I've been away from blogger and blogging for some time, but it is with passion, anger and hope that I write again here.
When economic times are hard, it has historically been the case that right wing parties do better. UKIP's success in the local elections should be taken in that context. Their simple message of a crackdown on immigrants and the simple message that it would all be better if we left the EU has resonated far and wide in English politics. Despite being led by a man who was educated at Dulwich College (day fees £5,486) their rise has been fuelled by "none of the above" protest voters (who used to go for the Lib Dems, followed by working class ex-Tories and now working class ex-Labour voters.
Tonight's poll by ICM has vote shares as follows:
Lib Dems 11%
Yes, that's right. The BNP back at a registered level in the opinion polls. Despite their welcome defeat in all county council election seats 11 days ago, they are polling double the support of the Greens. It should come as no surprise to anyone. UKIP might put a veneer of respectability on their views, and have candidates that come from all ethnic backgrounds, but if you plant immigration as a central issue in English politics, as UKIP, the Conservatives, Labour and even the Lib Dems (watch Jo Swinson on Question Time last week if you have any doubt), then just watch the BNP reap the benefit too.
So why are the Greens not doing better? As a bottom up party, we've been successful in small pockets around the country. On the ground, door knocking team versus door knocking team, the Greens do very well. We pick up local issues, we really do care and we do what we think is right. People like that and we've seen gradual, steady progress in council seats. However in just one election, with only County Councils and a couple of unitary authorities up for election, we've seen UKIP leapfrog us in terms of the number of councillors they hold. For the record, I make it 198 UKIP councillors to 141 Greens. It is therefore no surprise that UKIP are going to get loads of media coverage and we are not.
Every one of those Green seats was hard fought for. We lost seats, including Lancaster East (Green share of the vote 44% in 2009 and 41% in 2013) back to Labour as they rebounded from the record low support they experienced in 2009. Every single Green councillor deserves our respect for the hard work they have put in. UKIP have on the other hand, elected a swathe of people who have had to do very little other than get their name on the ballot paper. Already there is fall out as the first UKIP councillor is exposed for racist comments.
We've failed to capture the popular mood. Despite have policies that nearly one quarter of the electorate think are the best, our narrow national polling is still largely based on the liberal, middle class and white voters that we have always attracted. So far we have not successfully broadened our appeal, and despite the tremendous record we have in Brighton and Hove opposing the bedroom tax, new cycling and walking routes, 20 mph speed limits and ending the second home discount on council tax, we've ended up getting ourselves into an industrial dispute that makes us look uncaring and the same as the parties we replaced.
We are not punching our weight and mistakes have been made, but the mission is urgent. People committing suicide because of bedroom tax, over a thousand people killed in a clothes factory to satisfy our desire for cheap clothes, 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and an imminent climate tipping point as Arctic sea ice collapses.
We can do better than this and here in the North West we are up for the challenges. We were close last time, very close. But we need fire in our belly, a burning desire for change and better politics, but most of all we must seize the opportunities that come our way to break out of our narrow ecological niche, because there is so much to do, and so little time left.
For regional Green members and other members, supporters and activists, I ask you to join us and support our charge to the seat. We must smash through the perception that we are not relevant to everyday life. We must dismantle the stereotypes that hold us back and we must succeed. Get involved here.