus on?
It’s true that being a good Councillor does mean caring about the little things. The Ps and Bs of local politics (poo, planning, potholes, bins, bumps and bushes) are a staple of every Councillor’s inbox. There are also the more serious but equally local issues that the people we represent are facing in their daily lives. That may include helping someone navigate difficulties accessing social care after a life changing car accident, or the challenge of securing an appropriate school place for a child with special educational needs. It might mean ensuring that someone who’s been the victim of domestic violence gets the right support.
It may not feel like we’re saving the planet when we’re dealing with these issues – though they undoubtedly make a difference to those individuals and families. But they’re crucial in getting the trust of our electorate. Rightly or wrongly, smaller parties are held to a higher standard in this regard. If we want people to vote to put us in positions of power where we can implement real change – especially the radical change that some of our policies call for – we need to prove that we can be effective at delivering on our promises. If we can’t demonstrate that we can do that at a local level, why would people trust us to govern the country?
It’s not all about casework and individual concerns, though. In order to make real change happen, we need to understand how politics gets turned into policy. It’s easy enough for us to have an idea of what political ideology we support, and the issues that are important to us. As Greens, we care about protecting the environment and the natural world. We favour workers’ rights. We oppose healthcare privatisation, and we want to see refugees treated compassionately. But the hard part is figuring out the what and the how of implementing these ideals. Sometimes there are difficult trade offs and judgement calls to be made. Where should the money come from to improve special educational needs provision, for example, in the light of a decade of Tory funding cuts to local authorities?
Alongside this, we need to understand political strategy and tactics; the nuts and bolts of how to use our influence to best effect. How do we use that to make the world a better place? Whether we’re the administration, in a coalition, or in opposition, each of these situations brings its own possibilities and problems.
We have the ongoing challenge of how to convince our residents of our priorities. We may think it’s a good idea to have less frequent bin collections so we can spend more on children’s special educational needs provision (say); but how do you convince the people who voted for you that this is a good plan? Greens often like to say that we should do “the right thing”, rather than the thing that will get you votes, which is all very well, but if you get voted out then you won’t have the opportunity to implement any of your policies.
Political leadership is about making difficult decisions and bringing people with us. Under our unforgiving electoral system, having passionate support from a minority of voters is not enough. We need to engage with people who don’t already vote Green, who may not understand the urgency of the climate crisis, and persuade them to trust us with their votes. To do that, we have to show we understand what those outside of our bubble care about, and communicate with them in their language.
The Green Party has a proud history as a campaigning organisation, and that’s something we should value. But as the political wing of the Green movement, we have to go beyond being campaigners. We have to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and become politicians.
I believe that we need leaders with first hand experience of having done this. People who’ve represented those who aren’t Greens, as well as those who are. People with experience of debating all areas of policy, and who can speak to the everyday concerns of those outside our movement. People who can talk as confidently about public health, housing and education as they can on the more familiar territory of environmental issues. We need those who can engage in the always imperfect, often infuriating, sometimes unpleasant world of politics and still hold onto their values and not lose hope that a better world is possible.
That’s why I’m voting for Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay.
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