Adam Van Coevorden, who twice stood for the Greens in Cheltenham, tells Ben Chacko why Labour’s manifesto made him decide to switch parties
SINCE the election thousands of people have joined the Labour Party.
Many are new to politics — Jeremy Corbyn has enthused an entire generation widely assumed to be indifferent to voting.
Some may come to Labour from a background in another party — not as the sinister “entryists” so feared by the likes of Tom Watson last summer, but as ordinary people who want to make a difference and see the Labour Party right now as the place to do it.
But few will have stood for another party as recently as last Thursday. This makes Adam Van Coevorden, twice the Green Party’s candidate for Cheltenham, an exception to the norm.
Adam has not changed loyalties often before. A Green for 15 years, he joined while at university.
“When I went to uni I started to think a lot more about what I could do to be politically engaged.
“I had quite left-wing, if not socialist-leaning, opinions and was concerned about the environment. This was the era of Blair and Brown, and the left choice seemed to me the Green Party while the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were all fighting over the same centre-right turf.”
He sees his decade and a half in the Greens as time spent well, part of a movement against a dispiriting trend in British and global politics.
“I feel we’ve been sleepwalking into a corporatist state, a society where big business is in charge rather than people,” he explains.
“The system has become less democratic through the media, trade treaties that stop people challenging business, gerrymandering constituencies.
“We have the easiest tax system for the rich and corporations to dodge and our rulers push for treaties like TTIP [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] and Ceta [the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada] which see people being put under the boot by the ruling class.
“The Green Party have been, and are, fantastic. The party has steadfastly fought for beliefs that were fringe and are now mainstream — a bit like Jeremy Corbyn! — and that’s why the vote exceeded a million in 2015, a tremendous achievement.
“It’s a very earnest party and I mean that in a good way — full of very committed people who want to make sure the environment is on the agenda. In my experience as a candidate, those issues often didn’t come up.
“The danger of climate change is huge and it needs to be raised, so I think it was very important we were there raising it even where we lost deposits.”
So what’s changed? When did he come to the decision to leave his political home of 15 years and join a new movement?
“It’s not about tribalism. It’s about ideas winning, not parties, and Labour have made enormous progress.
“The Green Party still have better policies on climate change in my view. They have led where others were not so bold. But Labour is far better than the alternatives. This is the first time in my lifetime that I can be part of a mass left movement to make big changes and to turn that down seems crazy.
“Labour are headed for a million members, Jeremy has a huge mandate and backing, I want to be part of it even if another party might be better on one or two policies.
“Labour’s success is needed if we’re going to implement policies to protect the environment because at the moment big business has the whip hand, and as long as it does, nothing is going to change.
“Was there a moment I made the decision? Well, when the Labour manifesto was leaked it had a big impact on me.
“I liked Corbyn but didn’t think he would be able to push through a radical manifesto. He did. If I’d seen that before agreeing to stand in this election I might not have stood.
“I loved the manifesto. But the decision was the day after the election. Seeing the huge endorsement it had been given.
“I told the local committee on Sunday and the rest of the local party on Monday. I’ve had a mixed response,” he laughs.
“Lots of people understand and wished me well. I’ve done a lot of work for the local party and raised its profile.
“But there were some negative reactions, huge disappointment from some people, and some criticising various Labour policies.
“But everyone is surprised by how much this election seems to have returned us to a two-party politics.”
He was never convinced by the “progressive alliance” being pushed by the Green leadership, calling for tactical Green, Labour and Lib Dem voting to oust Tories. “I think people saw that as excusing a vote for other parties and I think it lost a lot of votes for Green candidates. And it called for a tactical vote for the Lib Dems, which I don’t understand.
“They are closer to the Conservatives than anyone else ideologically, so why pretend they are progressive?
“In Cheltenham I think a lot of Greens voted Lib Dem and it’s depressing. If you want a left option start voting Labour if you ever want to change the balance of forces in this town.
“Ironically Labour itself now looks like the ‘progressive alliance.’ That whole thing was in my view a tactical mistake.
“But I still want electoral reform. First past the post distorts the results and it would be more democratic to have some form of proportional representation.
“Labour’s number of seats right now would actually be almost exactly the same had the election been held under PR, but the Tories would have a lot fewer and the Greens a lot more — that would be good.”
But despite wishing the Greens “great success in the future,” he has no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s party is now the one to join — despite the man himself having been accused of cowardice by the Greens after the EU referendum and derided as “toxic and spineless” by Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.
“Being called spineless by a Lib Dem does carry a huge weight of irony,” Adam grins.
“What do I think about Corbyn? I think he is a man of great vision and integrity and he is now battle-proven.
“He has thrown off an entirely hostile media and attacks from his own party. He has eaten up a huge Tory lead in the polls.
“Labour ran the most positive campaign I have ever seen. Corbyn believes everything he says and that completely energises people.
“He maintained his good humour throughout some really nasty attacks. Ridiculous smears like the anti-semitism thing.
“The right is all too quick to smear the left like that when it needs to take a long hard look at itself. Some of the things printed in the newspapers are borderline illegal.
“The strategy at the election was inspired. Labour was right to reject the progressive alliance — it was winning in areas you’d never have expected like Canterbury. It came second in the Cotswold constituency where it was never in the running before.
“Labour is rushing ahead in areas where it doesn’t traditionally do well. If they had thought ‘no chance here, may as well leave it to the Lib Dems’ we wouldn’t be seeing these exciting changes.
“I can only hope the Labour vote keeps going up. People like me starting to think: ‘Wait, this is both viable and radical. That never happens!’
“A once in a generation — maybe once in a lifetime — chance. It’s time for everyone who wants change to rally around Jeremy Corbyn.”