Teddy Goldsmith, direct action and an early lesson in realpolitik

David Taylor is one of the party's longest-standing members. He is a former principal speaker and southwest regional coordinator and set up the website ‘green-history.uk’. Here he recounts how he got involved as a teenager and soon discovered getting Greens elected is rarely easy or fair.

David Taylor 50 Anniversary
David Taylor 50 Anniversary

Image credit: The Green Party

David Taylor with Peg Alexander, another principal speaker in the 1990s, at an event to mark the party's 50th Anniversary in February.


David Taylor

For many Greens, there is a moment when green politics becomes the only path we can follow. For me, it began when I was 14. Escaping a toxic situation at home, I would often wander the fields and woods near where I lived in a remote part of Somerset. On one of these occasions lying in the grass, I had what can only be described as an altered state experience. It was a gorgeous day. It was June. There were thousands of insects, so many flowers, bright sun, and an intoxicating mix of smells. I suddenly realised that there was nothing more important in life than life itself. I had become a Green!

It was later that year that I read in a weekend colour supplement about a group of young guys, editors of the Ecologist magazine, who were leaving London to practice what they were preaching, to live more ecologically and self-sufficiently in Cornwall. The group included Teddy Goldsmith and Robert Allen, authors of Blueprint for Survival. 'Blueprint' was a hugely influential ecological manifesto. Published in January 1972, it was translated into eight languages, sold 800,000 copies and was debated in the House of Commons.

My next encounter with the party was in February 1974 when I read that a political party committed to environmental sustainability, PEOPLE, was contesting the general election. I signed up. Later that year, in October, there was another general election. I put myself forward as a candidate for PEOPLE in the mock election at school. Having recruited a few friends to help I was then told that I couldn't stand! PEOPLE was unknown and my ideas on ecology and sustainability were entirely alien to the teacher in charge.

This stung. It felt wrong that I was being denied the opportunity to stand. What about democracy? I began collecting signatures on a petition. Nervously I stood on a table in the dining hall to demand fairness and free speech, only to be refused again. Determined not to be beaten, I formed an alliance with the Liberal candidate (first taste of 'realpolitik'!) and carried on campaigning. Feeling that PEOPLE's official colours (turquoise, coral and white) were wrong, I opted instead for green and encouraged my friends to find anything green to wave at rallies.

After leaving school, I worked as a volunteer on a self-sufficient farm in Cornwall and found myself hand-milking Jersey cows. The owner, Peter Bunyard, was an associate editor of the Ecologist and lived next door to Teddy Goldsmith's farm, and his phenomenal library. This was an incredible stroke of good fortune as Teddy was the single most important figure in the early development of an ecological political philosophy. He became my mentor.

I attended the 1975 annual conference and supported changing our name from PEOPLE to the Ecology Party. It seemed better than the other options, Survival and Environment. Then, in 1976, Teddy and I drove up to Walsall North to support Jonathan Tyler stand in a by-election, sticking cartoon posters of his face up on lamp posts by night and leafleting by day. After this, Jonathan, as chair of the Executive, invited me to become the Party's first-ever regional co-ordinator and to join the national executive. Such was the beginning of a lifetime of political activity which has included many non-violent direct action (NVDA) campaigns and arrests, and too many elections to recall, including four European campaigns, (two as the number one candidate on the southwest list) and three years as one of the Party's principal speakers.

I have always favoured the 'movement' approach, promoted by our founders, as to how we should do our politics. A 'movement approach’, in contrast to a 'party approach', emphasises coalition building with the wider green movement and will use a range of tactics, – elections, community action and NVDA – to facilitate change. In line with this thinking, I organised the first Ecology Party/Green Gatherings in the early 80s. They were, and still are, an annual festival-style coming together of the disparate elements of the wider green movement.

Also, I set up Ecology Party/Green CND, a specialist section within CND, and campaigned at USAF Greenham Common and USAF Molesworth, Britain's second nuclear Cruise missile base. In 1984 one hundred people occupied USAF Molesworth for six months until they were finally evicted by 3000 troops and 600 police. The story was splashed over front pages of newspapers and the protest contributed to the decision of the Pentagon to cancel the deployment of Cruise missiles in Europe. I would argue that nationally this was probably the party's most successful campaign.

Want to find out more about our history and achievements over the years? Go to our Anniversary website (50years.greenparty.org.uk) to view our timeline, learn about our impact and share your story!

50 Years Anniversary Logo

Image credit: The Green Party