In the first of an occasional series of profiles of prospective candidates for local seats in next year’s General Election, Alexandra Rogers meets Charlotte George, the Green Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch.
Hackney has been a Labour stronghold for all but four years since the borough was established in 1965. For any politician not of Labour descent, trying to change this voting habit has been difficult. But Charlotte George, the Green Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch, hopes to break the tradition.
As it stands, Hackney is firmly under Labour control: Jules Pipe remains the directly- elected Mayor, a post he has held for sixteen years; Diane Abbott has been the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington for 27 years, and Meg Hillier, George’s rival, has been the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, since 2005. Breaking the borough’s loyalty to Labour would require a party willing to match it at every level and George is convinced that this is the Green Party.
“The Greens are far more than just the environment these days”, she says. “What we’re trying to tell people about are our policies to renationalise the railways, the Robin Hood tax, free education for all and safeguarding the NHS –real Old Labour policies that Labour have dropped. That’s why we’re picking up so many disaffected Labour and Lib Dem activists.”
Originally from Australia, filmmaker George joined the Greens when she moved to London six years ago because, she says, of her desire to tackle injustice. The Greens have seen a growth in support from voters angry with the main parties, with the London section of the party reaching 4,000 members. There is a term to describe this phenomenon – the “Green surge” – and George knows exactly where it’s coming from.
“It’s coming from disillusionment with the main parties which is obviously benefiting another smaller party whom we shall not name…[UKIP] we’re benefitting from the same thing, just on the other side”, she explains. “People join the Greens because voting Green is about creating a space where doing the right thing is the easiest option.”
The Greens may be receiving more recognition, but it is not enough to win elections. She attributes this to a fundamental flaw in the First Past the Post voting system, where votes aren’t always translated into seats. In the May local elections, her party won 20.5% of the vote, more than the Lib Dems and Conservatives combined, yet they have no councillors, where the Lib Dems and Conservatives have three and four respectively.
“Hackney is one of the most extreme boroughs in terms of the vote share not matching the elected representatives. 1 in 5 people in Hackney voted for us. Those people don’t have any representation. I came away from that election feeling that the entire system is completely undemocratic.”
It is the lack of representation for the Green Party members as well as its voters that are holding her party back. At a national level, nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org to get the Greens included in the televised election debates, where Nigel Farage representing UKIP will have his turn to tackle the mainstream parties.
“It’s very disappointing democratically. Once again it’s going to be four, middle-aged white men standing on the stage representing democracy. Having a woman’s voice would be extremely constructive, and Natalie Bennett is the only female leader of a political party [in England]. We need to have someone outside the bubble questioning the need for cuts and austerity – all of the parties are now saying that, except for us.”
George is confident that in time, her party’s efforts to ‘shake up Westminster’ will materialise. She accepts that hers is not a party to get dizzy with success: “We’ve seen a fifty per cent increase in Hackney in our membership since the May elections but it’s just about finding a way to use all of this new power. It’s about playing the long game: maybe it’s not 2015 but 2020.”