As a slogan, ‘give me more money’ is an unlikely election winner. Nevertheless, Peter Cranie came close to trying it at the hustings for the leadership of the Green Party in Manchester on Friday.
At the start of the above clip, a member of the audience asked what wage the contenders would take. Pippa Bartolotti purred that she wanted the Greens to spend party funds on campaigns not individuals – a sentiment to win elections with. But then it was easy for Ms Bartolotti to be selfless because she had a career in business before going into politics. Cranie was more cautious. He explained that he earned £29,000 as a lecturer. If he became the Greens’ leader outside Westminster he would have to give up his job. He had two children to support and could not feed them on fresh air. If elected, he would accept a ‘small pay cut’.
Unfortunately for Cranie, a small pay cut was not what the Greens had in mind. Natalie Bennett, a third candidate, explained that the party was proposing to pay its leaders expenses and the annual equivalent of the London living wage – about £14,000.
‘You might be the first people to hear this from me,’ a stunned Cranie said (about 6.20 mins in). If Bennett was right, he could not stand for leader. ‘I could not put my family in a situation where we can’t afford to live. So I will clarify that tomorrow, but I was under obviously [a] misapprehension.’
For the moment he has not withdrawn, leaving the Greens with a conundrum if he wins. On the one hand, keeping politicians’ pay down forces them to experience the life of their constituents. The mainly conservative writers who still insist that people who send their children to private schools are ‘middle class’ do not know how most people live. (Cranie £28,000 teaching salary is far closer to a middling wage than those who make ‘the middle England error’ assume.) But a party that insists politicians live on £14,000 gives a huge advantage to the wealthy. If you have private means, you do not have to worry about token salaries. Potential rivals, meanwhile, give up because they cannot afford to compete. The founders of British democracy knew this well. The fourth demand of the People’s Charter of 1838, just behind universal male suffrage and the secret ballot, was for MPs to be paid – ‘thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country’.
You only have to look at the audience at the Manchester hustings to see the falseness of the claim that British greenery is a movement dominated by Zac Goldsmith, Lord Melchett, Prince Charles and other children of the rich. If the Green Party does not pay a reasonable wage, however, rich leaders is what it will get.