Welcome to the party

The Green Surge has seen thousands of new members joining the ranks of the Green Party of England & Wales since the start of the year. We spoke to some of them to find out why, and what they’re hoping to achieve

Carolyne James, 49, Penrith 

A lifelong Lib Dem voter – apart from in 1997 – Carolyne James describes herself as “political with a small p”. She spent years working as a police officer and then a community advocate and is now a lecturer specialising in the criminal justice system. She thinks that her former party cannot divorce themselves from what the coalition government has done to vulnerable and marginal groups. 

She decided to join the Greens after reading up on the party’s core values, which resonated with her background and beliefs. Shortly thereafter, she saw Natalie Bennett speak and thought “that woman talks my language”. 

She’s angry that we hear about UKIP in the media all the time – including what Nigel Farage thinks of breastfeeding! – but the Greens often don’t get a look in. She’s joined in the hope that it will help build a stronger platform and raise the profile of the party, and is telling her friends that it’s not enough to just vote Green, they should join as well. 

Living in rural Cumbria, Carolyne feels that the Greens are sympathetic to issues specific to her area that are often otherwise overlooked. Funding of services and public transport are difficult in such a sparsely populated location – sexual assault victims currently have to travel up to an hour and a half to Preston to get specialist support. And poverty and deprivation are often masked by the beautiful landscapes. 

 

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff, 52, Sheffield 

Rory Ridley-Duff came to the party through his job as a Lecturer at the Sheffield Business School where he specialises in co-operatives and social enterprises. He was approached to give advice on the Greens’ policy on co-operatives and was impressed by the party’s commitment to the model. 

Previously a member of the Co-operative Party (but not Labour), he felt let down by that party’s response to the problems within the Co-op Group and felt that their affiliation with Labour impeded their ability to speak on behalf of all co-ops. When he was told that he couldn’t be a member of both the Co-operative and the Green Party, he decided to quit and go in with the Greens. 

Rory feels the best way he can “do politics” is to engage with business and advocate on behalf of co-ops, so he doesn’t foresee being heavily involved in the party. However, now that he is a member, he hopes to bring his expertise to the policy process and is impressed by the inclusivity of the party and its egalitarian approach to policymaking. 

 

Andrew Garniec, 28, Aylesbury 

Andrew Garniec came to the UK from Poland over five years ago after meeting his partner (whom he had just married as Green World went to press!). He was very politically active back in Poland, where he was a member of Civic Platform until they veered to the right on economic and social issues. 

After getting settled into his new country and finding a job as a catering supervisor at one of the Oxford colleges, he felt it was time to give something back to the UK and “work for it and its people”. Naturally aligned to the left, he chose to join the Greens after realising he would just be a “sheep” in the Labour Party “following its leader like a shepherd”. He also saw the Greens as more progressive on his most important issues: LGBT rights and immigration. 

Now Campaigns Manager at Aylesbury Vale Green Party, Andrew was the candidate in a council by-election in December and will stand again in May. He hopes to work towards winning the Greens’ first council seat in Aylesbury and will engage with other local organisations on common issues. Touchingly, he describes his overall goal as being “to work hard for this country”, which he feels he has “got so much to thank for”. 

 

Kieran Turner-Dave, 23, Manchester 

Kieran Turner-Dave found himself shouting at the TV following the UKIP gains in the local elections of 2013. But he realised that he was part of the problem if all he did was complain about the state of UK politics. So he decided to join the Greens to “stop being a hypocrite”. 

Kieran, who worked in the NHS for two years before training to become a TEFL teacher, was impressed that even as a new member he had the same say on policies as Natalie Bennett, a radical departure from the whipped Labour and Lib Dems. 

It took a year before he attended his first local party meeting, but things quickly escalated, and Kieran was recently selected as the candidate for Manchester Central in the upcoming general election. He stood as he felt that not enough ethnic minorities put themselves forward, as they don’t see politics as a place that will accept them. 

He joins several other Young Greens standing across Manchester and sees the Greens as “the party for young people”. He believes that the party’s radical message resonates with his peers who “don’t want to see a future of gross inequality, and inaction on climate change”. 

Kieran’s mission is to get those who don’t usually vote to vote Green. This will force the establishment, which is usually only concerned with “fighting over who can make the most promises for Middle England”, to realise they exist. He believes that young ethnic minorities are passionate about politics despite not turning out in great numbers, and hopes that those voting UKIP because of disillusionment and anger will see that there is a left-wing party willing to represent them. 

 

Irene Rhodes, 59, Wakefield 

Irene Rhodes is a self-described “non-political woman” who had no political education growing up and was quite happy to live her life with little awareness, until recently. All she knew was that politicians were not to be trusted, a view she believes is shared with “a large proportion of the population”. When she became more concerned about the neoliberal agenda and its effects, she describes having “nowhere to turn” after realising that Labour has had its day and that it no longer fulfils its purpose. She soon realised that the Greens were more than “muesli-eating sandal wearers” with joined-up thought and “genuinely socialist policies”.

Irene, who volunteers for creative arts projects, joined in order to help swell the numbers and give the party “some bloody money”. She says that she’s not someone who can be a “quiet voice in the background” and hopes to become more involved when she has time. She describes feeling “privileged” to be counted among other members such as Caroline Lucas who is a “human and believable face” and has high hopes for Green success in the 2015 election. 

 

Samantha Pancheri, 30, Milton Keynes 

Sam Pancheri joined the party “on a bit of a whim” after taking an online test that came out resoundingly Green. 

She describes her surprise at discovering that a party she’d previously dismissed as “a bunch of hippies” in fact reflected “everything that is important to me”. That evening, she nonchalantly told her husband that she’d joined a political party for the first time, and shortly after, he became a member as well. 

A former Lib Dem voter, Sam felt deeply betrayed by Nick Clegg’s party in coalition and describes Labour as “nothing but diet Tory”. She can understand why many are disenchanted with politics when the way it works “hasn’t really been challenged in a century” and whoever is elected “results in more of the same”. In contrast, she believes that the Greens’ deep commitment to reforming the state of politics through redistributing power gives them a credibility when it comes to offering something different. 

After studying anthropology with human rights, Sam is currently raising four children aged between two and 10. Her early involvement in the party has been “a bit of a baptism of fire”, from being instantly recruited to hand out flyers for Keith Taylor MEP, to being selected to stand as a parliamentary candidate for Milton Keynes South in May. She will contest the marginal seat less than a year after first joining and hopes to use her place on the ballot paper to convince disenchanted voters that there is a credible alternative.