European Greens are trying an open primary to select their top candidates for the European Parliament. Me & Puffles went along to their London debate to meet the candidates
Well…no one else from Cambridge was going to go along, were they? Also, it was something reasonably new to the UK so I thought I’d go along and see what it was all about.
I’m still pondering what to make of the #GreenPrimary I went to at the weekend. One of the reasons being that it has smashed through so many traditional UK election conventions. These include:
Selecting lead candidates
Normally this is left to individual political parties to decide what their ‘lists’ will be, and done on a country-by-country basis. The European Greens have thrown this up in the air by having an open primary – opening up to anyone who is interested. (You can vote here if you like).
A pan-European platform/brand
UKIP want out, the Tories burnt their bridges with the European People’s Party when Cameron became Tory party leader, and the Lib Dems and Labour hardly mention their European grouping. The European party brands are different to the big two brands we have in the UK – have a look at the brands here. Culturally we don’t really associate conservative-type parties with popular peoples’ parties of the continental tradition. As for Labour, those on the centre-right of the party see socialism either as a swear word or a term from the last millennium best forgotten. The recently-formed grouping under the UK Conservatives is still in its infancy historically compared to the European Peoples Party grouping that the Tories left.
Citizens from continental Europe being more visible in UK campaigning?
They have the vote in these and in local elections too. But is it a London bubble thing? After all, London is genuinely a global city, with EU citizens dotted about all over the place. How many of them will be actively campaigning? Coming from different political traditions, what are the similarities and differences in campaigning styles, both as potential activists and as voters?
“We want you in Europe – but do you want to be?”
This was something that all four candidates mentioned. The media present the challenge as those that want out vs those that want tweaking-at-the-edges-reform-in-favour-of-big-UK-business vs those that want more power to the EU sausage-and-banana-Eurocrats. The Greens have their work cut out trying to get their alternative vision of the EU heard in an atmosphere of toxic political debate that in itself is swimming in a sea of saturation advertising. Everyone wants to get their voice heard.
“Who should be the European Greens’ lead candidate?”
Having listened to all four of the contenders (scroll down to meet them here) I get the feeling that any one of them could do a reasonably competent job. I think having all four candidates (2 from Germany, 1 from France and 1 from Italy) in the UK campaigning to UK citizens in English sends a very powerful message itself. It shows to people here that what the UK decides actually matters to other Europeans. It also makes it feel like the EU is slightly less distant than it currently is, because EU politicians are choosing to come over here and meet the people. It’s also an opportunity for people from other countries perhaps to give us some home truths about how other countries view the UK. (A risk though as it could antagonise people). Far easier to break stereotypes when someone is in your face rather than on the telly, framed by someone else.
But if I look at the sort of audience I want to get engaged in politics, campaigning and activism – ie a younger audience, then one candidate stands out easily: Ska Keller from Germany. For the sort of audience that The Greens in the UK tend to be successful with – areas where there is a strong student presence, Ska has an image and persona that fits. Young, energetic, passionate, intelligent, fluent in English and who can communicate well. Very difficult to put into the negative stereotype boxes. Also, she’ll be very different to many of the Euro-sceptic UK candidates that the Greens will be fighting against – especially UKIP. The point I’m trying to make is that for younger audiences and first-time-voters, I think they will find her easier to relate to compared to the other candidates. The challenge is converting that into votes.
Encouraging Green activists to come to Cambridge
New readers to this blog may not be aware of my recent outburst about politics in Cambridge. (See here). At the debate in London, I invited Green activists to come and campaign in South Cambridge because hardly anyone campaigns on this side of town and Puffles is getting a bit bored. Given that there are ****all these environmental-related groups**** in Cambridge, I remain surprised that the Cambridge Green Party (see here) is still so dormant in Cambridge. That said, Ellisif has managed to form a functioning Cambridge Green Party student society from scratch in recent months. ie One that has regular meetings and events.
A year ago, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett came to Cambridge to deliver a talk to activists – see my writeup here. On a cold winters evening, fifty people turned up. At the last local government elections on a low turnout, over 2,000 people across Cambridge turned out to vote for the Greens – despite only standing paper candidates and doing next-to-no street or social media campaigning. Having spoken to a couple of local Green Party types about trying to become more active, my take is that party activists from outside the city, particularly London which is in easiest reach, needs to give them a little helping hand. And that was my appeal: Have a weekend blitz of South Cambridge.
‘Less than an hour from Kings Cross’
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in street campaigning or political activism. Whatever anyone does do, it’s important that any learning is fed back and/or publicised. Which locations were better than others? What times of day were better than others? What were the issues people were raising on the doorstep or on the street? What things made it easier to campaign? What things made it more difficult?
Personally I’d like to see local political parties & their friends from beyond trying out some early-morning or early evening campaigning/leafletting around Cambridge railway station, Drummer Street and Cambridge Regional College. Get the hundreds of commuters that head into London, get the commuters that come into Cambridge and get the college students that head to the sixth form colleges. Give them something to read on their journeys. Give them simple weblinks that they can access on their phones/tablets (for those with them) or later in the college/workplace.
How will Labour and the Lib Dems respond to any challenges in South Cambridge – traditionally their territory?
Hopefully by getting more of their activists out and looking to refresh their candidates list and getting new people to step forward – easier said than done I know. Ages ago I said I wanted local council elections to become more exciting. (See here). Can we start with 2014 please?