Meet the Green Party: From new converts to old campaigners

What makes a former Lib Dem councillor jump ship? And why do voters believe the party ‘does what it says on the tin’?

Tom Bawden,Nigel Morris
Tuesday 25 November 2014 19:57

Mick Foote, an NHS administrator from Hove

A life-long Labour voter who is heavily involved in the trade union, Mick will be switching to the Greens for the first time in the next general election. Mr Foote is from a Welsh mining family and says he ripped up his Labour membership card in 1985 after Neil Kinnock “failed to come out and support the miners”. But he remained a committed trade union activist and continued to vote Labour at every election.

“I voted Labour based on a fear of the alternative, and let’s be honest, anything is better than the Conservative Party (or Ukip). But over the years I have watched the Labour message become more and more diluted and the party become more and more detached from the people who vote for it,” Mr Foot says.

“Issues such as the removal of Clause 4, the failure to deal with climate change in any meaningful way, the invasion of Iraq, PFI, the introduction of tuition fees and academies, all of this and much more besides has utterly eroded my faith in Labour.

“To top it all I really believed that the past five years gifted Labour a huge opportunity to redress the balance and launch a truly inspiring left-wing agenda, but no, instead they, like all the others, have lurched to the right.”

While Mr Foot became increasingly disillusioned with Labour, he has been gradually won over by the Green Party.

“I can’t say that switching to the Green Party was a moment of epiphany for me, it really was quite different, it was just that in every campaign I was involved with, Caroline Lucas was always there, delivering a powerful message of social justice with the environment at its heart,” he says, paying tribute to her for fighting to stop Hove Park school becoming an academy and to protect from savage cuts at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

“Also I happen to personally believe there is something very forward-thinking and quite refreshing about a political party that has consistently placed women in positions of leadership. I certainly don’t believe there is a Green revolution underway, but there most definitely is a Green evolution taking place.”

Guy Poultney, a business consultant from Bristol

Guy admits it is be bound to be a peculiar experience when he goes out campaigning for the Greens at next year’s general election.

It was not so long ago that he was knocking on doors and stuffing leaflets on envelopes for the Liberal Democrats.

Now he is now trying to kick their MP out of office and on the opposite side of the battle for Bristol West will be activists he once viewed as friends and political soulmates.

But he says: “I have met a large number of voters in the last few months who share my experience. I find that reassuring.”

Mr Poultney signed up to the Lib Dems in 2005 because of his passionate opposition to the Iraq war and became heavily involved with the party in Bristol.

Elected a councillor in 2009 for one of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods, he said he was horrified at the party’s decision a year later to enter power with the Conservatives.

He said his disillusionment grew when the city’s Lib Dems starting attacking policies championed by Bristol’s independent but “green-friendly” elected mayor.

Mr Poultney, who is 34, lost his council seat in 2013 and found his enthusiasm for the party had waned to the extent that he let his membership lapse that year.

Shortly afterwards he was recruited by Darren Hall, the Greens’ candidate in Bristol West, one of the party’s ley targets in the election, to manage his campaign.

“It felt like it did when I was first in the Lib Dems. There was this optimistic group of people who wanted to change Bristol for the better, and were not interested in attack politics.”

Sophie Sheehan, a primary school teacher from Brighton

Sophie voted Labour in the last general election but is planning to vote for the Green Party this time.

She is largely switching because of Caroline Lucas – she has been impressed by her work as the local MP; furthermore, she has shown that a Green politician can win, and so a vote for her “means something”.

“From what I’ve seen, I like her and what she says. She feels like an old-fashioned politician in that you know what she believes and where she stands. And she’s openly against academies.”

She says she hasn’t been put off by Brighton & Hove’s Green-led council, which has been mired in internal disputes and subject to a damaging strike among bin collectors after becoming the country’s first Green council in 2011.

“My issue is with the council, that doesn’t bother me with respect to voting for Caroline Lucas. Brighton Council was in a bit of a mess anyway,” she says.

Like many interviewed by The Independent for this series, Ms Sheehan is very disappointed with the main political parties, in particular for not providing a viable alternative to the Tories.

“I’m generally so disillusioned with what’s on offer. I have previously voted Labour because they have a bigger platform. But this generation of politicians just seem to want to be politicians rather than really believing in something,” Ms Sheehan says.

Jay Tiernan, an anti-badger-cull protestor from Bath

A lifelong Green Party voter, Jay is heavily influenced by animal rights policies when deciding who to back. He is not so concerned about who his local Green Party candidate is as the fact that the party leaves the others standing on animal rights policies.

“The Greens are not perfect but at least they’re trying. They want to stop non-medical experiments and secrecy laws in animal testing, both of which are really important, and to stop imports of non-human primates,” he says. Mr Tiernan is not one to mince his words and has little time for many of the mainstream politicians. “David Cameron is linked to the hunting and shooting fraternity. Ed Miliband strikes me as a bit wishy-washy. He may be the best hope for Labour at this stage but he’s not got the charisma and I don’t think people want him as a leader.”

“I’ve met [Green Party leader] Natalie Bennett and she comes across very well, while the Lib Dems are obviously just a complete bunch of bastards – the way they said they went along with the tuition fees, no one will ever listen to them again.

“They’re all very corporate-led, very industrialist. Except for the Green Party, which does what it says on the tin – they won’t start pandering to BP or Shell. But with Labour, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

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