So. Here I am, a Kemp Town resident, bleating at the gates of the newly declared Green Socialist People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove to be let in. Not that a change of post code would make much difference. I could move to Liverpool or Glasgow and still be a lost goat chewing down on a rusty old banger with three flat wheels someone’s spraypainted blue with a yellow racing stripe – desperately trying to digest the indigestible. It will never be possible to accept that this country is really going to spend the next five years engaged in full scale war on the most vulnerable members of society, starting with cutting Access to Work funds for disabled people, and moving swiftly along to scrapping the Human Rights Act.
But the People’s Republic does have an open borders policy and a powerful aura. After a weekend doing Tarot in the sun on East St, debriefing with good friends, and being kind to two strangers,* I am now over the first sickening shock of the general election result. The horror aside, there’s yellow-caped crusader Anti-Austerity Sturgeon to cheer on, and hope in the form of the growing call for electoral reform. But the first draft of Astra 3 is due May 31st and I have to write 28,000 words (guestimate, might be more) in three weeks, plus read Tarot at weekends and see the semester out at Chichester, so for now I would just like to go on the record with the following thoughts:
Though all my principles have been wrung through the washer of realpolitik over the last few days, they are not fading but getting Greener by the minute. I joined the party earlier this year because – with the exception of its shady links with Stop the War and kneejerk rejection of foreign intervention – it pretty much stands for everything I believe in. (Blog readers will know I had a falling out with the party here in Brighton last year over Stop the War, but the candidate Davy Jones took the time to meet with me and apologise for his part in the debacle, which I appreciated and respected. A sincere apology is a rare thing.) My only conflict with the Greens running up to the election lay in the guilt I felt over not campaigning for them. I was away for a couple of weekends and otherwise working a lot, in part on Astra 3, but also taking what jobs I could to cover an unexpected large rent increase – the housing crisis is real for me and on my current income I can’t really afford to live in the People’s Republic much longer. But that’s another blog post. To do my bit for the Greens I had stuck a poster in my window and determined to vote for Davy on the day. The night before the election though, I had a wobble.
Several Brighton Facebook friends posted heartfelt pleas to vote Labour in my ward, a marginal seat held for five years by Tory Simon Kirby, and being contested by Labour’s Nancy Platts. Of course I understand the urgent call to keep the Torys out, and suddenly I doubted, not my convictions, but my strategy. So I checked The Guardian, and when I discovered they were calling my ward for Labour, I decided to stick to my jade guns. In the morning, I learned Platts lost by 690 votes. I felt ill. Was I wrong?
I spent much of the weekend thinking and talking about this, and I can only answer no. At least not under the prevailing circumstances. For Labour didn’t decide not to target Brighton Pavilion, thinking ‘let’s not challenge Caroline Lucas, a fellow progressive and a natural ally should we need to form a minority government’. No, they threw their weight behind their candidate, Purna Sen. So why should Labour expect Green supporters to sacrifice our own party loyalty for them? Had Labour diverted more volunteers to Brighton Kemptown, maybe they could have won those extra 700 votes from undecideds.
I also strongly believe, as this election has made clear to so many, that First Past The Post is profoundly undemocratic and long past its due by date. Tactical voting as an individual only perpetuates the two horse race, creating a false impression of Labour’s actual support. And vote swapping, as was available online, seems unreliable (how do you know your ‘match’ will keep their promise) and open to abuse (think of those Russian oligarachs buying up votes). So from the moment I woke up on Thursday I have been promoting electoral reform. Having said that I do see the sense, under FPTP, of co-operation between parties on the Left. Caroline Lucas addressed this issue at her celebration party, saying she had been in talks with Polly Toynbee and others about the possibility of finding ways in future to negotiate ‘deals’ between leftist parties to support each other’s chances in particular wards. (Which makes far more sense to me than establishing ‘Left Unity’ as yet another small party on the ticket.)
For myself, much as I think she and Sen hold some sound views, I am glad I didn’t vote for Nancy Platts. She would have lost by 689 votes, and I would betrayed my beliefs, missing out on being part of the record 1.1 million people who said last Thursday that they believe this country can deliver justice and abundance and a healthy planet for all. I have read the Labour Manifesto, and while much of it I agree with, it doesn’t go nearly far enough toward the kind of society I would like to live in, and which I believe we all deserve.
The Green Manifesto, on the other hand, presents a costed utopia, a state that offers a basic income to all its citizens and a non-fossil fuel future. In many places, it brightly outshines Labour. Just two examples, close to home:
- I’m a lecturer, teaching students who work three jobs while studying for a BA. My own job, only a quarter-time post, will be in jeopardy if enrolment continues to drop due to tuition fees. Labour proposed to cut these from £9000 p.a. to £6000 (effectively still doubling it from 2010); the Greens would make higher education free. This is not key lime pie in the sky thinking. Scotland has free HE, and Germany is currently making its universities free for foreign students. This is a proposal worth fighting for.
- I’m a cyclist. I haven’t owned a car since my early twenties. When I fly, I pay my carbon offset, and unless to Northern Ireland or Northern Scotland I don’t fly within the UK. Labour proposed to establish a National Rail body to co-ordinate private companies, and allow a publically funded service to compete amongst them; their manifesto says nothing about air travel and very little about buses. The Greens transport plans fill pages. In contrast with Labour they would renationalise the railways, oppose the expansion of airports, and take strong steps to ensure a de-carbonised future.
There is much more, funded in part by borrowing. (Labour promised not to borrow, which is laudable, but the Greens promise to overhaul the entire banking and welfare system.) By the way, I am describing the Labour Manifesto in past tense, because I expect they will have to rip it up and start again now. The Greens can just keep refining theirs. Labour supporters will argue that’s because the Greens don’t have to worry about delivering on their promises. But our economy is morally bankrupt and our planet may not be able to sustain us much longer. We need to think and act very differently, and that has to start somewhere. While it might seem impossible to get to a Green UK from where we stand here, the very fact people have produced this detailed and visionary document gives me hope.
As my friend Bart Moore Gilbert cogently argues here (in remarkable detail considering he’s just got married and is about to go into hospital to have a cancerous kidney removed), the Labour project is finished, torn apart by its own inability to please all its factions. Especially with the new situation in Scotland, we won’t get a majority Labour government in the UK again, and to survive the party will be forced to move more and more to Tory-lite policies. Profound change to the electoral system isn’t a dream, it’s the only option for people on the left. UKIP would benefit from such changes, but its clear now that UKIP took votes from Labour, and as Hope Not Hate demonstrated in the door-to-door campaign that demolished the BNP in Barking and Dagenham, it is possible to effectively address the fear that causes such xenophobia and intolerance.
I do feel strongly about all this. Currently, I am an SF novelist on a tight schedule and spending much of the time in another world entirely. Non-Land is a strange place to be when the real world is so pressing. But I’m making my per diem wordcount, and expecting to be demob happy in June and totally up for the already massive The People’s Assembly anti-austerity protest planned for that month. See you there!
*I gave some money to a panhandler and we had a long chat, sparked by his dog, who’s been muzzled for life by the courts because his owner likes nutting coppers (‘better than sex!’). According to him, the headbanging arose from unprovoked police brutality, which I don’t find too hard to believe. I also helped a teetering gent with a walking stick across the road, who gave me a dazzling smile on the other side then promptly fell down the moment I let go of his arm. Nightmare! But his neighbour ran across the street from the bus stop and together we got him back up and on his way with his fish and chips.