ELGP Chair Malcolm Peplow gives a personal summary of 2015
12 January 2016
I think the time is right to write to you all after a very eventful year for East Lancs Green Party and a tumultuous year for wider UK politics.
I re-joined the Green Party with my wife Anne in January 2015 so we would both be viewed as being part of the ‘Green Surge’ that saw national Green Party membership roughly quadruple within a year or so to around 60,000 members after the General Election. For us, it is more of a return to our political home than being swept in on a rising tide. We were both active in Trafford Green Party in the late 80’s and early 90’s before joining Labour in 1991. I served as a Labour Councillor in Hyndburn from 1995-99 (St Oswald’s Ward) but as a result of the Iraq invasion, we both left in disgust and despair and spent the next 14 years out of party politics (relevance to follow!).
In the winter and spring of 2015, maximum effort was being put into the run-up to the General Election and local elections in May. ELGP stood candidates in the Hyndburn Parliamentary and local elections and Ribble Valley Parliamentary election. Activities included candidate hustings, successful crowd funding for the Hyndburn deposit and a comprehensive newsprint-style newsletter for the Ribble Valley Parliamentary campaign.
Open meetings were being held at Churchfield House in Great Harwood including ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ and ‘Global Justice Now’. We had some very engaging speakers and the venue was thought by most to be welcoming (with brew-making facilities) but limiting in terms of layout.
The General Election in May produced the most unexpected result since the Tories’ victory under John Major in 1992 with the consensus polling prediction of a hung Parliament being swept aside. The Conservative overall majority was ‘won’ under the first past the post system with the support of less than 25% of the electorate. Hopes of a progressive left coalition were dashed as the prospect of at least five more years of grinding austerity sunk in. Special thanks must go to our Parliamentary candidates Kerry Gormley (Hyndburn) and Graham Sowter (Ribble Valley), our local election candidates in Hyndburn, our election agents and all of the helpers on the campaigns for their support whether financial, time or a combination of both. Kerry’s vote was much stronger in 2015 than 2010 and Graham’s was higher than the level of national support for the Green Party.
I was honoured to be nominated and elected as Chair at our June AGM and have really appreciated the support of experienced Green Party officers and members since then.
Business meetings involving officers or activists on working groups continued through the Summer and Autumn. A Website/Media and IT Working Group was set up and met to move the Party forward in these areas resulting in separate Facebook Pages being established for Blackburn Greens, Hyndburn Greens and Ribble Valley Greens with a Facebook Page and Twitter Account being maintained for East Lancs Green Party.
A key decision has been made to maintain East Lancs Green Party as an ‘umbrella’ enabling organisation and to encourage the growth of groups in each of the three Borough areas via three Local Co-ordinators. Work is ongoing on this decentralisation and each group will refer to itself as ‘Greens’ rather than ‘Green Party’ to reflect the current structure.
I joined a number of our members on the TUC march in Manchester in October to oppose austerity and the Trade Union Bill at the time of the Conservative Party conference. The Green Party was well represented on the march and those of us attending had a great day. Joan West sang with a choir at the event.
A major talking point between marchers from all organisations was Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Party Leader about a month earlier which has re-energised the left of politics but at the same time re-opened old divisions within Labour. This single event has also caused wider political turbulence that has affected us in the Green Party as part of the progressive democratic left.
Our membership peaked during the Green Surge but we have seen a number of members lapsing. A small number of our active members have seriously considered joining (or re-joining) the Corbyn led Labour Party in the hope that it will become a vehicle for positive social change once again. This has directly impacted on our ability to drive business forward in the last three months or so but I am glad to report that three such activists have either remained as members or supporters for the time being – thanks for staying with us! As Labour’s internal struggle continues, the jury is out on the Corbyn Project’s future. I predict that our membership may fall in the short term but rise again if Corbyn is ousted by those in the Parliamentary Labour Party that want to maintain the status quo.
We had a change of venue for our Open Meeting in mid-October at Blackburn Library ‘Austerity – is it necessary?’ with speakers from the Blackburn Foodbank and the TUC. Organisation was a good team effort with Ben Pearson doing the lion’s share. The event and venue were considered to be a great success but although Helen Hegarty kindly took photographs of the event on the night, our follow up with media publicity was disappointing and something we need to improve on in the future.
Anne and I attended the Green Party Autumn Conference in Bournemouth as delegates and reported back to the subsequent Business Meeting.
Looking towards the future, there is a need for a realistic re-evaluation of what our current pool of active members can achieve with present resources. I hope that we can encourage more members to offer their help to push the Party forwards in a devolved way through our three Local Co-ordinators. We have reluctantly put a ‘Target to Win’ electoral strategy on the back burner until we can assess the level of support from our membership and supporters for such a campaign.
In summary, it has been a year of many positives we can proud of but some negatives, many of which result from political turbulence outside the Green Party. There has also been some criticism of a perceived lack of direction at Local and National level following the General Election which can only be addressed with the active involvement of our members and supporters.
I want to record my sincere thanks to all who have kept ELGP running through difficult conditions this year with a special mention for Tony and Mary Seaford who have kindly hosted our Business Meetings. If you are able to become more actively involved, please reply to your Local Co-ordinator directly when they get in touch or alternatively contact me so that I can pass your details on to them.
The historic international agreement on climate change at COP21 in Paris has given me the hope at the time of writing that with determined and enduring co-operation, we can avoid its most catastrophic effects in the future. As committed Greens, we are used to being in for the long haul. Anyone remember that book published by The Ecologist - A Blueprint for Survival? 1972. I was 11 years old….