The only Greens in the room

The only Greens in the room
Following a difficult general election for the Green Party, Green World speaks to three elected Greens to show what a difference even a lone Green voice can make to the democratic process

Jenny Jones, Baroness of Moulsecoomb since 2013 and former London Assembly from 2000-2016

 Gaining elected political power is a long, hard slog for UK Greens, but we shouldn’t underestimate what Greens can achieve, even if they are a lone voice in the room. Caroline Lucas is the obvious example of how one Green voice can change both what is being debated and how it is being debated. Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, but Caroline remains the only person in the Commons who can be relied upon to talk about it.

London is not the greenest, cleanest city on earth, but having Greens on the London Assembly has made it a whole lot better than it would have been. Our initiatives led to the cycle superhighways, the London Living Wage, London food schemes and civil partnerships. We also helped to prevent the implementation of projects that would have had a damaging effect on the capital’s environment, like the proposal for the Thames Gateway Crossing, a highly polluting six-lane bridge crossing the Thames.

There is a lengthy list of solid achievements from the four years when Mayor Livingstone needed our votes to pass his annual budget, but our influence and successes also extended into the Boris Johnson years. Our influence came from consistently raising the issues and solutions that would otherwise have been ignored. From air pollution, to climate change and road deaths, we pestered Transport for London and the Met Police into action.

I’m hoping that the same approach will pay off in the Lords. For example, I use my own experience of being put on the domestic extremism database to remind the Lords that civil liberties matter and that we are giving the police draconian powers, without the necessary safeguards to ensure that they are used in the right way and are targeted at the right people. Being the only Green in the room means raising issues that the mainstream in Parliament would rather ignore. Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity and should be part of every discussion we have about the economy, transport, agriculture and more, but it is mostly left out of debates unless I bring it up.

The mainstream solutions often focus upon technological fixes, but it can often be assured that it will be left to me to argue for reducing consumption as the most direct way of reducing pollution. From the welfare of animals to the harsh treatment of asylum seekers, a Green voice can bring compassion to a Parliamentary debate.

Greens lead the way with radical ideas that we hope others will support and adopt. Last year, I promoted a bill to reform the House of Lords into an effective and democratic second chamber where only those who had been elected could vote (while retaining a role for non-voting ‘experts’). Sadly, it ran out of time.

This year, I’m hoping to put forward a Clean Air Act, which would create a UK version of the US Environmental Protection Agency. It goes further than anything Labour has proposed because it will be independent of Defra, have the power to set its own regulations and the responsibility to ensure that legally binding targets are met. It is an essential post-Brexit reform that offers a clear alternative approach to the deregulation ethos of many in government.

Challenging the status quo in this way, and getting positive action, is exactly what Greens are so good at doing, even when you’re the only Green in the room. 

 

Caroline Russell, member of the London Assembly since 2016 

Since getting elected to City Hall in May 2016, Sian Berry and I have worked as a team, holding the Mayor to account.

We have a strict split of topics to help focus our work. Sian covers housing and policing, while I have environment, transport, and economy.

We aim to listen to Londoners and work with campaigners and local groups to bring their voices into City Hall. We have supported estate residents, people fighting planning battles to save green spaces and sports facilities, backed local projects for walking and cycling, raised concerns about closing police stations, supported action on air pollution and stood up for local businesses under threat from regeneration.

In the Assembly, we have proposed a range of motions on topics including Uber drivers workers’ rights, Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, fossil fuel divestment, different-sex civil partnerships and a memorial to those who died of AIDS, all of which have been voted through by members.

In January, we put forward a budget amendment (sadly, not voted for) that would have fully funded a public energy company, supported community-led housing, saved part-time workers more on their unfair travel costs, cancelled road-building to invest in healthy streets, and put up council tax by 3p a week to reduce the impact of cuts in youth services. 

We have raised the profile of important policies the Mayor has not voluntarily chosen to focus on, such as youth services, healthy streets, estates and small business space. 

This May, we each took over the chair of a major committee. I have Economy and Sian is on Housing. In these roles, we aim to make sure we use our influence to push forward some of our good ideas, bring in new voices to scrutinise the Mayor, and build the reputation of the Green Party as a constructive, hard-working and effective opposition. 

Follow our work at: www.cityhallgreens.london  

 

Gina Dowding, Lancashire County Councillor since 2013 

My involvement in a planned and successful 13 person ‘lock-on’ outside the gates of Preston New Road fracking site was a new way of working as a councillor for me since my re-election in May. My subsequent arrest and forthcoming trial at Blackpool Magistrates Court, as well as frequent participation in the daily rolling protest, is rewarding, if time-consuming and has brought much media attention to our cause. 

In 2013, I started to push the Lancashire Pension Fund Committee for more ethical investment of its approximate £7 billion of assets. Three years later, we signed the United Nations Charter for Responsible Investment (RI). Despite some good infrastructure investments and moving RI higher up the agenda, we are nowhere near an explicit commitment to fossil fuel divestment. If anyone understands targets, it is pension fund investors. So, with that in mind, I have now instigated setting targets on what ‘responsible investment’ might now aspire to. Slow, but progress. 

I’m on the Health Scrutiny Committee and being a former NHS public health worker is helpful. The Sustainability and Transformation Plans being imposed by central government are not a bad thing per se (Green Party policy is to abolish them).

Integrating health and adult social care and more preventative services are to be welcomed, but cannot compensate for the lack of funding, which is not keeping up with demand in the short term. NHS managers presenting plans to us seem reluctant to highlight the potential, if not inevitable, financial disaster. Luckily, a local independent TV station frequently attends and broadcasts some of my arguments.

The previous minority Labour-led Council invited me to chair a new Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee and I initiated more informal working groups in two areas: Youth Offending Prevention and Fostering Promotion, before losing this role under the new Tory administration. But the opportunities to add a distinct Green voice and ideas to Lancashire Council remain to be exploited.