POLITICS

Green Party Denies Its Decision Not To Stand In Richmond Park By-Election Linked To £250,000 Offer

Candidate who withdrew tells HuffPost she had no knowledge of donation

06/12/2016 15:18 | Updated 07 December 2016
Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Lib Dem by-election winner Sarah Olney

The Green Party has vehemently denied its candidate stepped aside in the Richmond Park by-election following the offer of £250,000 by a wealthy potential donor.

Party members have revealed the mystery donor wanted a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Liberal Democrats to help defeat former MP Zac Goldsmith in the west London constituency.

In a report leaked to the Guido Fawkes website, local Greens have claimed a party staffer told them the cash offer was “conditional on the party demonstrating its desire” for an alliance with the Lib Dems.

But HuffPost UK has learned that Andree Frieze, who stepped aside as candidate in Richmond Park and North Kingston, had no knowledge of the donation offer or discussions around it when she made her decision not to stand.

Frieze told HuffPost: “Today is the first I have heard of this donation, so clearly it had no influence on my decision to stand aside.”

Yui Mok/PA Wire
Defeated independent candidate Zac Goldsmith

Some Labour MPs, as well as Greens and Lib Dems have spent months calling for a ‘progressive alliance’ to defeat the Conservatives, fielding a unity candidate with the best chance of beating them.

Richmond Park Greens agreed with party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley that not standing in the by-election would help defeat Goldsmith, who was ousted last week by Lib Dem Sarah Olney.

The party’s chosen candidate Andree Frieze decided to withdraw on November 1 and her statement was then sent out by Lucas’s press office.

HuffPost
Greens by-election leaflet

But key members of Kingston Green Party disagreed with the decision, and wanted to contest the by-election.

The leaked report by Kingston chair Ryan Coley reveals that at a meeting on November 2, a party official pressured him and others to agree with their colleagues.

It was claimed that the official warned that if the £250,000 donation was not accepted, there could be ‘serious’ implications that could affect ‘the jobs of party staff’.

Richard Vernalls/PA Wire
Green party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley

They were told at the meeting that the donation was “conditional on the party showing its seriousness about the ‘progressive alliance’ initiative”.

HuffPost has been told that the party official made an error in suggesting the donation was in any way contingent on local parties deciding not to put up a candidate against the Lib Dems or Goldsmith.

But Kingston Green Party members - who were jointly responsible for the selection with their sister party in Richmond Park - made clear their anger at the party’s co-leaders appearing to override local autonomy.

They claim that the idea of  ‘progressive alliance’ should not be pursued in elections without any consultation of the wider membership nationally.

The local Greens eventually put out a carefully worded leaflet in the by-election which referred to backing for such an alliance, but pointedly did not back the Lib Dem candidate.

A Green party spokesman said that in the end no donation was accepted, but suggested an investigation would be conducted into the claims.

“This is an unofficial report from three members of Kingston Green Party and is not officially recognised by either the national Green Party or the local party in question. Many of the claims are disputed and this report has been referred to the Green Party Regional Council and will be looked into as soon as possible.

“The Green Party has not accepted any major donations connected with the Richmond Park by-election and no donation offer was contingent on the Party not fielding a candidate.

“Any donation accepted by the Green Party must meet strict ethical criteria and that includes the donation not being used to gain leverage over strategic decisions.”

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