Tuesday 29 October 2019

The UK General Election is a Crucial Crossroads for Greens

Written by Allan Todd

“So, let’s draw out the connections between the gig economy, which treats human beings like a raw material from which to extract wealth and then discard, and the dig economy, in which the extractive companies treat the earth with the very same disdain.”

Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case For A Green New Deal (2019)

“May you live in interesting times!” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. Whatever its origins, it makes the point that the ‘uninteresting’ periods in History are the safest ones to live through: those with no wars, no famines, no economic crises, and no destructive natural disasters.

With that in mind, it's painfully clear that we’re certainly living in ‘interesting’ times! At present, the 99% are victims of an increasingly harsh, exploitative and destructive neoliberalism - or what Naomi Klein describes as a ‘gig and dig economy’.

One other thing that is also increasingly clear is that the next general election - whether it comes before or after Christmas - will be the most crucial one we’ve had for more than a generation: crucial for the UK as a whole, and crucial, too, for the Green Party. It will also be crucial for me.

For the UK

“Austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits - it is bad economics. It is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

Prof. L. King, Cambridge University, 2017.

What is beyond doubt is that, since Johnson became prime minister, we are facing a neoliberal Tory government even more vicious than the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. One of the most disturbing factors is that, prior to becoming PM, Johnson had several meetings with Bannon, one of Trump’s erstwhile advisers. Just like, after becoming Leader of the Tories in 1975, Thatcher and her team held many meetings, in the years running up to 1979, with ‘New Right’ ideologues from the USA.

Thus Johnson wasted no time in appointing a hard-right cabal as the core of his government. Johnson, and the likes of Rees-Mogg and Gove, have been calling for years for the destruction of all that EU ‘red tape’ that binds the free market with workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental protections. Which is precisely why those rights and protections have been taken out of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and, instead, placed in the non-binding Political Statement:

The Tory hard-right cabal

As well as wanting a hard Brexit in general terms, it is now clear that our NHS will be on the table in any post-Brexit trade talks with the US. In addition, Johnson’s government will almost certainly continue supporting the dirty energy companies - including those wanting to roll out fracking across the country. There have already been indications that the ‘traffic lights’ controls on earth tremors will be relaxed once Brexit is out of the way. Thus in no way will Johnson’s government be taking any serious steps to counter the growing Climate Crisis:

The reality of current ‘reductions’ in carbon emissions

On top of all that, Johnson is most unlikely to take steps either to reverse the vicious austerity that has, since 2010, been imposed on the 99% by the Tories - and the LibDems - or the accompanying massive tax cuts for the 1%. Nor will he be closing off the various tax loopholes that enable the wealthy to avoid paying even the small amount of tax for which they are, technically, liable.

As shown by an academic study - carried out by medical researchers from Cambridge and Oxford Universities and the University College of London, and published in BMJ Open, in November 2017 - that austerity has, since 2010, led to an estimated 120,000+ austerity-related excess deaths:

Professor Lawrence King, of Cambridge University, one of the report’s authors, actually referred to these deaths as “economic murder”.

Austerity DOES kill!

Apart from all these negative aspects, Johnson has also shown he is more than prepared to break the law in order to push his policies through. For all these reasons - and more - the next election will face the people of this country with an incredibly crucial crossroads: make the wrong choice, we - and future generations - will pay a dreadful price.

For the Green Party

However, the next election will also face the Green Party with a crucial crossroads of its own. For sometime, the Green Party has had a programme which combines both environmental, and social and economic justice, policies. This holistic stance is summed up well by our slogan, “For The Common Good”:

For The Common Good

That slogan reflects that the fact that the Green Party has recognised that attempts to protect and restore the health of our planet will only succeed if we also tackle the issues of poverty and gross inequalities that are destroying the social cohesion of our society. It is also a reflection of the understanding that all our major problems - the Climate Crisis, austerity, an under-funded NHS, a cash-strapped educational system, and racial and gender inequalities - all stem from one source: the neoliberalism forced on us by the 1%.

That radicalism offered by the Green Party has undoubtedly played a significant role in helping, since 2015, to move the Labour Party towards more progressive positions on both the Climate Crisis and on ending austerity. It is something we should rightly be proud of - and something which we should preserve at all costs.

Sadly, however, there are signs that the whole Brexit issue may lead the Green Party to put that entire radical stance at risk. Earlier this year, there seemed to be a serious attempt to form a ‘Remain Alliance’, which would agree just one ‘Remain’ candidate in certain seats. In practice, that would mean, in many seats, the Greens working with - and standing down in favour of - the LibDems.

Whilst Brexit is an important issue - I voted ‘Remain but Reform’, à la Another Europe Is Possible, in which our party rightly played a leading role - it is not the most important issue. Whether we are in or out of the EU, the Climate Crisis, neoliberalism and the rise of the far right, will all still have to be dealt with. So what the Green Party must avoid at all costs is playing any role which will place yet another neoliberal government in power.

As 2010-15 showed only too painfully, the LibDems are led by neoliberals who were more than prepared - for 5 full years - to back the harshest of austerity policies. The LibDems also voted for the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which parcelled up our NHS into bite-sized chunks for future sale to private health companies - and which forces the NHS to give more service contracts to private company vultures like Branson’s Virgin Health Care.

Those who thought that the LibDems had, since 2015, ‘changed’ their positions on such issues had a rude ‘wake-up’ call on Wednesday 23 October, when all 19 LibDem MPs abstained on a motion which would have forced Johnson’s government to keep our NHS off the table in any future post-Brexit trade talks with the US:

Our NHS - not safe in LibDem hands

Yet, the very next day, Green Party members received a communication from HQ which seems to indicate that such a ‘Remain Alliance’ may still be on the cards. If the Green Party forms any pact with the neoliberal LibDems in the next general election, it will completely wreck its radical street cred. So, when that crossroads is reached, our leadership will have to think very carefully indeed.

A personal crossroads

Apart from being a crucial election for the future of this country, and for the Green Party, the next general election may also prove to be a very crucial one for me.

In the 2015 general election, I was happy to stand as the Green Party candidate for Copeland - which, at that time still had a Labour MP - as we were the only mainstream party totally opposed to austerity. Even Ed Miliband’s Labour Party - no doubt listening to Ed Balls and co. - was offering an ‘austerity lite’ programme. Despite this, Labour held the seat, with a 2500 majority over the Tory candidate - and the Greens came last out of 5, with 1179 votes.

However, the political situation began to change significantly after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party later that year - most notably, with Labour rejecting any more austerity.  The existing MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, was strongly opposed to Corbyn and was, in fact, the first Shadow Bench MP to resign after Corbyn was re-elected as Leader in 2016. Then, in December 2016, Reed resigned as an MP, thus sparking a by-election in February 2017.

As Labour’s vote in Copeland had been declining for several years, making it a marginal seat, I argued that our local Green party - Allerdale and Copeland - should stand aside and call on our supporters to vote Labour, in order to reduce the Tory majority in parliament.

That suggestion lost by one vote, and we stood a candidate. Despite losing the vote over whether or not to stand a candidate, I both campaigned and voted for our candidate, Jack Lenox. The result of the by-election was a Tory gain from Labour - with Copeland becoming even more marginal than it had been before. When it came to the 2017 general election, I argued again for us to stand aside - this time, the suggestion was overwhelmingly supported - though the accompanying decision, to call on our supporters to vote Labour, was not, in the end, carried out. Although the Tory MP was nonetheless re-elected, her majority was reduced to 1695 votes.

Since then, my view about not standing has not just remained the same - it has become stronger. There are, of course, many reasons for most ordinary people - not just eco-socialists - to see a Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, as being considerably better for them than yet another Tory government or, almost as bad, another Tory-LibDem coalition. Some of those reasons include Labour’s commitments to:

•           adopt a Green New Deal
•           end austerity
•           ban fracking
•           stop and reverse the privatisation of our NHS
•           bring back into social ownership the main public utilities

There are clearly several aspects of Labour’s current policies and stances - for instance, on Brexit, nuclear energy and PR - that still leave much to be desired. But, even with such caveats, a Labour government under Corbyn would be a distinct improvement over the hard-right Tory government we currently have.  For me, a Green government - or a Red-Green coalition with Labour - would be the ideal outcome of the next election. But the unfair voting system we have makes both of those scenarios unlikely.

We thus have to deal with where we are now - and that, for so many reasons, means trying as hard as we can to end the reign of neoliberal governments.  That means, in the 80+ marginal seats that Labour needs either to hold (such as Workington, the other seat covered by our local Green party) or win (such as Copeland), the Green Party should stand aside and call on their supporters to vote for the Labour candidates. In such marginal seats, the most practical and effective ‘green’ vote is to vote Labour.

Ideally, in return, Labour should agree not to stand in Caroline Lucas’s seat, and should also stand aside in the Isle of Wight - where, had they done so in 2017, a Green Party MP would have been elected, instead of the Tory who is the current MP. But, even if - as in 2017 - Labour makes no concessions to the Greens, we should still not stand in those key marginals.

There are those in the Green Party who argue that, because Labour gave us nothing in 2017, they should be ‘made to hurt’ in the next election, so that they’ll come on board in the subsequent one. Two wrongs have never made a right - especially with regards to this issue: for those who will be hurt the most if Labour fails to form the next government will be the most vulnerable in our society.

That alone is reason enough for eco-socialists to do all we can to get a Labour government elected. Our local party has already selected candidates for our two seats. When an election is called, we will then have to decide whether or not to stand. Whilst I fully appreciate that it will be disappointing for Green supporters in Labour’s marginal seats not to have a Green candidate to vote for, my view is that - given all that will be at stake in the next election - it would be an unjustified indulgence to insist on having a Green candidate, regardless of its impact on the national outcome.

Thus, as in 2017, I shall be arguing for us to stand aside - and to call on our members and supporters to vote Labour.  However, this time - unlike in the February 2017 by-election - if that vote is lost, I have already decided what I will do. I shall neither campaign nor vote for our candidate - instead, I shall, ‘For The Many, Not The Few’, campaign and vote for the Labour candidate:

 For The Many

I have had friendly advice that, if I do so, I may well be expelled from the Green Party. I shall be sad if that happens - especially as there is no other party that I wish to join; plus I’ve only just been elected as Keswick’s first Green councillor! However, in the end, I feel I have to do everything I can to prevent yet another neoliberal government - whether that be a Tory one, or a Tory-LibDem one.  

Allan Todd is a member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party, an anti-fracking activist and a Green Left supporter

Editors note: I do hope that Allan does not leave the Green party over this. He is a fantastic activist both within the party and outside as an anti-fracking and Extinction Rebellion activist.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting balanced account certainly, showing well the way the Green Party leadership has junked radicalism to cosy up to the Lib Dem toads. Given our electoral system I agree Green socialists face a dilemma: not sure about wholly endorsing Labour as it currently stands. After all, right wingers in the Labour Party (like Tom Watson and the Progress crew) are actually as bad as the Lib Dems. Every anti-Corbyn Labour MP elected is another one wielding a knife to stick in the back of any radical Left Government programme. But all food for thought, certainly.