July saw Green Party members from across the South East come together as activists to strategize how best to continue the green surge and build upon the successes of the general election.
There was a strong cohort from Hampshire with members from Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Winchester, Southampton, and the New Forest all in attendance. It was a great chance to talk about this blog and the accompanying Facebook Group, set up to try and increase coordination across the county. Throughout the day it became clear that there are a number of issues that would benefit from campaigning at a county level.
The event had a strong focus on strategizing to ensure that the thousands of new members gained during the General Election are engaged, and encouraged to participate in whatever way they can. This is a challenge for the Green Party as a whole at present; how to cope with a huge new influx of bodies, ideas, and passion. Moreover; how to utilise this surge correctly, to ensure that it long continues.
In an opening speech, Caroline Lucas (who joined via Skype due to illness – get better soon Caroline!) spoke of how we must engage through new means, and re-organise to accommodate our new members. “We must be fluid, or they may not renew next year”. It can be too easy to appear hostile to new members, as long standing members can be inadvertently protectionist about the way the local party runs – we need to ensure this is not the case. We are not a clique, but an inclusive group. This will mean the central and regional parties providing greater support and training to local members than ever before – and they are on it!
Caroline reminded attendees that our job is to get the conversation started about the issues we care about, but in a language everyone can understand – move towards the green economy (because it is a job rich sector), better housing (to reduce bills and homelessness), living wage (proven to increase productivity), fracking, and other areas that can mobilise people right across our areas. She also kindly suggested that we get in contact with her should we want a parliamentary question raised, or pressure put on the other parties to take notice of certain issues.
The day consisted of a number of breakout sessions including one by Matthew Ledbury, Press Officer to Caroline Lucas. The key messages to take away from this was know what is news – offer something NEW, some stats relevant to a national story, but local to your area (get your Freedom of Information requests in now as you won’t be able to soon!). Make sure copy is print-ready; if they can slip it straight in it is more likely to go in. Also plan in advance as much as possible – you can know what the council is talking about when, parliament too, and so have quotes and content ready to send the second something is announced.
We can learn a lot from the likes of The Daily Mail and The Sun – they are widely read as much as it pains us to believe it and we must learn what makes their stories of interest to Joe Bloggs. We won’t win an election on Guardian readers alone sadly – to get into a position of significant influence we need to widen our appeal, and thusly our vocabulary. ‘Worthy people care about cause’ doesn’t work – setting up a food bank outside your MP’s house however – WIN! Online is the place to be these days, and so content is key. Pictures and videos of whatever you are up to are great Facebook-fodder. Also have a stock of graphs, images, and infographics around your 5 main policy areas at your disposal to use when a story of that topic breaks. You are never going to be an expert in everything so when asked to defend specific policy it is ok to say you will get back to them. Pick your five wisely – pick areas that are of interest to local people not just the party. Climate change runs through everything we do and so shouldn’t be its own area, we should be educating the public how every other area relates to it – stress the intrinsic links (without being preachy!).
We must be innovative in our engagement tactics. Despite online being favoured by most – nothing quite says welcome like picking up the phone to chat to new members. It can also open the door for an opportunity to meet before a meeting – which can be quite intimidating for a newbie. In one session we were urged to consider separating the business of things with the fun parts – debating issues and socialising with likeminded people – these are of course the reasons we all joined in the first place. Another good method is to reach out to organisations who have similar ethos and goals – perhaps put on events that are issue centric rather than Green Party centric.
In a session on the EU lead by Amelia Womack, attendees were split into their county/area groupings to discuss areas to think about in the run up to the referendum. Hampshire discussed:
- How the identity of Hampshire is a strong thing to latch on to
- Use positive examples of where Hampshire has benefitted from EU legislation through a group linking all the green groups in the county
- Agriculture, park protection, ports, etc.
- Places of HE that benefit from Erasmus.
- Bees and links to pesticides, better protecting farmers
- GM issues
- Recycling and waste management, Hampshire wide response to that, through Veola
- Hampshire has had a policy of eliminating landfills, increase recycling etc. all driven by EU legislation. Battery recycling etc. link it to council tax costs? Circular economy and reusing
- Up cycling? Winchester the great waste project. Food waste another big one along food banks
- Fracking? EU countries as examples of those who have rejected fracking.
- Renewable energies? Collaborative carbon targets.
- Wildlife? New forest and South Downs etc.
- SMEs and their links in our small towns with small independent businesses
- Hampshire identity crucial around referendum as their identity will be challenged at that point
- Our job to communicate what the EU are actually doing as they are bad at communicating it out and there is a fear of the unknown, there is a democratic deficit.
- Getting people to realise there are a number of pan European problems. Identifying and education people about them and how they relate to day to day life
- Links to European courts and human rights
- Looking at why people are thinking no, and challenging that
Amelia said: “We can’t let Cameron hijack the debate and make it all about big business!” She continued to say we need to get press coverage on what a ‘Green Yes’ would look like – pushing the environment to the forefront, not just a tagline; an afterthought. We must not let the debate be taken over by the toxic rhetoric of the right.
The General Election gave our party growing pains indeed, but we are pushing through them, and coming out stronger the other side.