Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Should the Green Party Enter a Pact with Labour?

Recently on this blog Mike Shaughnessy outlined the reasons why the Green Party should not enter a coalition with Labour. He set out the disadvantages this would entail and I agree with him.

But I want to argue that we should consider a looser agreement with Labour. I propose a two-part agreement: first, an electoral pact; secondly a confidence and supply arrangement if Labour becomes the largest party in the House of Commons.

Labour is currently polling around 32-34 percent. It’s possible that they could form a government with this level of support. In 2005 they “won” the election with 35%. In 2015 they have UKIP snapping at their heels. If their support doesn’t harden soon we face the prospect of another 5 years of Tory government. This time made even more virulent by the addition of UKIP MPs. It looks as if Labour will lose a significant number of Scottish seats to the SNP.

Does this matter? Some in the Green Party believe that there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. I agree that both are neoliberal parties that share many policies. But it’s now clear that Cameron and Osborne want to bring about a permanent shift in economic and political power in the UK. Emboldened by another term of office they would cut public spending so deeply that we would end up like the USA: low taxes for the rich, no services for the poor and ever deepening inequality. And the Right is never satisfied: even now Republicans continue to argue for more tax cuts and more foreign war.

We should not forget the bad things Labour did. Iraq, PFI, Trident. But we should also remember that they also did some good things. The minimum wage, Sure Start, the Human Rights Act, devolution to Wales and Scotland. They are not the same as the Tories.

What about the Greens? It’s difficult to gauge our precise level of support because polling organisations differ so much. This weekend Comres reported our support at just 2% whilst YouGov was giving us 7%. Either way, barring a miracle (and I don’t believe in miracles) we can’t realistically expect to win more than 3 seats in 2015. It’s possible that we will get none.

What I propose is a pact with Labour in England only. There are 533 English constituencies. In a proportional system, assuming a Green vote of 5%, we would get about 26 seats. So, we ask Labour to stand aside in our 26 strongest constituencies. In return we stand aside in the other 507.

Such a pact could result in far more Green MPs than we could otherwise hope to gain. Two dozen Green MPs would give us a voice in Parliament that we might otherwise not get for a generation.

There are reasons why the voting public may be attracted to the pact: Labour is perceived as being barren of new ideas while the Greens have a wealth of transformative policies. Yet we are still perceived by the public as a wasted vote.

Would Labour go for it? I don’t know. In the past they have always refused to share power. But they can’t be happy at the prospect of another five years of opposition, their electoral support ebbing away. Labour are clearly concerned about support slipping away to the Green Party: they have set up a team to attack us already. They might even welcome the transfusion of fresh thinking.

There may be many constituencies where a Green vote of say 7% will take enough votes from Labour to allow the Conservatives to get elected. That doesn’t help anyone except the Tories.

The second part of the deal is the confidence and supply agreement. Green MPs would agree to support Labour in confidence votes and in votes involving expenditure. This is the usual confidence and supply arrangement. We would also have a shopping list of issues we want to enact: a PR electoral system might be top of this list.

This is not a coalition. I do not propose that Green MPs should accept any government posts at all.

When I floated this idea on the Green Left Facebook page last week some Greens were appalled and even threatened to leave the party. They believe that Greens should not betray their principles by supporting a neoliberal party. They believe that it is better to wait and carry on campaigning. This is a respectable and principled standpoint. But, given the alternative of another Tory government we need to remind ourselves that not every compromise is a sell-out.

Voting for Labour would stick in the throat of many Greens. It would stick in my throat. But it might be made palatable with the thought that in two dozen constituencies many Labour supporters would be voting Green. And it’s worth remembering that under an STV system many Green voters would likely end up casting a vote for Labour. Can we really explain to the future victims of Toryism that we had the power to stop the destruction but we failed to act in order to preserve our principles? 

Guest Blog by Chris Foren who is a member of Leeds Green Party. The views expressed here are his own.


  1. Labour's failures cannot be blamed on the GP.
    Why we should be wary of the consequences of this suggestion? A Confidence and Supply arrangement with Labour would make a lot of members leave the GP faster than a bullet and consequently many LPs would go into the last stages of the election campaign 2015 hit by mass defection. Many PPCs would pull out and many activists that are involved in anti-austerity movement do the same. The consequences would be disastrous.

    If there ever was a ploy equivalent to the Tories' mortal embrace of the LibDem this, surely must be judged pretty close, but unfortunately for the proposer pretty unrealistic to most GP members and voters.
    The suggestion that it would be a good move for the GP is beyond my comprehension because it is proven that it didn't not work in many examples,short term Ireland, medium term in Italy, long term Germany, etc..
    It is based on the assumption that voters can be swapped in blocks by some committees resolution, that they blindly follow electioneering gains, that policies do not matter, that there is a commonground with Labour, that Ed's New Labour is better than the Tories and that the future for the GP is to become a left wing party inside Labour. (a Green Militant think-tank was suggested few months ago)

    The opposite is true infact. Labour and the tories will perform poorly at the next elections, their memebrs will either vote for us (the honests) or vote Ukip (the imbeciles) because they are neoliberal parties imposing unnecessary cuts to the vast majority of the population for the benefit of a minority. They are uncaring and detached.

    If the tories win, and this is by no fault of the GP, Labour will definitively split from the unionised labour movement and will accelerate its transformation from New Labour to a Democratic Party, USA type. Its metamorphosis into a neo-conservative party will be completed more rapidly than intended and because of this it will lose more of its traditional left-core voters without the time to transform them.

    The TUC will have to make very difficult decisions as more unions will affiliate to us.
    Labour will we see many voters and members' migrate into the GPEW. We could be the real winner because Ed's plan is failing but not in 2015 unfortunately.

    This is the only likely sequence of a Labour loss and maybe we got to ask C.F. where is the political wisdom of arguing for a Confidence and Supply arrangement with Labour when it is clearly a pact with the devil.

    All we got to do is stick to our radical policies, do not take the blame for Labour failures and make a big anti-austerity front inside the movement with anti-austerity people. Labour's future has been sold off by their leaders long ago and their members must share that responsibility too. Their failure is not caused or is preventable by what we do. To all Labour voters: time to jump ship! Join the Green Party.

    Livio Pavone

  2. 1. What evidence do you have that this would cause mass defections?
    2. You seem to be confusing my proposal of an electoral pact with a coalition. The Irish GP entered a coalition and were part of the government.
    3. I don’t assume anything about swapping voters. They can choose to vote Green/Labour or not. I certainly don’t believe that “policies don’t matter”. Yes – I do think Labour is better than the tories. There is no suggestion that the future of the GP is to become a left wing party inside Labour.
    4. Labour and Tories may perform badly at the next elections. They will nevertheless get 10 times more votes and a hundred times more seats than the Green Party. I reiterate: our best realistic outcome is 3 seats. I don’t like that at all but I do believe it.
    5. Many of your predictions may be correct. Or not. In 2009 I thought that we would do well in the European elections because of the Parliamentary expenses scandal. Many people on the doorstep told me they were fed up with the 3 old parties. They still won. It’s dangerous to underestimate how long it takes them to die.
    6. A pact with the devil? There are many political devils. In comparison with UKIP Labour is a minor demon. They really are not all the same.

  3. Apologies if I don't answer point by point.
    The pact that would be IMO seen as disastrous: the GP would agree to support a minority Labour government in votes of no confidence ("confidence") and on any Budget measure, "emergency Budget" and the Spending Review (or "supply").
    It is about propping a government without any own ministers.

    This would raise the question of the futility of this pact when there are such difference in policies, unless there are noble reasons behind this and two that springs to mind are to reduce the effects of Labour cuts and soften the impacts of Austerity, the probability of which are very close to a fat zero in the mind of any politically aware member.

    Referring to people that see this as a good thing for the GP, it is a wee pretentious to think that 3(?) Green MPs would make any difference against a possible 300 Labour MPs. The only result they would achieve is negative publicity because they would vote with the Tories when it comes to disagree with Labour.
    Why not entering a coalition instead? People would ask.

    In the case of a hung parliament would Labour or the Tories consult first with the LibDem, UKIP, Democratic Unionist, Scottish Nationals, Sinn Fein, Independent, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic & Labour Party , UK Independence Party and then us? Very likely.

    The mathematics that suggests that Labour would need a pact with the GP is also based on soft ground. Why should Labour ask for our support? They don’t infact, we are so bold and secure of winning at least twelve MPs (if this plan comes succeeds) that we offer our support to Labour!!!!! and not just before the elections when we should know pretty much how much out our predictions were but ....six months before the elections???

    So why showing our cards so early? The reasons are obvious. Somehow we should convince Labour to ask their voters to vote GP in twelve constituencies...In exchange we do the same in a multitude of constituencies all around the country, the marginals ones around 100... Obviously this take into account that fact that GP members would not feel to be betrayed and would go along with that...

    Now you asked if I have evidence that we would lose a lot of members. Obviously the FB interchange you no proof for that, but can you explain why dissatisfied voters, young students fed up with cuts, with Uni fees, with no prospect of a decent job, workers, part-timers or on zero hours, anti-nuclear activists, occupiers, eco-friendly, small green businesses minded, unemployed, low earner pensioners, would react?

    One other reason for not going trough with this is to join somehow with a party which made a special appointed team to get rid of Caroline....These are all reasons why it is not a good idea IMO. With regard to the differences between the two parties I noticed that you mention only the most populist. But this for another time.

    Livio Pavone