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I have been selected by the Green Party to be their parliamentary candidate at the next general election for Brighton Kemptown. I’m thrilled by it, and a bit stunned. But at a time when, according to Ipsos MORI, trust in politicians is lower (at 18 per cent) than trust in journalists, estate agents or even bankers, why on earth would a radical like me want to stand for parliament?
One thing is very clear: the mainstream political parties are seriously discredited here and abroad. More and more people feel thoroughly dissatisfied with the political system.
Just look at George Galloway’s unexpected victory in Bradford West. Or look at the recent Italian elections, where a ‘stuff the establishment’ comic picked up nearly a quarter of the vote. Even the rise of UKIP in the Eastleigh by-election shows the desperation for any alternative. And in Greece, the radical left wing Syriza polled over 27 per cent of the vote last June.
There is a real opportunity for parties who stand for something completely different – and I think especially for those who understand that the environmental crisis, the austerity programmes and the attacks on social justice are all interlinked.
I’ve been politically involved since my university days, many decades ago. First, I was in left wing groups, then the Labour Party left and the Socialist Movement, then a founder of Socialist newspaper and its successor Red Pepper magazine.
And for the last four years, I have been in the Green Party down in Brighton – my home city, where I grew up as a teenager. I joined because I felt the Green Party just might be able to provide a real radical political alternative to the dreary mainstream. Since then, Caroline Lucas has been elected as the UK’s first Green MP here in Brighton, and the Green Party won the most votes and took minority control of Brighton & Hove Council nearly two years ago.
There are three parliamentary constituencies in Brighton & Hove:
• Pavilion is the radical hub of Brighton, including the universities and the alternative areas like the Laines, and Caroline Lucas, the first Green MP in the country, is standing again here in 2015;
• Hove is to the West and includes parts similar to Brighton, but also some more affluent traditional Tory areas together with some working class estates beyond Hove – it currently has a Tory MP and Christopher Hawtree is standing for the Green Party in 2015;
• Kemptown, where I am standing, is similar to Hove – a mix of liberal urban areas, affluent Tory parts and working class estates. Traditionally it has swung with the national election victors and currently has a Tory MP – Simon Kirby.
All three constituencies are in Labour’s top priority 30 seats – though it seems a terrible indictment of Labour that it should make toppling the sole Green MP in the country its 19th top priority seat. Electing Caroline Lucas in 2010 was a herculean effort by the whole Green Party – the first Green MP in the world elected under a pure ‘first past the post’ system. And what a breath of fresh air she has provided in parliament and round the country ever since.
Some will argue that Greens and Labour may split the left vote and let the Tories back in locally. But Labour argued that when Caroline stood in Pavilion in 2010 – and she won. They argued the same at the council elections the following year – and the Greens came out with the biggest vote and the most councillors. With that track record of success, I hope Labour say it again about Kemptown! Labour have made clear they are not interested in any sort of anti-Tory electoral pact in Brighton & Hove.
I was proposed just before Christmas to stand as prospective parliamentary candidate and adopted almost unanimously at the end of last month. I never expected that.
The general election will most probably be in May 2015 so I have two years to prepare. Two years to immerse myself in the communities of the Kemptown constituency, to talk to people and hear their views and concerns, to find out what’s going on and to confront the ‘myths’ and fears that people have. I want to be different to the mainstream candidates: I want to give expression to people’s political dissatisfaction and to give them hope and confidence in a real political alternative.
For example, in the last few weeks I have been spending time giving support to the inspiring struggle of the students occupying Sussex University against privatisation. I have not only campaigned for support for the occupation and visited with Caroline Lucas and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, I have also, as a yoga teacher, organised a rota of free yoga classes for those in the occupation from Brighton yoga teachers! I have learnt how strongly the students and staff there feel about solidarity on the campus and how horrified they are by the university becoming what they describe as a ‘privatised machine’.
At each step on my journey I intend to report back on the insights I have gained and the campaigning I have done. If you could help in any way, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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