Unite to Remain could hurt the anti-Brexit cause. That’s why I quit the Green party | Tom Meadowcroft

On Friday 8 November, I decided to stand down as the Green party candidate for Filton and Bradley Stoke in South Gloucestershire. Here’s why.

Party politics didn’t come naturally to me. I was a twentysomething crypto-anarchist wastrel from the outer suburbs of Bristol who’d spent five years after university moving between jobs and getting distracted. Then, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave humanity 12 years to reorganise itself to limit climate catastrophe. A few months later, my son Finn was born. It was time to get serious about the climate crisis. I particularly liked the Greens’ advocacy for “post-growth economics” (unlike Labour) and their democratic party structures. I got in touch with my local Green party in March 2019.

After a positive experience standing for council elections in Pilning and Severn Beach earlier this year – I did better than expected, getting 10% of the vote and beating the Liberal Democrat candidate – I offered myself up as the parliamentary candidate in the autumn. I had swotted up on former Green party manifestos, my social media game was strong and I’d already made some good links with green activists across the country. I was looking forward to it.

Then, in November, a respected elder official in the local party came to us with a proposition: we stand down for the Lib Dems in a number of inconsequential seats in return for a free run at the Green holy grail of Bristol West and the Isle of Wight. (Both are seen as some of the best areas for Green pick-up in the country.)

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A savvy friend asked whether this prospective alliance involved standing against sitting Labour MPs. “Probably.” OK, well do you at least mean the pro-Brexit Kate Hoeys and Roger Godsiffs of the world, or decent remainers too? Surely the aim should be to unseat Tories and build a majority for remain, which would involve allying with the Labour party rather than fighting against it?

I asked to see a list of the seats the alliance would target – but was told they couldn’t be discussed. An unashamedly pro-alliance email went out to members from the coordinator of the local party. I voted against it, but I know I was in the minority.

Only when Unite to Remain was officially launched did I get a look at the seats. It features 60 constituencies across England and Wales; Bristol West and the Isle of Wight have been set aside for the Greens. The obvious problem, to me, was that the alliance could end up hurting the remain cause as much as helping it. Polling expert John Curtice predicted immediately after details were released that there were “probably five or six seats” that might be turned over by the pact – but rather counterproductively it targets 10 pro-remain Labour MPs according to analysis by LabourList.

My prospective seat of Filton and Bradley isn’t included, but all this talk of alliances gets me thinking: it’s a Labour/Conservative marginal featuring the pro-European Labour candidate Mhairi Threlfall and the arch-Brexiteer Jack Lopresti, my MP since 2010, and the recipient of a donation from a private jet company in September. There were about 4,000 votes between the Tories and Labour in 2017; that’s almost the exact same number of voters who went for the Lib Dems and Greens combined.

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It clearly makes no sense for me to stand. After much anguish, I wrote an email explaining my decision to the local Green party and begging them not to stand a candidate in Filton and Bradley Stoke.

The decision to contest Labour seats echoes the Liberal Democrat playbook, which is to insist that Labour’s policy – to negotiate a Brexit deal that protects jobs, workers’ rights and the environment, and then put it back to the public – is somehow pro-Brexit or too complicated. In fact it is closest to the Greens’ policy but adds the step of renegotiating Johnson’s deal instead of pitting what he has already negotiated against remain in a referendum.

Across the country, Greens like me now face the prospect of throwing our lot in with Jo Swinson, a leader whose green credentials include voting to sell off England’s forests, taking a donation from an energy company that owns fracking licences, and voting against slowing the rise of rail fares. The alternative is throwing our weight behind Labour’s green new deal, which in many ways is the culmination of decades of Green party policy, and putting pressure on them to keep up their environmental commitments.

In the days before I made my decision to stand down, I thought of the lines of police I faced down with my fellow students in the wake of the Liberal Democrats’ capitulation on tuition fees in 2010. Had it been nine years? I thought about the palpable sense of desolation in Stoke-on-Trent, my student home, brought about by austerity enabled by the Lib Dems in coalition with the Tories.

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I’m content to drop out of party politics and fade back into anonymous extra-parliamentary opposition. But first, I will vote Labour and campaign for Mhairi Threlfall to make all this worthwhile.

Tom Meadowcroft is a former Green party activist from South Gloucestershire



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