Manchester Green Party has an Annual General Meeting last week. It now has two new co-chairs, Matt Schreibke and Astrid Johnson. Both have agreed to answer a few questions from MCFly. Matt’s answers are below, Astrid’s will follow next week.The next Green Party event is a “Green Forum on the 24th of March at the Methodist Central Hall 7:pm till 9pm. Open to all. Come along and find out more about what we are up to. Learn new skills such as how to deal with interviews. Drinks and baked goods provided.”
For the record Manchester Climate Monthly’s editor is NOT a member of ANY political party, and never has been.
Who are you?
I’m just shy of 30 years old and have lived in Manchester since I started an undergraduate degree in (predictably) politics here ten years ago. I studied politics as it had always interested me. To me politics is a combination of seeing what the world is actually like while trying to imagine what the world could be like.
Looking back now I can’t believe that courses on politics don’t include sections on the best way to get into blocks of flats, or what to do when you knock on someone’s door and they say nothing to you at all. Since graduating I have been writing fiction.
I currently live in the lovely Moss Side and used to live in Withington. I’m originally from Yorkshire having lived in Leeds and Huddersfield. One of the reasons why I’m involved in politics is because I really love a lot about Manchester and I really want to see it be as good as it possibly can be. The more I learn about the place the Leader of the council Richard Leese would like to see the City become the more I want to argue for a different vision.
I joined the Green Party in the autumn of 2014 as I wanted to try to put my beliefs into action. On pretty much every issue the Green Party has great policies in areas I care about. I wanted to be part of making those great policies a practical reality. I’m excited to be part of a party which believes that climate change can only be tackled by creating a more equal society.
Since joining I have done a wide range of things including: helping to run to local election campaigns, developing local policies and scrutinizing the all labour council by attending their meetings. The variety is part of what keeps me motivated. I feel like I have learnt lots of new skills in the party since joining and look forward to learn many more as co chair.
Outside of politics I enjoy running and baking, although my cakes do go down well within the Green Party and the fitness I get from running does help when you are walking up flights of stairs to deliver newsletters. It’s really important to do have things outside of politics going on. I have no intention of letting politics become the only thing in my life.
Why did you want the top job of MGP, given that it doesn’t pay very well (I.e., at all).
I took on this job partly because I was flattered into it because enough people asked me to do it. Also I am joint chair with Astrid Johnson so I’m not doing the job on my own. We decided to do this job together as we felt that we had different skills but a shared approach to how we could build on the successes of the party. Neither of us could do this role without the other person.
The main thing that motivated to take the job on was a desire to make real changes in Manchester. The council is currently a completely controlled by Labour and I think this is really unhealthy for democracy. Greens are the opposition in cities like Sheffield and Bristol and are making a real difference. Even with just one Green councillor in Islington is making a difference in the otherwise 100% Labour council. I am working to make sure that we have Green voices holding the council Executive to account.
What do you hope to change about the actions and successes of the Manchester Green Party in the coming 6 months? In the coming two years?
In the next 6 months I sincerely hope we have a Green councillor. That’s the main objective. We will be holding fewer but better events. We hope that these will be more engaging and will help build up the skills of our members. Engaging our members to a much greater degree than in the past is a major priority. Our focus will be on more one to one engagement. We believe that involving more people in the party is vital to our future success.
We also want to be a bit more proactive in our approach to the council. We will be using whatever we can to make them more accountable. We will only get elected and start making real change once people trust that voting Green representatives get things done.
In two years time we will be a few months away from an all out council election where all 96 seats will be up for election. That is a huge opportunity for us to gain councillors in order to more effectively hold the council to account. The structures good practices Astrid and I hope to build over the next few months should in two years time, be achieving measurable results such as more volunteers.
What do you think the barriers are?
I think that there are few barriers to building up the party itself. There is wide support for what we are trying to do. Money is always a concern but most of what we want to do is rather cheap.
In terms of gaining councillors we face more challenges. The biggest of these is the fact that having zero councillors means that it’s a bit harder for people to believe that we can make a difference and that we can win. The press are also not likely to give us any attention as they at the moment see us as being a minor party despite being in second place (admittedly a distant one) for two years in a row.
How will you know if it is ‘working’?
We will know if it’s working when there are more people involved and when the core team can delegate more things to more people. If we see more new people coming forward and volunteering we will have a good indication that things are going in the right direction.
Outside of the party we will know that it is working in the long run when we start getting elected and we use that influence to challenge the council.
Devil’s Advocate – now the Labour Party has Jezza Corbyn, surely we don’t need a Green Party?
I’ll answer that in two parts. Firstly in Manchester three councillors out of 96 backed Corbyn, hardly a ringing endorsement. In Manchester if people are attracted to Mr Corbyn as they believe in greater equality, standing up to multinational companies, greater democracy they should vote Green as we are a lot closer to those values than the majority of the Labour party.
The council is run by Richard Leese who in the 20 years he has been leader has installed an executive system of governance which means that power rests at the top and most councillors have little say on how things are run. Mr Leese recently signed a deal with the Conservatives installing a Greater Manchester mayor with little to no public awareness. He has tried to shape the city in the interests of outside investors and not in the interests of the local population. Finally he has done virtually nothing to tackle climate change besides every now and again bragging that he rides a bike.
On the national issue the Green Party shares a lot more common ground with Mr Corbyn than with his recent predecessors. However I believe there are four major reasons why we still matter.
Labour should not get away with right wing policies. Fear of the Tories and/ or UKIP often leads people to tactically vote for Labour. Labour can move as far to the right as they like and still get votes from many people as long as they “are not as bad as the Tories”. Yes Jeremy Corbyn has a lot in common with the Green Party, but he is not the candidate here, nor is he the majority of Labour MPs. Looking at recent anti-immigrant, pro-nuclear, anti-benefits, pro-cuts, pro-privatisation rhetoric from many Labour politicians – we a distinctive voice from the vast majority of the Labour Party.
If Labour are worried about Green voters costing them seats, they ought to join us in campaigning for democratic reform! They don’t do so because they do well out of the current system. Whilst they support such an awful, undemocratic system as first past the post, I don’t think we should justify their position by giving them our tactical votes.
Votes for Greens mean so much more! For a start they show the Labour Party that they need to take the environment and social justice seriously if they want to win back some of the votes they are losing. On top that we are the only party that sees social justice and tackling climate change as being interconnected. Mr Corbyn’s green policies seem like they have been pasted onto his left wing views.
Finally Greens have to work harder than the other parties to get elected. We are less likely to take voters for granted.
Europe – in or out? Why?
Greens are generally in and I’m personally in the in camp as well. For me the main reason is that for all its flaws I just can’t see how things like environmental legislation can be made by the UK alone when the issues affect all of Europe.
On a personal note I’m half Swiss and so I can so I’m pretty aware that most of what the out campaign claims is possible simply isn’t. Switzerland like some people in the UK wants to both opt out of the free movement of people and half free trade. The result is for the last two years Switzerland had been having protracted talks with the EU with no end in sight. I don’t want to see that happen in the UK.
On a final point I think that if the UK votes to leave UKIP and other elements of the right will take that as a massive indication that the country supports their wider political goals. I don’t wish to see a right with that kind of confidence.
Anything else you’d like to say.
Thanks for letting me lay out what Astrid and I want to do. If anyone wants to work to get an opposition voice on the council calling for a council more focused on making sure the city is doing its bit to prevent/adapt to climate change and building a more equal society please get in touch. Our next big events are as follows:
Green Forum on the 24th of March at the Methodist Central Hall 7:pm till 9pm. Open to all. Come along and find out more about what we are up to. Learn new skills such as how to deal with interviews. Drinks and baked goods provided.
Want to help us get a councillor come to one of our action days in March and April.
Come to our debate about the EU on the 12th of May featuring Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Natalie Bennett.