Know your history

The Green History website is a treasure trove of material documenting the early years of the green political movement in the UK. Roger Creagh-Osborne, one of the site's creators, explains how the project came into being

Roger Creagh-Osborne
Mon 18 Jun 2018

The Green History website, created by myself and David Taylor, is both an archive and a place to explain our shared history. The project is still in its infancy, but growing rapidly.

In 2015, I was Elections Co-ordinator for the South West Green Party. I wanted to understand how we had done historically across the region, but as I looked further back information became increasingly sparse, with nowhere to go to find it.

The oral history was also fragmentary - there were rumours that the first Green Councillor was in Cornwall near where I live - and there were few historical accounts at any level.

I started to create pages on the South West Green Party website about our election history. Around the same time, David Taylor, a former Principal Speaker of the party, got in touch to suggest that an obituary of Tony Whittaker, one of the party's founders, should have a place on the South West website since he lived in the region and much early activity had taken place there.

David joined in 1974 and, in 2012, organised the 40th anniversary celebration with the party's founders, producing a 'Correct Chronology of the Founding of the Green Party'.

Together we started building some South West history web pages, but it became apparent that there was a much bigger untold story about the emergence of green politics in the UK.

It was also clear that the story needed to include more than just the Green Party - we are only one part of the green political movement. How we related to and worked with other players may have important lessons for activists today.

For example, the debates around 'movement or party', and other decisions taken 40 years ago, seem to be echoing down the years unknown to most modern greens.

Needing to place some limits, we decided to focus on 1972- 1989, beginning with the founding of the movement and finishing with the European elections and the party's 15 per cent high-water mark. We also decided that we would cover a broad definition of politics, not just elections. Direct action is a political act just as much as voting.

We wanted to make this history accessible to people today, not gather dust in attics. Our history needs to be set free and to live.

Our approach is to scan documents so that they can be made available to everyone through a website and to provide a home for articles, interpretations and debates about the material and the lessons to be learnt.

The result of our endeavours so far can be found at www.green-history.uk. We have just held a successful funding appeal to buy more space. We already have nearly 400 documents published on the site with at least as many more waiting to go up. These are supported by over 100 articles providing context, background and sometimes commentary. All this has been contributed by a wide variety of people - it has moved far beyond David's trunk of old papers and my keyboard.

Much rare material is up there already, including the first ever green election manifesto "Blueprint for New Zealand"? by the Values party in 1972, a full set of general and European election manifestos up to 1989 and much material from the 1974 and 1979 general elections.

We present ourselves as the custodians of this resource - but we see you as the users and contributors. We know many of you have leaflets, news cuttings, posters and magazines you've treasured - we would love to scan them!

Do check out the website, enjoy it and get in touch - you can comment on anything online via a form at the bottom of each page), or you can email us at info@green-history.uk.

As Michael Crichton put it: 'If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.' Time to find out what you are part of - the Green movement is a great and impressive thing that doesn't yet know its own power.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi