Nearly a month on from the election, talk is growing about the prospect of Labour and the Greens formally uniting.
Since the Green Party’s vote halved last month, debate has been growing as to what the party should do next.
Now that talk has turned to potentially affiliating to the Labour Party.
The main group for left-wing Greens has been seen a lot of talk from people suggesting the party formerly unites with Labour.
The first time we heard this idea was when Jon Lansman, Labour member and one of the founders of Momentum, suggested it last year.
The model that is being talked about is that of the Co-operative Party, which goes back to the roots of the movement in Rochdale, Lancashire, where the first Co-op was formed in 1844, and they became a political party in 1917. As their website says:
“Since 1927, the Party has had an electoral agreement with Labour Party. This enables us to stand joint candidates in elections, recognising our shared values and maximising our impact.’ The Co-operative Party now has 38 MPs and many elected regional and local representatives.”
The Co-operative Party has many co-operative retail businesses as members and promotes this form of economic ownership, within the Labour Party and outside. Co-operative Party branches affiliate to their local Constituency Labour Party (CLP).
This enables them to send delegates to Labour meetings and provides a process for selecting joint Labour & Co-operative Party candidates at elections. And they contribute to the election expenses of Co-operative (and Labour) party candidates.
Members of the Co-operative Party can be solely that, or members of the Labour Party as well, but the Co-operative Party does have an independent structure, separate from the Labour Party. As an independent political party, it maintains its own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.
So the question is – could this type of arrangement be beneficial to the Green Party? The Co-operative website does suggest a (stark) comparison when it says:
“One approach is that of the Green Party, which has stood in elections for over 40 years. In that time, the Party has secured the election of just one MP, control of a single local authority and no policies turned into law.”
The Co-operative Party, although a hundred years old, does have many more elected representatives at all levels of government, including 38 MPs, than the Green Party.
Would the Greens benefit from this situation, in pushing their agenda forward?
It is worth thinking about seriously. But there are also many obstacles.
Firstly, there would be resistance form people in both Labour and the Greens, with Labour fearing a kind of ‘entryism’ which seems to obsess it.
Meanwhile, Greens may worry about the loss of the party’s independent status and fear that (joint) Labour and Green members from the Labour tradition would take over the party.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, there are many similar policies advocated by Labour and Greens. But there are also some quite large differences.
Labour operates under a fiercely centralised structure, whereas the Greens have a de-centralised structure – with no tight control from above. Without a whip – whether Parliamentary or otherwise – Greens are also more free to voice opinions which may differ from the party line. That is something not common in the Labour Party.
That’s on top of huge policy differences over nuclear power and nuclear weapons, where Corbyn is more in tune with the Greens than the majority of his party. And then is the question of economic growth, championed by Labour but seen as the root of our ecological problems by Greens.
But if these hurdles can be overcome by some kind of agreement – which I think is possible – the rewards could significant for both parties.
For the Greens, there’s the chance to gain many more MPs and local councillors, and achieve the kind of political influence that has largely alluded us so far. Time is short. With the climate crisis in full swing, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later, and this idea might just do that.
And ecosocialists like me in the Green Party, might affiliation to Labour help spread ‘green left’ ideas to a wider audience?
For Labour, already eyeing up more Green voters for the future, this set-up could broaden the party’s electoral appeal, bringing it even closer to younger voters.
The time has come for both parties to at least explore this idea, to see how it might work in practice. Given the potential benefits that this type of agreement could bring, it’s an opportunity that can’t be ignored.
Mike Shaughnessy is a Green writer and blogs at London Green Left.
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