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Greens campaigning on public services and peace

Salman Shaheen

Graham ElliottThe Green Party are hoping to make their first major electoral breakthrough by winning a seat in Brighton Pavilion in the General Election. With the recent launch of a very radical and progressive manifesto, and consistent opposition to the war in Iraq, the Greens could be worth serious consideration by any red blooded socialist. I spoke to Graham Elliott, Green Party candidate for Waveney. Here’s what he had to say:

Socialist Unity: Climate change is commendably at the top of the Green agenda, but do you think there is a danger of people perceiving the Greens as a single issue party?

Graham Elliott: I think there has been, but I think we’re getting over that. I mean I’ve had problems with that, going to things like Defend Council Housing meetings. People have thought, ‘well what’s that got to do with the Greens?’ But I think we’re getting over that image. We have got over that image, and the elected members around the country are involved in some diverse campaigns, and putting the message across on all policies, particularly public services, and particularly peace. Climate change is a big issue, it always has been a big issue for us, but it’s not the only issue, and I think we’re getting the message across. People are associating us with public services and peace.

Socialist Unity: Peter Tatchell made the case for the Greens being the new party of the radical left, and Derek Wall talks of Eco-Marxism, do you feel that the Greens are a party of the left?

Graham: I think we are a party of the left, yes, but I think we can appeal across a much broader spectrum than a traditional, say, socialist party. Particularly in rural Suffolk here, outside the towns it’s quite a conservative area. We have got an elected member in mid-Suffolk, which is very strong Tory, but he got in with a huge majority, with the backing of the local community. He’s introducing radical thoughts and measures into his local council, where he can. But with the backing of a real broad cross section of the population. So yes, the policies are radical and left-leaning, but I think that’s a nice thing about the Green party, that we can involve people who are not traditional socialists, and who would be frightened by the socialist label.

Socialist Unity: In Leeds the Greens have gone into coalition with the Conservatives on the council, do you feel this was a bad decision to make?

Graham: It’s a very very difficult decision to make. I can’t really comment on whether it was the best decision or not. I know in Norwich they chose not to go into coalition, they could have gone into coalition with either the Lib Dems or Labour. I think Norwich’s decision was, in that case, right, and to have no overall party in control, and to do things on an issue by issue basis. That’s my personal preference. I can’t really say Leeds did it wrong. It might be that that was the right thing to do in that particular case, but it’s an unusual coalition, very unusual coalition. I wouldn’t like to say that’s wrong, because I just don’t know the details. But I do favour the Norwich role of actually tackling things on an issue by issue, rather than going into a formal coalition.

Socialist Unity: You drew comparisons with the traditional socialist left, but what do you think is preventing the Greens from attracting widespread support from this traditional socialist left, and disaffected Old Labour voters, despite having progressive social policies?

Graham: I think we are. I was just literally on the phone when you arrived, with somebody who has never voted Green before, just phoned me up, said ‘I want to vote Green, I want to know more about the Green Party, I’m a socialist, I always have been’. So yes, four years ago, in my home town, a lot of my friends in Beccles, would still be putting the ‘vote Labour’ posters up. Over the last four years, all those posters have come down, and they’ve all gone up ‘vote Green’. One by one, there’s one person left, whose paranoid the Tories will get in! We are getting the message across to disaffected socialists, and they are coming over. They’re maybe not coming over fast enough. I think it is an image thing. I’m perhaps not the best person to counter that image, being a stereotypical hairy green. I’d rather, in many ways, someone else took on this role, and became the parliamentary candidate for Waveney, and became a Green MP for Waveney. I’m quite happy to be in a supporting role, but until that’s there, I’m going to do it, until someone better comes along, more able, more willing. So partly image, if you look at the Green candidates, they’re not all hairy Greens anymore, there’s a good cross section. We’re not ashamed of that, but we are a very broad cross section now. We’ve got Muslim candidates; we’ve got candidates from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. Not a brilliant gender mix this year, but we can be working on that.

Socialist Unity: Michael Howard has recently made some pretty vicious remarks about travellers, what is your opinion on this issue?

Graham: Travellers, it’s a hot issue locally actually. Local councils do need to provide bases for travellers to stay. That’s the bottom line really. There have to be places for them to go, so they’re not staying on common land and causing problems really. But it is down to local councils. Many councils have refused. It’s almost inevitable really, if you don’t provide sites for travellers, they will make their own. We do need to treat them with respect, and hopefully they will treat the community that they’re in with respect. But the vicious remarks, I think is very much playing on middle England’s fear of travellers.

Socialist Unity: Now the 500 million dollar question, what is the way forward for Iraq?

Graham: I think we need to pull out UK forces. I think we can do that immediately. We need to replace all external forces, with a UN security force, and to have genuinely fair elections that encompass the whole of the country. It would have been easier for you to ask that two and a half years ago! But one by one countries are pulling out, showing America is on its own. If we had pulled out two and a half years ago, the US probably would have gone in, but they would have been in much deeper trouble, much more pressure at home. They couldn’t say they were an alliance if they only had a couple of African countries, or a couple of Eastern European countries with them. It’s mainly because of our government backing of their policy that they’re there in the first place. We’re the only party that has consistently opposed the war, before, during and afterwards. The Lib Dems very much opportunistic beforehand, and during they’re backing it. The best way to look after our people that are out there is to bring them home, and they’re not helping the security situation there. So basically we’ve got to have an international solution to it, the UN have got to get back involved.

 

April 2005

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