Green Party (UK)
Green Party of England and Wales|
Green Party in Northern Ireland
Scottish Green Party
|Membership (1979)||5,000 +|
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Despite the UK Green Party no longer existing as an entity, "Green Party" (singular) is still used in most media to refer collectively to all of the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party in Northern Ireland, for example in reporting opinion polls and election results.
An interview with overpopulation expert Paul R. Ehrlich in Playboy magazine inspired a small group of professional & business people to form the 'Club of Thirteen', so named because it first met on 13 October 1972 in Daventry. This included surveyors and property agents Freda Sanders and Michael Benfield, Jitendrakumar Patel (1950-2016) and husband and wife solicitors Lesley and Tony Whittaker (a former Kenilworth councillor for the Conservative Party), all with practices in Coventry. Many in this 'club' were wary of forming a political party so, after a few weeks, in November 1972 these four agreed to form 'PEOPLE' as a new political party to challenge the UK political establishment. Its policy concerns published in 1973 included economics, employment, defence, energy (fuel) supplies, land tenure, pollution and social security, as then seen within an ecological perspective. Subsequently, recognised as perhaps the world's earliest Green party this had the first edition of the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society as a background statement of policies inspired by A Blueprint for Survival (published by The Ecologist magazine). The editor of The Ecologist, Edward 'Teddy' Goldsmith, merged his 'Movement for Survival' with PEOPLE. Goldsmith became one of the leading members of the new party during the 1970s.
With "Steady State" economics featured in the party's philosophical basis,the all-UK party became a persistent and growing presence in general elections and European elections, fielding often enough candidates to qualify for television and radio election broadcasts.
Derek Wall, in his history of the Green Party, contends that the new political movement focused initially on the theme of survival, which shaped the "bleak evolution" of the nascent ecological party during the 1970s. Furthermore, the effect of the "revolution of values" during the 1960s would come later. In Wall's eyes, the party suffered from a lack of media attention and "opposition from many environmentalists", which contrasted the experience of other emerging Green parties, like Germany's Die Grünen. Nonetheless, PEOPLE invested much of its resources in engaging with the indifferent environmental movement, which Wall calls a "tactical mistake".
In 1973 policy concerns included economics, employment, defence, energy (fuel) supplies, land tenure, pollution and social security, as then seen within an ecological perspective. "Zero growth" (or "steady state") economics were a strong feature in the party's philosophical basis.
Membership rose and the party contested both 1974 General Elections. In the February 1974 General Election, PEOPLE received 4,576 votes in 7 seats. Following the election, an influx of left-wing activists took PEOPLE in a more left-wing direction, causing something of a split. This affected preparations for the October 1974 General Election, where PEOPLE's average vote fell to just 0.7%. After much internal debate the party's 1975 Conference adopted a proposal to change its name to 'The Ecology Party' in order to gain more recognition as the party of environmental concern.
Party co-founder Tony Whittaker noted in an interview with Derek Wall '… voters did not connect PEOPLE with ecology. What I wanted was something that the media could look up in their files so that, when they wanted a spokesman of the issue of ecology, they could find the Ecology Party and pick up the phone. It was as brutal and basic as that. PEOPLE didn’t communicate what we had hoped it would communicate'.
The Ecology Party, 1975–1985
Jonathan Tyler was elected Chairman of the party in 1976, and Jonathon Porritt became a prominent member. At the 1977 Party Conference in Birmingham, the party's first constitution was ratified and Jonathon Porritt was elected to the Ecology Party National Executive Committee (NEC). Porritt would become the party's most significant public figure, working, with David Fleming, "to provide the Party with an attractive image and effective organisation".
With Porritt gaining increasing prominence and an election manifesto called The Real Alternative, the Ecology Party fielded 53 candidates in the 1979 General Election, entitling them to radio and television election broadcasts. Though many considered this a gamble, the plan, encouraged by Porritt, worked, as the party received 39,918 votes (an average of 1.5%) and membership jumped tenfold from around 500 to 5,000 or more. This, Derek Wall notes, meant that the Ecology Party "became the fourth party in UK politics, ahead of the National Front and Socialist Unity".
Following this electoral success, the party introduced Annual Spring Conferences to accompany Autumn Conferences, and a process of building up a large compendium of policies began, culminated in today's Policies for a Sustainable Society (which encompasses around 124 520 words). At the same time, according to Wall, "the Post-1968 generation" began to join the party, advocating non-violent direct action as an important element of the Ecology Party vision outside of electoral politics. This manifested itself in an apparent "decentralist faction" who gained ground within the party, leading to Party Conference stripping the Executive of powers and rejecting the election of a single leader. The new generation was in evidence in the first 'Summer Green Gathering' in July 1980, the action of Ecology Party CND (later Green CND), and the Greenham Common camp. The party also became increasingly feminist.
Due to the recession causing the marginalisation of Green issues, Roy Jenkins leaving the Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the inability of the party to absorb the rapid increase in membership, the early 1980s were extremely tough for the Ecology Party. Nonetheless, the party prepared for the 1983 General Election, spurred on by the success of Die Grünen in Germany. In the 1983 election, the Ecology Party stood over 100 candidates and gained 54,299 votes.
Name change and internal strife, 1985-86
1985 was a time of political change in the UK. After the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), there were noises being made that the UK needed a "green" party. In response to the rumours of a group of Liberal Party activists were about to launch a UK 'Green Party', HELP (the Hackney Local Ecology Party) registered the name The Green Party, with a green circle, designed by Steve O’Brien, as its logo. The first public meeting, chaired by David Fitzpatrick (then an Ecology Party speaker), was 13 June 1985 in Hackney Town Hall. Paul Ekins (then co-chair of the Ecology Party) spoke on the subject of Green politics and the inner city. Hackney Green Party put a formal proposal to the Ecology Party Autumn Conference in Dover that year to change to the Green Party, which was supported by the majority of attendees, including John Abineri, formerly an actor in the BBC series Survivors who supported adding Green to the name to fall in line with other environmental parties in Europe.
The next year, an internal dispute arose within the party. A faction calling itself the Party Organisation Working Group (POWG) proposed constitutional amendments designed to create a streamlined, two-tier structure to govern the internal workings of the party. Decentralists voted these proposals down. Paul Ekins and Jonathan Tyler, prominent party activists and leading members of POWG, then formed a semi-covert group called Maingreen, whose private comments, upon becoming public knowledge, suggested to many that they wished to take control of the party. Tyler and Ekins resigned and left the party but Derek Wall describes how the "wounds" left by the 'Maingreen Affair' lingered on in the heated internal debates of the late 1980s.
General election, 1987
Meanwhile, the party gained ground electorally. The 1987 General Election saw the 133 Greens standing for office take 89,753 votes (1.3% on average), an improvement on 1983. The next two years would see growing membership and increasing media attention. This coincided with greater concern over the environment following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and concern over CFCs.
Campaign success, 1989
The party enjoyed further success. Its Campaign for Real Democracy' launched by the party allowed it to play a part in the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. The party's biggest success came at the 1989 European Elections, where the Green Party won 2,292,695 votes and received 15% of the overall vote. European Elections in Great Britain were then run on a first-past-the-post basis, whilst the three seats in Northern Ireland were elected by single transferable vote, and the party failed to gain any seats.
According to Derek Wall, the party would have gained 12 seats if they had been running in other European countries who employed Proportional Representation. Wall explains this "breakthrough" as a combination of the declining popularity of Margaret Thatcher, the reaction to the Poll Tax, Conservative opposition to the European Union, ineffective Labour Party and Liberal Democrat campaigns and a well-prepared Green Party campaign. That environmental issues were very prominent in UK politics at the time should also be added to this list. At no time before or since have Green issues been so high on the minds of UK voters as a voting issue.
As a result of this success, Sara Parkin and David Icke rose to prominence in the UK media, soon becoming two of the four Principal Speakers, a position created in lieu of a leader. Parkin especially was in demand as a Green spokesperson. However, the new media attention was not always handled well by the party as a whole. In the run up to the 1989 party conference, it attracted criticism for advocating policies aiming to reduce the total population, proposals which were subsequently rejected. Further controversies included Derek Wall's intervention as a maverick 'Green fundamentalist' and rejection of possible alliances to establish PR. Icke too attracted criticism soon after writing his second book in 1989, an outline of his views on the environment, The Observer called him "the Greens' Tony Blair."
Appropriation by mainstream and sister parties, 1990s
Mainstream political parties were however alarmed by the Greens' electoral performance and adopted some 'Green policies' in an attempt to counter the threat. In this period, the Green Party had representation in the House of Lords, the (unelected) upper chamber of Parliament in the person of George MacLeod, Baron MacLeod of Fuinary, who died in 1991. He was the first British Green parliamentarian.
In 1990, the Scottish and Northern Ireland wings of the Green Party in the United Kingdom decided to separate amicably from the party in England and Wales, to form the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party in Northern Ireland. The Wales Green Party became an autonomous regional party and remained within the new Green Party of England and Wales.
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- Wall, Derek, Weaving a Bower Against Endless Night: An Illustrated History of the Green Party, 1994
- "green party hist ch1, pt 2". Another Green World.
- "ECOLOGY - The New Political Force", The Ecologist, November 1976, p.311
- "(youth section of the Green Party of England and Wales) Policy Website". Young Greens. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- "BBC Politics 97". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
- MORI Polling Trends data
- 'Greens propose 20 million cut in population', The Guardian, 18 September 1989
- 'Triumph for Fundies hits Green Party', Daily Mail, 21 September 1989
- 'Parkin is defeated over pre-election pact to achieve PR
- Derek Wall (1994-03) Weaving a Bower Against Endless Night: an illustrated history of the UK Green Party (published March 1994 to mark the 21st anniversary of the party) ISBN 1-873557-08-6.
- Green Party of England and Wales
- Scottish Green Party
- Green Party in Northern Ireland
- Teddy Goldsmith - Daily Telegraph obituary