The start of PEOPLE

On 22 February 1973, four friends organised the first public meeting of what became the Green Party. Here, in the first in a series of Anniversary Stories, one of the ‘Gang of Four’, Lesley Whittaker, outlines events leading up to the fateful decision to set up a new political party.

Founders at the 50th Anniversary
Founders at the 50th Anniversary

Image credit: The Green Party

50th Anniversary celebration of the Green Party, Lesley Whittaker in the centre with other founders Freda Sanders and Michael Benfield. 

Lesley Whittaker

An oft-quoted trigger for green politics in the UK in the early 1970s is an edition of Playboy Magazine, where an interview with Dr Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, recorded his intention to suspend his academic career to concentrate on alerting the world to the looming environmental crises.

When I bought that magazine, it was added to a pile of other literature, from the seminal environmental book Silent Spring to the landmark Limits to Growth report, but the novel idea of dedicating a set number of years to promoting this cause stuck.

UK industry at the time was riddled with strikes, there was social and economic chaos, the global environment was under pressure – not unlike 2023. Many single-issue environmental groups had been set up to ‘save’ things, from the barn owl to the whale to the soil. Yet politicians seemed oblivious.

In the early 1970s, my late husband, Tony, and I were solicitors in Coventry and part of an environmental discussion group. By November 1972, numbers had dwindled to six and two more left when we decided to take political action. The four founders of what would become the Green Party were Tony who was Chairman; Michael Benfield Campaigns Manager; Freda Sanders Treasurer, while I was the National Secretary.

We named it PEOPLE, since people were the cause of many of the problems, and people would be the most effective means of solving them. We wanted the broadest appeal possible, so there was no ‘Party’ to frighten anyone. Upper Case letters, to stand out, and a collective noun, to be as inclusive as possible. No voter could claim we weren’t relevant to them.

We arranged a public meeting to gauge interest for 22 February 1973. We put an advertisement in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, promoted it to the environmental lobby, set out some chairs, bought some biscuits, and waited. Some 40 people came that evening, all excited and curious. Several were local but others came from further away such as Clive Lord from Leeds. We collected names and addresses, some phone numbers (no mobiles then) and sat in the dark afterwards, beginning to realise what we had done.

Within a year, after travelling thousands of miles together and attending dozens of meetings, we had 40 branches from Cornwall to Caithness and I was a candidate for PEOPLE, fighting our first general election in February 1974, with six others! I lost my deposit of course but won 3.9 per cent of the vote. National political chaos meant we faced another general election that October. In June 1974 we adopted PEOPLE’s first manifesto and in 1975 changed the name to the ‘Ecology Party’ as the word meant something to voters, not just to scientists.

After a hectic start, we had become a real political presence, one that has endured when many new parties have not, thanks to the hard work and dedication of generations of Greens. I doubt that any of us involved at the start dared to imagine that the movement internationally would ever attain such a grand age.

Want to find out more about our history and achievements over the years? Go to our Anniversary website ( to view our timeline, learn about our impact and share your story!

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