Tuesday, 13 June 2017
After the General Election – What Now for the Greens?
Apart from Green co-leader Caroline Lucas doubling her majority in Brighton Pavilion, last Thursday, the general election delivered a poor result for the Green Party. The national vote halved from 2015 and in Bristol West, where we started the campaign as favourites to win the seat, the Greens finished a distant third behind Labour. I got wind of this from local activists here in London who had visited Bristol to help out. The Labour surge swept the Greens away, in Bristol and across the country, with not even a second place finish anywhere.
We can perhaps claim that our very existence pulled Labour to the left, and so played a part in Labour’s success. One of the reasons Corbyn supporters cited for electing him leader, was to get votes back from the Greens.
For sure, by pursuing a ‘progressive alliance’ which in practice meant the Greens standing down in dozens of constituencies, in favour of Labour or the Lib Dems, our vote was bound to fall. And even where we did stand, the message either got through that we didn’t think we could win, or else people just threw their support behind Labour without giving us a thought. We did invite this with our strategy.
It is likely that even if we had stood everywhere the result would have been similar, I think, although our total would have improved a little. Something happened in the election campaign, a big shift in the mood of the electorate. All the various discontents of the voters coalesced into a surge in support for Labour. I can’t ever remember a late swing to Labour in a general election campaign before, but it happened this year.
Most Greens will be pleased that the Tories lost their majority in Parliament. I for one was jumping up and down, punching the air as the exit poll was revealed on TV at 10pm on Thursday. But now the dust has settled a little, we need to think through where we go from here. Off the top of my head, there are a couple options available.
Labour pretty much lifted their environment policies from the Greens, and may well drive this further home by appealing even more to Green voters, next time. Certainly, this is one of the recommendations from Paul Mason, economic journalist and Labour member, on how Labour should proceed. It doesn’t look as though returning to our old policy of standing everywhere in Parliamentary elections will be fruitful.
Therefore, we could continue and extend the current strategy, that is defend Brighton Pavilion and stand in less seats elsewhere, at least saving some money. It could be that a few other target seats can be identified, but logically this will involve challenging in Tory held seats, perhaps where the Lib Dems are the main challengers, but Labour nowhere. I haven’t picked through the results of Thursday’s election in any great detail, but there may be some areas where this is feasible.
This might mean that we largely give up on Parliamentary elections, and become a party that exists mainly at local and regional government level, until such a time as support is solidified enough at local level in an area, before any attempt is made to stand in Westminster elections. We can continue to press for proportional voting, but I doubt Labour or the Tories will introduce such a system for Parliament, it is in their interest to continue to back the status quo.
The only other strategy that I can think of for the Greens, is to pursue an ecosocialist approach and to outflank Labour on their left. Not full blown ecosocialism of course, that would mean tearing the down the capitalist system entirely and starting again. Much as I might like this idea, I think the public is not ready for it yet. But there is still electoral space in being radical, which in all honesty the Labour manifesto was not. It has been likened to the Social Democrat Party manifesto from 1983, which at the time was considered tame by the left.
There are obvious areas for Greens to exploit. Labour are in favour of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, which is a subject that a sizable minority of people in the UK are opposed to. Labour will not change their approach to this, whatever Corbyn’s views are. These voters will be disenfranchised if the Greens do not stand.
Labour is pretty much committed to carrying on welfare benefit cuts, with no mention in their manifesto of reversing the Tory cuts of the last seven years. Anyone with a once of compassion for their fellow citizens cannot support such cruelty. Some in Labour are toying with the idea of a Citizens Income, but it will not be in their next election manifesto.
Labour is essentially a centralising force, with big government solutions to everything and a desire for control at the centre. It is part of Labour’s tradition to be like this, and I can’t see them changing this approach. Greens can champion a real kind of localism, as opposed to the Tories bastardisation of the term, by handing back real and substantial powers to local communities. No other party offers this.
We should tax wealthy individuals and corporations more than Labour is suggesting. Their policy on raising corporation tax would leave the level still 2% lower than it was in 2010, so this is an easy hit. We should also advocate a wealth tax on the richest individuals including any property owned.
We should end the absurd notion of a monarchy and all the hangers on who go with it. We would make the country a republic, and not before time in the twentieth first century. Labour, much as some of them might like it, will not go near this type of policy.
Although, as I say, it is probably too soon to advocate full ecosocialism, we should not shy away from pinning the blame for our environmental ills where it firmly belongs, on the capitalist system, and say that we should be transitioning ourselves away from this damaging system, in the longer term.
Perhaps the dye is now cast, and there isn’t anything much we can do to improve our electoral prospects in the short term. The political wheel will no doubt turn again at some point, but we may have a very long wait indeed. Some may consider joining Labour and trying to Green them, but I don’t think I will be one of them. But whatever we do we should aim to be part of this movement for change, however we position ourselves electorally.