Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A thirty-seat strategy for environmentalists

This post starts with a disclaimer: I don't do political strategy for Friends of the Earth. But, I do get to think about grassroots organising a lot, and the two areas inevitably interconnect. This blog is also my personal space for thinking out loud, and what I write here is no way an official view from me or my employer. Capiche?

Bearing that in mind, here's a quick suggestion of one way environmentalists might begin to get the issues onto the political agenda over the next five years.

The problem

Whether you're a glass half-full or half-empty person, it's safe to say that the General Election confirmed the view that the environment needs to be higher on the political agenda than it is. Now, this isn't a party political point - in fact it's hard to imagine an election result earlier this month where this didn't hold true. 

And we can all discuss the undeniable merits of ignoring Parliament - at least some of the time - and getting on with making change happen on the ground, man. But I still believe we need, at the very least, the enabling consent of Westminster, its willingness to let a transformation towards a sustainable future happen.

And let's not forget that legislation (and campaigns for legislation) - like The Big Ask and the Climate Change Act - can be game-changing.

A solution

One solution - I freely concede, a very partial one - would be for environmentalists to concentrate some of our grassroots organizing efforts in the areas where MP's (and later, prospective MP's) really need to listen to their public - the most marginal Conservative seats in the country.

Let's say - the top 30 most vulnerable seats, numerically speaking. as a starting point.

That would mean beginning a dialogue with those representatives going forward. Building a body of evidence that their constituents support the environment. Asking them to support local environmental projects and - ultimately - national campaigns.

It implies engaging local political parties, and yes, the local authority too. It would certainly benefit from finding and working with allies so that we can have this conversation with the best, most representative and loudest collective voice we can muster.

The local awareness raising on climate over the next 6 months leading up to the UN climate talks in Paris - that so many organisations support or are involved in - could provide an excellent framework for this. The great thing about this campaign is that it's as strident or as gentle as you want it to be (or your MP can cope with).

And from a grassroots organising perspective, it would of course also means building our strength in those areas. From now.

The seats

A big thanks to super volunteer Mandy Staunton, who pointed me towards this list of marginals here (all the way down to Enfield North - that's your top 30)

There's a good even spread across England and Wales - around half of them in areas where Friends of the Earth - never mind any other group -  already has a known presence. In some, a very strong active presence. In others, people who we can support and nurture. In still others, an opportunity to organise and find new allies.

Doubtless, some of the constituencies might prove unworkable, for political or practical reasons, or perhaps just ill luck. But if we can begin that dialogue, start to shift the political debate in even 20 of those constituencies in the next year, we would have made an investment which we can build on for the rest of the current Government.

As I said at the start - this is just a thought-piece. But it's certainly one on which I'd welcome your thoughts.

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