Ten reasons Greens should avoid a Remain Alliance

The party shouldn't be sucked into 'Remain Alliance' talks.

1.The Green Party is a political party. Its main purpose is to stand in elections. If we choose not to for any reason other than financial, we are not fulfilling our purpose, should disband and become a pressure group.

Our constitution calls us “the political wing of the environmental movement”, which has always struck me as odd as the environmental must be political if it is to get anywhere.

Nevertheless, it is who we are and Friends Of The Earth, Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion are good organisations to join if you aren’t interested in electoralism.

It’s a strange syndrome that smaller parties feel duty-bound at some points to give in to peer pressure from larger parties. It never seems to happen the other way around, does it?

2. The body trying to set up a “remain alliance” is called Unite to Remain and wants to return “as many moderate, centre ground…MPs as we can”.

This doesn’t fit what the Green Party stands for as a party of the left. This isn’t divisive and small-minded tribalism. If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it’s that ideology is back, and back in a big way.

Greens are ecologists. Labour members are socialists. Conservatives are conservatives. Liberals are liberals.

Of course, there are some people in the Green Party who are socialists as well. There are others who question we are even a party of the left. (They’re wrong and clearly haven’t read our policies, by the way.)

But increasingly, we can see the difference between the four or five different visions of society that the largest parties have. I would say this is a Good Thing.

Without genuine choice, democracy dies. And if we really believe in cross-party collaborative working in a pluralist system, that relies on multiple parties existing in the first place.

The “remain alliance” is, I think, an existential threat to a party like the Greens because it asks us, in a small way, to deny our existence as an electoral alternative.

Plus, any organisation that wants to unite people must not make the massive error of self-defining participation as about “moderation” and “centrism”, as Heidi Allen does in the Unite to Remain video.

What we desperately need is “sensible radicalism”, something the Green Party is best placed to offer.

3. Putting aside for a second the question of whether Labour is a “remain party”, it needs to be said that the Labour Party explicitly stands in every election. It’s in their constitution!

The Labour Party’s participation in this “alliance” is very very unlikely not just for that reason, but because it is hard enough to get a coherent policy out of them on Brexit, never mind get them all to agree to go in on something that openly opposes it.

Therefore, the “remain alliance” would not be a factor in Tory/Labour marginals. This isn’t a reason to discount it but for those of us on the left, it does make it less likely to earn our respect for it – even if one other leftwing party (Plaid Cymru) are involved in it.

4. The Lib Dems are therefore using this near-fact about Labour’s non-participation to their advantage in two ways:

i) Bang on and on about the alliance on social media so it seems the only alternative to hard-right Tories

ii) Say very little about it when they win an election (e.g. Brecon & Radnorshire)

This is classic mood music politicking – look collegiate and open without actually bothering to practically do anything to make it happen.

In the European elections, the Lib Dems even claimed the Greens rebuffed their approach for a similar arrangement, when in reality they had made no such approach.

It seems bizarre that some people don’t get this, but is it possible that the Lib Dems’ motives in wanting an electoral alliance aren’t completely pure?

Those of us who have been involved in local politics know all too well about Lib Dem tactics. Why would any ethical, self-respecting political party sign up to a political project that is run by a party that is this untrustworthy?

5) Because of first past the post, Greens don’t have many seats in play at the parliamentary level that make us worth bargaining with.

There are perhaps five or six where we are bound or at least likely to do better than the Lib Dems.

I could list these, but why bother when Lib Dems simply won’t step down in these seats?

One of them is in Bristol and I know it would never happen because they held it from 2010 to 2015.

Anyway, it’s a completely lopsided negotiation to begin with as the Lib Dems have scores of seats that they can be competitive with the Tories in and, as one Green colleague put it:

“If we assisted the Lib Dems in winning, say, 15 seats which then in turn helped them to prop up another austerity-driven almost-majority Conservative Party, the Green Party would literally be helping secure another Conservative-led Government”.

6) The case that Greens will “stop Lib Dems winning seats” by being on the ballot paper is pure conjecture.

If the Greens and Plaid had stood in Brecon & Radnorshire, no one can say whether the Lib Dems would still have won or not.

People vote differently depending on the options in front of them. The idea that political parties can just shuffle the public’s votes around is not only outrageous, it’s deeply unethical.

The people must decide, and we should enable them to do so by presenting positive policies that can be implemented.

Lib Dems have a legendarily effective by-election operation. They will win on their own terms if they can. Why would we try to game the (admittedly crappy) system in their favour?

7) In Scotland and Wales (particularly Scotland), shacking up with the Lib Dems – however briefly – would be a retrograde step for us.

On the central constitutional question, independence, Greens take a different view to the Lib Dems. Greens are pro-independence and the Lib Dems are pro-Unionist.

Greens hold the balance of power in the Scottish Government which has allowed them to get some great concessions from the minority SNP government.

I want to see this continue, not have the Scottish Greens loses seats at Holyrood in 2021 because of their silly English cousins making the unilateral decision to back a neoliberal project.

8) The conversation has already been immensely demoralising, energy-sapping and time-wasting for Green Party members and local parties.

We should be focusing on winning council seats, not taking lazy decisions not to bother with parliamentary candidates.

I moderate a Facebook group that is teeming with outrage and, yes, plenty of brilliant memes!

I’d rather we were building each other up than bouncing this kind of thing around. I’d rather the memes were of funny cats!

9) Greens on ballot papers influence elections, whether we win the said elections or not.

Our good showing in the 2015 General Election provided the context for Labour to move left.

This was obviously helped by the shock of a Tory majority government and a set of Labour leadership candidates who were the dictionary definition of vapid centrism, but the preceding context was still a factor.

Green voices on local councils continue to be a key factor in civic policy formation, particularly on climate and air quality.

We must continue to fight for as many seats as we can on our limited resources to make sure we have more Greens in the room, making the case for social and environmental justice.

10) We had a “progressive alliance” in 2017 and the Green vote fell.

We may have a “remain alliance” in 2019 or 2020 and the effect will be the same. The climate emergency is far too big an issue for Greens to step away from offering our radical and viable solutions now.

Alliances and working together aren’t always bad but the alliance we really need is for Labour to join a “proportional representation alliance” to make these electoral alliances unnecessary.

That’s the focus that Greens, and the left as whole, should have right now. Renew democracy, don’t try to stitch it up.

Rob Bryher is the coordinator of Bristol Green Party and was a councillor in Bristol (2013-16). This is written in a personal capacity.

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18 Responses to “Ten reasons Greens should avoid a Remain Alliance”

  1. Barry Edwards

    I’m a Labour Party member, a retired Councillor and could very easily have written the same article as Rob, only from a Labour perspective.

    However there are precedents for taking alternative courses at specific times. There were Grand Coalitions in the times of national crisis in both World Wars. Also the Labour Party would not have achieved its break-through in the 1906 General Election without the Gladstone-MacDonald pact for Labour and the Liberals to not oppose each other in a limited number of seats.

    Combine the two and I would argue that we have a national crisis with a Prime Minister threatening to exit the EU without the support of Parliament and therefore a strictly time-limited agreement to work together to stop No Deal would be justified. This could include a one-time electoral pact if a General Election were to take place before Brexit.

  2. Jon Eccles

    Barry illustrates the reason why Labour will never join a pact. They know their own party’s history as well as anyone, and in particular the job that pacts did for them a century ago in breaking through the tactical voting barrier to replace the Liberals as the largest alternative to the Conservatives.

    They will never give the Greens (or anyone else) the chance to do the same to them. This is why not forming pacts is in their constitution.

  3. Tom Sacold

    Greens, LimpDims, etc. are all middle-class Blairites looking to to put the interests of the middle-class ahead of the workers.

  4. Eric Walker

    Sorry Rob but as a member of the Green party I strongly disagree with your first sentence. Our main purpose is not ‘to stand in elections’, our main purpose is to stop climate change.

  5. Eric Walker

    Tom Sacold obviously doesn’t know many Green Party members. I can assure him that many of us were Labour Party members who resigned from the Blairite New Labour. We don’t go back even with Jeremy Corbyn as it is still a tribal party which puts party before people’s interests. Witness Islington LP which with 47 of 48 seats on Council tried to get the one Green Party Councillor not elected.

  6. Michael Gold

    The only possible collaboration should be to change our voting system from first past the post to some form of proportional representation. There are 650 parliamentary seats in the House of Commons and 500 of them rarely change hands. I wrote an article on this before the 2015 election and little has changed since. You can read it @ http://radicalsoapbox.com/85-votes-worthless/.

  7. Julia Gibb

    I was wondering when the “Party First” article would appear. The Tom Sacold World view of modern politics. He thinks all those ex-Labour Party members who joined the SNP stopped being socialists overnight!

    Stopping a hard Brexit is first, or should be, but for others petty political positioning comes first.

    Does anyone really think that the Labour Party is the only party with socialists? From what I see they are a party with a strong number of Red Tories.

    The Two Party system is finished.

  8. Chris Millman

    Rob is right to be sceptical about Lib Dem “mood music politicking.” If they want us to play along they need to get down and dirty with some serious negotiation about who is going to do what to whom, where, and when. Lib Dems can take the shires, Greens to battle it out in the cities. No point waiting for Labour to join in, for the reasons catalogued above.

  9. Pat Baxell

    It seems to me that the most urgent need at the moment is to stop “brexit”, so I think a temporary alliance of all remain parties is essential.Normal competitiveness can be resumed afterwards

  10. Barbara Sash

    Now then, Rob, what is your suggestion how Brexit (and everything it entails) can be stopped in the next 12 weeks if not by working cross party? Assuming you want to stop the far right, anti demoratic coup which is unfolding in front of our eyes at the moment, threatening to destroy all social and environmental achievements made in the last decades and democracy itself. In your article the B word is conspicious by its absence so I am all ears…

  11. Rob Bryher

    Hi Barbara, I’m sceptical but hopeful that Brexit can be stopped in the next 12 weeks by working cross-party in Parliament. My article isn’t about stopping Brexit, it’s about whether Greens should step down for Lib Dems in a “remain alliance”.

  12. Barbara Sash

    Rob, surely the whole aim and purpose of a remain alliance is to stop Brexit (or, at the very least, a no-deal Brexit). We don’t have the time nor the luxury to indulge ourselves in the kind of ‘principles’ you mention in your article. We must stop this madness and if this means that Lib Dems step down in some seats and Greens in others in the event of an election so be it. Party politics can resume afterwards.

  13. Margaret Green

    First the LibDems must declare which winnable seats they will step down from for us (they owe us two at least) thereafter the winnable seats must be divvied out equally. This is what an alliance is about. But we must select a candidate for every seat and put all our efforts into a few winnable seats. Voters have a right to vote Green for climate and social justice. Our policies are better than the alternatives because we have no donors demanding favours. Finally our efforts must be directed at non voters, they can swing any seat if they decide their vote is important.

  14. Janet Williams

    Is this the same Rob Bryher who supported the Progressive Alliance? If so, what is the difference?

  15. Rula Law

    Rob, Thanks for initiating the discussion. I ‘m a Green election agent, since 2015 before that was a tactical Labour voter. 2015 Greens had enough votes to have had 20 MPs if it hadn’t been for FPTbloodyP. and the lazy political culture of UK. Labour have been appallingly dithery in my constituency which in theory is a 2 way marginal Con/Lab. This is a shire constituency and in the locals we did markedly better than local Libdems. Yes LIAR Johnson no-deal exit ambitions mean we are in times of national crisis. But we Greens are in a STRONG position this year and no-one should make any mistake about that. We are the coherent remain /reform party with an anti-establishment track record. So yes I like Paul Mason but he needs to get real and see that Greens could get 10 – 15 seats or more in current circumstances, we’ve been taking the fight to the brexit party when Labour hasn’t.

  16. Benedict quail

    Let’s not forget that the Green party are also about supporting people with mental health situations, supporting those with disabilities, (complex needs) supporting all health care, social and nhs as our green meps voted on, and of course young peoples needs from all situations , as well as bullet points of today eg the very important disaster of brexit and of course dawgorn it, climate change! sometimes we forget about the individual human dimension in the cliff edge of the big issue’s of the tymes.

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