A few weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the Labour candidate for Brighton Pavilion, a woman named Purna Sen. It received quite a lot of attention from Green councillors and supporters and gave rise to a response from a Brighton-based Labour member Neil Schofield. As the Labour and co-op candidate for Preston Park, Schofield felt that a Labour voice was needed.
I was grateful for his response, and now that I have an hour or two, I would like to return to our correspondence. I should thank him for the time he took to draft a reply, and also for praising my writing, describing my letter to Purna Sen as an “eloquent piece”. Unfortunately for Schofield, his words have done nothing to change my mind on the matter. I am still firmly of the opinion that Caroline Lucas, and indeed the Green party in general, are the future of Brighton, and perhaps even the UK. The following, is why.
In my original letter I had very high praise for Caroline Lucas. I called her a “political and moral titan”, and I stand by that. In fact, in Schofield’s reply he did not even argue this point. He knows, as well as I do, that Lucas is almost untouchable when it comes to personal criticism.
She has time and time again showed her opposition to tuition fees, she has been arrested for opposing fracking, has called on reform on the failed war on drugs, states that the railways should be re-nationalised, is opposed to the renewal of the nuclear weapons system Trident, and she actively voices her disapproval at the sexist Murdoch rag The Sun. No More Page 3 is a grassroots movement that looks to end the objectification and sexualisation of women on the third page of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, and Lucas has supported the movement from its inception. The Sun is the very same newspaper that lied about the Hillsborough disaster painting the victims that day as thieves, and is also the very same newspaper that Ed Miliband is only too happy to pose with for photo opportunities, not once, not twice, but three times. Such is the desperation of the man, and the party, to get media moguls support.
If Sen cannot match Lucas on the issues above, issues where Lucas stands on the same side as public opinion, then why is she challenging? I don’t imagine Sen can match Lucas in all honesty, but if somehow Sen can state that what Lucas stands for, she also stands for, it then begs the question of: if the two are inseparable on the issues that they stand for, why should Lucas be replaced?
Labour can proclaim that Sen is as good as Lucas, as moral and ethical, and will fight for the same things that Lucas has, but if this is the case, and I don’t believe it is, but if it is the case, why do we need to replace Lucas at all? It would be like shaving all your hair off and then buying a wig made of the hair that you just shaved. Illogical and pointless. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and quite obviously Lucas is picking up steam, rather than falling apart on the hard shoulder.
Let us pretend though, simply for arguments sake, that Sen and Lucas do match up. Let’s pretend that Sen stands for all of the same things, and will show the same passion and determination that Lucas has. Let’s pretend that Sen is also a diamond. As quite frankly, if she is not, the argument is already over.
So we have Lucas and Sen, both almost identical, and as they are fighting for a seat in Parliament and you can see no difference between them individually, you then turn to the parties that they are members of. This would be the next logical step in the argument if Sen were to pass the initial I-am-as-good-a-person-as-Caroline-Lucas-Test.
At this stage of the argument it becomes clear that we are not talking about the people. Sen could be anyone, because the people are unimportant. It is the party that becomes the main issue. Though the issue should be Caroline Lucas vs Purna Sen, it is not framed that way, and instead becomes the Green party vs the Labour party. In my hypothetical scenario where Lucas and Sen are almost the same person, this would be the only way of ranking the two. In that scenario it must be done in order to find a difference between them.
We do not live in this hypothetical scenario though, and yet we still find ourselves in a debate of Greens vs Labour. The election campaign has been framed in such a way because everyone knows that criticising Lucas will get you nowhere. One on one Sen vs Lucas is a landslide win for the Greens every time, so for Labour to stand any chance, they have to frame it as a different fight.
I have two issues with this. Firstly, if the argument is against the Greens, why did Schofield go to great lengths in his reply to show that Lucas is a very independent MP, making up her own mind on issues and supporting what she personally believes in. “Caroline Lucas has increasingly presented herself as an independent MP: you have to look hard at her website or her campaign literature to find any reference to the Green Party.”
And secondly, and more importantly, if the argument is a Labour MP can do more good than a Green MP because Labour may well have a minority government, then it must be asked if Sen and Lucas are so similar, what would Sen do that Lucas would not? Surely it would make no difference which party the MP is a member of if they are both advocates and supporters of certain policy.
The answer to this second question can go one of two ways. Either Sen could no more than Lucas could, in which case Sen loses the argument again as there would be no point in replacing Lucas. Or, and this is the response I would expect, with Labour’s government and the other MP’s backing, Sen could realistically influence, change, and introduce real policies.
And this is what I find interesting, because if this is the answer, and I am fairly certain it would be, then it tells us that Labour care more about their party than they do about the people.
The scenario would be that Sen could introduce a bill on the issue of rail fares for example, a topic she seems to feel strongly about, and the Labour government would back it and look to bring it into law. But Lucas could introduce that same bill and the Labour government would choose not to support it.
That tells you everything you need to know about the Labour party, and the state of democracy in this country. A Labour refusal to back a bill by Lucas, despite agreeing with it in principle, is not only undemocratic, but it is a betrayal to the people of Brighton Pavilion. An elected representative of the people would be ignored, and I assume has been ignored, as her colour is green rather than red.
To make real progress in this country we need to set aside party politics and support ethical, moral and equal policies whether they come from a red, green or yellow source. (Not blue, never blue, and certainly not purple). As I mentioned in my last letter, why not invite Lucas into the Cabinet? This question was ignored by Schofield in his reply, and I imagine the reason it was ignored was because it makes the most sense, and results in Labour accepting defeat in Brighton Pavilion.
It is precisely because I believe in real democracy, freedom, equality and justice that I do not criticise parties, just policies. Schofield makes a point of bringing to our attention the good things that Labour governments have done in the past, and he is right to do this. We should not forget the huge strides made by Labour to decrease child poverty, or to establish the NHS and the minimum wage, and to invest in healthcare and education. These should be praised and defended by everyone, no matter what party you support or belong to. These policies are what is best for the people, not for the party.
As an Anarchist I will not support anyone or anything that infringes on freedom, equality, peace and justice, but I will wholeheartedly get behind someone that fights for these principles.
Until the day that Noam Chomsky stands for MP in Brighton Pavilion, we can do no better than Caroline Lucas, her recent award of MP of the Year demonstrates this perfectly.
Schofield’s response, though well written, is full of statements that only prove to tighten the noose around the neck of Labour’s campaign in Brighton. Here are a few of my favourites: “Because we offer something fundamentally different”, Caroline Lucas has “no real clout at Westmister”, she “can only offer a critique from the sidelines”, “this is a political vote about what you believe politics are for – whether they are about protest or government”.
The last quote sums it up perfectly for me. This is a statement that says the system is rigged in such a way that no matter what Caroline Lucas, or any other non-major party MP may do, their appearance, their voice, and their opinion – and all those they represent – is nothing more than protest. It’s sickening to think that the major parties have such a stranglehold on politics and policies that anybody outside that clique is marginalised and ignored. As a friend said, “do we want democracy or an American-style limited party system?”
As things stand, it is democracy, but only if you’re in with the big boys, otherwise you don’t matter.
Schofield also states that the Labour party is “the only party that can remove the coalition from office”, which is an obvious lie. It is fear-mongering at its lowest form. Labour may well be the most likely to get into government, but they are not the only party challenging the coalition next year. Disregarding others is another example of the contempt with which Labour and its followers treat our democracy, and other parties.
Are we to just ignore the Greens, the SNP, the Lib Dems, and Plaid Cymru? However unlikely, those candidates and those parties may well kick the coalition out themselves, and will certainly have a say in the running of the country after 2015.
Labour have seen their poll ratings plummet, they have seen the attack of its leader, and they have seen Scotland declare their support for the SNP. They are terrified of losing their claim as a “government party” and so this terror has resulted in such fear-mongering as saying that they are the only ones who can help the country. It is even now resulting in outright attacks on the Green party.
Schofield states that “Purna Sen will be an outstanding, radical MP”, a laughable statement to make when Sen is being spoken of in the same context as Lucas. The term “radical” being used to describe a Labour candidate is, as my housemate said: “utterly hilarious”. Labour are in no way radical, they are reactionary. It is only after they have become aware of public opinion that they decide to speak out on issues. It is only once they have realised the people want something done that they begin an attempt to appease them by adjusting old policies slightly.
If Labour had any integrity at all, if they truly believed in democracy, then they would refuse to participate in the televised debates until the Green party were invited as well. As it is, Ed Miliband and Labour have not done this, and they wont ever do this, as they care only for the preservation and continuation of the party. Democracy, and what is best for the people, is secondary.
Further reading: Green’s response to Labour’s “UKIP” of the Left
At the end of Schofield’s reply to my open letter he has added: “since writing this I have been made aware that Paddy Vipond has no connection with Brighton and Hove.”
Evidently Schofield has not done his homework because I have lived in Brighton for many years.
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