Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Not voting?, then why bother protesting?

Last Friday, the Green Party held its official launch for the South West European Elections. Following speeches by lead candidate Ricky Knight and the other five MEP candidates, Jonathon Porritt took the opportunity to highlight the fact that 65% of the policies presented by the Greens (then known as the Ecology Party) have now been adopted by the three grey parties.

“We were right all along” he said before warning that the grey parties still hadn’t got it right; “Every single one of the issues that the Green Party has been campaigning on for the last 35 years is getting worse and worse, which means that people should no longer put off the day when they accept that the future is either Green or not at all”

In Bristol, we appear to be learning this lesson (albeit slowly); since 1998 the overall vote for the grey parties has barely changed - meanwhile the Green vote is now 560% of what is was in 1998. One of the effects of this (apart from the election of a Green councillor) can be seen in the way the grey parties have adopted many Green policies as their own. One Lib Dem councillor even went so far as to say “It is the Lib Dems who are the green party in the City” whilst at the same time ridiculing David Cameron for copying the Lib-Dems on green issues….pot, kettle, black?

The Lib-Dems in particular are concerned about the growing power of the Green Party, recently leafleting Easton ward with the message that a Green vote would result in a Lab/Tory council, whilst in Ashley ward Lib-Dem Cllr Jon Rogers has been working hard blogging and twittering to ensure that voters are aware of his pro-green, pro-cycling credentials. Labour and the Tories are also fond of littering their leaflets with words like “sustainability”, “open government”, “human rights”, “energy efficiency” and so on.

But, just as elsewhere, the grey parties are not getting it right – Labour, along with the Conservatives of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset was intent on feeding the beast that was the incinerator. The Rapid Transit threat to the Railway Path was begun under the Lib-Dems and continued by Labour, and only after community and Green party campaigning did all the parties finally decide that BUS-rapid-transit should not be allowed to threaten the Railway Path.

My concern is that the real commitment of any of the grey parties to “green” issues only runs as deep as the amount of votes they believe it will attract at election time. In the end, there is only one vote that will let the grey parties realise the strength of opinion regarding “green” issues – a vote for the Green Party.

We have been right all along, and in the last round of local elections 14% of voters, that’s over 10,000 Bristolians, voted Green. But the biggest barrier to the Greens is not the cynicism of the grey parties and their sudden re-invention of themselves “now with added greenwash”, it is the large number of green activists who have opted out of the political system. In the last few months, I have lost count of the number of activists who have come into the Green Party office to ask for our help in publicising or supporting their cause who admit that they do not vote because “it won’t make any difference, Labour/Tories/Lib-Dems (delete as appropriate) will get in anyway”.

In 2007, only 70,000 people voted out of an eligible electorate of 200,000 – that left 130,000 people who didn’t vote, either because they think the grey parties are doing a great job and therefore see no need to change anything (the way the grey parties like to see it) or because they think voting makes no difference (which suits the grey parties just fine). If you are one of those who didn’t vote, and then wonder why the grey parties are building a Rapid Transit route down the railway path, selling off bits of green space to developers, or allowing the development of yet more houses on green belt land whilst 7,000 homes are empty – here is the answer, you voted for it by not voting!

1 comment:

  1. Good points. I'm afraid I'm one of the "don't vote, it only encourages them" brigade. I'll have to rethink that.

    Just one point on the Rapid Transit / Railway Path issue. You say "...only after community and Green party campaigning did all the parties finally decide that BUS-rapid-transit should not be allowed to threaten the Railway Path"

    But the Conservatives and Labour didn't say that. They voted agaisnt the Green motion, (supported by the Lib-dems)to save the Railway Path last April. In theory the Path is still threatened as the plans still show the Railway Path as safeguarded for Rapid Transit. We do not yet know if the Lib-dems will change that now they are back in power.