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History of the Green Party of England and Wales

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The Green Party of England and Wales has its roots in the PEOPLE party started by Tony Whittaker in 1973. It then changed its name to the more descriptive Ecology Party in 1975, to the Green Party ten years later, and finally to The Green Party of England and Wales in 1990.

PEOPLE, 1973–1975 Edit

An interview with overpopulation expert Paul R. Ehrlich in Playboy Magazine inspired Tony Whittaker, an ex-Conservative Party activist from Coventry, to convene the 'Club of Thirteen' with his wife Lesley and others. Though many in the 'Club' were wary of forming a political party, one of the world's earliest Green parties was formed in Coventry during 1973 as PEOPLE, with the first edition of the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society as its statement of policies, inspired by 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 the leading member of the new party in the 1970s[1].

Derek Wall, in his history of the Green Party, maintains 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".[1].

Nonetheless, membership rose and the Party contested both 1974 General Elections. In the February 1974 General Election, PEOPLE won 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%. The Whittakers and many of the founding members left the Party after further internal debates, although, before becoming inactive, Lesley Whittaker suggested changing the name to 'The Ecology Party' in order to gain more recognition as the Party of environmental concern[1].

The Ecology Party, 1975–1985 Edit

The Party officially changed its name to the Ecology Party in 1975. However, the Party was in danger of collapse. The 1976 and 1977 Local Elections would, nevertheless, improve the fortunes of the re-named Party, which gained three councillors[1].

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 multiplied 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"[1].

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 Manifesto for a Sustainable Society (which encompasses around 124,520 words[2]). 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[1].

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 were well 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.

Green Party (UK), 1985–1990sEdit

The party formally became the Green Party at the Party Conference in Dover during 1985 after John Abineri, formerly an actor in the BBC series Survivors suggested adding the colour 'Green' to the name to fall in line with other environmental parties in Europe[1].

In 1986, a new 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, on 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[1].

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.

The Party enjoyed evermore success. The 'Campaign for Real Democracy' launched by the Party allowed it to play a part in the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. The Party's greatest ever success came at 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.[3]

As a result of this success, Sara Parkin and David Icke rose to prominence in the UK media. Parkin especially was in demand as a Green spokeswoman. 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, the party attracted criticism for advocating policies aiming to reduce the total population[4], proposals which were subsequently rejected. Further controversies included Derek Wall's intervention as a maverick 'Green fundamentalist'[5] and rejection of possible alliances to establish PR.[6].

Mainstream political parties were however alarmed by the Green's electoral performance and adopted some 'Green policies' in an attempt to counter the threat[1].

Green Party of England and Wales, 1990–1997 Edit

File:Caroline Lucas keynote Green Party England and Wales 2006-09-23 Copyright Kaihsu Tai.jpg

In the 1990s, 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.

In 1991 Green Party spokesman and TV sports presenter David Icke created considerable embarrassment for the Party when he revealed his extreme spiritual beliefs, announcing that he believed himself to be "a son of God", that Britain was about to suffer apopolyptic earthquakes and tidal waves and that Armageddon was approaching.[7] Many believe that he suffered from some form of mental illness that led to his espousal of such theories.Template:Fact He would subsequently be forced to leave the Party.[1]

Internal divisions over the direction of the party in the early 1990s also meant that the Green Party fell out of the limelight and failed to maintain its electoral momentum. In 1991, attempts to streamline the Party Constitution were proposed by a group called 'Green 2000', who wanted to 'modernise' the Party and make it into an organised electoral force that could become the ruling party in the UK by the year 2000. After the Green 2000 Constitution was adopted, a new Executive came into force to oversee the day-to-day business of the Party. Many Green 2000 members were elected to the new Executive in 1991 but, by 1992, only two remained, with the others resigning or being recalled and forced to quit. These internal constitutional wranglings, and negative public statements released by supporters of both Green 2000 and decentralists who ran the recall campaigns, seriously hampered preparations for the 1992 General Election, in which 253 Green candidates received 1.3% of the vote[1]. Parkin and Porritt left active involvement with the party, depriving it of two of its most charismatic and ambitious figures.

Since 1992, the Greens have been relatively free of any factionalism[1]. Nonetheless, the early and mid 1990s were difficult for the Greens, because of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, the recession of 1992-3 and the squeeze caused by the rising popularity of New Labour. Nevertheless, the party gained a handful of local councillors in Stroud and Oxford

1997–presentEdit

The election of a Labour government in 1997 paradoxically created new opportunities and focus for the Green Party. New democratic institutions were created that offered electoral possibilities for the Greens, such as the London Assembly and Welsh Assembly (and for the independent Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Parliament) all of which use some form of proportional representation, allowing smaller parties the chance of gaining representation. Labour also changed European Parliamentary elections to a form of proportional representation.

Combined with gradual council gains, the party has quietly gained successes.

In the 1999 European elections, two Greens were elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Dr Caroline Lucas (South East England)[8] and Jean Lambert (London)[9]. They retained their seats in the 2004 European elections, despite a reduction in number of seats available. Overall, the Party gained 1,033,093 votes in the 2004 European election[10].

However the Greens have not yet managed to breakthrough into other European electoral regions or the Welsh Assembly. Three Greens were elected to the first London Assembly. It currently has two Green Party members out of 25. These are Cllr. Darren Johnson AM, and Cllr. Jenny Jones AM.

The Green Party achieved its highest ever UK General Election result in the 2005 General Election with a total of 281,780 votes. During the 2005 General Election, Cllr. Keith Taylor received 22% in Brighton Pavilion.

The Party has 116 local councillors after a gain of 5 councillors during the 2008 local elections. The Greens have significant representation on Brighton & Hove City Council, Lancaster City Council, Norwich, Lewisham, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Kirklees Council and Stroud District Council. The Green Party are the official opposition on Norwich City Council, form part of the ruling coalition that controls Lancaster City Council alongside the Liberal Democrats and Labour, and Castle Morpeth Council as part of an all party administration.

The Green Party of England and Wales had one member of the (unelected) House of Lords, the Upper Chamber of Parliament, Lord Beaumont of Whitley,[10] who died in 2008.

According to MORI, Green issues are currently rated as importantly as during the Green Party's last high point in the late 1980s.[3] The party currently has record local candidate numbers[11] and high electoral support.[12]

The party has held its first ever leadership election in September 2008. Caroline Lucas was elected to the position of Leader, and Adrian Ramsay to the position of Deputy Leader.

Psephological dataEdit

date (E = European) votes note
1974-02 4576 as PEOPLE
1974-10 1996 as PEOPLE
1979E 17953 as Ecology Party
1979 39918 as Ecology Party
1983 54299 as Ecology Party
1984E 70853 as Ecology Party
1987 89753 as The Green Party for the first time
1989E 2292705 15 % of the vote, but no MEPs elected
1992 170047
1994E 494561
1997 63991
1999E 625378 first two MEPs elected (Lambert and Lucas)
2001 166477
2004E 1033093
2005 281780

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found

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