The Green Party's electoral alliance with the Lib Dems is a tactic that will prevent a Corbyn government instead of getting the Tories out, argues Elaine Graham-Leigh
The Unite to Remain alliance between the Lib Dems, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru was supposed to result in huge gains for all three, but with less than a week to go in the general election campaign, the Green Party at least looks likely to emerge with only the same one MP it went in with. It has been widely pointed out that despite the Unite to Remain alliance, the Greens’ chances of victory in any of their seats except for Brighton Pavilion are vanishingly small. In Stroud, for example, where Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato is standing, the combined Lib Dem and Green vote in 2017 was 5.4%, while Labour MP David Drew has a 1.1% majority over the Conservatives. Here, as in other seats, the only likely consequence of a big Green campaign will be to allow the Tories to take the seat.
The Green position is, broadly, that this doesn’t matter. The Tories and Labour are as bad as each other. ‘Neither Labour nor Tories will take the urgent action we need on the #ClimateEmergency’, Scott-Cato tweeted. The Greens have been presenting themselves as the only adults in the room of Westminster politics for some time, as witnessed by their 2016 party political broadcast, in which Labour and the Tories were five-year-olds in a playground and the Greens their primary school teacher. Their broadcast for this election continued the theme, with Caroline Lucas denouncing the ‘senseless babbling’ in Parliament and ‘counterfeit outrage’ of the other parties.
The theme that politics is broken was repeated by Unite to Remain, with claims as the alliance was launched that it was ‘putting politics aside’ and conducting ‘grown up politics’. It was also reflected in Caroline Lucas’ call in the summer for a female-led government of national unity. Declaring that you are beyond politics is however always a political statement, and it is one which supports the status quo. Declaring that Labour and the Tories are equally wrong, or that politicians were all the same, had some traction in the New Labour years, although even there, a decade of Tory austerity has now shown us that there actually was some difference between them, after all. In this election, when we have a clear choice between the NHS-privatising, Trump-supporting Tories and the most left-wing Labour manifesto in a generation, it is an argument against the very possibility of political change. When it comes to challenging the assumption that neoliberalism is inescapable, as the Green Party manifesto itself asks, if not now, then when?
The Greens’ positioning has led to some odd statements over the years about Labour policies. That 2016 election broadcast, for example, depicted Corbyn’s principled opposition to Trident as ‘I don’t like people playing with rockets’; hardly what you would expect from a party also supposed to be opposed to nuclear weapons. Faced with Labour’s Green New Deal, they have shown a tendency to fall back on claims that Labour doesn’t really mean it, or worse, may ‘compromise with the unions’ on the climate crisis. This is despite the fact that they are prepared to enter into alliances with the Lib Dems, whose climate policies only call for net zero carbon emissions by a far-too-late 2045.
There can be an assumption that particularly on the climate, the Green Party will automatically have the most radical policies. This isn’t necessarily true. The Greens claim that Labour has stolen their Green New Deal, but comparing the two manifestos shows some glaring differences. The Greens are, it is true, firmer about the deadline of 2030 for getting to net zero carbon emissions. It is only the Labour manifesto, however, which calls for nationalisation of public utilities as well as the railways. It is only Labour that gives serious consideration to the necessity for a just transition. That a commitment to work with the unions to ensure that working people don’t suffer as a result of the response to the climate crisis can be dismissed as ‘compromising with the unions’ tells you a lot of the politics of some Green supporters.
The Greens have often appeared to be a party of the left. The 2015 Green surge, where they saw an influx of predominantly young members, was plausibly about individuals looking for a vehicle for left campaigning. While the surge mostly abated in favour of Labour after Corbyn’s election as leader, there are clearly still many Greens who consider themselves to be on the left, as witnessed by some responses to the suggestion earlier this year of a Remain alliance for the Euro elections. Jonathan Bartley, for example, said that Change UK represented ‘the vapid centrist politics which helped leave Britain so damaged in the first place.’, while the author of the 2014 Green Party Euro manifesto commented on Twitter that ‘some kind of Remain alliance on the tepid turf of establishment consensus would be a disaster.’ There is a tension here however between the genuine principles of left Greens and the opportunism of a party looking to differentiate itself from Labour no matter what.
In 2004, I left the Green Party because of what I saw as an unprincipled decision to put narrow Green Party interests over involvement in the anti-war electoral project that became Respect. In this election, once again the Greens are favouring their own electoral advantage, this time over the chance of a left Labour government. The Unite to Remain alliance is not really about keeping the Tories out; if it were, the Lib Dems would not have ruled out going into coalition with Corbyn’s Labour in the event of a hung Parliament. Just as a government of national unity would have been a tactic to prevent a Corbyn government, the possibility of the Unite to Remain alliance keeping Corbyn out of Number 10 is a feature, not a bug.
There are really only two possible outcomes from this election: a Labour government and a chance of addressing the climate crisis, or doom under the Tories. If it would be a comfort, when facing climate armageddon, to reflect that at least you’re not having to work out a just transition with Unite and the GMB, then the Green Party’s position may appeal. Everyone else: you know what you need to do.
Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade, focusing on issues of climate change and social justice. She speaks and writes widely on green issues and is a member of Counterfire. Her book, A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change, will be published in April 2015 by Zero Books.
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