Shahrar Ali the Green Party’s Home Affairs spokesperson talks to Green Left’s Mike Shaughnessy about why he is standing to be Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
Tell me a little about your background and why you joined the Green party?
I joined the Greens some 18 years ago now – after doing a stint in the European parliament as a researcher and being mightily impressed with the work of Green Group MEPs. I was drafting briefings on science and technology options for policy and researching into environmental risk of GMOs. I had already been campaigning to halt the spread of GMOs into the environment in the late 90s and it was great to be able to make a small contribution towards adoption of a precautionary principle and successive moratoria across Europe.
My background is in education and I have been a lifelong advocate of affordable lifelong learning – having taught at WEA, City Lit, Birkbeck and as a founder member of a philosophy school set up to help buck the stem of private HEI colleges. I currently work in medical education and have been part of a team involved in some of the challenges of providing student medic support in COVID environments.
It’s fair to say I really took to the policy, ethos and campaigns of the party – having stood in some 20 plus local, regional, parliamentary and European elections. I’ve written two popular election books in Green politics and was Deputy Leader of the party 2014-16, at the time of the Green surge. However, I feel deeply frustrated, as I know others do too, at our lack of organisational focus and electoral progress.
If you are elected as Leader, what will be your priorities?
Ten years is the time remaining for the Green Party to play a meaningful role in securing the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a net zero carbon economy by our target date of 2030. Globally, it is the poor and those least responsible for climate change who are most suffering their harmful impacts – deforestation, disease, malnutrition, food insecurity – today.
We should be front and centre of this battle for the future of our country and of our planet and all the beautiful species and nonhuman animals we share it with. Yet our political communications do not convey how we can achieve our own 2030 net zero target and our leadership team appear subdued.
My priority number one would be to fix this by helping to consolidate and energise the party internally and externally. As the Party’s primary spokesperson I would be bold and unapologetic about our vision and the system change required to do what’s scientifically necessary to avert climate catastrophe.
What can the Green party do to get more support from BME communities?
We need to be reaching out by all necessary means – vocalising and campaigning to combat the daily oppression and lack of opportunity faced by BME communities. I have been campaigning for years for the rights and wellbeing of these communities against successive governments’ hostile environment policies – from Guantanamo, the Windrush scandal and Islamophobic Prevent to stop and search and racist van slogans.
· I’m a regular speaker on anti-racism demonstrations for the party, especially against the rising tide of xenophobia.
· In 2015, I launched the Party’s first BME manifesto in an attempt to broaden our appeal.
· I’m active in building BAME community leaders such as the launch of UpRising’s environment leadership programme.
As the first BME deputy leader, I well understand the impact that having an ethnic visible face has and can continue to have on the increased credibility of our party. I’ve had many conversations with voters who felt they could vote for us as a result. The single most important thing we could do to reach out to those communities would be to elect a BME leader – now.
Nor can we be seen going round the media studios singling out Muslims by calling for the banning of halal meat that resulted in public condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain and our own Greens of Colour, two weeks before the election.
At a time when Black Lives Matter has taken on momentum and systemic racism is being confronted like never before, it simply is not enough to present our solidarity with a white face. We have to mean it in action, on the ground, in our Local Councils and our neighbourhoods. I believe that local party members should be given the training and support they need to get more involved with the Black Lives Matters movement and mobilise for the delivery of the concrete anti-racist policies BME communities are campaigning for.
What is your opinion of the electoral pact between the Greens and Lib Dems at last year’s General Election?
This was a total disaster. If it wasn’t bad enough to cause wholly avoidable conflict internally, we also upset core Green voters, nationally. One of our co-leaders was a benefactor of a pact and this was cited as a reason for “Green Party losing members over their alliance with Lib Dems”.
Nor can we be proud of an election result in which the Green Party once again failed to achieve any significant breakthroughs, and lost our deposits across vast swathes of the country. Compare and contrast this record to the party’s record when I was last a member of the leadership team. In 2015, the Green Party won over a million votes, and kept our deposits in 123 seats. In 2019 the Green Party won 800,000 votes but only kept our deposits in 31 seats.
What I really can’t fathom is, how, after the disastrous failed experiment of Progressive Alliances in 2017 we tried a variation on the theme some two years later. Our current leadership supported these initiatives through conference both times; and here’s a reminder of just how badly we managed to squander our hard-won political capital.
It is likely that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism will brought back to the Green party’s autumn conference for adoption. You have been a vocal critic of this definition, can you explain why?
Anybody who looks at this definition with intellectual honesty, and studies the history behind it, will see it for what it is: a cynical attempt to restrict legitimate criticism of Israel which would also have a chilling effect on free speech and is actually beginning to succeed in that.
Greens are anti-racist to their very core, fight anti-Jewish racism to the last, and should have no truck with this definition, especially because of the prevalence of anti-semitism smear campaigns against known lifelong antiracists based on adoption of this definition.
Our leadership have not exactly covered themselves in glory regarding the means by which they would seek to adopt this definition and I believe that is because the grassroots members understand as I do. You can hear this for yourself if you playback my speech to 2018 conference where we averted a late motion by the leadership to adopt something like the definition.
The final agenda to the planned Spring 2020 conference, which had to be cancelled due to lockdown, had a motion, to the contrary, which would have seen the Party firmly reject the IHRA definition and another from Les Levidow reaffirming our support for BDS (which the definition would prohibit). The leadership-sponsored motion was ruled out of order, as was a wrecking amendment to my motion. I have already begun the process of submitting my motion to next conference so we can state our opposition to the IHRA and move on.
I have survived numerous attacks upon my character. Members rightly condemned such attacks at the last leadership election. Still I was subjected to an antisemitism complaint from the CAA sponsored by a party member and that, too, was dismissed.
We must not repeat the mistake of the Labour Party, either under Corbyn or Starmer, of capitulating to this definition. It has resulted in internal strife then injustice against anti-racist campaigners. The Campaign Against Antisemitism, whose staff member boasted about destroying Corbyn’s election in the most despicable terms (“slaughtered”), is currently the subject of a Charity Commission investigation referred by myself, “Charity faces election bias investigation”. We must clean up our politics.
In all my actions around this topic, I’ve been driven by the urgency of wanting to hold Israel to account for its unconscionable actions against the Palestinian people. Year after year Israel has added to its international violations, lately with their annexation plan, and I have seen the Green Party become increasingly timid, or completely silent, on this matter. As Leader, I will continue to speak for the rights of the oppressed against their oppressor in the best tradition of the Green Party.
How do rate the government’s handling of the Covid 19 pandemic?
Where to begin with the missteps and mishaps? Late lockdown; no PPEs for NHS and Care Homes staff; moving frail elderly into Care Homes without testing them – resulting in 25,000 early deaths. No plans for a safe return to schools; no testing capacity to meet the needs to regularly test all key workers; no Test and Contact Tracing programme at community or local level.
In other words: criminal negligence on an unprecedented scale. Not to mention misplaced loyalty in Cummings!
As we know Covid deaths disproportionately impact BME communities and the real issue is structural inequality – see my BAME life chances, inequality and death.
We should have been far bolder about the opportunity for making system-wide change during lockdown – about our overconsumptive lifestyles, about UBI and economic overhall.
How do you
think the Green party should position itself electorally in the immediate
I’ve not seen our report from the last election results to enable us to have a better informed conversation. Why isn’t it published yet? If elected, I will make sure that all our members are sent a copy to discuss and learn from it in their local parties. There is not enough accountability nor transparency in the Green Party and we all deserve better.
Still our electoral positioning is clear: true Green. With Corbyn gone and Starmer in post, our socialist credentials will shine through more brightly. Our environmental appeal is across the board. Let’s not sell ourselves short.
On electoral reform, Molly Scott Cato is justifiably furious with Labour’s refusal to consider scrapping FPTP. Local party members can make the case for PR by targeting Labour Party constituencies and affiliated organisations as of priority. Labour will struggle under FPTP as it would need to secure an additional 124 seats – and that is not taking into account any potential boundary changes which will favour the Tories even more than they are now.
What is your vision for the Green party over the next few years?
When we are interviewed about the economy we should be talking about an ecosocialist transformation, not simply reform. When we are asked about jobs we should be talking about redeployment of arms manufacturing towards wholesale renewable energy plant production. When we are asked about injustice, we should be making the link to the millions of families in the UK living on the bread line and the starving populations of the world who are dying as we speak, due to agricultural intensification, capitalist injustice and climate degradation.
As a party of radical and transformational change we are simply not conveying these messages. We have become much too timid and risk averse. I will be bold and unapologetic instead.
Let’s move beyond our comfort zone and elect the first BME leader of a main UK party, too.
Green party members will be voting from 3-31 August.