Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Are We Greens too Left Wing for our own Good?
There is debate starting in the Green party about whether our pitch at this year’s general election was too left wing. An ex Green chair in a letter to the Guardian states that ‘prospective supporters were rightly horrified at the leader’s focus on leftist anti-austerity rhetoric’ and should instead have ‘appealed to wavering Tory and Liberal Democrat voters’.
Then a piece appeared in the New Statesman which quoted amongst others, Darren Hall, Green party target candidate for Bristol West, entitled ‘This left wing label is potentially unhelpful: the Greens on why they missed their moment.’ The author, Tim Wigmore, bestows the wisdom to readers that ‘successful Green parties in Europe have cultivated an unthreatening image to win favour with the urban middle-class’.
He contrasts this to the English (and Welsh) Green party leader Natalie Bennett’s emphasis on a range of policies ‘too zany to countenance’. Wigmore does seem to confuse left wing and hippy though, which is not the same thing at all – I’ve known plenty of right wing hippies in my time. He also, rather unconvincingly, dismisses the UK’s electoral system as a cause of our electoral difficulties compared to that of other countries.
I think Natalie Bennett did focus too much on some of our more peripheral polices at times, but again this is not the same thing as left wing. She should have perhaps stuck more to our policies on, building council houses, rather than people being allowed to marry more than one partner, for example. But in the main over the last few years, I think that we got across our policies pretty well.
I think it is extremely irrational to argue that a party that just got a result four times better (for votes) than ever before should somehow return to single issue environmental concerns or tack to the already overcrowded party political right. What distinguished the Greens from all of the other main parties was our left wing agenda at this election. The Lib Dems under Nick Clegg completely abandoned the left ground staked out by the previous leader Charles Kennedy, with their coalition with the Tories. Labour under Tony Blair abandoned this left ground twenty years ago. Furthermore, for the future, Labour is likely to shift back the millimetre or two to the left that Labour led by Ed Miliband managed to occupy.
The Green party has been moving to the left over recent years for a very good reason, these voters were pretty much disenfranchised by Labour’s then the Lib Dems full embrace of neo-liberal politics. What we have not been that successful at, until very recently, is getting that message across to the voters, and we still by and large have not managed to do this with working class voters.
I joined the Green party over nine years ago, and what attracted me were the leftish social policies, although I had become very concerned about man made climate change too. I was thoroughly disillusioned with new Labour and on joining the Greens found that I was not alone in my local party in this outlook. Many ex Labour members and supporters were joining, for broadly the same reasons. The left policies were always there, people just didn’t know about them, and to some extent still do not.
Membership of the Green party when I joined was around 5,000 to 6,000, now it is over 70,000 (in England and Wales). Why on earth should we revert to a narrow environmental focus, or change to more right wing policies when the problems of social and ecological justice are so profoundly linked? And change a strategy that is paying dividends?
We see in Greece and Spain that discredited economic policies pursued by nominally ‘socialist’ parties are being replaced by new parties of the left, who are popular with the voters. The problems in those countries are more acute than in the UK, but this trend is appearing here too, most notably exploited by the SNP in Scotland, but in England there is only the Greens. It’s no brainer really.