Slightly extended original version of piece published in a Green Party Supporters mailing 22nd March 2023
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 south-west 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!
What motivates us to join a small party like the Greens. It’s definitely a minority pursuit. For many there is a moment, a realisation, an epiphany, 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, idling and dozing, 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, vibrant colours and an intoxicating mix of smells. Being at ground level it was even more intense.
While lying there I felt an upswelling of emotion, a tightness in the chest, and suddenly realised, at a deep level, that there was nothing more important in life than life itself and, in that moment, I dedicated my life to that cause. 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, and founders of Movement for Survival , which later became the Green Party.
‘Blueprint’ was the first ecological manifesto (published January 1972) and sold some 800,000 copies. It was translated into eight languages and debated in the House of Commons. Teddy is someone we should all be aware of because he both co-authored Blueprint and started Movement for Survival. (see here)
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 entirely alien to the teacher in charge. My passion was met with blank looks of incomprehension. He must have thought I was a bit mad.
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. I collected about a hundred signatures, only for my demand to be refused again.
Determined not to be beaten, I formed an alliance with the Liberal candidate (first taste of ‘real politik’!) 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, through an entirely coincidental set of circumstances, I found myself hand-milking Jersey cows on a self-sufficient farm in Cornwall. 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 standing in a by-election, sticking cartoon posters of his face up on lamp posts by night and leafleting by day.
One day I got friendly enough with a newspaper-selling revolutionary socialist for him to show me the revolver he had tucked inside his jacket, ‘in case of trouble with the fascists’. This was truly shocking for my naïve 18 year old self.
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 number 1 candidate on the south west list) and three years as one of the party’s ‘principal speakers’, the term used before the party started calling us ‘leaders’.
I have always favoured the ‘movement’ approach, promoted by our founders, as to how we should do our politics. In fact when Movement for Survival and PEOPLE were started both called themselves a ‘movement’. The ‘party’ label came later. With a ‘party’ the emphasis is almost exclusively on elections and you end up with a fairly hierarchical, top-down structure. A ‘movement’ approach, on the other hand, emphasises coalition building with the wider green movement and will use any approach; including elections, community action and NVDA, that facilitates change.
In line with this thinking, I co-organised the first Ecology Party/Green Gatherings in the early 80s. The gatherings were the first events to call themselves ‘green’. This was three years before the party did. They were, and still are, gatherings of the greens, an annual festival-style coming together of the disparate elements of the wider green movement. I’m delighted to report they are now stronger than ever, huge fun and this year won three separate awards. (see here for more on the early Green Gatherings)
Also, as part of a ‘movement’ approach I set up Ecology Party/Green CND, a specialist section within CND, and campaigned at USAF Greenham Common. When that became a women only action we decided to occupy USAF Molesworth, Britain’s second nuclear Cruise missile base, in 1984. (see here)
100 people then occupied the base for six months until finally evicted on February 6th 1985, by 3000 troops and 600 police, getting splashed over every front page in the process. The following year the deployment of Cruise missiles was cancelled, with Pentagon sources citing popular opposition in Europe as a primary reason. I would argue that nationally this was probably the party’s most successful campaign ever.
To learn more about the events described in this article see the links in the text above.