On the night of May 1st, here in Norwich
where I am writing from, the Green Party achieved a historic nationwide first: we became the second-largest Party on a Principal Authority Council (and so we will become the Official Opposition to Labour here in Norwich
, Charles Clarke’s seat). We gained 3 seats (out of 13 up for election) in order to do this, including the seat of Thorpe Hamlet, where last year we missed out by just one vote... This year, we won Thorpe Hamlet by five hundred and one votes… It seems that there is poetic justice, after all…
We are now breathing down Labour’s neck, in Norwich (they have just two more seats than us on the 39-seat Council), and if the result last night were repeated at a general election, a Green MP would be elected here and Charles Clarke would place 4th
In Norwich, the LibDems and Tories now often suffer from the ‘wasted vote’ argument that used to bedevil us. In London, our vote share in the Assembly elections has held steady, and our Mayoral vote has increased significantly. These are real achievements, However, we appear nevertheless to have suffered from an old-fashioned ‘two-Party squeeze’ in London (though not as badly as the LibDems have suffered) – for, without the extreme focus on the Ken vs. Boris battle, there is little doubt but that our vote for both elections would have gone way up. As occurred in Scotland last year, a close contest between two rival Parties (there, the SNP and Labour, in London, the Ken and Boris show) focussed the media’s -- and thus the electorate’s -- attention on those two only, and an advance in London has thereby been denied us.
Our Assembly Members got an enormous amount out of Ken, including millions of pounds of investments (that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred) in green infrastructure for London. My personal favourite item from the budget deals that Ken was forced to make with our Green A.M.s to get his budgets through was £50,000 for campaign groups opposed to the Thames Gateway Bridge project. Ken of course wants this project to go ahead; but he was willing to fund an equal playing field between objectors and proponents of the scheme, if that was a Green condition for backing his budget. I think that this creativity says a lot for both Ken and the Green A.M.s. Because of this, Ken’s Mayoralty will be missed.
The question will inevitably be asked of whether the Green Assembly Members in London can work with Mayor Johnson. When I last met Boris, last summer, when he was contemplating whether to run for Mayor or not, he said to me, with his usual tongue firmly in cheek, “I ought to be a Green”. But he isn’t, and it is hard to see much common ground between us and him. Being Conservative ought to be about conserving things, which Greens are certainly in favour of: but I foresee a London which will become even more relentlessly pro-big-business than Ken’s London was, whatever the environmental cost.
In any case, the electoral arithmetic of the Assembly, given the Conservative surge that May 1st 2008 has seen, will render the question largely academic. For, whereas Ken had to rely on Green votes to get his budget through, Boris will be able to get his budget through with Tory support alone. The electors of London in their wisdom have given Boris Johnson carte blanche to run London just as he sees fit, and have in effect stripped the Assembly of its main power. For those who thought that Ken’s regime was authoritarian or too powerful: you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Sian Berry’s inspirational Green Party campaign for Mayor of London has had some extraordinary consequences in terms of the level of seriousness accorded the Green Party in this country – most strikingly, the ringing endorsement from a major national newspaper for a vote for her: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-if-newspapers-had-a-vote-this-one-would-put-its-cross-beside-818670.html . I fear the worst, for Boris’s tenure of London – people haven’t twigged yet how his semi-deliberate buffoonery masks a politician just like any other (See my past history with Boris that has led me to believe this, at http://www.timeout.com/london/big-smoke/features/4645/Race_to_be_Mayor-the_final_verdict.html ). When they wake up and realise that running a city is not like hosting a chat show, then they may regret not giving the Green Party a stronger voice in London this time around. If you want to go Green, there is no alternative: you’ve got to VOTE Green.