Come and join the Green Party? An open letter from Jonathan Bartley to Owen Jones

Being Green is different to being Labour. We believe in liberation from the state and the critical balance between people and planet. 

Dear Owen

I was intrigued by your proposal that the Green Party should formally join forces with Labour, on the grounds that it “would unite the English and Welsh left under one banner, bring one of the country’s most inspiring politicians [Caroline Lucas] into the spotlight, and reinvigorate the cause to save the planet from environmental destruction.”

Perhaps the first thing to say is that this isn’t a new argument. Questions were raised when the Green Party was founded as “People” in the early 1970s. 

Even though Labour has returned to the kind of Social Democratic Party it was back then, it’s still not clear why the answer should now be different.

Labour has achieved some great things historically – the founding of the NHS and the establishment of the welfare state.

But what Labour is offering is still not sufficient to meet the challenges we face either as a country – or as a planet, where scientists are warning of a “biological annihilation” of wildlife.

Being Green is different to being Labour. It’s a different worldview, outlook and philosophy. While we might inhabit a similar place when it comes to austerity, we are at heart a party of freedom which believes in liberation from the shackles of state authority and the critical balance between people and planet.

And we trust the people. We don’t want an authoritarian state, an authoritarian electoral system or an authoritarian party structure.

That freedom to tell it how it is and allow individuals to vote for what they believe in is crucial in a system that constrains it.

Greens can’t stand on a manifesto that supports Trident renewal and subsidies for the arms trade – even if those subsidies are not for arms to oppressive regimes. 

Greens agree we should be ending the welfare sanctions regime – but we don’t agree we should replace it with another.

Yes, we should be providing more money for prisons, but only one party will say that we could, and should, halve the prison population – partly by treating drug addiction as a health issue not a crime.

And yes, we would put more money into schools, but we must also do away with the culture of testing and league tables that is damaging our children.

We are proud to say we welcome migrants, stand up unequivocally for freedom of movement, and that we don’t just need a time limit on detention of migrants – we should do away with detention altogether.

Wealth redistribution is important. In 2015 and 2017, we stood up bravely for that too. And Greens have won that argument.  But it is not the whole story.

For Greens, the world we want to create is about much more than economic fairness. It’s about asking the fundamental questions about who the economy and the world’s resources are for.

It’s about being prepared to challenge the dominant orthodoxy: that we need to be enslaved to a system, to work more hours in jobs we don’t like, to buy more stuff we don’t really need.

It’s about seeing true wealth and wellbeing in more than monetary terms, which the safety net of a Universal Basic Income would help guarantee.

The indiscriminate growth that both Labour and Conservatives propose across every sector of the economy, isn’t the Green – or for that matter real – solution to the problems we face. Indeed, it’s a major cause.  

We must do more with less. Choices need to be made. And they need to be the right ones. Labour often gets it wrong, such as its support for HS2, the most expensive railway in the world that will destroy both ancient woodlands and historic communities.

Greens believe that the money is better spent in investing in an integrated transport policy which rejuvenates local communities.  Labour supports the white elephant of Hinkley and new nuclear power.

We say that this is the stuff of the past and is incongruous with the renewable energy revolution we need.

Labour would expand airports, embark on new roadbuilding and continue to support North Sea Oil.  We say that is incompatible with the kind of new economy we need to create to genuinely confront climate change.

Owen, you suggest we try and change things from within. The truth is that Labour is constrained – and always will be.  It is not its fault.  It is subject to the system.

Brexit has highlighted once again how First Past the Post means Labour always has to balance its competing electoral interests.

In trying to appease both Leavers and Remainers it has been caught – paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights – on the single biggest decision we are making this side of the Second World War.

Even within Britain’s broken system, Greens are speaking truth to power and setting the agenda. The new found pseudo green-ness of the Conservatives and the welcome shift in Labour’s environmental credentials are in no small part down to the uncompromising stance the Green Party has taken.

We very much want to work with Labour.  But we are not Labour. Perhaps our biggest challenge to Labour is this: if you are a party that is genuinely for the many and not the few, will you adopt a voting system that doesn’t silence the many and privilege the few who live in marginal constituencies?

It would trust the people, and open the door to working side by side where there is common ground – and disagree well where there isn’t.

So, Owen, if you think Labour might be willing to shake off its shackles and genuinely embrace inclusive, sustainable politics for the 21st century, why not come and join us? Our door is open.

Best wishes,

Jonathan Bartley (co-Leader of The Green Party of England and Wales)

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