By Bev Haigh-Jones

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Earlier this year, as a result of a suggestion from a member during one of our Zoom coffee mornings, the CfE committee decided to arrange a series of informal chats with Cornish representatives of the various political parties. We felt that it would be a good idea for the group, and its members, to have an understanding of what the more local policy of each party might be, rather than just seeing the stated aims in the various party manifestos. It would also provide the opportunity for the committee to ask questions of the various representatives. This will, therefore, be the first of a series of articles.

Having made this decision and set a date of 13 February for the first event, who better to start us off than one of our own committee members, Tom Scott. As many of you will know, Tom was the Green Party candidate for Truro and Falmouth constituency in the 2019 elections and he is currently Campaigns Coordinator for the national Green Party. Tom has provided the following statement of his view of the Green Party, both historically and going forward, and below this you will see a synopsis of the Q&A session that took place on the night.

First, I should say that the Green Party’s record on the EU is not entirely unblemished. Back in the 1980s, the party was opposed to EU membership on the grounds that the EU was essentially a club for business and that some of its policies, particularly agricultural policies, were damaging to the environment. There’s quite a strong strand of localism in Green thinking, and for some Greens it seemed that a big transnational structure like the EU couldn’t be compatible with that.

This changed over time, and by the early 2000s we were a strongly pro-Europe party.

I think one reason for this was that we were able to get some excellent MEPs elected, and that helped us to understand how the EU actually worked in practice, and that it was possible for democratically elected representatives to influence and change policies in a positive direction. Working with other Green parties in Europe was a very positive thing for our party, and helped us lose what had maybe been a rather insular perspective.

By then, most Greens had realised that far from steamrollering over local and regional identities, the EU had actually done a great deal to foster and protect these, much more than national governments, in fact, and to help people in some of the most economically deprived areas of Europe (not least Cornwall). In the EU parliament, the Greens form a group with the European Free Alliance, which brings together smaller parties representing stateless nations, regions and minorities, and this is now the fourth largest parliamentary group, with Greens being well represented on key parliamentary committees.

These links with our sister parties in Europe were very valuable in terms of sharing ideas and political strategy, and I’m glad to say that we’ve very much kept them up since Brexit and the Green Party of England and Wales is still a kind of honorary member of the EU parliamentary group.

And it’s been good to see European Greens coming out strongly in support of Britain rejoining, people like the German Green MEP Terry Reintke, for instance, who’s spoken frequently at events organised by the anti-Brexit movement in the UK.

The Green Party, and Caroline Lucas in particular, were at the heart of the People’s Vote movement, with Caroline coming to be seen as something of a figurehead for that. And since Brexit happened, Greens have continued to be at the centre of the pro-European movement, with Molly Scott Cato currently the acting chair of the European Movement.

In 2016, there were a few Greens who still felt that we’d be better off outside the EU. One of these was Baroness Jenny Jones, who I’ve got to know quite well since then. And I’m glad to say that Jenny is, I think, the only UK politician who previously supported Brexit to publicly admit that they got it badly wrong. In fact, she’s now calling for the UK to rejoin the EU as soon as possible. It takes courage as well as honesty to change your mind in this way, and I wish more politicians had these qualities!

I think we are currently the only party to have been bold enough to state the bleeding obvious – that Brexit is a complete disaster and that we need to rejoin the EU as soon as possible. The Liberal Democrats claim to be the UK’s most pro-European political party, but even they have stopped short of actually saying this, whereas Labour seems to now be actively embracing Brexit by claiming that they will make it work.

But at the same time, Labour has said it won’t join the single market or customs union or accept free movement of people between the UK and the EU. Which means that a Labour government would be faced with precisely the same problems as a Tory government.

In autumn last year, the Green Party passed a motion at our party conference to say that we should rejoin the EU as soon as practically possible. And to bring that day closer, the resolution said that we need to return to free movement of people between the UK and the European Union and rejoin the customs union. We also need to make sure that we maintain high standards on workers’ rights, health and safety and environmental protection, by making these at least as strong as in the EU.

Unfortunately, the UK government seems to be moving in exactly the opposite direction – the plan to scrap all EU retained law is being pushed through by the Tory hard right partly because they know that that will make it more difficult to rejoin at a future date.

The same Green Party conference passed another motion backing continued participation in the Erasmus+ scheme, so that young people can continue to enjoy cultural and education exchange with our European neighbours. And it also called for an urgent restoration of our inclusion in the Horizon Europe Research programme – there was absolutely no need to leave this and doing so has done great damage to scientific research in the UK.

I think one reason for support for Europe being so strong in the Green Party is that it’s now completely obvious that the most urgent problems we face are transnational problems, the climate emergency being the most urgent of all, but there are many others, including the war in Ukraine and refugee crisis.

Problems like these can only be solved by close cooperation across borders and solidarity between nations working towards common goals. And there has never been a better example of that than the European Union.

Q: What would be the plan for rejoin?

A: The Green conference passed a resolution for rejoin, and they would push for rejoining the Customs Union, Single Market, Erasmus and Horizon, all of which could happen before rejoining the EU. The current government is going in the opposite direction and all their plans, like the REUL Bill, are taking us further away.

Q: What are Greens doing to change the minds of other parties?

A: The government is unlikely to listen to the Green Party, as most government members are still opposed to the EU and that makes it difficult. But we think it’s vital that at least one party is bringing a strongly pro-European voice to the conversation.

Q: The question that will be asked is “why don’t other parties stand down, or cooperate to oust the Tories”. Will that be done?

A: At the last election the Green Party agreed not to stand against the Liberal Democrats in some seats, and vice versa, but Labour have said that they will never do a deal. Cooperation depends on more than one party being willing to cooperate.

Q: They did cooperate in North Shropshire, though, didn’t they?

A: Certainly Labour did not campaign hard in that constituency, but there are no plans to make any electoral agreements in Cornwall.

Q: Why will the Greens not stand aside in certain seats, rather than split the vote?

A: As a minority party, if we failed to stand it would reduce our profile and ultimately would lead to the death of the party. We think it’s vital that our voice is heard at election time, on Europe, the environment and other issues.

Q: Jayne Kirkham has stated that she would be happy to work with other candidates, but as there would be no benefit to her if she stood aside, presumably someone else would need to do so for her. Is that something that the Greens would consider?

A: The Green Party has no plans to make electoral pacts with other parties, but limited resources will mean that we will be campaigning much harder in some seats than others – particularly seats where we have a very good chance of winning, such as in Bristol. But we will be doing our best to make sure that our messages are heard loud and clear in the general election campaign, in Cornwall and elsewhere.

Q: Will local parties in Cornwall be pushing to make people aware of the issue surrounding voter ID?

A: Tom said he would suggest this to Cornwall Greens and thought that maybe it could become a cross-party initiative.

This proved to be a very interesting and enlightening session for us and we are looking forward to the next one. If you would like to know more about Green Party policy, their current manifesto can be accessed here.

At the next of these events, we are hoping to hear from and speak to Phil Hutty, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Look out for a report on this session in our next newsletter.

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