'Refreshing' Greens face dilemma
By John Andrews
Published March 5th 2005 in The Journal of Turkish Weekly
Green Party conferences are refreshingly different.
There is no big security and no overzealous party officials. Kids are welcome on the conference floor and the use of round tables, rather than rows of seats, make it more cosy and convivial. Where else would you find fringe sessions on the Iraq and global warming rubbing shoulders with Professor Fiddlesticks' circus skills for children, or composting as part of a low-impact lifestyle? The challenge, it seems to me, is for the party to strut more heavily on the political stage without offending traditional members who are fiercely protective of its character and deeply suspicious of slick soundbite politics.
The dilemma is neatly illustrated by the lack of a single leader for the party. A couple of years ago, it debated whether to have one and the modernisers lost. So this week, the Greens' general election theme was launched by the party's two principal speakers on a specially-built double podium. Not that Caroline Lucas and Keith Taylor are not highly effective performers but some feel the party still suffers from not having a single figurehead. What is not in doubt is the party's determination to get Britain's first Green MP. In the coming general election, it hopes to field candidates in nearly a third of all seats under the slogan "The Real Choice for Real Change". Public railways Not surprisingly, tackling global warming is still at the top of the list of concerns, with pledges to halt all new road building and scale back growth in the aviation industry. On public services, it would end what it regards as over-expensive private finance initiatives and bring the railways back into public ownership. But it knows one of its biggest sources of potential extra votes is anger over the war in Iraq. The party claims many Labour voters are already turning Green and that around a third of new members are former supporters of Tony Blair. Here, though, the Greens face competition for the anti-war vote from the Liberal Democrats and Respect. Though standing in around 200 seats, the Greens are concentrating efforts in areas where they already have councillors - places like Lewisham, Oxford, Norwich and Leeds.
Officials believe their best hope for a seat, though, is Brighton, where a breakdown of the voting figures in last year's Euro elections gave them a 27% share in the city, pushing Labour into third place. But though the party has made slow but steady progress in local government - it now has over 60 councillors - the first past the post voting system means the odds are still stacked against it in general elections. Not surprising then that in his conference speech principal speaker Keith Taylor reminded Tony Blair of a pledge he made in 1997 to offer a referendum on proportional representation. Mr Taylor suggested it could be included as an extra question in the referendum on the European Constitution.
Wishful thinking, perhaps.