Do we still need the Green Party?

We now have an insurgent left-wing Labour party in this country - does this make the Greens redundant?

I went to the Green Party conference this weekend expecting my growing ambivalence towards the party to be reinforced.

We now have an insurgent left-wing Labour party in this country, and that’s a good thing; a Corbyn government would radically improve material conditions for millions of people, and for any of us on the left to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. I have become increasingly frustrated by many Green Party members’ refusal to engage with this new landscape and the dilemmas it throws up.

But while I did find a mood much less dynamic than previous conferences, I also found reasons to be positive.

In his speech, Jonathan Bartley claimed ‘I believe that we will be the most influential party of the 21st Century.’ This in itself is at best wildly optimistic and at worst patently absurd – but behind it is an important truth.

As Jonathan went on to say, ‘In 2010 we were told by the Tories, by Labour, by the Lib Dems – that austerity was the only answer. We bravely dared to be different. What we were saying then – that neoliberalism is dying and must be replaced – has become the mainstream.’

Before Corbynmania, there was the ‘Green surge’: a wave of support for a radical left-wing party which opposed austerity, championed public ownership, and questioned some fundamental assumptions about the economy and society. We lost the momentum. But the impact we had should not be underestimated. The Overton window – the range of policies considered politically acceptable by the public – is malleable, and can be shifted by voices pushing at its margins. Until Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, Greens were that voice on the left.

In 2015, we called for a £10 per hour minimum wage, renationalisation of the railways and free education. This May, Labour won nearly 13 million votes on a remarkably similar platform. That’s a huge vindication of what Greens have been fighting for for years.

This isn’t about taking credit – although there are many activists, from those who for years worked internally to make the Greens a radical left-wing party, to those who tirelessly knocked doors to make us an electoral threat in local areas, who now seem to be rewarded only by their own party’s declining relevance. It is about recognising the genuinely crucial role that the Green Party has played in shifting the political landscape, and thinking carefully about how we can continue to be that force.

That thinking is clearly being done by the party leadership. Jonathan’s speech lay out the beginnings of a radical vision that goes above and beyond Labour’s: replacing Universal Credit with a Universal Basic Income; a mutually owned and publicly-regulated Uber; asking, fundamentally, ‘who the economy is for.’

At conference however this wasn’t reflected in the concerns of members. Among the motions brought to the floor were not one but two which called for a re-focusing of our messaging to highlight ecology and climate change, while it seemed that much more time was dedicated to internal and organisational issues than to updating or strengthening policy.

But shunning social and economic issues in favour of a retreat to a narrow ‘deep green’ vision of environmentalism would be the death of our electoral chances and, ultimately, of any potential we might have to genuinely influence climate policy in this country. If we keep being imaginative, bold and forward-looking in all our policy areas, we have a chance to remain the vanguard of the radical left.

Even then, there are big questions to be answered about electoral tactics. Members will not accept a re-run of the progressive alliance strategy. But I doubt I am the only Green reluctant to pour my time and energy into campaigning against decent Labour MPs, for Green candidates unlikely to win the seat, when there are scores of Tories with wafer-thin majorities just a few action days away from being unseated by Labour.

One part of the answer to this is a sharp focus on local elections, which was clearly at the fore this conference. Amelia Womack highlighted the work of Alison Teal who has stood up against the Labour council in Sheffield in the battle to save the city’s street trees – just one example of Green councillors holding Labour to account. There is in many places a real disconnect between Labour’s national policy platform and its actions locally, and a strong showing for a radical left-wing Green Party in the May elections would send a message to the Labour councils that too often take their voters for granted.

There’s no pretending this isn’t a tough time for the Greens. There are no easy answers. But I left conference certain that there is still a place for us in British politics, and a real need for strong left-wing voices within the party. The urgent task now is keeping those voices there and making them heard.

Georgia Elander is a member of the Green Party. She tweets here.

16 Responses to “Do we still need the Green Party?”

  1. Rupert Read

    This article is incoherent. It basically admits that Corbyn has made a ‘Left’ Green Party redundant – but then criticises those of us who are drawing the logical conclusion: that what we obviously (and desperately) need is to return to our roots, and give ourselves a USP: namely being an ecoligistic rather than a socialistic Party.

  2. Anonymous

    Brilliant article.

    The Green Party has had its two best ever electoral results when focusing on issues beyond its core. Those in the party who advocate a return to the losing politics of ecologism are too blinded by their loss of power in the party to understand that such a move is both electorally foolish and against the spirit of the party. The party is leftwing in its policy and constitution with a re-distributive economic analysis as well as an ecological outlook.

    Let’s stop pretending that running on Rupert Read’s populationist, anti-growth platform would do anything but abandon our principles and set us back by decades.

  3. Adrian

    I am not a Green member, but have voted for them in the past, including at this years GE.

    This article is, I guess ok, because it comes from within the Green Party. But this whole narrative, is getting a bit offensive. Some 550,000 of people voted for the Greens at the election and I am willing to bet that most of them where at least aware of Jeremy Corbyn and what he had done to the Labour Party. This narrative, time and again, says to these 550,000 people – isn’t your vote basically worthless.

    I didn’t want to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I chose to the vote for the Greens, along with 550,000 others. So, yes, there is a point to the Green Party. 550,000 points.

  4. Misha Carder

    ‘The most Influential party in the 21st century’.: are the words Jonathan Bartley used. As the article states many ideas are now on board. We need the Green Party to keep the envronmental focus: – that without protection of the environment we won’t have a planet fit for human habitation and environmental pollutants and unchecked capitalism will wreck the economy and NHS with man-made illnesses. We also need a Party whose social blue-print should serve to keep Labour in check and on track

  5. Julia

    Much of this article argues sensibly that the Green Party has become redundant and – very worryingly – an obstacle to ousting the Tories. Then the author says that left wing voices are needed to challenge lazy Labour councils. Well that’s true; and those left wing voices need to be inside the Labour Party, replacing those lazy councillors, not “sending them a message”. Finally the author concludes that there is still a place for Greens in British politics. Well of course there’s a place for your activists. There’s no better place for them to turn Green ideas into reality than inside the Labour Party. For those Greens who are solidly dedicated to environmentalism why not transform yourselves into a world-leading campaign around action on climate change. But the very last thing you should do is find a USP to continue seeking election. We urgently need to oust the Tory government and we cannot afford to keep splitting the left wing vote.

  6. Obi

    I have spoken to the other people about the Greens supposedly joining Labour and the radical ones would disagree. Labour people have told me that the Greens are needed to ensure that we always push the envelope.

    The Green Party contemplate many ideas that would not be considered by the main parties. Even shockingly renationalisation of the Railways. Hopefully, making towns energy independent and Universal Basic Income will also be borrowed by the Labour manifesto at some point.

    As for the Local Council elections in 2018? I hope the voters will realise that having safe seats whether Tory or Labour does not assist in democracy. For instance, we have the situation where Housing Activists are fighting against a Tory Council in Barnet (1 majority from Labour), then fighting against majority held Labour Council in Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth. Placing too much power in the main parties and you end up with corruption.

    With the dearth of media coverage, the Green activists need to be more active in social media and create their own media. The lack of livestream in the conference was troublesome.

  7. Denis Walker

    This piece starts with entirely the wrong question. The Green Party’s policy is very different from Labour’s in a great many ways. For one thing we strongly oppose the Government’s Brexit strategy, while they are happy to fall in line with it. One might ask if there’s still a point to the Labour Party.
    The UK has been very poorly served by the First Past the Post electoral system and if instead of asking what the point of smaller parties was, we were to move to a more democratic system such as STV, it would result in a far more representative set of MPs. If people felt they were actually being listened to, they might have voted differently in the EU Referendum.

  8. Pablo

    @Julia – fixed it for you”

    ..there is still a place for Labour in British politics. Well of course there’s a place for your activists. There’s no better place for them to turn Social Democratic ideas into reality than inside the Green Party. For those Reds who are solidly dedicated to socialism why not transform yourselves into a world-leading campaign around action on inequality.

  9. Tony

    The Labour Party still supports Trident replacement and maintaining a bloated level of military spending.

    Theresa May’s willingness to actually start a nuclear war was not challenged by Labour during the general election.

  10. Ross Armour

    The Greens constantly like to talk up the prospect of a progressive alliance with Labour. Yet what was their number 1 target seat at the last general election? Bristol West, which was held and retained by one of our Labour MPs. There is no point speaking of a progressive alliance and then targeting seats where a progressive MP sits. Of course the Greens have a place in British politics, which climate change continuing to be as important as ever, but in terms of Westminster seats I can’t see them being anymore than a one-person party through Caroline Lucas

  11. Cloud Cuckoo

    Nil growth & redistribution are two sides of the same coin & need to be argued for in equal measure. See great piece in today’s Guardian about Costa Rica, where nil growth has led to an increase in well-being and decrease in inequality. Labour has nearly got the redistribution thing, certainly better than under New Labour. But it has a long way to go on nil-growth.
    Remember, the Green Party of England & Wales is just one of many global Green parties, all more or less working towards the same end. If it packed up tomorrow, it would break the chain of a broad front of Green progress worldwide, as well as leaving a growth-obsessed hole for Labour to occupy.
    But its main role is to be the political wing of the wider Green movement, forcing environmental and social policy change on all political parties in a way that Labour and LibDem plus NGO pressure groups could never do. There is nothing that focuses the minds of politicians like the threat of losing votes.

  12. Mark H Burton

    I’m not a Green Party member, though I’ve been close to it at times. I rejoined Labour after 30+ years when Corbyn was elected. But but as a degrowth activist I am strongly of the view that we need a Green party that is distinctively, well Green. We need a consistent voice to the environmental left of Labour that makes it clear that we cannot continue with the present economic system, that a Green Keynesian approach of “invest for low carbon growth” is incoherent and unscientific twaddle. I can’t see that in the utterances of leading Green Party politicians who while picking up a variety of worthy issues, nevertheless seem frankly to be all over the place, often focusing on the short term manifestations of the (eco-political-economic) crisis rather than the roots.
    I don’t agree with Rupert that the Greens shouldn’t be socialist, however, because the root of our ecological and planetary crises is Capital. Now I know that taking an eco-Marxist approach would scare a lot of horses (and I’m not suggesting this is how to present things), but at the same time, it is no use pretending that a Capital-friendly set of policies will help us.
    If the Greens have role in a FPTP system, it has to be one of education, of helping peel back the layers of ideological mist that surround public debate on economic and environmental policy. And that requires a consistent, clear, philosophy based firstly on social ecology.
    So tell it like it is and be confident in your Green-ery.

  13. John Blewitt

    If the Green Party does not become a green socialist party – and that does not necessarily mean one identifying a big role for the state – but an ecologist one believing that green capitalism is a possibility, then I feel there is no role for the party beyond that of being a climate change pressure group. And there are plenty of organisations already campaigning on climate change and other ecological concerns. Having said that, if the Labour party wants to become a truly dynamic radical political it needs to be a more ecologically focused and less tied to the redundant ideology of economic growth.

  14. Julian Dean

    The Greens are needed because there is reason to believe Labour will continue to be inconsistent in it’s radicalism. Superficially that’s about policy failure or compromise on Brexit, Trident, Nuclear Power. Deeper than that it’s about:
    1. Labour being a party of government power (nationally and locally). So it has been a party of war and has been subject to the same revolving door with Capitalism as the Tories.
    2. The Trade Union base having built in inconsistency. They need to represent workers interests, but they often experience these narrowly (so defend indefensible jobs) and also need to protect their own bureaucracies;
    3. The Labour voting base contains significant numbers who share the nationalism and bigotry of the Tory base. Labour needs them to retain its current position in a FPTP system.
    Inside the green party the case against the progressive alliance often opens with the statement that the last election results were a ‘disaster’. This is nonsense; most 2015 Green voters who went to Labour in 2017 certainly don’t see it that way; yet they haven’t changed their ideas, just made a tactical decision on where to place their votes; one that made perfect sense. They are still pro Green Party; they just aren’t tribal about it, so neither should we be.
    There is a contradiction in the ecologist tendency also being opposed to progressive alliance work. If Labour is not really progressive then why retreat into a bunker rather than capture the ground left by their non-progressiveness. If Labour are progressive then why not comfortably be an ecology ginger group pushing Labour, whilst accepting they take the front seat on non-ecology issues, and so work with them in elections. I don’t see how you can have it both ways. (I don’t take either position).
    Reality hurts. We will continue to be bumped and bruised by elections. But the attraction of progressive alliance politics to millions who would really quite like to see a growth in Green Party influence, but also are excited by (and have some scepticism towards) the prospect of a left-labour government, is worth it. To turn away from this approach is to turn our backs on them.
    Meanwhile there is a job of work to do to keep looking outwards and to be central to every local campaign, sometimes with momentum and labour members, sometimes not, sometimes with people from other parties (it’s actually a Tory councillor in my area who, in the last week or two, had the most influence in restraining the NHS cuts locally), sometimes not.

  15. Alan Borgars

    Green politics is very distinct from the socialist politics Labour espouses and always will be. Labour is still committed to continuous growth, which is unsustainable and will ultimately doom humanity in the long run. Labour also does not really care about the environment or about holistic socio-economics, and is too tied to the trade unions.

    The Green Party is here to stay, and needs to stop pretending it is left of Labour. Green politics is above the old left-right spectrum, and can appeal to all people.

  16. Andy Pratt

    An interesting article, and some very good comments below. I agree we really need the Greens as a seperate force. Look at Corbynistas on economic growth (do they question it at all?), Brexit (taking an old Trotskyite position) and fair votes/democracy (a big silence). Yes the Greens need to work with Labour wher possible. Yes we need to emphasise our ecological policies. AND our anti capitalist policies (and yes without ‘scaring the horses’!) Anyway how nice to read thoughtful comments for a change.. thanks to all!

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