19 Jun 2012

Why are the Greens winning in West Midlands? Interview with Will Duckworth

THE Green Party were celebrating this morning (Friday) after winning their first ever seat on Dudley Council.
Will Duckworth romped home to victory in Netherton, Woodside and St Andrews where he polled 1,525 votes beating his nearest rival (Labour's Mahbub Rahman) by 256 votes. Conservative candidate Steven Ridley (standing in after sitting councillor John Davies retired) was left trailing behind with 335 votes while UKIP went home with 257.
Former maths teacher Will, aged 58, described his first-time win - after placing second last year - as "amazing". He told the News: "It really shows that when you've got someone working hard for the residents they take notice. We've been telling them constantly what our policies are and people like our policies because they make sense."


1. The West Midlands Green Party are winning seats at a faster rate than any other part of the party, can you tell me more about this?

WMGP’s recent electoral success has come about through smart targeting, pooling resources and getting members working together across the whole region. In the last two years we have gone from three Councillors on three councils to thirteen on seven. The new regional committee that was elected in 2010 (including me) has developed an incredibly thorough strategy and followed it very closely. But let’s not forget that this is not about winning seats for the sake of it - we have to bring positive change, especially to those least well off and most disenfranchised in our society.

2. Your own victory in a Working Class ward in Dudley was a big achievement can you tell me more about this and how you did it?

In a nutshell - a lot of hard work and a real team effort. It was very much about doing the basic things of discovering individuals' issues and trying to do something about them. We sent out about 20 leaflets to each home in the 30 months running up to this election and dealt with around 1000 pieces of casework before the election this year. We have had a great deal of success with things that make a noticeable difference to people’s lives, like getting potholes in the road mended, but also really important, high impact issues, like having draughty windows and broken central heating replaced.

We also tried to tackle a significant national issue in each ward newsletter - cuts, pay differentials, housing, redundancies, etc. People find it easy to relate these national issues to their own lives, so it’s a great way to get our socialist message across.

3. How can the Green Party break from its middle class image and be relevant to more people?

I think the Green Party may need to change its name to better reflect what we stand for. Our excellent social policies are often overlooked just because the ‘green’ tag still makes people think we are a single issue party. Since the biggest worry for working class families right now is job security and income, unless a local Party is getting active and telling people about our social policies, many will keep thinking we are only interested in the environment.

I would also like to see the Party challenging the cosy relationships between the ruling political class and big business. We have to point out to traditional Labour voters that there is only a whisker of difference between the Conservatives and Labour when it comes to looking after the interests of the rich. Anyone can see that the main parties are supporting the bankers and their agenda of making themselves incredibly rich at the expense of everyone else. People need to understand that the Green Party is the only one not to have connections to dodgy donors and that this means we are free to promote policies that are genuinely good for people and the planet.

4. You are an ecosocialist and involved in Green Left, how can left green politics be made relevant and what does it mean to you?

At the moment, there is nothing more relevant than left green ideas. We have now seen the flaws in global capitalism. The demise of the Soviet Union was heralded as the end of state socialism if it wasn't for the big players in the media we would all recognise that the ongoing financial crash heralds the end of belief in the capitalist system. Capitalism's only aim is to make money and more and more people are waking up to the devastating effects that is having. We have to work together to prevent the boom and bust cycle being repeated in humanity.

5. Tell me more about your political background and how you came to be a party member?

My first understanding of politics was when Animal Farm was read to us as a child. My response was that I didn't believe that the pigs would really behave like that and that the whole of the farm needed to take control. John Lennon's 'Imagine' cemented my anarchist/socialist beliefs and I had often flirted with the left and with environmental groups. However, I didn’t join a political party until I was 52. I read every single UK party’s manifesto and realised that the Green Party was my obvious political home. I joined the nearest local group, several miles away, and a year later co-founded Dudley Green Party. When Stourbridge was chosen by the Politics Show as the featured constituency in the run up to the 2010 general election I decided I had to get involved. I stood as our candidate there, ended up getting media training at conference, doing television and radio interviews and taking part in hustings and things have just gone on from there.

6. Climate change is a huge challenge how can we fight it.

First we need to get clear the causes of climate change. The rape of the planet is caused by big business needing more and more resources to make more and more money. Sooner or later the cheap oil that is causing so much damage will run out, so the earlier we get used to low carbon living the better. We need to switch to using long lasting, locally produced goods, for example, and seeing the many benefits that come from that model.

Of course, massive governmental intervention is also needed, but, judging by the hypocritical positions of the larger parties, we can’t really expect that any time soon. One great example of this hypocrisy is currently playing out in Birmingham. The government keeps going on about legally binding CO2 reduction targets, while at the same time allowing the six local authorities that own Birmingham Airport to extend the runway there, encouraging more flights and greater noise pollution to boot!

7. How do we link the local to the global? Are you active in international campaigns?

I have been involved with Avaaz for years as well as supporting the usual suspects; Amnesty International, Greenpeace, etc. Internet activism is becoming a great deal sharper and more effective and I think this trend is only going to continue, which is a very good thing.

8 Do you have a green lifestyle?

I presume you mean in the traditional low carbon emitting sense? Until I became a Councillor we had relatively little disposable income but we weren't poor enough to have to have a really low carbon footprint.

I have not flown since 1985. We do have a diesel camper van which we use for holidays and we have an old cheap all electric car (G-Wiz) for our day to day travel. Our home is well insulated, but sadly isn't suitable for solar panels. We have a green sedum roof on the garage. We get our electricity and gas from Ecotricity and I grow most of our food on my allotment or pick from the hedgerow and cook everything from basic ingredients, making our own bread and much of our drink. We recycle very little because we buy very little and reuse everything we can.

9. What have you managed to achieve as a councillor and what are your plans?

My primary medium term aim is to get more Green Councillors elected. I also want to hold the Council to account wherever possible. I had managed to get a number of Council houses brought up to decent standards before I got elected and there are still plenty that need sorting out. I know it wasn't my doing but I got involved in the fight against the Coseley 'eco park'. As you would expect with a title like that they wanted to build an incinerator. A number of us objected to it, led by Friends of the Earth. It may be a coincidence, but when I added the title Cllr on my letters the company suddenly dropped the proposal for the incinerator from their planning application.

My plans are to persuade the lefties on the Labour group to realise that we are the socialist alternative and work with them to fight the cuts.

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