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.

The large income disparities which characterise our society are a sign of significant social and economic injustice. The Green Party believes that working people should be paid a decent, living wage and, like every other citizen, be entitled to a sufficient level of economic security to meet their needs. Every worker, like every citizen, should have the right to fair income security, whether working, unemployed, in retirement or in sickness. Everyone should be paid the same for work of equal value, regardless of age. To these ends the Green Party proposes a Citizens’ Income payable to every citizen as a basic right, funded by an ecological and genuinely progressive taxation system, which will also mean that the need to test “availability for work” is no longer required.

The Citizens’ Income policy sets the Greens apart from other political parties. Successive governments’ oppressive use of coercion and privatisation of public services, which diminish the bargaining power of ordinary citizens, makes implementing the Citizens’ Income policy more urgent, yet it is also a potentially great electoral opportunity. The introduction of the Citizens’ Income will provide all citizens with a level of economic security. Once the public has grasped that means testing is a form of taxation, there is no reason why the coaltion governments Workfare plans shouldn’t be another “Poll Tax moment”.

The Citizens’ Income will be sufficient to cover an individual’s basic needs, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits. It is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing and there will be no requirement to be either working or actively seeking work. The Citizens’ Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work. The Citizens’ Income scheme will thus enable the welfare state to develop towards a welfare community, engaging people in personally satisfying and socially useful work.

Clive Lord - an expert on the Citizens' Income

Clive Lord – an expert on the Citizens’ Income

When the Citizens’ Income is introduced it is intended that nobody will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system. Children will be entitled to a reduced amount which will be payable to a parent or legal guardian. Disabled people or people with special needs, and single parents will receive a supplement. Initially, the housing benefit system will remain in place alongside the Citizens’ Income and will be extended to cover contributions towards mortgage repayments. This will subsequently be reviewed to establish how housing benefit could be incorporated into the Citizen’s Income, taking into account the differences in housing costs between different parts of the country and different types of housing.

One of the experts behind the Citizens’ Income is Clive Lord, a founding member of “People” party 40 years ago which went on to eventually become the Green Party of England & Wales. Clive is still a member and now living in Leeds. His blog discusses the subject extensively. More information about Green Party economic policy can be found here

Last sight of Jacksonville, the airport window mural It is hard to believe but it was one year ago today that I last set foot on American soil. One of the last things I saw of Jacksonville was the graphic on the airport window shown here and so it seemed a suitable header for this post. I had been over in the USA again to break up the seven months of separation that Tina and I faced before she arrived in the UK, to take over evidence for her visa application, and to help its completion. This final visit was bitter-sweet. It was wonderful to see Tina, the boys, cats and her family again, and good to know that while still a few months away, the next time we saw each other would be over here ready to start a life together. Yet it was sad to say goodbye to an area that had provided great friendships, and had been a happy home for six months in 2009. There was the uncertainty of when I might see Jacksonville Beach again.

The “Shack”, as we called the apartment on 10th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, looked a forlorn shadow of its former self, many of Tina’s possessions now packed away ready to travel back with me. During this final visit I took a lot of video footage of that place and made it into a short film, a record of what was our first home together. It was a poignant moment when I set off for the airport from it for the last time. There are times when I miss it, times when I have a flashback, and I hear the breeze through the window blinds, the swish of palms trees swaying outside, and the comforting creak of the front door as it closed behind you. Having the ocean so close was something we never tired of or took for granted, and I certainly benefited from the warm climate and near guaranteed several hours of sunshine throughout the year. In the last few months I have taken up cycling to work. While the weather and environs bear no resemblance to Jacksonville Beach whatsoever, and I don’t envisage ever travelling to work in shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, I pull up at the bike locker at my workplace and it reminds me so often of locking my bike in the rack behind the Shack having just done a grocery run. I’m transported back there.

Another important thing that six months in the Shack gave me was friendship. Living in that apartment block and having the communal garden at the front introduced me to many great people who shared the residence and became part of my life there. Life is good for Joey and Agent FangI miss them all but the two main characters of the piece were Joey and Michael, and I confess that I haven’t kept in touch as much as I’d have liked or should have done. That’s something I need to work on, and can only apologise for. Joey’s occasional emails are no substitute for the amusing notes under the door and the banter that followed, while Michael’s thoughtfulness and generosity were matched by his fine company up the Ritz bar as we supped $2 beers. I hope one day they might visit here so I can return the hospitality.

But overall I’m not sure I could have taken to life in the USA. Their concept of society is far more individualistic than here, and other than the weather and close proximity to the beach, Tina and I felt we would have a better quality of life in the UK. It was for that reason that on 15th July 2010 Tina and two of her boys arrived at Manchester Airport complete with nine suitcases and the important Fiancee Visa. Hadley and Molly cats had arrived in the UK a couple of weeks before, enduring a transatlantic trip and a near four hour drive from Heathrow. Initially frazzled by this ordeal, by the time Tina and the boys arrived the cats were settling in and seemed happy with their new home. The boys were soon settling in too and making friends in the back streets. We made some day trips to the Lake District, Wales and the east coast, and eventually got them into local schools.

The main event of 2010 though was of course at 4pm on Wednesday 8th September when Tina and I married at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, and had an exceptional reception at the Queens Hotel. I have to say that going drinking the night before with the Best Man, Maid of Honour, and Tina’s nephew Joey was not ideal preparation for the big day. I felt decidedly unwell until around 2pm, and was still writing my speech at midday. The Happy Couple - photo by S Finney Putting on the suit was an epic struggle, and the journey to Temple Newsam was a tad fraught, arriving about 15 minutes before kick off, and only a few minutes before the bride! Still it left little time for nerves, the service went perfectly, and we had such a glorious location for our photographs. We were joined too by wonderful guests; family and friends, including Tina’s Mum, Dad, Step-Dad, eldest son, nephew and best friend Paula. All who attended contributed to an amazing day, one I shall never forget. But there was no rest for the newly married couple as the following day we hired a mini-bus to take the American contingent to my parents’ house to see the area I was raised (cut short by a huge tail backs on the M6), then the next day we took a tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. We squeezed in a trip on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and an afternoon in Howarth before the last of the American party left these shores, and I returned to work the next day completely knackered and in need of another holiday! (Alas my next decent holiday actually came almost six months later).

It’s been a year of other firsts. First family Christmas all together in Leeds. The first time the boys have seen snow. The first Valentine’s Day Tina and have actually spent together. Thankfully another stressful application form and visit to the UK Border Agency in Sheffield ended well, Tina and the boys being granted an “extended leave to remain” residency permit, allowing them another two years in the UK, and permission for Tina to work.

Away from the personal life things have got busy in my political life. Discussions started in October about forming a city wide Leeds Green Party. As someone who had the trust of both Farnley & Wortley and Headingley Green parties I was asked to be Acting Chairperson while these meetings took place. After some deliberation over the new party’s constitution, we eventually held the Inaugural Meeting of the Leeds Green Party on 24th February 2011. I had the honour of being elected to the position Coordinator & Chairperson, a member of the Executive Committee. It’s currently all hands to the pump as local elections approach, aiming to retain one the Green councillors, and add some more if possible. Once the elections are over I am looking forward to helping the Leeds Green Party progress, get involved with campaigning, and recruiting new members to the cause. Caroline Lucas Green Party Leader and IA couple of days before the Inaugural Meeting I attended a photo opportunity arranged by Cllr Ann Blackburn with Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, as she passed through Leeds on her way to an event in Huddersfield. I was the “photographer”, but had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Huddersfield with Caroline, which included an opportunity to speak to her alone for quite a while before the train arrived. From watching TV appearances I suspected that Caroline would be approachable and without “airs and graces”, but you never know whether a party leader is gong to have a bit of an ego or attitude. I am happy to say Caroline was as friendly and genuinely interested in people as she comes across in the media, and it was a memorable and enjoyable few minutes with her discussing the situation in Leeds and the formation of the new party. I wouldn’t expect Messrs Cameron or Miliband to travel without an entourage, or to engage so comfortably with a complete stranger. The speech she delivered in Huddersfield was also a passionate and articulate piece of reasoning, and seemed to be supported by the majority of the attendees. All in all a day I won’t forget in a hurry, particularly as it was so unexpected. Now it’s back to the bread and butter, the graft of leafleting in Farnley & Wortley ward.

Family, work, and Green Party commitments make time very precious these days. Writing a blog has been pushed down the order of priorities. I don’t expect that I will be able to post with the regularity of past, or as much as I’d like, but I intend to get back into blogging. It is something I enjoy, and I hope others do too. Watch this space for any future noteworthy events and commentaries on life.