Interview: Why Harrogate Green Party thinks the district will back radical change

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In the fourth of a series of interviews with the main parties in Harrogate, Graham Chalmers talks to the Green Party about why they believe people are ready to support radical changes in the district.

There’s usually little room for sentiment in politics but it was hard not to spare a thought for the Harrogate Greens at the last election.

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Frustrating as it is to be a losing candidate, how much worse was it for them to not even be allowed to stand at all?

“People are on our wavelength a lot more now. The environmental penny has dropped.” - Shan Oakes, the coordinator for Harrogate and District Green Party.“People are on our wavelength a lot more now. The environmental penny has dropped.” - Shan Oakes, the coordinator for Harrogate and District Green Party.
“People are on our wavelength a lot more now. The environmental penny has dropped.” - Shan Oakes, the coordinator for Harrogate and District Green Party.

Although the decision to step aside at last December’s General Election was taken for what she says were the best of reasons, Shan Oakes, the coordinator for Harrogate and District Green Party admits it still hurts a little.

Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser in the fourth of our series of interviews with leading figures from the main political parties in the district, Shan Oakes admits feelings were mixed at the time about the national party’s policy of making local agreements to clear a path for the Lib Dems.

She said: “Not everyone felt we should step aside in the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency but eventually we decided it was the best course of action.

“We were between a rock and a hard place.

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“It was horrific. Not only was there the Brexit issue but we also had the problem that, without proportional representation in this country, in the absence of real democracy, it’s incredibly difficult to get votes for small parties.

“We decided we needed to try to help get rid of an MP who supported a Government that was happy to have a no deal Brexit.”

In the event, the local pact failed to deliver the hoped-for outcome for the Green Party as Conservative Andrew Jones emerged victorious for the fourth election in a row.

Shan had become, perhaps, the most visible face of the Harrogate and District Green Party along with her partner Bill Rigby, in the 2015 General Election when she won 2,351 votes for a 4.4% share and fourth place.

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Although it’s too early to say who will stand when the next General Election is due to come around in 2024, Shan is certain the Greens will stand next time in Harrogate and Knaresborough and will do better.

She said: “We’re really keen to stand next time. It’s hard to cut through all the hot air and spin at a national level but when people are aware of the issues, they are on our side.

“People are on our wavelength a lot more now. The environmental penny has dropped.”

Like the other opposition parties locally, the Greens believe the Tory Government was “incredibly slow off the mark when dealing with Covid” and have made a “complete disaster of it”.

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Unlike the other parties, she sees the handling of the virus as symptomatic of Britain’s politics as a whole.

She said: “Only two major countries in the western world still stick to the ‘first past the post’ voting system at elections - the USA and the UK - and look where we both are in terms of the virus.

“The present system makes so many people feel excluded.

“The system is so distorted; it serves to benefit vested interests.”

As befits their name, the Green Party are passionate about wanting a lot more progress on creating a much more eco-friendly style of living in the Harrogate district.

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The party’s members are visible, not only in local campaigns about the environment, but they have also been active within the community this year - such as helping food banks and delivering medicines.

Their priorities include:

Stopping the “ridiculous amount” of building of non-affordable housing in the wrong places in favour of more affordable, environmental housing on non-green belt land;

Ending the car lobby’s dominance of transport policy;

Blocking Harrogate Spring Water’s expansion into woodlands near the Pinewoods.

Some of these points are shared at times by other parties in the Harrogate district, including the ruling Tories.

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But, while happy to work with other parties, the Greens see the answer as being not so much a few new policies but a complete overhaul of the system in favour of local control and a humane approach to life.

Shan Oakes said: “The Government has virtually ignored local authorities during the pandemic.

“Decisions should be made at a local level across the board, including when it comes to Covid.

“We would give more power to local schools, too.

“People want more social justice and more environmental justice.”

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The Greens intend to put up a candidate for every seat should next year’s election for North Yorkshire County Council take place.

And they remain hopeful the momentum is with them.

“During Covid, more and more people have realised how massive the effect human activity is having on the planet. If there was a PR voting system, the Greens would win a whole raft of seats.

“Irrespective of that, I think we will do a lot better than the last time we stood.”

A short history of The Green Party

The national Green Party started off in the 1970s as the People Party, renamed as the Ecology Party, and renamed again as the Green Party around 1985.

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After the Scottish and Northern Ireland Greens left in 1990, The Green Party of England and Wales was founded.

In the 1999 European elections, two Greens were elected Members of the European Parliament - Caroline Lucas (South East England) and Jean Lambert (London).

In 2005, the Greens received their highest vote nationally - 281,780.

In 2010 the party had its first success at Westminster when former leader Caroline Lucas became the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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The Green Party's co-national leaders since 2018 have been Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley.

The Harrogate Green Party was first launched in 1989 and its constitution was officially adopted in 2013.

In 1990 Harrogate Green Party member Arnold Warneken was elected as the first Green councillor in the entire north of England when he won the Marston Moor ward of Harrogate Borough Council.

The Harrogate and District Green Party works within the communities of Harrogate, Knaresborough, Ripon, Boroughbridge, Pateley Bridge, Masham and surrounding rural parishes with the goal of turning the Harrogate district into a greener and fairer place.

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In 2015 Harrogate and District Green Party stood a record number of candidates in council elections and for the first time ever contested the parliamentary elections in all three constituencies in the district - Harrogate & Knaresborough, Skipon & Ripon and Selby & Ainsty.

It has also fielded candidates in the parish council elections in Knaresborough and Ripon, succeeding in getting Elizabeth Collins and Bill Rigby elected to Knaresborough Town Council.

The national Green Party held its 2017 conference in Harrogate at the Convention Centre.

The national Green Party currently has one MP in the House of Commons and two members in the House of Lords.

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