Friday, 16 January 2015

What's going on?

There's no accounting for folk. At the start of 2014, give or take, there were 13,000 paid-up members of the Green Party in England and Wales (The autonomous parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland are effectively the same party, with the same principles, their existence being in part a function of the principles of decentralisation and local engagement).

One of the reasons I joined up, apart from the very obvious one that this was the only political organisation the UK which takes climate change seriously enough to incorporate it into most parts of its manifesto, was that by September 2014 the party had grown to over 20,000 members and was polling better than previously - around 4-5% in the national polls.

During the time that I've been involved, helping out with the local group with PR and fundraising, the party has grown steadily, and opinion polls have rated it anywhere from 5 to 10% on various occasions.

Then, earlier this week, on National TV News, there was coverage of the discussion in Parliament over the protocols for the leadership debates due to be aired in the lead-up to the General Election in May. David Cameron had said he would participate unless the Greens were represented, as a party which was often polling above the Liberal Democrats, who are a part of the current Government, and have representation at all political levels.

This was a response to the statements first by the BBC then OFCOM, that the Green party was a minority group and therefore didn't justify the same rights of coverage as the 'major' parties, which include both the Lib Dems and UKIP.

The public response has been somewhat unpredictable to say the least. We aren't renowned for our political engagement in the UK - only a very small percentage of the population is a member of a political party compared to 50 years ago, and a long tradition of disgust and disenfranchisement has left many indifferent to the process.

Over the last two-and-a-half days more than 7,000 people have become members of the Green Party. So many that the party's website has crashed several times (probably slowing the rate of growth).
On Wednesday, after the TV coverage, more than 2,000 signed up. Yesterday, more than 3,500 joined.

As of 2:40pm today, the number of people who are members of the Green party of England and Wales is just short of 40,000, a number almost certain to be exceeded by day's end. On Wednesday, the Scottish and Northern Irish groups counted around 8,350 members (three times as many as in early 2014). It is likely that combined membership will exceed 50,000 by the end of the week.

You may not be impressed by these numbers, but to place them in context, there was a large surge of membership last year for UKIP (which has since slowed), and it currently has a bit less than 42,000 members. The Lib Dems have around 44,500 members (though it is known that some of these may be lapsed memberships which are still being counted).

Which all means that where, just a year ago, there were only two-and-a-half political shades of grey in the UK spectrum, today there are six parties who are likely to have an impact on our next Government and its structure and policies. Four are Grey, one is Scottish (the SNP has massively increased membership in the wale of the Scottish independence referendum, to almost 100,000 members), the third is a bright shade of Green.

One of the absolute essentials to saving the planet in some form of civilised sustainability is that politicians do more than pay lip service to green issues. This is a change which has to happen now, if we are to have a future which our children can look forward to:

It's no longer sufficient to simply whinge about how everything is going to pot and why doesn't someone do something about it. Many people are working hard to plan for a more sustainable future and at many levels good work goes on. But this is a big problem which needs big responses and only politics (and the corporates) can deliver on these levels. In order to gain leverage to promote action by politicians we need them to realise that inaction will cost them votes. The great the number of obviously environmentally concerned voters there are, the better the chance that change will occur.

By joining a local political group, whether or not it's a Green party, you are registering your engagement and increasing the value of the principles which you wish to see pushed up the agenda. It's another thing we as people can do to move collectively towards greater sustainability. So why not do it?