Reflections on the Lewisham Green Party General Election Campaign 2019
20 January 2020
By Andrea Carey Fuller
I have wanted to stand as the Green Party Candidate for Lewisham Deptford since 2015 and finally got to do it. Lewisham Deptford is personal to me as I have dedicated myself to a social justice campaign to enable the community to have more say over planning. To this end, I coordinated on behalf of Deptford Neighbourhood Forum (which I was instrumental along with others in setting up in 2015) the campaign to get a community collaborative plan for the Old Tidemill School Site which contained Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden as part of it. Everyone who went to Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden fell in love with it - it was an oasis of bio-diversity and nature in the middle of South Deptford which when you were in it cocooned you from the hustle and bustle, noise and pollution of urban life. There were over 100 trees in it - the most beloved of which was the Indian Bean Tree planted in memory of a school teacher. The Garden itself was created about 25 years ago, with £100,000 funding from Lewisham Council, and grants from other organisations like Groundwork - children at the School, school teachers, parents and other local people all had a hand in its design and created the pond and the various mini arena areas within it. There were spotted belly newts, butterfies, foxes, bats, birds - including parrokeets from Greenwich Park, and myriad insects etc. It was a lovely place where children planted bulbs in beds, vegetables and herbs were grown, people came together for music and cultural events - in fact that is how I came to know of it in 2014 I went to a Green Day there. This is why on my flyer I let it be known that we could have had an alternativeoutcome for Old Tidemill Garden, and in this time of Climate Crisis, the Council should have worked with the community on a collaborative plan which would have saved the Garden and Reginald House - 16 social homes which are likely to be demolished as part of the Council's chosen plan, and still built 209 homes which we, the Campaign argued, should always have been 100% social housing as this was Council owned land.
Aside from campaigning for more social and environmental justice within local planning, I campaign on children's rights and the rights of young people - I did this even before I became a mum - my background is in human rights and acting as an independent advocate for disabled people.
I went into this election campaign with my eyes open - it is well known that Lewisham Deptford is one of the safest Labour seats in the Country - but I was amazed at both the number of Green Party members and supporters who thought they had to tactically vote Labour to "keep the Tories out". This situation is made worse by the tactical voting websites that instruct people to vote Labour in Lewisham Deptford without putting the lead that the Labour party has here in any context.
I have nothing against Labour - and on Tidemill I worked closely with Len Duvall, the current GLA member for Lewisham & Greenwich who supported the campaign to save Old Tidemill Garden and spoke up against the injustice of the housing crisis being used to justify its destruction. However, I would like people to think about how not casting enough votes for the Green Party negatively impacts our ability to get our message out in future elections - if candidates do not receive 5% of the votes cast they lose their deposits - which cost £500 per candidate. Thus in a safe ward like Lewisham Deptford we need all the support we can get from all our Green Party members and from other people who want to prick the Green consciousness of the Labour/Conservative and Lib Dem candidates! None of these other parties understand entirely what needs to be done to halt Climate Chaos like the Green Party does. Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems in Lewisham Deptford always achieve 5% of the vote so they never lose their deposits - without people supporting the Green agenda we do. These other parties have financial backers - be they Trade Unions, or Companies - the Greens have very little backing and a very small budget so everytime we lose our deposit we lose our ability to produce literature in-between elections and at election time to get our message out. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that people complain that they don't receive any information from the Green Party, and we suffer from a lack of volunteers as we don't have the money for stands at high profile events etc, and this adversely affects our vote!
This time around we had enough money to cover a personalised leaflet to go out to the whole of Lewisham Deptford, but were beset by delays in getting the artwork done, and by some miracle, through a friend of a friend, I managed to organise both the leaflet for Lewisham Deptford and also for Lewisham East. The printers did a great job on printing and sorting into 100's with elastic bands as has to be done for the Royal Mail delivery service, but then I was contacted by the Royal Mail to say that the printers had labelled up the Lewisham Deptford boxes with Lewisham East labels! I soon realised that the only way I was going to sort this out was by rolling my sleeves up and going to the Depot myself - so i spent 5 hours (2 were travelling) exactly two weeks before the election doing just that - and checked and wrote on the Lewisham East boxes too to make sure that they had the correct amounts on them as well - so our Royal Mail flyers were sent to the local depots on Friday 29th November. Thinking that it was all going to plan after this I stupidly let myself relax a bit and focused on the remainng hustings events - all in all for this election I had three: Lewisham Pensioners Forum, Extinction Rebellion & Christ the King Aquinas Sixth Form. My favourite of all these was with the Sixth Formers. Lewisham Pensioners Forum hustings was arduous to say the least - I love the Pensioners Forum and back in 2014 when I stood in Ladywell ward I enjoyed the hustings then and deeply respected the Pensioners for pushing Steve Bullock on the need for Lewisham to become an Ethical Care Council - something I have always strongly supported, which finally they did just before the Local Elections in 2018 pushed by myself and John Couglin although he/The Green Party weren't given any credit for it by Labour at all!
The main points I wanted to get across at all these hustings were that the Labour MP's were going to get back in but we needed people who felt strongly about the environment, the people's vote and the need for a fairer society to cast votes for us to hold Labour to account locally. Janet Daby challenged me at the Lewisham Pensioner's Forum when I declared that Lewisham's Labour Council only built ONE SOCIALLY RENTED HOME in 2017-2018, this was after she had told the audience that for her housing was the biggest issue. My biggest issue is when our elected MP's do not know things like this that they should know - I pointed her and everyone at the hustings to Lewisham Council's Annual Monitoring Report for 2017 -18 which clearly states the figures for that year and also has information about developments which have taken place. The role of MP's is about scrutiny and oversight and this means that they need to be aware of what their Council is both doing and not doing by reading information widely and not accepting (because it is the same politicial party that runs the Council) that everything is down to Tory Cuts - yes they have impacted but it is about the decisions that are being made at a local level which will impact on their MP surgeries!
I also take issue with what Rosamund (Adoo-Kissi-Debrah - Lewisham East candidate) calls Greenwashing by other parties - especially Labour who declare themselves to be green, say they love trees etc then destroy 2,400 sq metres of wildlife garden (Tidemill), and over 400 trees in Beckenham Place Park at the same time as calling for Urgent Action on Climate Change. In Lewisham Deptford, Vicky Foxcroft was one of 119 MP's who voted in support of a third runway at Heathrow. Labour MP's have voted in support of the new coal mine in West Cumbria, and also in support of Nuclear Power, and for £205bn of public money to be wasted on Trident. Lewisham Councillors and Lewisham Council have allowed a recent planning application (Known as No1 Creekside) to go through planning which will see homes built right up to Deptford Church Street and Creekside and will knowingly cause their occupants air polluted ill-health - to top it all a children's open air play area about 3-4 floors up will also be subjected to over the limit levels of air pollution. I did not see Vicky Foxcroft make any comment or objections to this - I on the other hand, worked with Crossfields Residents Association to support their objections and added objections by DNA - and we have asked Sadiq to call this planning application in to reject it.
Lastly the thing that really gets me is that the sitting Lewisham Deptford MP's unwillingness to support Proportional Representation. In this election, the Green Party across UK achieved over 850,000 votes yet we still only have one parliamentary seat. If we had proportional representation the Green Party would have 18 seats! Labour would have achieved an additional 6 seats too!
As the results were declared, I decided to make one last protest - here is the photo of me holding up two pieces of A4 paper (all that could be found on the night) which I hastily wrote on in biro; "Without P.R. [proportional representation] this is pointless."