Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Canvassing's a fabulous way to meet men
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The Independent Online

This week, I have fallen to earth, abandoning Green Goddessdom heaven (aka my eyrie) to descend into the murky world of politics.

This week, I have fallen to earth, abandoning Green Goddessdom heaven (aka my eyrie) to descend into the murky world of politics. Genetically Tory by birth, I jumped the mothership and joined the Greens 10 years ago when I realised that they were the only party who had policies brave enough to tackle the terrifying environmental destruction we are witnessing. This is why I'm battling high Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind for the seat of Kensington and Chelsea.

Attempting to become a public servant means being a servant of the pee-pul (as Michael Howard might put it), and I have been deluged by e-mails, phone calls and letters requesting my views on everything from whether smoking should be banned in bingo halls to assisted dying. Assisted dying? Does he mean canvassing? That's enough to kill anyone off. I am not canvassing, in the same way that I'm not writing my novel. The way I see it, the public will always find a way to reach you - you don't need to look for them.

Attempts to spread the Green message are not always successful. To start my campaign, we set up a stall outside Chelsea Town Hall, from where we dispensed Green cocktails made from chartreuse and organic champagne. An orderly queue of winos soon tottered down from World's End on the rumour of free booze. In the crush, a scuffle broke out.

Promotion of the congestion charge has not been universally popular among the Royal Borough's 4x4 drivers. One such motorist, spotting my green rosette, screeched to a halt and ranted for 20 minutes on the subject.

Often people want to know where the nearest loo is. I have to tell them that all the public conveniences have most inconveniently been closed to save money, but the Greens are campaigning to re-open them all. This simple question gives me the opportunity to harangue them for hours.

I do not have a large team to run operations in Chelsea. But in a successful bid to get friends to canvass on my behalf, I tell them it is a fabulous way to meet men. Unfortunately, energetic campaigners will make a beeline for Italian and French bankers, but these suave fellows are no use, as they don't have a vote.

The campaign was going very well until Sir Malcolm's agent wrote a letter insisting that my Freepost leaflets were illegal and I must withdraw them. I assumed they objected to my photograph taken 10 years ago which bears no resemblance to the haggard creature three weeks of not canvassing has created.

When I rang Chelsea Tory HQ, I was dazzled by the amount of staff Sir Malcolm has at his disposal to answer his phone. I have one beleaguered agent who works for free and is lucky if he gets a cup of tea and a biscuit. Apparently, they objected to the imprint, which lawyers later confirmed was perfectly legal. But the unnecessary threats gave us a nasty turn.

I recently attended my first hustings. The thought of debating with the ex-foreign secretary on the finer points of foreign policy, especially after the leaflet debacle, was alarming. "I'm so sorry about the leaflets," he apologised charmingly. "Oh, it's quite alright, Sir Malcolm," I gushed. "I quite understand why you want to suppress your opponent's literature, after all it works in Zimbabwe." Well, maybe I didn't say the last bit.

At the hustings, we faced a terrifying firing squad of Chelsea ladies. Some wore hats; several sat at the back knitting. I felt like Marie Antoinette facing the tricoteuses and immediately broke out into a Blair-style hot flush. Sir Malcolm was rapturously applauded; the rest of us were happy to get out alive.

Meanwhile, my campaign gathers momentum. After 5 May, maybe I will be writing from a new eyrie - a turret in the House of Commons.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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