I read Stephen Wood's article "How the Greens are Quietly Shaping the New Political Consensus" (HuffPost 14th July) with some interest. I live in Hove, where we have the first Green Council. I would contend that rather than setting the agenda, they are failing to put rhetoric into practice. I would certainly challenge the assumption that they are shaping the political consensus. In reality they are struggling to meet manifesto commitments with political and economic realities.
The Green Party have benefited from their image as a new, fresh party. Fashionable and untainted by past political scandals, they have been able to capitalise on voter disillusionment across traditional party lines. At May's local elections in Brighton & Hove, they to take seats from previously large Tory & Lib Dem majorities, in addition to further seats from Labour. While across the city Labour may have been reduced to the 3rd party in terms of number of councillors, they were only 1% behind in terms of share of the vote (33% to 32%). This is not the fall in support for Labour suggested by Stephen Wood. It is also worth pointing out that since May 2010, nationally thousands of new members have joined the Labour Party.
Locally, it would appear we now have a Green minority Council administration with few practical solutions to the challenges the city faces. In recent weeks the Greens have been forced to abandon even their most precious manifesto commitment. At the door step they promised to "stop the cuts" - a pledge which formed the central theme of their election campaign. At best it would be considered naive to demand a meeting with the Local Government minister and expect Eric Pickles to treat Brighton & Hove as a special case. Yet, post election, Green councillors claimed it would be their first action. Clearly it has cut no ice, and as a result we have a 3.5% rise in Council Tax and a 15% cut in local services. The Green Party have had to implement the very cuts they so proudly voted against in February.
It is now clear they will be unable to put into practice many of their other manifesto commitments. They abandoned the removal of Tory appointed "Super Directors", voted for maintaining the current levels of Members Allowances, having voted against it in February and their pledge for the highest paid council office to earn no more than 10 times the lowest was reduced to 8 times.
Caroline Lucas has supported many excellent campaigns, not least a private members bill against Tax Havens and support for a Living Wage. As an individual without responsibilities to a Whip, she is free to do as she pleases. These policies already have the support of Labour. She appears as the face of the Green Party through-out the city, not limited to her own Pavilion constituency. Yet she has asked almost no questions in Parliament about issues directly affecting constituents in Brighton.
With nearly 4,500 young people unemployed in Brighton & Hove, high rents, rising prices and low wages the Brighton have many issues that need attention. The impact of zero growth, a Green Party manifesto commitment, can be seen in the number of empty shops in the city centre. The Green Party may have high minded, attractive ideals - but without practical policies to address the issues faced by local people, The Greens run the risk of failing the city badly. In the real world, they certainly aren't setting the agenda.