Focus issues include climate change, environmental protection, workers' rights and freedom of movement
The Green Party launched its EU referendum campaign this morning. Both party leader Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas MP promised to make a ‘loud and proud’ case that would inspire people with a vision for a different kind of EU.
The ‘positive’ Green campaign will be built around environmentalism and fighting climate change, protecting workers’ rights, controlling corporate power, tackling poverty and creating jobs.
While other campaign groups have gingerly avoided the question of freedom of movement, the Greens are openly celebrating it. Natalie Bennett defended this approach when I sat down with her after the launch, despite the supposed panic about immigration among much of the population.
“It’s a continuation of what we did during the general election…we’ve been there arguing the positive case for freedom of movement in the EU [and] for a decent, fair and humane immigration policy…Making that argument is really important. Making it loudly, clearly, proudly.”
Despite their frequent and virulent critique of the government, on immigration among many other other issues, both Lucas and Bennett emphasised that the referendum transcended party politics.
‘It’s a strength to have a wide range of views because then we can appeal to a wide range of people’, Lucas commented. This suggests that unlike Labour, who have made it clear they will refuse to share a platform with the Tories on the EU, that the Greens are comfortable working with their opponents on this issue.
However, as Bennett’s leader’s speech to the Green Party spring conference made clear, they will not be granting the government a reprieve on other issues ahead of June 23rd.
“We cannot, we must not, let David Cameron and his friends in the still out-of-control financial sector, in the oil and gas industry, in the tax-dodging multinationals, continue on the current path under the cover of the EU referendum. We must not be distracted.”
Bennett also argued at the launch that the referendum presented an opportunity to fill in the gaps in the electoral roll by engaging voters in the debate, and convincing them to register. In particular, she emphasised that it is ‘really critical’ to ensure young people are registered to vote, since ‘it’s very obvious…young people are more likely to be in favour of remaining’.
This point of focus, along with the party’s intensely positive approach, suggests that their goal is not necessarily to swing undecided voters, but rather to galvanise potential Remain voters.
This is an important role. The Leave campaign currently seems to have a more engaged support base, consolidated by outreach groups like Grassroots Go, which focuses almost entirely on outreach.
What’s more, given that Labour’s campaign remains largely dormant, it currently falls to the Greens and Lib Dems to offer the progressive justification for Remain, challenging the Conservative case.
However, while the Green Party is highly committed to staying in the EU—Bennett suggested that the position had over 95 per cent support at the party conference—it remains highly critical of many of the EU’s structures and policies, and calls for extensive reform.
I asked Bennett what her vision for EU reform would be, starting on June 24th after a positive referendum result.
“I think key the thing we’re pushing for is making sure we democratise the EU, that’s the really key area…Politics is changing and shifting and that creates lots of opportunities to really push for more powers for the parliament, to push to kill off TTIP off, to push to really strengthen things like the Circular Economy Package, strengthen support for the natural environment, push for more action, stronger action on climate change. There’s a real space there because politics is so fluid at the moment.”
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Find her on Twitter @niamhsquaredLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.