1973 saw the tenth anniversary of the founding of PEOPLE which became the Ecology (later Green) Party. A round number anniversary prompts a certain amount of looking back and reflection on what had been achieved. There was a celebration at the Conference in Malvern, although as yet we have not found an account of it (where you there? what do you remember about the event?)
There are three specific documents in the Library that provide contemporary views of the first ten years:
- Tony Whitaker provided a piece for EcoNews April '83 particularly dealing with the very early years.
- Sally Willington's recollections cover the very early days when she was in Cornwall and the 1979 election
- Adrian Williams wrote a piece which focused on his activities in London and was possibly given as a talk to London members
All three of these can be found in the document library (click the names above) and are worth a read to get a first hand account of some of the early days of the party.
Since these accounts were all written in 1983 they represent some of the earliest reflections on how the party/movement had developed during its first period. In 1983 the party was in quite good heart having managed to retain most of the members who joined in the 1979/80 surge triggered by the party election broadcast and some national attention. It was starting to consider a change of name and had, through the work of Green CND and Green Collective in particular managed a degree of engagement with the wider eco/enviro movement.
Tony starts with his recollections of the meetings in Coventry during the turmoil of a major manufacturer in the town going bust which led to a group of 13 people coming together to find out more about ecology and the environmental crisis and then a smaller group deciding that some action was needed and founding a new political movement.
In 1972 Sally was living as a "would be self-sufficiencer" in Cornwall. She remembers Teddy Goldsmith (a neighbour) going up to London, summoned to meet parliamentary committees to discuss the "Blueprint for Survival". They had launched a "Movement for Survival" that would be a coalition of organisations concerned with environmental issues to advise and influence government.
In Sally's account she seems clear that this was not the formation of a party. In fact Movement, like PEOPLE, had a clear intention to field candidates in elections, which probably did classify it as a ‘party’ although it seems few were aware of this. She says "(we) felt very conspiratorial meeting in remote farmhouses on dark Winter nights, but something was missing."
She heard of Tony and Lesley Whittaker in Coventry forming a 'People Party' [sic] and she joined forthwith. She describes the Whittakers as "very optimistic". The party was open to all who "who subscribe to the philosophy of stock rather than flow economics and stable state; prefering long-life durable goods to consumerism." This sounds like a quote from an early recruiting leaflet that we have not yet seen
Adrian was living in London in 1972 and had joined the Conservation Society. He was aware that the formation of an ecological based party was being discussed during 1973 but it was not until Feb 1974 that he travelled to a PEOPLE meeting at Lanchester Poly in Coventry and after thinking it over joined the party in April 1974 - "expecting to be a sleeping member".
There were few members in London and despite efforts to call them together nothing much happened until a discussion group of members meet a few times during 1975 in North London. Jonathan Tyler, Tony Beamish and David Fleming were among those involved, but Jonathan moved away and Tony became involved in the Liberal Party and created the Liberal Ecology Group. By 1976 Adrian was surprised to find himself described as "the keenest member in London" by Clive Lord, then national secretary.
It wasn't until Steve Lambert joined in 1976 that things started moving in London. By April 1977 Adrian remembers Eco making a strong showing at a meeting in Conway Hall on "The Politics of Tomorrow". There was also involvement with the Windscale Enquiry into nuclear reprocessing, meetings of which took place in London; Eco was a participant but didn't have the resources to be particularly active, although the London EP group went on to be very involved in the campaign against nuclear waste trains passing through London. (Documents relating to this are in the document library)
Adrian also tells how in 1977 a new member, one Jonathon Porritt, offered to step in as candidate for St.Johns Wood in the GLC election - after the event it turned out that it was actually illegal for him to stand, although since he didn't win (getting 2% share) the point was moot. The 1977 GLC election was also notable for the party collaborating with another group, the "Abolish the GLC" movement, one of the few times the party has actually managed to cooperate with another political group, despite this always having been the intention of the founders.
Following this "In July 1977 there took place at Caxton Hall, London, what I believe to have been the first meeting of Eco plus environmental groups from the three main parties. The meeting, small in number, was chaired by the then Chairman of ConSoc, Len Taitz, and the result then was the same as nowadays: Eco and LEG got on well together but CEG and SERA were too wary of association with each other to join in anything
Plus ça change!
Sally spent 1977 getting involved in producing the first party constitution, having had Jonathan Tyler turn up on her doorstep to discuss it - she was then elected as party national secretary.
Sally and Adrian both recount the excitement generated at the 1978 conference by Kieth Rushworth's proposal for the coming general election:
"J.T. counselled us to fight a few Parliamentary seats (perhaps 10) and to fight them well; at the last session on the Sunday afternoon, Keith Rushworth rushed forth and suggested we aim for 50 seats and so win five minutes publicity on TV and radio. He said he would take a second mortgage on his house if necessary! The idea spread like wildfire through dry tinder; the motion was passed. J.T. and I on the platform looked at each other - 'what have we done?' he said."
Sally goes on to tell the story of getting the Party Election Broadcast made:
“We were Green in every sense and had no idea how to make our election film. I remembered a correspondence with an lTV writer in Portsmouth and asked him to recommend a source of help and information. He said go and see Jenny and Co in Soho. Jonathon Porritt and I went. After about half an hour, the two Jenny men came to the conclusion that ours was a revolutionary philosophy and, since we had no money they must help us. This they did and that is why we had such a good broadcast that it brought in 5000 members and is remembered to this day.”
Tony finishes his piece on a defiantly optimistic note:
"The Road Lobby, the Nuclear lobby, the Energy Producing Lobby, all remain immensely powerful and dangerous, but are they as powerful as ten years ago? No they are not. They are on the defensive. They are in retreat.
The politics of economic growth are still on the Establishment's menu but most people now realise that this item is in reality 'off'. God knows, the World is in a mess and is still heading into a worse mess. But there are signs that a foot is at least starting to move off the accelerator in order to grope for the brake."
If only, if only ...