Exclusive: The Greens tried to form a progressive alliance with Labour. Here’s why it didn’t work out

Labour are shameless in accepting such offers of cooperation while refusing to reciprocate, Green peer Jenny Jones writes.

In 2017, the Greens stood down in 31 seats to allow Labour a free run in a make or break election. So why has this generosity disappeared – and why are the Greens talking to the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru about electoral deals, instead of the Labour Party?  

Just two years ago, there were hundreds of people around the country actively campaigning for parliamentary candidates they saw as both socialist and green.

This time though, we tried, and we are still open to trying again – but sadly we are not getting a positive response from Labour. Greens got absolutely nothing back for our sacrifice in 2017. No recognition from Labour. No promise of fair vote (PR) elections.

The impact on us was that a lot of Green activists put their efforts into stopping a Conservative win and the Green Party vote went down as a result. 

Labour members had been threatened with expulsion for supporting the Greens on social media – and the Labour leadership ignored all those activists who wanted to see reds and greens working more closely together. The goodwill felt towards Labour within the Green Party has suffered, because it was clear that Labour were as tribal as ever, even when we Greens are trying to stop yet another Tory government.

Moving closer

At the same time, when it comes to policy Labour and the Greens have moved closer over the last few years. The 2017 Labour manifesto adopted whole chunks of Green Party policies – hurray! The recent Labour conference decision to go for zero emissions by 2030 is a breakthrough moment, although the detailed plans for achieving this fall far short of what is needed.

There are also positive signs of co-operation bringing success. When Green Party councillors started the ball rolling at local authority level by declaring a climate emergency, the other parties often responded positively (though not all Labour councils were initially keen).

Caroline Lucas MP and I brought up declaring a climate emergency in both Houses of Parliament – and it got pushed through when Corbyn backed the idea. We have also beaten the frackers with Labour/SNP opposition to the industry, combined with leading Greens risking arrest to stand (or sit) alongside local campaigners. Extinction Rebellion has raised public awareness across the political spectrum, while MPs like Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Clive Lewis MP have joined together in promoting the Green New Deal via a Bill to Parliament.  

Greens are good at co-operating with others because we recognise that it is the best way of getting things done. When Ken Livingstone made me his Deputy Mayor and then his green transport advisor, I was happy to be working alongside a Labour Mayor to make London a pioneering City that promoted congestion charging, the low emission zone and traffic reduction. Of course, none of it went far enough, and the next steps were cut short by the arrival of Boris Johnson as Mayor, but I could imagine a similar red/green government at national level.  

Fair representation now

However, this positive experience in London required a proportional system of London elections, which has enabled Greens to be elected to the London Assembly for the last two decades.

In 2017, Labour had the chance to learn lessons about working with others and to help modernise our democracy, but instead it has become isolated as the only social democratic party in Europe to support First Past the Post. It remains wedded to an outdated two-party system that is no longer fit for purpose – and could allow a divisive, right-wing Conservative government to be elected on a minority of the vote share.

The current leftwing refrain of the Greens splitting the vote is only true because it is a First Past the Post electoral system that the Labour Party supports for general elections. If Labour supported PR when in government, more Greens would get elected and we would naturally develop a more European culture of cooperative politics.

Over the last decade, Greens have been part of national governments in numerous countries – and we would have had Green Party Ministers in this country as well if it wasn’t for our unfair way of counting the votes.

Free run

There are seats where local Greens have stepped aside to allow other parties a free run, and in some seats like the Isle of Wight, the Lib Dems have returned the favour. But Labour are shameless in accepting such offers of cooperation while refusing to reciprocate.

Greens in Calder Valley have stood aside in this election. They have every right to be generous – but I hope they have judged the situation carefully. Personally, I couldn’t ask anyone to support any of the 119 Labour MPs who voted last year to expand Heathrow airport, the single most polluting project in the country.

This is a Climate Election and preventing the death, barbarism and suffering that will come with the collapse of civilisation, through environmental degradation, is my number one priority.

We desperately need more Green voices in Parliament to ensure that the climate emergency is kept at the front of everyone’s minds, so that the Labour Party and others don’t keep supporting road building, fossil fuel subsidies, incinerators and airport expansion.

Greens will put forward all the positive solutions that will enable us to live happier lives that work with nature, not against it.

Baroness Jenny Jones is a Green Party peer.

29 Responses to “Exclusive: The Greens tried to form a progressive alliance with Labour. Here’s why it didn’t work out”

  1. Tom Sacold

    The Greens and the Limp Dims are NOT socialists. They represent middle-class snobs who consider ordinary working-class people as a problem to be managed.

    Real socialism can only come from a real socialist Labour Party. We now in the process of creating that socialist Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. At last the party is moving away from the control of the pink-Tory Blairites who dominated it for so long.

  2. Mary MacCallum Sullivan

    What does it matter who is or is not a ‘real’ socialist? The goal is to rise to the immediate challenge to wipe out the Tories so that we can – all of us – get on with the urgent and massive task of addressing the climate emergency, which in itself offers the ‘revolutionary’ moment all you real socialists have been waiting for all your lives and more…..
    Battle discipline, please, focus on the prize…..

  3. Anthony Sperryn

    Bear in mind that there are still some in the Labour Party who don’t want Corbyn to win. It is taking time to sort that matter out, and the loyal members don’t want policies diluted or complications from an alliance. Of course, there is scope for informal alliances to get rid of various Tories.

  4. Sebastian Bellinger

    As a Labour member and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, I would love to see a closer alignment between Labour and the Greens. There are many seats in the Home Counties and West Country where the Labour candidate will never win. Therefore, I would like to see more cooperation with the Greens. I would never support such a relationship with the Liberals considering how they propped up the Tories in 2010. I’d even go as far as proposing the Greens and Labour run on a single ticket like the Co-Op party does with Labour.

  5. Josh Zatz

    I am a long-standing Green voter who would never have voted Labour under Blair etc, but will consider voting for a truly radical Labour Party. I would welcome a deal between Labour and the Greens, if not at national level then at least an agreement to allow local co-operation. I find the comments about ‘real socialism’ a bit laughable. The Greens have been more radical than Labour for decades and, right now, socialism without an ecological perspective is a dead duck (and always should have been, anyway – many important socialist thinkers have understood that exploitation of people and nature go hand in hand under capitalism, feudalism and imperialism). Labour could win my vote – and I’m sure many others – by making a deal like this, and maybe, just maybe, we could get a truly radical transformative government for the first time in my life. That would be nice.

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