Thursday 28 September 2017

Is the Green Party Struggling to Find a Role on the New Political Landscape?

As news comes today of another high profile Green Party member defecting to Labour, the question arises of what role there is for the Greens in the UK’s new look political arena. Writing at Labour List, Josiah Mortimer, the newly installed editor of the Left Foot Forward website explains his decision to leave the Greens and join Labour:

...a realisation that the Greens will, sadly, be a one-MP party for many years. Coming third in Bristol – and failing to achieve second place anywhere else – was a hammer blow when many expected Molly Scott Cato to win. Caroline Lucas is an incredible and inspiring MP. But the Greens are at risk of remaining The Brighton Party. It is through no great fault of their own, but it is a reality nonetheless.  

Although he goes to concede that in Labour:

Green voices are needed within the (Labour) party to put the case for environmental and social justice as being as being two sides of the same coin. The party has made great strides in realising this.

He concludes by saying:

our movement is nothing if not red and green. Thankfully, both exist and thrive within both parties.

Perhaps Josiah knows more about the Green-ness going on in the Labour Party than I do, and to be sure their environmental policies have taken a turn for the better since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party. I do hope it has moved on from being led by SERA though, the Labour Party environmental grouping. SERA is a typical environmentalist outfit, which aims to deal with ‘environmental problems’ as an externality, despite some of the rhetoric on its website. A shopping list of actions to be taken, rather than a coherent joined up philosophy.

Which brings us to ecosocialism, which does have a joined up ecological and socialist ideology. Josiah is an ecosocialist and until today was a Green Left supporter, and I know of other ecosocialists who have defected to Corbyn’s led Labour Party. Josiah seems to think he can further his agenda in the Labour Party more than in the Green Party. Maybe he is right.

And this is the thing at the moment for many Greens, ecosocialist or otherwise. How can we individually best pursue our beliefs and interests? For the Green Party as a whole, what is its role to be now that British politics, on the left especially, has been transformed by the Corbyn effect? Much soul searching, but not a lot in the way of conclusions are forthcoming though.

After this year’s election, I wrote a piece for Left Foot Forward entitled ‘Is it time for the Green Party to affiliate to Labour?’ The Green groups on Facebook were ablaze with condemnation of my post, although no one came up with anything different, than just plodding on in the same fashion as we have been. Other than some on the right of the Green Party, saying we should drop our leftish social policies, and concentrate on deep green issues.

It would be a mistake to withdraw into a ‘fundi’ or ‘lifestyle’ position in my view, as it is very much a minority position amongst the public at large. So, the best suggestion has been to do nothing different, and wait for the political wheel to turn again. It could be a very long wait indeed though.

Writing in Red Pepper, the Green Party’s Derek Wall, points out that the Green surge of 2015 and the Corbyn induced Labour surge, are part of the same movement for change, and so the Greens have influenced Labour, and may continue to do so. But without the electoral threat to Labour that the Greens did pose, it is a debatable issue whether there is much more mileage in that direction.

For sure there are policy differences between the Greens and Labour, chiefly over nuclear power and weapons and Brexit, but there is also a cultural difference in the way each party operates. Labour is fond of internal party control freakery, as was demonstrated at its conference this week, the Greens not so much.

One thing that is undeniable is that the landscape of British politics has changed completely, and we look to be back to two party politics, in England at least. Maybe even Scotland will follow, although the Scottish electoral systems do allow for proportional representation, so things are a little different there. In general though, can we afford to just stand still?


  1. And added to Jeremy Corbyn advocating sustainable growth.... at Labour Party conference final conference speech turns me off and is nonsense to a credible planetary alternative. Plus even a Britain first policy.... with a silent response, may have been bits I agreed with and coherent in a Green Left direction.

  2. I agree with Mike's comments as I am not entirely convinced there is enough momentum in Momentum, or elsewhere in the Labour party and labour movement to give the issues of climate change, and the more general environmental crisis, the priority it deserves, yet. As the recent TUC motion shows great strides are being made in this diection. However there is also a danger of a Green Party shift towards concentrating soley on environmentalism and the party becoming , in effect, green lib-dems.

  3. I think it is easy to get caught up in a little bubble and mistake this for the wider world. This article is prompted by the switch of an allegedly "high profile Green Party member" to the Labour Party. But I had never heard of him until now and I think hanging a whole article on the actions of one possibly rather self-important individual is a very fragile thread to rely on.

    It's clear to me that the Green Party remains a very different kettle of fish from the Labour Party and we need to carry on with what we're doing and not get wobbled by the tail wind of the Labour juggernaut as it barrels past on a journey to who knows where. Not where we're headed anyway.

  4. Josiah was very well know in the young greens. Where are the Greens heading?

  5. Lets try to avoid the temptation to attack or compete with Labour - we need to work electorally on the most local of levels - with pacts and co-operation where possible - and nationaly keep articulating Green ideas and formulating sensible policy that a socialist Labour Party can pick up and run with.

  6. Mike, The real shift is that the political centre has collapsed. Now as for the social democracy of Corbyn much of that was borrowed from the Greens 2015 manifesto. Labour has one big advantage over the greens and that is history and culture.

    I would advise the Greens to hold their nerve and abandon the PA idea. In my local area we are at war with the Local Labour party over their local plan that involves flogging off the greenbelt.

    What has changed electorally is that the conservative/ukip majority is gone. Everything is up in the air.