Elected greens always tend to punch above their weight. Whether it is a local council chamber, the London Assembly, or Parliament itself, a Green in the room will change the dynamic of most conversations. Sian Berry has a string of successes from her time as a member of Camden council and the London Assembly. This podcast (on Podbean) talks about some of the key changes Sian has achieved and gives a taste of what will happen in the 2020 Mayoral campaign.
The recording took place as the Extinction Rebellion was dominating the news. Last year a Green Party councillor in Bristol, Carla Denyer, put a motion declaring a climate emergency and several months later, there are over 70 councils with similar declarations, along with the Scottish Parliament and the Mayor of London taking up the idea. We even have the Labour Party and others promoting the idea in Westminster. Things have shifted and elected greens have a role to play in making that shift a permanent feature of our political life.
Sian is part of Generation Rent, not able to afford to buy her own home, and her personal experience has informed her drive to create more social housing that is high quality and genuinely affordable. She has continued campaigning in defence of tenants’ rights against Labour councils seeking to knock down their estates and rebuild as luxury flats. In the last election she took forward the Green Party demand that tenants should have the final say in regeneration schemes and this has been adopted by the London Mayor.
I worked with Sian in changing the government guidance given to councils about the use of Property Guardians. This is where people pay a low rent to live in empty buildings or homes to provide security for the owners. While this is done in agreement with the owners and usually everyone benefits, Sian wanted to ensure that there are a minimum set of legal rights for the people involved. She worked with campaigners on this, wrote a report for the London Assembly and Jenny took this up with the Minister in the Lords.
London becoming a Red/Green city is a bold claim, but Sian can see it happening in the Proportional Representation elections for London Mayor and Assembly. The Greens came third in the Mayoral elections of 2012 and 2016, with Sian winning the majority of second preference votes (nearly half a million) in 2016. I realise that there is a big leap from third to a second place run off with Labour, but the Conservative Party has a less than stellar candidate who is polling badly. With politics in so much flux, a historic breakthrough is possible.
Sian’s 2016 Mayoral campaign was based upon the Greens having a strong record of delivery in the previous sixteen years on the London Assembly. Sian and Caroline Russell have added to that record but the 2020 election will also be about competing visions of the capital’s future. Above all, how London can take the lead in combating climate breakdown and combine this with policies that put social justice at the heart of what we do.