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.

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27 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.

  6. Jen

    Which candidates do the Greens expect Labour to stand down to allow a Green candidate to win?
    I speak as someone who voted Green when Blair was in power.

  7. Liam Tully

    In reply to Tom Sacold. Do you think the PLP is full of real socialists and working class people. Please tell me who they are? I know there are some but not many.Too often nice middle class people like Chukka Umuna were put in place because they ticked the right boxes only later to say “I never really felt comfortable in the Labour party.” And if he had stood for the leadership he could quite possibly have won. I don’t think I have ever met a solicitor who I could call a socialist – I am sure there must be some.

    How many millionaires are there in the Labour party who you would call a socialist – surely not Dame Janet Hodge or Stephen Kinnock and his parents.

    Even the likes of Andrew Johnson and Prescott sold out once they got a taste for power.

    The biggest problem is too many MP’s become careerists. I would restrict all Labour MP’s to three terms of office before they have to step down, then take one term out and then they could apply for another three terms.

    I support Corbyn but would prefer McDonnell and will campaign for the party. But what is the alternative – the evil Tories with their fake news and misinformation or their lackies the Lib Dems. There is only one choice though I think it will be a hung parliament so what chaos will that cause!

  8. Eric Walker

    As so often happens, Tom Saccold is talking through his hat. I was a member of the Labour Party for many years and left in disgust over Blair and Brown’s PFI initiatives. There are many like me in the Green Party. So why didn’t we go back to Labour when Jeremy was elected leader? A few did. I was tempted but I decided to wait to see what happened. Now although I agree with 90% maybe 100% of Jeremy’s programme, I still see him being tribal. There seems to be an arrogance at the top levels of the Labour and Trade Union movement coupled with a wilful disregard of the demographic. We have never had a Labour government with a decent majority ( excepting the 1945 election) unless it had about 50 M.P.s from Scotland. That is unlikely to happen again. In Ipswich we have a fine M.P. in Sandy Martin. Ipswich is a marginal seat. Should the Green party put up a candidate and risk Sandy losing his seat? Sandy, during the many years that I have known him has always been a strong supporter of green issues. But he is adamant that the Labour party has the sole right to be opposed to the Tories. So what happens with the head in the sand attitude? When Labour get in they improve welfare services etc. Then along come the Tories and demolish it again. At a local level we recently had an example of the fruits of co-operation and not competition. Woodbridge Suffolk Town Council has from time immemorial been Tory. Before last May 11 Tory, 4 LibDems. No others. After, with co-operation between the anti-tories = 4 Tory, 4 Libdems, 4 Greens, 3 Labour. The old peace song went “When will they ever learn ? when will they ever learn? Can the same be said of the Labour Party?

  9. Jen

    The same cannot be said about EU elections, though, which are done on a partial PR system.
    In the north east we had 2 Labour and one Ukip.
    This year’s election we ended up with 1 Labour and 2 Brexit.

  10. Yann Maenden

    The Labour Party have assumed an aura of ‘entitlement’.
    They’ve got just as bad as the Tories.

    They love the two horse race at Westminster because you don’t need policies, it becomes ‘if you don’t vote for us then you get them’.

    In pursuit of this fantasy they expect other parties to co-operate in keeping the Tories out by standing aside for them, while they, in their arrogance, feel no need to reciprocate.

    While Labour will always retain its tribal vote, the thinking public, the floating voters who really make the difference at election time, are fed up to the back teeth of grown adults screaming childish abuse at each other across the Chamber of the Commons.

    They are fed up of politicians putting party before the people and their own personal gain before the needs of the public.

    Socialism is about putting the needs of the country first. It means good will and compromise. It means co-operating to defend the citizens against common enemies and the capitalists.

    It is absolutely not about having a little temper tantrum and walking away from a socialist pact because people won’t let you be PM.

  11. Stephen Richards

    Serious questions should be asked about any Political Party that would sacrifice representing its membership & beliefs & jump into bed with Nationalists. I voted ‘Leave’ & have spent most of my 70 year life actively campaigning to protect the environment. The Green Party have another agenda……..extending privilege for the bourgeoisie.

  12. Steve Hill

    Labour are denying themselves at least 30 seats by not entertaining a “remain alliance”, though admittedly this also requires them to radically alter their nonsensical position on Brexit.

    I’ve just seen a poll carried out in Dominic Raab’s constituency, Esher and Walton. Tories 45%, LibDems 36%, Labour 11%. It’s not hard to see who will *not* win, is it? So why not stand aside and decapitate Raab? There are scores of seats like this.

    Labour intransigence is simply going to deliver an overall majority to the Tories and, therefore, a terribly destructive Brexit. Corbyn will be off to his allotment on 13 December, but he will never be forgiven.

  13. Ron Meldrum

    tom sacold. Please show me these so called middle class snobs in the green party

  14. George Miles

    Methinks Labour are gambling that they can exploit the unfair first past the post electoral system and get a majority at Westminster with a minority in parliament. As are the Conservatives. If only we had a fairer voting system we wouldnt have to make such backroom deals and vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the worst option, but could vote in order of our preferences.

  15. Kit Welchman

    Labour have taken ideas from Greens, but the Party now have the best and (apart from Greens perhaps, I haven’t seen theirs) practical, costed and programmed policies that can achieve benefits to equality, health and economy, sustainability and global leadership, while at the same time stemming the slide to catastrophe. To work with Greens and other parties cross-party on climate action will be essential after the election whatever happens, so I think its worth cooperating generously and flexibly where possible in the election.

  16. John Tilley

    I am now 67 years old and all my life ( much of which has been devoted to politics – the politics of an ordinary party member and activist not somebody famous, not somebody im Parliament or getting a salary for ‘doing politics, not someone with a University degree ) …
    all my life I have been old by people like Tom Sacold that my opinions and my contribution to my community should be despised.
    I am written off by Tom Sacold as a “snob” as “middle-class” and “not a proper socialist”
    I plead guilty to the last of those three – I am not any kind of socialist.
    But I am guessing that I probably tick more boxes in the definition of working class than anything Mr Sacold can manage.
    Mr Sacold (if that is his real name – if he is indeed a real person and not one of those internet trolls whose idea of politics is to insult people he has never met and is unlikely to meet.) if he is a ‘Proper Socialist’ has just reminded me why Socialists amd the Holier than thou, Leftier than thou Brigade in The Labour Party are auch a bunch of losers.
    No wonder the Bloody Tories win so many elections !
    With friends like Tom Sacold and his Exclusive Brethren approach to politics The Labour Party will just carry on being losers or it will just turn up toes and die.
    After a hundred and something years of failing to transform society – what exactly is the point of The Labour Party ?
    If Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister with a Labour Party majority he would go off to Buckingham Palace, kiss the Queen’s hands, bow amd scrape, watch her “open Parliament” in her gold coach and nothing will really change – will it?
    Just like nothing really changed much with any Labour majority government in my lifetime.
    FPTP elections will carry on, Trident will carry on (because Jeremy wants to employ submarine makers), world poverty will carry on because ‘Corbynism in one country’ is what The Labour Party wants and the rest of the world’s population can go hang, and Brexit will carry on because Jeremy wants a Labour Brexit, and The Climate Emergency will not be dealt with because Jeremy wants to reopen the coal mines and continxue with muclear dinosaurs like Hinkley Point etc etc etc

  17. steve

    Not seeing how the LibDems net zero emissions by 2045 target can be reconciled to the Green position.

    The Greens should stick to their principles instead of surrendering all credibility by doing a deal with Tory-supporting, LibDems.

  18. LaborShouldLoveGreens

    Corbyn’s a great guy, and has pulled the Labor party away from its rightward drift in the Tony Blair years, but he needs to show some love to the Greens. I get that he’s trying to rebrand and rebuild Labor, and is fighting massive levels of internal fighting from the Blair wing of the party, and is trying to build Labor into something big which can stand and compete on its own two feet….but alliances – especially class alliances – are crucial for a labor movement. Okay, Corbyn doesn’t want to step aside and let Greens gobble up votes, and doesn’t want to name drop them for similar reasons. Understandable. But I hope behind closed doors he is dropping them some love and support. And I hope in the future they can build alliances which meaningfully assist and empower the Greens. They are a brother party.

  19. Michael

    My experience in the last election was of quite the reverse, where Greens were actively hostile towards Labour when I really wanted our energies to be focussed on our common enemies and goals. A direct appeal to Caroline Lucas was met with some positive acknowledgement but I had Green campaingers actively lying to me about Labour on my doorstep. I am a Labour supporter who votes Green in my area, but I will not do so this election as a direct result of this behaviour.

  20. John Milne

    That is a shocking comment from Tom Sacold. Many of us had hoped that such name-calling would not be a feature of this election. Forlorn hope I know.

  21. Al Wiliams

    It’s tragic that the Green Party champion a ‘climate emergency’ declaration and yet fail to understand how it’s the fuel for EcoFascism. A Parliamentary ‘Climate Emergency’ declaration is meaningless without being backed by a legal framework. The statement as declared doesn’t prove much does it? What have the Tories done to actually take it seriously? So, you wonder, why did it pass so easily. Well, it allows any government potent powers to address the climate crisis. If Johnson wins the election and him or his successor decides to declare what a ‘climate emergency’ means, they can now define what they want without the requisite oversight. Why have you all ignored this? Many of us have been pointing this to Green Party politicians and Extinction Rebels for over 12 months now. We have all been INGORED. Shame on you. You’re reckless ignorance could well be costly if Labour lose the election. I doubt the Greens will return more than 1 MP now. 2 years ago we were all disappointed with the Green showing, whilst being impressed with what Corbyn had achieved despite the media being out to get him. Now the Greens are against him too. This is the real tragedy.

    This is just one reason why the Greens look very out of touch. Their support for Extinction ‘Rebellion’ and it’s fetishisation of arrests and imprisonment is another huge blunder. Until recently |I had a lot of repsect for Jon Bartley. I chatted to him at a Stansted15 action and he came across as knowledgeable on both the politics and activism. However, fast forward to his recent arrest with incoherent Guardian journalist George Monbiot and it seems he they were both just getting arrested for the ‘kudos’ they thought it would bring them. Monbiot stated he would get arrested in that days Guardian column. I’e never seen a more pathetic stage managed attempt at virtue signaling from the pair of them/ Won’t be voting Green Party again. Please take a good look at Rupert Read and his racist agenda too – it’s clearly at odds with the Green leaders position on borders and the hostile environment. Until you can address these issues, I just can’t take you seriously at all. I shall either vote Labour or Plaid Cymru.

  22. Derek Chandler

    To say that the Greens are not socialist is disingenuous. Remember that the Green Party were the left-wing national party with good support when Labour had become a right-wing party under Blair and Brown. Many of the current Labour policies – the 4-day week, the Green New Deal, becoming CO2 neutral by 2030 – are all Green Party policies, and have been for many years, before Corbyn started taking control. The Greens may not be as socialist as believing that all property is theft, as some do, but they do believe in nationalisation because that makes systems cheaper, more organised and efficient, plus it makes it much easier to reduce energy consumption and provide free transport to help tackle the climate crisis. The Greens also believe in proper benefits reforms, replacing the current piecewise benefit systems of tax credits, unemployment and disability allowances, housing benefits and universal credit, with a proper integrated system based on a Universal Basic Income given to all regardless of means, paid for by replacing some benefits, cutting some tax reliefs, efficiency savings and increased taxation on the richest incomes and wealth, which will eliminate poverty and insecure precarious work, and free people to study, bring up children and care for others, start new businesses and take lower-paid work, or dip in and out of employment without fear that benefits will lost. Of course this would only be possible with caps on rents (unlike the Tory’s backward illogical cap on benefits without rent controls!) and regulating the housing market. Is this socialist enough for you? The worst thing is that most people don’t know the Green Party’s socialist policies because the media and the First-Past-the-Post electoral system exclude them. Which is why Labour should support Proportional Representation: they’ve stolen many of the Green Party’s policies, so why won’t they take this one?

  23. Eric Walker

    I wonder is Tom Saccold, or the person who writes using that name, really a Labour Party member? I doubt it very much.

  24. Ben

    I feel very strongly that Labour should accept a deal whereby the Greens stand down in Stroud in exchange for Labour standing down in the Isle of Wight. Greens largest vote share outside of Brighton Pavilion was IoW in 2017; Stroud is a knife-edge marginal between Labour and the Tories where there is a very real danger of Greens splitting the vote and letting the Tories in by the back door.

    Labour no doubt argue the exchange is unreasonable as Labour were second in IoW and Greens got less than 1000 votes in Stroud at the last election. This argument misses important considerations. The Greens would conceivably be a more acceptable left-wing party than Labour in IoW – given the Remain Alliance has put Lib Dems out of the picture, the Greens have a good chance of being able to put together a coalition that includes not only left-wing voters, but environmentally-minded and remainer Conservative voters as well. Labour, meanwhile, does not have a plausible path to building on its 2017 vote share.

    In Stroud, Greens would be making a huge sacrifice by standing down Molly Scott Cato, who would be an outstanding MP. It is understandable that Greens regard her as having a credible chance of winning the seat given her wealth of experience and Labour’s decline in popularity since the last election. But Greens need to accept that it is still very much a long shot.

    Labour, for their part, might regard the Greens as bloody-minded for trying to leverage a seat they have no chance of winning, one that is only significant because the two major parties are so close. But that’s politics: to expect the Greens to stand down for nothing in return is to fail to treat them as a serious political force. And apart from anything else, it is in Labour’s interest to treat the Greens with respect. Showing a willingness to make a deal with the Greens will go a long way toward convincing environmentally-minded voters in marginals up and down the country that Labour can be trusted on this issue – voters who might otherwise vote Green, or who might simply stay at home.

    And if Labour really are serious about a Green New Deal, then the risk to them of a Green victory on the IoW is minimal: the Green Party can be expected to vote with Corbyn’s Labour on most issues, as long as Labour can be trusted to make good on their promises with respect to climate change.

  25. Jimmy W

    Labour socialism and Green socialism are like chalk and cheese. If people don’t recognise the difference they should read more about permaculture.

  26. Freda Earl

    The great weakness of the labour and Tory parties is that they are based on hatred of anyone who disagrees with them. I know I was brought up a Tory and was taught the labour leaders and members were so intrinsically evil that even their breathing polluted the air. I grew up but they are still the same. The great Weakness of the Greens is that too many of their ex-labour members brought their hatred with them and cossetted it “Funny” expresseions like “Limp Dims” and all the rest stop people from co-operating at a time when they say that all that matters is Brexit. They say they will do anything to stop Brexit – except put their hatreds to sleep for a few weeks. And that means that we are all doomed to Boris’s hard Brexit or no deal. And if these idiots think they will ever be forgiven for letting that happen for such short term trivial reasons – then they don’t know what REAL hatred looks like

  27. Peter Lihou

    We should not personalise this, we Greens will support Labour for three reasons:
    1. They offer a People’s Vote on Brexit with a Remain option
    2. To rid us of the Tories
    3. Because we have insufficient prospects to govern ourselves so we should help the best alternative
    We don’t expect Labour to reciprocate but if they don’t they will find when reason 1 disappears, so will our support. We should be friends, our policies are close but if Labour doesn’t want that, we’re big enough to work as like-minded colleagues.

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