The Labour Party seems to be in disarray at the moment. Despite an unpopular government delivering painful austerity measures, Labour has seen its opinion poll lead being slashed. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is being criticised by his own veteran MPs on one hand, and is not seen by the public as prime minister material on the other. Labour is struggling to get over its message and with its recent acceptance that it must match the government’s spending plans if it is elected, you begin to wonder what is the point of the party at all. It is at best centrist, some might say centre-right, so anyone who wishes to vote for a party that is on the left of British politics can forget about Labour.

I was once a member of the Labour Party, and I joined the Green Party primarily for two reasons. Firstly I feel that unless we address the climate crisis any other issues will be irrelevant because within the next century (maybe sooner) we will have an uninhabitable planet for humankind. The Green Party is the only party that properly addresses that. Secondly I believe that social justice has to be part of the change we need to address the environmental crisis that we face. I once felt that Labour stood for social justice but with its steady move to the right it no longer realistically represents the most vulnerable people in society, nor the class it was created for.

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and Andy

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett with Andy at an event in Leeds

The current incarnation of the Labour Party is a shambolic disgrace, and the Green Party is the only real alternative for those people who wish to vote for social justice. Although it irritates and worries some of the Green Party veterans, that is the reason many Green Party members who joined in recent years are ex-Labour.

Now despite the turmoil Labour currently faces, due to our country’s electoral system, media, political funding etcetera, it will always be a massive task to enlighten people to the fact there is a tangible alternative to Labour if you want something different from the same old same old. The difficulty Labour faces at this moment in time maybe seen as an opportunity for the Green Party, but to be doing things right we should be hammering away at them all the time. That is why I wrote and moved the Leeds Green Party Strategy document which attempted to strengthen all the areas we need to in order to mount a stronger and more sustained challenge – increase party funds, increase membership, increase activists, raise the party profile, improve our media communications etc. all things that will help us get our message across to more people, and help us target more wards. We need more people to spread the word in order to attract more people to the party. We don’t yet have enough activists. That is a problem, and one we must address. People have busy lives and we have to be grateful for whatever contribution they make. The key is better organisation of what resources we have, and utilising them in the best way possible. The trouble is that organisation is not seen as very exciting.

One of my dreams would be that at all the wards in Leeds (but at the very least all the solid Labour wards) received one of our leaflets which highlights our key national policies with a Leeds slant, and the hard work of our councillors in Farnley & Wortley. This would mean that many more people would (a) know we exist (b) know something of what we stand for, and (c) might see us as worth a try given they have been badly let down by Labour. But it is but a dream. Just targeting predominately Labour wards with such a leaflet would run to over £4,000, not to mention trying to find the people to deliver it. One leaflet will not make a huge impact, it takes constant leafleting work and regular canvassing to turn a ward into a viable target, but it would make people more aware of us and maybe bring in some new members.

There must be a mixed approach. Campaigning on national issues is important to ensure people learn what we stand for. We also need to do some “bread and butter” local issues that affect people on a daily basis, and show that electing Green councillors makes a difference and unlike Labour we never take our constituents’ votes for granted.

It’s a while since my last blog post. This is because since returning from the USA I have been busy with a combination of working around the house making improvements, and getting involved with local politics. Weeks of leafleting where happiness was a loose letterbox and a few nights of canvassing finally culminated in the events of 6th and 7th May.

I had three main roles in the elections:

1. To help the attempt to get Cllr Andy Parnham re-elected in the Leeds City Council Farnley & Wortley ward.

2. As Cllr David Blackburn’s Election Agent, I was helping the bid to get him his best result in the Leeds West parliamentary constituency in the General Election. His previous best was 7.5% and the first target was 5% which would mean his £500 deposit would be returned.

3. One of the key helpers in my best mate Dave Procter’s bid to get as many votes as possible in the Leeds Central parliamentary constituency. He was standing on a Independent Green Left ticket. Independents always struggle, the system is skewed against them and retaining his deposit was the main target but getting past 200 votes would have been a huge achievement.

Aims 1 & 2 were interrelated as the Farnley & Wortley ward is one of the 4 that make up Leeds West constituency. Many of the leaflets we delivered had a message from both Andy and David.

Election day, Thurs 6th May:
I was up at 6:15am and down at the car hire centre to collect a car at 7am. I drove home, went out to vote myself, had leisurely breakfast pouring over the Guardian’s election coverage, and went to get a haircut in case I was going to be seen on the national media! ;-) I picked David Blackburn up at 10am and we went round to the campaign HQ, aka a Green Party member’s terraced house. David Blackburn Green Party PPC Leeds WestFirst duty was to collect an elderly couple and give them a lift to their polling station so they could vote. The rest of the day was spent driving around 32 of the 38 polling stations to see how many people had turned up to vote in hourly increments. We kept bumping into the Labour candidate (and eventual winner) Rachel Reeves who was accompanied by outgoing MP John Battle. We seemed to be the only parties doing this. The dash around the polling stations was punctuated by a short break to wolf down a chip butty and to slurp a cup of tea. Then it was back on the road.

Later in the evening we took to the streets again, David bellowing “Vote Blackburn and Parnham your Green Party candidates. Vote Green Party today” on a loudhailer out of the window. It was cold in the car as a result! My next sustenance came about 8pm when a cheese and tomato sandwich didn’t touch the sides. I also bought a packet of Hobnobs to keep me going, and in the interests of health, a banana and apple. At 10pm when the polling stations closed we went off to David’s local pub, he had a couple of pints for Dutch courage and I stuck to orange and passion fruit juice as I was driving. We also had a couple of games of pool with his chums. At 11pm we set off to the John Charles Centre where they were holding the count. We were on the indoor bowling “green”, and the other counts were on the indoor athletics track.

The first duty was to verify the local election ballot boxes. The voting slips were counted to make sure the numbers matched the figures collected by the Presiding Officer in the polling stations. The votes were then resealed in the ballot boxes ready to be counted at 10am on Friday morning. As the votes were validated the parties’ “tellers” (volunteers permitted inside with an official pass) are allowed to witness the process and at the same time attempt to note down the mark from the individual slips. This is to give some early indication of the way things might be going for your candidate. It didn’t look good for Andy Parnham.

Then came the main event. The General Election ballot boxes were brought to the tables. First the numbers are verified, with voting slips being batched into 50s. Then these are separated out into different piles based on candidate. Finally these piles are sorted between the counting staff and counted. No wonder this process took until about 4:30am. Like before our tellers, myself included, tried to get an idea of how David Blackburn had done. David Blackburn V for victory!When I wasn’t doing that I was wandering around getting intoxicated by the atmosphere. It was a mad frenetic affair with people rushing about, on mobiles, laptops, all with party rosettes. I also met up with Dave Procter to see how his vote was going. Not brilliant but we were laughing about it, doubting he’d make three figures. In the other large room was the stage and media camp. All the major players, BBC, ITV, Sky were there with cameras ready to capture any upsets. I spoke to the BBC’s Michael Crick several times about what was happening in Brighton where Green Party leader Caroline Lucas had a good chance of becoming the first Green MP. For a well known reporter Crick was very pleasant, no airs or graces, and talked to me in a friendly way and showed genuine interest when I might have expected an aloof distance. I think he was as excited by events as I was. I also saw Ed Balls the unpopular Labour Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families who many thought might lose his safe seat to the Conservatives. I was stood about 5 feet from him when he was suddenly swooped on by the media, questioning and cameras flashing. I was in the way of some of the shots but had nowhere to duck out of it! I was also acknowledged by Fabian Hamilton (Labour MP) who remembered me from when I looked after his pc when he was a councillor. There was Hilary Benn, another government minister, and I also spoke to Andrew Carter the Conservative Leader of Leeds City Council. I was exhausted but loving every minute. Rumours broke that Caroline had indeed taken Brighton Pavilion, but these were unconfirmed. Rumours then broke that Ed Balls had lost to the Conservatives. There was an electric atmosphere. Feeling a bit faint I forced down an over priced and unimpressive cheese sandwich from the canteen, washed down by a much needed coffee.

Eventually about 4:45am the first result was in. It was ours, Leeds West. David Blackburn took to the stage with the rest of the candidates and the Lord Mayor Judith Elliot read out the result. As expected Labour’s Rachel Reeves won easily. David polled 1832 votes (4.7%) which was not enough to get back his £500 deposit. So that was a disappointment. David and the entourage went home but I hung around to see the rest of the results. Ed Balls hung on by 1101 votes, a slashing of his majority, and he gave a bombastic speech which the Conservative supporters tried to shout down with cries of “Off! Off! Off!” I had a ringside view right behind the cameras on the front row. It was soon Dave Procter’s turn. Hilary Benn was returned easily as expected but Dave got a very creditable 409 votes and gave a short but passionate speech. I stayed until the bitter end to hear all of the results and left the centre about 5:45am. It was on the way home in the car that I heard live on the radio that Caroline had won and become the UK’s first Green MP. I was screaming “yes” and punching the air in the car, lord knows what the car in front must have thought.

A very knackered Election Agent at 5:45amI had to have the hire car back at 7am, but luckily I caught a bus soon after and was home for 7:25am. A bit of breakfast and one last look at the results service on the BBC and I went to bed, 25 hours after I’d got up! I managed about 3 hours sleep before I woke up again. I’d booked the morning off but was expected in work in the afternoon. I rang up and asked for it off on flexi which was thankfully granted. I’d have been neither use nor ornament if I’d gone in.

The Aftermath:
Despite an impressive 2563 votes, Andy Parnham did lose his seat, coming second to Labour and squeezed by a much larger turn out due to the local elections being on the same day as the General Election. Ironically the local Labour group increased their seats to 48 meaning the previous Cons / Lib Dems / Morley Borough Independents coalition no longer has a majority, which could lead to a potential Labour-Green administration in Leeds. Nationally the Green Party were squeezed by a high turn out and voters choosing the three main parties. Our key target seats of Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford saw an increase in the vote but were not taken. Caroline’s result was the high point of the day.

Despite the mainly disappointing results nationally and locally I loved every frenetic, tiring minute of election day. I’m probably in the minority when I say I’d love to it all again sooner rather than later!

It has been some considerable time since I added an update to this blog. Back in September 2009 in fact, then still still a couple of months away from ending my Florida adventure. Maybe with a hint of appropriate consistency I am once again sat at the table in the Jacksonville Beach apartment, this time just for a brief two weeks holiday, the very place where the last blog entry took shape.

A great deal has occurred since that last blog post. The arrival of my parents in Florida in July provided a lot of potential material to post, photos to edit, and yet limited the available time to carry out such tasks. I fell behind with the entries and apart from a couple of retrospective postings, lost the drive needed to catch up and continue a regular offering. Furthermore a restructure at work turned my attention to submitting a job application, preparing for a video conference interview via Skype, and the days in the local Beaches Library were dedicated to retaining my own job rather than the observations of Florida life. Once the interview was complete Tina and I then spent ten days in Italy, attending her brother’s wedding in Siena. Those ten days provided more items to write about but little free time, the most notable event was proposing to Tina in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Rome on 23rd October. She accepted by the way!

Leaving Tina and Florida in mid November and returning to the cold, bleak Leeds streets, and a workplace where staff morale was the lowest I have ever encountered, was as hard as it was painful. I had obtained a position in the restructure, a promotion in fact, but no joy could be taken from it when colleagues and friends were unsuccessful and in danger of losing their jobs. Most shocking was the tragic news that during the six months I was away two colleagues took their own lives. The mood at work was sombre at best, sometimes mutinous, motivation absent, and the feeling towards management close to outright fury. This atmosphere, the cold weather, and the returning to an empty house every night left my mood very dark, and the last thing on my mind was writing a blog.

But there are positives. Tina and I have, with her ex-husband’s co-operation and support (in fact he suggested it), decided to live in the UK. Tina came over for Christmas which was a happy time, and we looked for wedding venues, settling on Temple Newsam House in Leeds. We now are embroiled with the frustrating and complex task of sorting out the application for settlement in the UK for Tina and two of her boys, so they can be over in time for a September wedding. Having been used to having Tina, her boys, and the cats around for six months, not to mention being in a location where mid November still allowed cycling after dark in t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, it was remarkably hard to go back to Britain to the solitary life. Furthermore the need to save money has necessitated a frugal life of simple pastimes, staying home reading, watching TV, or browsing the internet. I have so far failed to see a Stoke City match at the Britannia this season, my football fix obtained from a few trips to the now defunct Farsley Celtic FC.

One distraction I have embraced enthusiastically is a greater involvement with the Green Party as the General and local Council Elections loom. I helped during the unsuccessful campaign in the Leeds ward of Hyde Park & Woodhouse byelection in February, and have been leafleting around the Farnley & Wortley ward with the aim of getting Cllr Andy Parnham re-elected and helping Cllr David Blackburn’s Parliamentary campaign for the Leeds West Constituency. Leafleting has a rather soothing and stress-busting effect. When striding up an unknown driveway, one’s concentration is locked on folding the leaflet correctly, the potential awkward letterbox that makes insertion a chore, and the possibility of some slavering beast waiting on the other side to remove any straying fingers. All worries of the day at work, or the months ahead are gone, the mind is cleared and focused on the simple task of getting the paper through the slot without incident, and the exercise is also good for body and soul. While this blog as suffered, I have been busy updating the Farnley & Wortley Green Party website and have also assisted with the Headingley Green Party’s new site too. I have also agreed to be David Blackburn’s election agent during the General Election campaign.

While this latest holiday in Jacksonville Beach affords me the time to restart blogging, I must give credit to another source of inspiration. A contractor called David has been working in our office since my return to Leeds. Stoke born and bred, a similar age to myself, and a great fan of Stoke City during my favourite era – the Lou Macari Years in the early 1990s – so no wonder we have stuck up a rapport and shared plenty of laughs. David discovered my blog by accident, and has apparently been working his way through past entries. It was his compliments about the stories and enjoyment of them that gave me the impetus to write something new. Sometimes the thought of “what’s the point” flits across one’s mind, but if other people do appreciate the efforts made, it is flattering and galvanises the resolve to continue. I find writing fulfilling, people seem to enjoy reading my observations, and if I can provoke thought and positive action from just one person then the whole exercise is worthwhile. So thanks David, and we must keep in touch when you move to your next contract.

In the meantime I think I should make the most of the sunshine and head outside. Who knows what things are going on out there that are just asking to be written about!