The Guardian: The green machine

Mark Jones jones118 at
Tue May 9 01:15:12 MDT 2000

Ros Coward
Tuesday May 9, 2000

Amazingly little attention has been paid to the Green's performance in last
week's elections for the London assembly. Media commentators seem determined
to overlook their strong performance as just another maverick element in a
maverick contest. But in some areas, the Green vote was almost as big as
that of the Liberal Democrats and, for the first time, people appeared to be
voting for a "green slate". This deserves more consideration; it may mark a
shift in political perceptions and priorities far more interesting than a
story of protest votes and personalities in a crazy capital city.
I was astonished by how many of my acquaintances who have not previously
bothered about environmental issues, suddenly voted Green. In my street two
lifelong Labour supporters voted for them as did a friend, originally from
Sierra Leone, living nearby. Both her neighbour and cousin did as well. On
the same estate Jenny, an active Christian originally from Jamaica, also
voted Green for the first time and persuaded her best friend to do the same.
The list could go on; it even includes my mother. They were all part of the
14% of Londoners who put three Greens onto the London assembly.

Obviously some voters wanted to give Tony Blair a slap in the face without
endorsing either of the other major parties. Juanita from Sierra Leone
certainly blames Labour for reneging on promises but adds that the Green's
leaflet appealed to her with promises to "do more about the environment and
pledges of free fares for young people". Her cousin was attracted by their
push to do more about waste and recycling, while Jenny supports traffic
reduction and air quality improvement.

The Greens have gone through a psychological barrier where voting for them
no longer feels like a wasted vote. Proportional representation has been
crucial. In last year's European parliament elections, the Greens secured
two candidates with a much lower vote (between 3 and 6%). Seeing votes count
like this may be enough to change political perceptions. But the vote is
higher now and it's clear that the Greens' uncompromising agenda - improving
air quality, protecting open spaces, improving transport and campaigning to
protect local places - has begun to feel like plausible and effective
solutions to the quality of life issues at the heart of local elections.

The Green's campaign around Crystal Palace is a good example. They won
respect by pledging opposition to the development of the old park in south
London into a multi-million pound leisure complex. Yesterday Livingstone
gave this policy his full endorsement. Other local parties have given
similar commitments but the electorate is rightly sceptical. Who can trust
Labour to oppose building and road developments when they actively placate
big business and Mondeo Man? The as yet unproven Greens seem more likely to
maintain their integrity on these issues than the major parties.

The one issue where political integrity will really be on trail is the issue
at the heart of inner city support for the Greens, public transport.
Londoners really do believe that cheap, efficient public transport could
transform their lives: lowering the cost of living, reducing pollution,
making the streets more child-friendly. This may be idealistic but before
Livingstone rushes back to the Labour party, he would do well to remember
the main reason for his support was his principled stance on the tube.

Most other aspects of the Ken package are either subsidiary or off-putting.
Voters are ambivalent about his kneejerk radicalism and actively fear the
reignition of rainbow alliance politics where anyone who shouts their
oppression loudly will be heard (more than a faint possibility if the prime
exponent of guilt and grievance politics, Peter Tatchell, finds a place in
Ken's regime). Livingstone would not be exempt from a Blair-type trashing if
he too disappoints these high expectations.

This is the context of the recent Green successes. If voters had merely been
following Livingstone's instructions to vote Green in second preference,
Darren Johnson would have performed better. In fact he was a rather
lacklustre candidate and the final vote reflected that. The strong vote came
in the London assembly and shows there is now real commitment to the Green
agenda itself.

It remains to be seen how well the Greens can use their position in the new
assembly. In spite of the good result, their London election performance was
more amateurish than last year's European elections. But they still
represent the best block against a drift back to the old political

comment at

The Guardian 09.05.00

Mark Jones

More information about the Marxism mailing list