17 Oct 2006

green party hist ch1, pt 2

“… voters did not connect PEOPLE with ecology. What I wanted was something that the media could look up in their files so that, when they wanted a spokesman of the issue of ecology, they could find the Ecology Party and pick up the phone. It was as brutal and basic as that. PEOPLE didn’t communicate what we had hoped it would communicate”.

It's 1974, teenage public school boy David Taylor is contemplating growing his hair long, changing his name , sitting in front of trains to stop them transporting nuclear waste and getting stuck into the anarcho direct action green movement including the green gatherings and green CND.....surely this man must have been the most controversial male principal speaker the Green Party has every seen. Seriously I saw David at the Hove conference, he has a very lengthy pedigree as a key Green political activist, I met him at my first Ecology Party South West regional meeting in 1981 and was amazed by how long his blonde hair was.

He pretty much defined radical but non socialist green politics in the early to mid 1980s....its 1974 and he is the first PEOPLE candidate in a school election. The political division in the Party in the early 1980s was anarcho green gathering types and the electoralist around Porritt and Jonathon Tyler....I started off in the electoralist camp but my real passion was of course ecosocialism, so I was slightly at 45 degrees to these debates.

This section notes the change to the Ecology Party name, debates over socialism and the near death experience of the Party in the lean mid 1970s.

Green Party history chapter one, part 2

Student David Taylor stood in the Party’s first ever school election at Radley College in Oxfordshire, using green as his campaign colour. Even Taylor’s enthusiasm failed to raise spirits and poor results and lack of media interest inflicted, by the second 1974 General Election, was a sharp blow. Far from debating global survival, the Party was discussing its own future and reaching increasingly depressing conclusions. After existing for eighteen months, PEOPLE was far from strong and local groups began to collapse. Coventry, the strongest, disappeared in 1975. Of the two other active branches, Liverpool was in serious decline but Leeds hung on and is now the oldest continuous local Green Party branch anywhere in the world. Leeds has recruited such luminaries as Alex Begg, Keith Rushworth and Sara Parkin [14]. But even in Leeds the group “was graduating, leaving and not being replaced” [Interview with DW].
In November 1974, an area organisers’ meeting in Liverpool surveyed the swiftly disappearing opportunities. Lesley Whittacker read a letter out from a fourteen-year-old Surrey member, Francis Milled, arguing that we should join the Liberals. Benfield argued that young people should be targeted. Jill Hubbard argued that Trade Unions should be worked on and a local member from Leeds had been trying to interest his branch of ASTMS in ecological campaigning. Peter Allen noted that “a substantial section of the meeting felt that if PEOPLE were to have any impact, it must appeal to the Unions and to do this it must become a Party of the Left”. Clive Lord noted the Party’s commitment to redistributing wealth, while John Davenport, later elected as one of the Party’s first local councillors, argued that the manifesto drew no distinction between Left and Right. Tony Whittacker reaffirmed his belief that socialism was committed to economic growth. Peter Allen reminded the meeting of the distinction between “the traditional left, which believed in state ownership, and the libertarian Left, which believed in complete devolution”, observing that The Ecologist had contained a number of articles on anarchism. The ideological debate finished inconclusively [15].
If 1974 was difficult, 1975 was devastating. This was the year that the Party came near to folding. The Whittackers, arguing that they had intended to give the Party a two-year trial period, felt that the experiment had more or less failed and took to self-sufficiency in Devon:

“By 1975 we had made some progress but nothing like as far or as good as we really would have liked. Quite honestly, we had covered thousands of miles and spent a lot of money and time. Lesley and I were getting slightly soured, so that when we ran for the hills of Exmoor the thing had to stand on its own feet or die”.

PEOPLE changed its name and colour at a second national conference in June 1975, becoming the Ecology Party. Lesley proposed the new name, despite her move to Devon, for pragmatic reasons:

“… voters did not connect PEOPLE with ecology. What I wanted was something that the media could look up in their files so that, when they wanted a spokesman of the issue of ecology, they could find the Ecology Party and pick up the phone. It was as brutal and basic as that. PEOPLE didn’t communicate what we had hoped it would communicate”. [Interview with DW]

Often, PEOPLE was described in error as the People’s Party, which sounded vaguely communistic; equally, the subtle colours of coral and turquoise were reproduced as red, white and blue. Green was much simpler and communicated the ideal. A new Manifesto for a Sustainable Society was drafted by Peter Allen with a nod to the Romantic poets. It started:

“When in 1884 Lord Byron wrote: “The fact is riches are power and poverty is slavery all over the Earth and one sort of establishment is no better nor worse for than another”, there was every expectation that an increase in material affluence promised by the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution would at least ease the poverty. It is a sad indictment of the last 160 years that little has changed. Some nations have become very rich, but within them there is still abject poverty and the poor nations, if anything, are poorer”. [MFSS]

Economic growth had failed humanity while destroying nature.
The National Executive Committee (NEC), set up in 1973, continued to meet amidst arguments between Allen and Benfield that resulted in both dropping out of activity. Clive Lord from Leeds was probably the only member who remained continuously active from 1973 to the 1979 General Election and beyond. The 1976 Conference in Sheffield was attended by only twenty-seven members. Clive feared that the Party “was in real danger of petering out”. Emergency survival measures included merger with the tabloid environmental newspaper Good Earth, published by former car worker and Conservation Society dissident Ron Andrews. Throughout 1976 and ’77, brave headlines proclaimed the continuing advances and occasional set backs of what must surely have been one of Britain’s smallest political party.

The only thing that maintained the Party’s tiny membership, other than the Good Earth arrangement, was a set of remarkably good local election results, a pattern that was to lift spirits at other difficult times. Despite membership of under 200, no Party office and little electoral experience, the re-named Party gained its first councillors! Out of a field of six candidates in the 1976 local elections, two were elected. John Davenport gained a council seat near Worcester, while another parish councillor was elected elsewhere.


The following year, Jeremy Faull won a County Council seat in Cornwall, near Goldsmith’s Ecologist office. Steve Lambert, husband of the Green Party’s first representative in the European Parliament, Jean Lambert, joined and gave the Party a contact in London. Jonathon Tyler, a transport lecturer from Birmingham, also became active at this time. Tyler was picked to contest the first parliamentary by-election for the Party in 1977.
The vacancy created conveniently in the West Midlands seat of Walsall North by absconding Labour MP John Stonehouse was, however, not to be filled by Tyler. Good Earth trumpeted the fact that the “Ecology Party fights eight in Stonehouse country” and noting “as we go to press, the Walsall North by-election is entering its final week of hectic campaigning” [16]. Goldsmith came up from Cornwall, picking up David Taylor, Nicholas Hildyard and Kathy, a New Zealand Values Party activist, to go on the canvassing trail. 40,000 neatly printed green and black leaflets were delivered to ever household but gaining media attention was an impossible battle. Good Earth concluded bravely that “no-one expects the EP to win this election but the cost of fighting it will be justified if at the end of the day we end up with increased support and a viable nucleus of organisation in Birmingham and the surrounding area” [17]. Sadly for Tyler, the result failed to reach even the lowest of expectations. Tyler cam eighth out of nine, beating only Commander William Boaks (the Democratic White Monarchist Public Safety campaigner) with 0.5%.
Again, the local elections proved to be a boost. Tyler took a respectable 572 votes in Birmingham Selly Oak, close to the third place Liberal with 620. Six candidates in Leeds, including a Liberal/Ecology ticket in Moortown, averaged 3% - small, admittedly, but six times stronger than the Walsall result. Faull won his Cornish seat when his only opponent dropped out “unable to fault any of the Party’s policies” and the overall county vote in three further contested wards was a good 16%. Candidates often worked on their own, heroically designing, writing, funding and finally delivering election leaflets, acting as their own agents, canvassing and putting up posters. Peter Sizer, later the Party’s Treasurer, had a particularly bleak time in Birmingham Sparkhill:

“The idea was that we should concentrate our efforts in the Birmingham conurbation – so I pedalled the 20-odd miles there and back each time for canvassing, leafleting, etc. The help we hoped for from Birmingham conservationists didn’t materialise, and I found I was working single-handed more or less… My thirteen year-old daughter helped with getting my nomination paper signed and joined me for leafleting one Sunday afternoon. My only contact in the ward to start with was the man who mended my bike several times when I broke down on my way through.

“Campaigning by bike from twenty miles away is far from easy… One of my bikes was stolen… and on another occasion an Alsatian dog grabbed a finger as I was pushing a leaflet through the letterbox. Perhaps in these days of packaged pet food a finger of postman or electioneer is the square meal the poor brute gets.

“But the 145 votes in an inner city area where I was unknown? Not bad. Duplicated leaflet, a bit of canvassing and a few Good Earths constituted the campaign. I was billed by a sympathetic Sunday newspaper as the cycling candidate who would be canvassing from a poster be-decked bike. I hadn’t reckoned with the weather, and ended up with a bike festooned with soggy papier-mâché.

“Worth it all, though”.
[18]

The Party newsletter noted, “in general, we have reason to be well pleased with the results. Our aim should perhaps be to increase our number of campaigns threefold again – from six in ’76, to seventeen in ’77, to 50 in ’78? 1978 could be ‘the year that people started talking about Zero Growth in Britain’” [19]. The Party had survived.

1 comment:

Mike Feinstein said...

Thanks for this very valuable passage on Green Party history. It is being used as a key source material for the Global Green Chronological History at http://www.globalgreens.org/history/chronology