As I write I’m on the train to Stroud, for a lightning trip to congratulate our new Green Party MEP Molly Scott Cato, who becomes our third representative in Brussels, with London’s Jean Lambert and the South East’s Keith Taylor re-elected.
Those results came on a good night for the Green Party – we finished fourth in the European parliament election, comfortably beating the Lib Dems (who finished with just one MEP) into fifth place.
It was result achieved despite extremely limited media coverage – there’s no doubt that we got vastly more votes per minute of TV coverage than any of the other four large parties.
So why did it happen? Partly, undoubtedly, as our strong local election results indicate, it was the result of solid on-the-ground campaigning, going door to door, holding stalls, delivering leaflets.
But more than that, I think what won many votes was our message of hope, of positive change, offering a plan for real change to ensure that our society works for the common good, the 99%, not for the few, the 1%.
Policies such as making the minimum wage a living wage, renationalising the railways, keeping our NHS publicly owned, publicly run and free at the point of use, investing in renewable energy (while banning fracking) and providing warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes all played their part.
But it was above all our determination to look forward with optimism, to say that we do have within our democratic power the ability to create a better society, one in which everyone has access to the resources for a decent standard of life (which means jobs you can build a life on and adequate benefits for everyone who needs them) within the limits of our one fragile, overstretched planet.
That means standing up to the politics of fear, as represented in the form of Ukip – which seeks to blame our many, obvious, problems in society on immigration and Europe. Sadly, the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have failed to tackle this narrative – to unpick how our low wage economy, housing crisis and crowded schools and hospitals are not the fault of immigration or immigrants.
To start with low wages – no immigrant arrives at the White Cliffs of Dover and says “I want to work for poverty pay, be shamelessly exploited and pay extortionate rents for a bed in a shed”. Low wages exist because we have an inadequate minimum wage, inadequately enforced, and the power of unions to help workers to band together to resist has been shredded by legislation.
Housing? Well that’s complicated, but worth starting with the fact that there are now more bedrooms per person in Britain than ever before (huge inequalities of access here as there are in income and wealth), and at least 600,000 empty homes, mostly in the North and the Midlands (the result of failed and non-existent regional development policies, and one more reason why we shouldn’t build HS2). And schools and hospital? Michael Gove’s free school laissez-faire approach has left local authorities unable to plan for demand, and funding for both is seriously inadequate.
When you consider the failures of successive governments these facts represent, it’s perhaps not surprising that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems would rather go along with the Ukip narrative on immigration, and try, all too often, to out-Ukip Ukip, in promising curbs on immigration and introducing the disastrous, unworkable Immigration Act, as well as chasing after their climate change-denier agenda on wind turbines and other energy policies.
Instead we’ll continue to say, loudly and proudly, that we celebrate free movement of people within the European Union – which results in roughly balanced numbers of expatriates and incomers for Briton, and that we should continue Britain’s proud tradition to providing asylum to victims of persecution and war, and hosting foreign students to our mutual benefit.
The BBC asked me this morning if the arrival of Ukip (and even darker parties such as the Front Nationale) in Brussels would be disruptive. I agreed that it will be.
But disruption, creative chaos, real change, is just what our stale, failed political system needs, just as the angry voters, lashing out or expressing frustration by either voting Ukip or staying at home (as 63% did), need to be offered hope.
Our political future doesn’t look like the past. Happily.
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