CORRECT CHRONOLOGY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE GREEN PARTY,
known at the time as PEOPLE :Europe's first Green Party.
As remembered by Michael Benfield (MB), Freda Sanders(FS), Lesley Whittaker (LW) and Tony Whittaker (TW), the original Gang of Four, and Dennis Nightingale-Smith (DN-S). Collected by David Taylor at Green Party 21st birthday, Southport March 4th 1994 and subsequently.
Further amendments with new information summer 2016.
1962 - "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson published. Often credited with kick starting the modern ecological movement.
May 1966 - first issue of Resurgence magazine published.
January 1968 - founding of first Ecology Action Group in the USA
April 1968 - A meeting called by Dr Aurelio Piccei at the Academia dei Lincei in Rome led to the founding of the Club of Rome, comprising industrialists, scientists, politicians and academics. Commissions the work that became "Limits to Growth"
April 22nd 1970 - first "Earth Day"
July 1970 - first issue of Ecologist magazine published.
January 1972 - Movement for Survival launched in the Ecologist (vol 2, No 1) by Teddy Goldsmith and other Ecologist contributors with publication of issue dedicated to a manifesto, "Blueprint for Survival" and launch of a "Movement for Survival".
The Movement for Survival was the first political ecology movement in the world.
1972 - "Limits to Growth" by Meadows, Randers, Meadows & Beherens published by Universe Books in the US for the Club of Rome. It sold 30m copies and was the best selling environmental book in world history and is cited by the Gang of Four as their main inspiration for what came later.
May 30th 1972 - New Zealand Values Party launched. Inspired by Blueprint for Survival it is often credited with being the first ecological political party. Although that distinction rightly belongs to the Movement for Survival, Values was however the first organisation to run candidates on an ecology platform, in the November 1972 New Zealand general election gaining 1.9%. Movement for Survival didn’t put up candidates until the next UK general election, in February 1974, by which time it had merged with PEOPLE. In 1975 the NZ Values Party had a full slate in their general election and achieved a 5.2% share of the vote with their manifesto "Beyond Tomorrow".
Summer 1972 - During the summer and autumn of 1972 Herbert Ingersoll directors, including Bob Richlie (BR) the Personel Director, discussed ecological and economic decline at the Napton Bridge Inn, near Coventry. Key issues were built~in obsolescence, population and pollution. Lunch time sessions were attended by MB and TW.
TW had read The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and been very disturbed by it. Paul Ehrlich's interview on World Population Growth in Playboy Magazine (summer '72) purchased by LW, was however TW's catalyst. TW lent LW's copy of Playboy magazine to BR. Ehrlich's article had a similarly profound effect on him and prompted him to call the first meeting. Herbert Ingersoll had gone into receivership and life was traumatic for Bob and the other Ingersoll people.
Sep 8th 1972 - DN-S attended Movement for Survival conference in London. 300 people attended including Teddy Goldsmith who organised it, Shirley Williams and the London Flouridation Campaign.
Oct 13th 1972 - The first meeting, of what became known as The Club of Thirteen, was held in the Boardroom of Herbert-Ingersoll in Daventry. There were thirteen people present, including a number of the representatives from Cork Gully & Co., the Receivers. MB and FS did not attend this meeting.
A second meeting was held in the canteen. LW & TW invited FS and MB to attend. They remained involved thereafter during the club's short life.
The Club of Thirteen was a discussion group and had no political intention, The four founders were already in established regular professional and occasional social contact. The Club was however incidental in causing the 'founding four' to agree that a new political movement was necessary to address the issues which were being discussed. The founding four were not, at this stage, aware of the Movement for Survival. The other Thirteen Club members wanted to remain informed and in contact but did not wish to take part in overt political actions. Bob Richlie withdrew almost immediately. Graham Cles (the accountant at Herbert-Ingersoll) remained on the fringe, lent covert support, and attended, the public 'launch' meeting.
Autumn 1972 - DN-S heard an interview with Tony Whittaker on BBC Home Service discussing the need for a new ecological political movement. DN-S wrote immediately to TW via the BBC to see if he had heard of the Movement for Survival which he had not. Simultaneously he wrote to Teddy Goldsmith to see if he had heard of PEOPLE which he hadn't. D N-S then organised a meeting at his house in the Malvern Hills where the 'Gang of Four', guided by Elizabeth Davenport, met Teddy Goldsmith.
As of 1994 Teddy Goldsmith had no recollection of this meeting. He remembers TW called him in Cornwall in late '73 or early '74 to tell him PEOPLE would be standing in the election (which occured in Feb 1974) inspired by "Blueprint for Survival". Teddy naturally agreed to become a candidate.
Dec 13th 1972 - The decision to start a new political movement was taken by the founding four at TW's office, 69 Hertford Street, Coventry. The Four (TW, LW, FS, MB) decided to forget the Thirteen Club and start a political movement. MB claims the decision came about as a result of his proposal. This was the start of PEOPLE.
Jan 13th 1973 - Initial meeting at Bob Richlie's house
Jan 31st 1973 - Advert placed in Coventry Evening Telegraph for a meeting at MB's office, a Coventry estate agent showroom.
Feb 24th 1973 - OFFICIAL PUBLIC LAUNCH OF PEOPLE. Freda did the tea. 53 people attended including Noel Newsome OBE, chair of local Conservation Society and Dennis Nightingale-Smith. FS was elected treasurer, TW chairman, LW secretary and MB 'lord high everything else'.
The first house paper of PEOPLE/ecology Party started as a duplicated single sheet and eventually became a printed newsletter called "Alliance...of interests". It ran for six years, between '73 and '76 and edited and published by MB.
Feb 1974 - Movement for Survival formally merged with PEOPLE to stand together as a single movement called PEOPLE
Feb 7th 1974 - General Election called by Ted Heath for polling day on 28th Feb. PEOPLE stood 6 candidates in the February election and fought without a manifesto. 'The Blueprint for Survival' was promoted as a useful guide to the party's position. Across the six seats contested PEOPLE got 1.67% of the vote.
Coventry North East : A.Pickard 2.79%
Coventry North West : L.Whittaker 3.95%
Eye : E.Goldsmith 0.73%
Hornchurch : B.Percy-Davis 1.28%
Leeds North East : C.Lord 0.69%
Liverpool West Derby : D.Pascoe 0.94%
Subsequently Teddy Goldsmith volunteered to write the party's first manifesto in time for the first annual conference of PEOPLE in Coventry in the summer '74. Teddy agreed to write a manifesto whilst in Italy but found himself unable to do it and no draft appeared. Lesley closed her practice down for four days. With the 100% help of her secretary she drafted the whole of the manifesto from start to finish. This was circulated. Some 150 amendments were received. The 'Manifesto for Survival' became the party's first formal manifesto and remained in force through the October '74 Election and until the substantial rewriting organised by Peter Allen which was adopted at the smaller 1975 Conference, also in Coventry.
Sept 20th 1974 - Harold Wilson running a minority government calls a second General Election for 10th October to get a mandate to govern. People fielded 3 candidates to run as PEOPLE. Two additional candidates stood as "People & Agrarian" which had been created by Percy-Davis who was a PEOPLE candidate in February and was closely allied with a similar platform. MB is very clear that they were never called "People Party". PEOPLE released an official manifesto for the election called 'Manifesto for Survival' based on the original "Blueprint for Survival" document from Movement for Survival in 1972.
Birmingham Northfield : EA.Davenport (PEOPLE) 0.68%
Coventry North West : L.Whittaker (PEOPLE) 0.85%
Hornchurch : B.Percy-Davis (People & Agrarian) 1.28%
Leeds East : N.Russell (PEOPLE) 0.74%
Romford : LCH.Samson (People & Agrarian) 0.51%
1) TW was a solicitor. LW was know as Miss Hill at the time. She was TW's Articled Clerk and later Assistant Solicitor. They became partners in 1974. TW left his first wife and three daughters for Lesley in 1969. This caused considerable family eruptions and was at
least a 9 day talking point in Coventry High Society.
2) MB & TW met at an old boys dinner in 1964/5; their business association commenced immediately afterwards. TW and MB attended the same school, Warwick School, a minor public school founded in 954AD.
It is claimed to be either the second or third oldest school in? Britain, founded by Edward the Confessor.
3) In those days people did not discuss the issues which PEOPLE raised. They were regarded as 'weirdos'.
MB "setting up PEOPLE was totally anti—establishment." "Our business was dependent upon our being perceived as acceptable." "We were turncoats to our class and professional people didn't wish to associate with us." "The local press did their best to pillory us." TW "True, the Coventry Evening Telegraph did seem to wage a campaign against Michael in respect of certain business practices of his. However, without blaming the press at all, I do think my involvement with PEOPLE did prove prejudicial to my professional reputation and therefore practice. Other people proved very sympathetic and supportive. It was in so many ways a weird period of my life, with of course very far—reaching consequences, by no means all for the good."
4) TW & MB both gave over between one quarter and one third of their office effort to launching PEOPLE. MB employed two people on PEOPLE. LW had her legal secretary working full time on PEOPLE. TW " Lesley only had her secretary working full time on PEOPLE on occasions, as did I. I believe the staff to have been less than 100% enthusiastic about this aspect of their work."
5) MB's business interests throughout the period included building contracting, residential development, property investment, estate agency, insurance brokerage, advertising agency. From 1959 MB used to pick up hitch—hikers (students & servicemen) and discuss environmental, population and related concerns with them. This was linked with contemporaneous discussions with his late father-in-law, George Cheswick(i), about the same issues and the ultimate need for a new political party to address these. Similar discussions with his own father were less in—depth and, based on his father's own
experiences (ii), encouraged mainstream activity. MB's conviction of the necessity for and promotion of the idea of a new party stems from these.
i. George Cheswick was, paradoxically, a successful industrialist - Cheswick & Wright Silencers - and a 1ife-1ong card
carrying member of the British Communist Party. He had had 21 jobs by the time he was 21, been a master gunner in WW1, and visited Russia in the mid 1930's.
ii. Kenneth Bertram Benfield stood for Council election as a member of the new Progressive Party immediately after WW2. When it became defunct he changed parties to become a Conservative Councillor for Coventry, ultimately the City's Lord Mayor and local Conservative Party President. K.B.Benfield was a developer and builder. Although unpopular in many circles he became Lord Mayor of Coventry twice, a rare if not unique distinction.
6) TW's father, Arthur Whittaker, was a Blackpool lad, the son of a Post Office clerk and a girl from Surrey(iii). George Cheswick lived and operated in Blackpool. Arthur was apprenticed either at a garage owned by George Cheswick's father, or at a garage next door to Cheswick & Wright. Arthur did business with Cheswick and Wright while he was General Manager and Deputy Chairman of Jaguar Cars, over a period of 40 years. TW's mother, born and bred in Bolton was living with her retired baker and confectioner father when she met TW's father.
iii) A girl with 'some pretensions of good family' who married beneath her having met TW's grandfather on the Eiffel Tower when so far as her family were concerned she was staying with friends and should have been almost anywhere other than in Paris.
Author: Editorial Team
Published: Fri Oct 21 2016
Last updated: Wed May 9 2018