It’s up to Labour and the Liberal Democrats to take the lead in getting Parliamentary representation for people who don’t want the Conservatives back in next time
post by Richard Clark – Mid and East Cornwall Green Party Spokesperson for the St Austell and Newquay constituency
The meeting in Penzance on 22 February 2018 gives a glimmer of hope for the future, but it is only a flickering gleam as things sit, a long way from the furnace of all that is blue and depressing that some of us would hope it to be.
Although the narrative around progressive discussion is welcome we have to accept that recent moves behind the scenes and more recently also at PMQs on Brexit may indicate the flanking manoeuvre many of us have been hoping for as the first step to bring down this heinous government, only an asserted and – most importantly, co-ordinated – follow up will result in positive change. And this is especially true in Cornwall where we have no progressive representation and half the MPs wish to drag us back fifty years or more.
Sadly, this is not happening. There are three things that have been holding us back in Cornwall since the sacrifices Greens decided to make in June: a paucity of conversation that holds values of mutual respect for differing priorities and pluralism dear, an inability to apply psephological logic as opposed to naïve optimism and – quite probably the most important – a lack of prioritisation from those who have power nationally to engage on regional and local levels.
To begin with the first point, it is good to see the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) were present and on the panel in Penzance, and I hope that if a similar event is organised more centrally – I would like one in the constituency I speak for – this presence will be repeated. Yet, when the election was announced in 2017 I do not believe that they were invited to the exploratory meeting between the people locally at the ‘top’ of local parties, and I also am unclear as to whether Mebyon Kernow (MK) were shut out of that meeting as only know the positions of the respective major parties.
Few people seem to realise it, but The Green Party did not decide to just blithely ‘step aside’ in 2017. We strategically struck deals on a local, regional and national basis where we could in the time –frame we had. This meant that our National Executive met to approve as many suggestions that they could: including deciding to not stand in Shipley and endorse the WEP, then also not stand in South West Surrey and endorse the National Health Action (NHA) party.
What is clear to us now is that this ‘withdraw and endorse’ approach had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the parties that are smaller than us(for example National Health Action Party, Womens Equality Party), and – moreover – that it was the right thing to do as we recognise tribalism and non-plural thinking does not deliver as well for the people as compromising on certain priorities to meet a party that has similar ideas but different central concerns to ours. It is also quite clear that other major parties would have been much better at decreasing Conservative seats if they had acted towards us with a similar generosity as we did to the WEP and NHA: and I do acknowledge there were activists in both The Liberal Democrats and Labour who tried, largely in vain, to do this and with differing levels of tribal revenge enacted by their party machines.
To move on, Cornwall is a great example where both Green Parties did not feel it could achieve the withdraw and endorse trade offs we would like to see, and where we notice that there is no point in denying people the opportunity to vote Green next time around without multi-party reciprocation of both endorsement candidates and joint action against First Past the Post (FTPT) as a system. Joint representation on a coalition basis could be desirable as long as there are agreed objectives. However – we will not get the voting outcomes we want if the big players: The Greens, and also Labour and The Liberal Democrats, not only foster an understanding to work together, but also bring the minor progressive parties along with them.
In simple terms, no matter how much you like Jeremy Corbyn and want him to be our next Prime Minister it has to be recognised that people will only vote for him in droves if he is being ameliorated by more temperate influences. No matter how much you like Vince Cable, the belief that Brexit opposition will result in significant Liberal Democrat power akin to 2010 – 2015 is as much ‘pie in the sky’ as it was for Tim Farron to put out unrealistic hope. And no matter how much I would like to see Jonathan Bartley become the MP for Lambeth, if I were to say that I expect that to be a future reality following the next general election that too would be highly optimistic and beyond the wildest dreams in voter trends.
In even more simple terms, the sooner The Labour Party move away from their authoritarian and tribal principles and give their local officials power to negotiate, the sooner the hundreds of thousands of Cornish voters who have zero representation in parliament – the ‘many’ their slogan says they are ‘for’ and not the minority who vote Conservative – will actually have a vote that counts. In the simplest terms, it really is that basic that Labour hardly ever win here: a place where older, financially secure English immigrants dominate the voting demographic. A Corbyn led government will never have Labour representation in Cornwall without the help of – at the very least – The Liberal Democrats and to tell your loyal supporters otherwise is disingenuous folly.
So this brings me onto the final point. Yes, we should have people at the top of these parties speaking now, meeting regularly and negotiating often. However, the tenuous nature of this government mean that when we bump into each other at a by-election count and say “wouldn’t it be good if we sat down and talked together” means that – as in 2017 – another snap election through Brexit failure may see another blue-wash (although this time Mid and East Cornwall Green Party have put a strategy in place to stand hard and take as many votes as possible should that suddenly happen). Regular quarterly meetings, along with regular quarterly engagement events on a progressive alliance, with locally empowered officials in attendance – with the provision of the Chatham House rule – will see us moving towards a position where we don’t do the Conservative’s job for them.