Why I will not be jumping on the Green Party bandwagon.

I will not be voting Green, for three main reasons that I’d like to share.

1) I do not trust Natalie Bennett. I have met Natalie, who is standing in Camden where I work, a couple of times. She said publicly at an Education Question Time event that we held last year that she supported the ‘South of the Euston Road’ school. I expressed surprise, and we sought confirmation from her that she knew this school could only happen if it was a Free School (which the Green Party education policy specifically are against). She nodded that she knew that, but said that it was a ‘nice area’ and ‘deserved it’s own school’. I was a little incredulous.  How can one be completely opposed to Free Schools, want to bring them all back into the state sector and stop any more being built (as they have declared in their manifesto) and yet support one in the area where you want to get elected because it’s ‘a nice area’ that ‘deserves it’s own school’ so the children “don’t have to cross Euston Road”  (there are buses!  And they’re environmentally friendly).  She has since quietly told us that she doesn’t support it after all, but she hasn’t publicy refuted what she said then (which was to a small audience). I think this is because she knows that the parents who support that campaign are her best hope being elected.

Politicians do these things all the time, but the Greens are trying to convince us they are different, and I think this one – little reported – example shows how Natalie Bennett at least – is not different.

2) They are very unlikely to get any seats other than Caroline Lucas (who I like and respect a lot). So therefore any vote for them just means taking a vote away from a more likely opposition and thus letting the Tories back in. I know that a Proportional Representation system would have made this different, but we don’t have one, so we need to vote accordingly and sensibly.

3) Ed Miliband’s not the most charismatic geezer in the world, but I don’t think that’s particularly important. The more we go around dissing him for that, the more we’re buying into that belief. Yes it’s true that Labour haven’t got the most left-wing manifesto in the world, and the Greens have got something a bit better… but it’s easy to promise the world if you don’t have a chance of getting in (look at what Lib Dems promised before the last election, and what they actually delivered). I worry that lots of the recent surge of support for Greens is because people hope for a Greens/Labour coalition in the event of a hung parliament. But actually, I think the chances are still quite high of a Labour majority, at least if you keep entertaining the idea, rather than huffing and puffing when Ed Miliband makes a mistake.

I say all this by the way (in order of importance) as someone who isn’t and has never been a Labour party member or particularly a supporter. I am far to the left of most of the Labour party in my own politics. But I also think I’m a bit of a pragmatist and what I really don’t want is for the Tories to be involved in any way in our next government.  And I think that Labour are the only party with a realistic chance of achieving that.  So whether I think Ed Miliband is the best candidate, or Labour the best party, or not… that is who I am likely to vote for.

Camden Education Question Time

Last night we held our first Question Time event.  I got home feeling very proud and pleased and wanted to share some of these thoughts and why it’s well worth doing. 

We had planned to do this one, see how it went and then maybe aim to do another one, in a different part of the borough.  We will definitely do that now and we’ll do it slightly differently, but that doesn’t take anything away from this one. I can see that there is room for this event to be repeated in all sorts of different ways.

Ours wasn’t particularly large – there were only about 50 people in the room.  And most of the platform were in broad agreement.  But they all had a slightly different take on the issues and that meant that we still had a genuine debate.  And that debate brought forward little threads that we mightn’t have expected to be discussing that provoked thought.

I think next time it would be nice to have a wider range of views on the platform… but they don’t need to be high-powered politicos.  There are lots of opinionated people out there and any one of those on the platform will stimulate debate.

The format is a very good one, because it puts the emphasis on the panellists rather than on the floor.  It makes it genuinely interesting for those of us that have been to loads and loads of meetings.

Finally, the thing to remember is that there will be people live tweeting from the event (if not, then organise someone to do so) and that means that the debate and the conversations opened up will go to a much wider audience anyway.

So if you’re thinking about organising one then do.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have anyone high powered (put some local opinionated people and a teacher and parent on the platform) and it doesn’t matter if the audience is only small.  Don’t see it as a one-time event, but as a series of smaller events.  Don’t worry about the set up – you don’t need a lot.  A table at the front is easy to organise… we made some question cards ourselves and had our committee act as stewards.

Some quotes from our event (all of which could be the start of a debate in their own right):

Professor Stephen Ball (SB)  “What we really need is a debate about what are schools for.  Who should decide that?”

Fiona Millar (FM) “Good local schools are the last way to build stronger communities.”

SB “Accountability should rest with local communities.”   “I don’t think we should be training teachers, I think we should be educating them.”  “PRP reinforces the process that children are trained to pass tests.”

FM “There’s no such thing as parental choice.  You can never satisfy every parent.”

Alyson Dermody-Palmer  “Getting rid of levels will lead to testing at the end of every year.”

Natalie Bennett  “Free Schools are based on the principle that some schools will fail.”  “..that’s [those childrens’] whole educational career disrupted.”

SB “The overwhelming majority of research into Parental Choice suggests that parental choice is not a very good thing.”

FM “The Tomlinson report [had it been adopted] would have taken ten years to be implemented.  We’d be seeing the results of it now.”

And on what is education for, Fiona Millar : “Education is about creating a fairer and more just society and give every young person a chance to discover what they love.”

And having dealt with all of that.. that best thing that came out of our event was that we have cracked open a debate in the local Labour Party about their support for a new school (which would inevitably be a Free School).  It’s in their manifesto, but it’s unneccessary.  Several people said so last night, including some in the Local Labour Party.  The local press have picked up on this and now one feels there will be a proper debate about it in the local Labour Party (who run our council).  Another unexpected bonus.

Well done and thank you to all who came, tweeted, re-tweeted, helped publicise or inspire our event.  And go and do it.