Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Green's place is in the movements

The Green Party is committed to advance its cause through standing in elections but importantly its members are  also involved in many movements for environmental and social justice.

At General Election time the focus is inevitably on election campaigning and there is a danger that this takes away from other, broader campaigns.  In London with the Assembly and Mayoral elections happening next year we could end up continuing on the electoralist road and putting all our energy into getting Green Assembly members elected.

This is important but I would argue that with the Tory's forming a new administration that will renew the war on the poor and the vulnerable that our energy should also go into participating in and building the movements challenging neoliberal policy on  the welfare state, benefit caps, gentrification and social cleansing, reckless plundering of the world's natural resources, fracking, industrialised schooling and the demonisation of migrants.

The Green Party's  Philosophical Basis states:
We do not believe that there is only one way to change society, or that we have all the answers. We seek to be part of a wider green movement that works for these principles through a variety of means. We generally support those who use reasonable and non-violent forms of direct action to further just aims.

Our beliefs will bring us into conflict with those committed to material affluence, the accumulation of power and the unsustainable exploitation of the Earth. We are always ready to negotiate with those who oppose us, and seek fair settlements that respect their needs for security, self esteem and freedom of choice.

We will even work with those who disagree with us where sufficient common ground can be found to do so. However, we do not seek power at any price, and will withdraw our support if we are asked to make irreversible or fundamental compromises.
Yesterday's skirmishes in Downing Street protesting at the Conservative election victory presage a likely new wave of direct action in the face of five more years of austerity and cuts.  The issue of legitimacy of the new Government is clear when you consider that Tories won on 36.9% of the vote, when about a third of the electorate (15.8 m people out of an electorate of 46.4m) did not vote, and that the first past the post system meant hat it took many more voters to elect a minority party MP:

The equivalent figure for Conservative has been quoted at 34,000 and Labour 40,000.

The Green vote in 2010 was just 265,187 but the number of Green MPs remains only one. A proportional system would have give 30 Green MPs although the prospect of many more UKIP MPs is a major concern.  A petition for a fairer voting system has been set up HERE

In her speech yesterday Caroline Lucas MP set out her post-election ideas:

The election results have served as a stark reminder that our political system is broken. The time for electoral reform is long overdue. Only proportional representation will deliver a parliament that is truly legitimate, and that better reflects the views of the people it’s meant to represent.

But we must move forward today. While the campaign for electoral reform gathers momentum, those of us wanting to see a fairer, more compassionate and progressive politics must find new ways of working together, a new way to do politics – and put that into practice now. 

Unless we break free of tribal politics and work together to fight austerity, and promote crucial, common-sense climate policies, we’re faced with an incredibly bleak political future. For the sake of all those who’ll suffer most at the hands of the Tories, we must rethink our relations and recognise the importance of our common ground. 

That should include shared platforms and case-by-case electoral pacts, to build a strong progressive alliance to challenge the Tories over the next five years.  Clearly in Wales and Scotland, where there are PR elections for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, this doesn't apply, but where First Past the Post continues to distort election results, it should surely be considered.

And one of the first challenges such an alliance will face is ensuring we win the referendum on membership of the EU.
 While we certainly support urgent EU reform, we cannot allow backward-looking Tories to make common cause with UKIP and lead us out of the EU and into the wilderness.
This is all well and good but it sees things very much through traditional party politics, something that has been rejected by thousands of  activists and seen by many ordinary people as irrelevant to their day to day struggles.  A 'new way of doing politics' should mean the Greens participating much more in struggles on the ground, taking part in direct action (something Lucas was prepared to do over fracking') and most importantly learning from these struggles and feeding what has been learnt into Green Party policy and strategy.

Our position as an 'anti-austerity' party needs to be much more fully explored and explained. Although we said  that being anti-austerity was a different way of doing things and was based on a alternative economic model I think Greens failed to  explain what this would mean in real terms in the context of the media obsession with the deficit and national debt.  This made us vulnerable on the media and in local hustings to the cry of 'but where is the money coming from?' and led to our depiction as 'dreamers' and 'idealists' unrelated to the real world.

In short if we are 'anti-austerity' what are we 'pro'? Can we frame that 'pro' positively to convince people that a different economic system could work to their benefit?  Should there be a new name for the People's Assembly Against Austerity  - the People's Assembly FOR.....

Paul Krugman in his influential Guardian article on the 'austerity delusion' LINK expressed astonishment at UK Labour's buying into the delusion and this may well have contributed to Labour's failure in the election - 'if we are going to have austerity anyway, who not vote for the devil we know?'

Unfortunately the initial reaction to Labour's defeat seems to be an attempt by Blairites to reclaim the agenda and push Labour further right - exemplified by Peter Mandelson on the Marr Show this morning say that Miliband's ditching of 'New Labour' was a 'terrible mistake.' LINK

Mandelson's distancing from the trade unions and their role in the Labour Party gives an impetus to the Green Party's work with trade unions, not only encouraging everyone, and espcially young workers, to join unions but setting up direct links locally and nationally.

If Labour is re-captured by the Blairites it leaves space for creating a real alternative - not just through a political party but through a movement - and establishing a different way of doing politics through social and environmental movements.


  1. Great article.
    *Anti austerity* is not enough. A lot of people who fought austerity voted austerity-light Labour. As an example of the moral corruption inside the left the CP which is affiliated to PA anti-austerity movement never thought that it was unreasonable to fight austerity in the streets and then vote pro-austerity Labour.
    Many friends and more shamefully comrades always thought that when it comes to fight austerity they had to delagate it ultimately to the Labour Party. They never changed their position pro neoliberalism by why did they mix with the anti-austerity movement? Where does this entrist mentality come from?

    Another example are the left groups which are abundant in dividing the left. As comrades they fought side by side, as individuals they voted Labour despite their clam to be for a unite socialist solution.

    As Martin said we got to fight more and more on GP policies not on anti-austerity which is too defensive and too kind to these individuals who could backstab at polling day and at any opportunity. We are wasting our time trying to convince Labour members although it is true we cannot but encourage ex-labour, ex-Tory, ex-Lib dem and ex-UKIP to open there eyes and join the GP.

    Labour has failed and must take responsibility for the Tory victory.

    CL is thinking long term in 5yrs time. We got to think in shorter terms as well and protest against Tory policies at every opportunity but this time only for the Green Party success.

    Syriza etc... won the movement not because they moved on general anti-austerity issues aggregating different parties policies. To the contrary. They won because they made the movement become a Syriza movement de facto fighting against PaSOk . If Pasok could represent what the left groups could become or our Labour Party the answer is that the same. There is only one Party that can build a Green movement and a eco socialist alternative.

    Time to be more selective with the friends we walk with...?????
    At the end of the day we need a party to get into government unless one thinks at developing a strategy for communism for the 2020 election.
    It is not about people or GP. It is about GP or left sects/Labour Party.
    I understand that this would sound as a separation from the movement but in truth it is a call to be more upfront with those GP policies that want to change this neo-liberal aggregation of narratives from the groups to the big parties and concentrate on positioning ourselves first as eco-socialist Greens in the movement and towards the media.

    Livio Pavone

  2. I would propose 'People's Assembly for Investing in Gretater Inclusion and Investment'. (To hell with Thatcherite 'pursuit of inequality'.) See We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

    Consider how cost-cutting agendas build greater exclusion. Eg, the Blair Government instituted many of the mechanisms by which poor people were made all the poorer. Like
    (From my personal experience as a JSA claimant with a learning difficulty) Halving the length of jobcentre-funded training periods around year 2000 so as to get double the throughput from the dole-queue, resulting in even shoddier training outcomes — for which the claimant paid the real price
    Jobcentre Plus: Poor service continues
    Never really auditing how disabled JSA claimants fared when bringing investment banker David Freud in as welfare reform guru to Labour and then Tory. Freud's initial idea of rewarding private companies £62K for each Incapacity Benefit claimanat they could get off IB and into waged work failed. Welfare is a mess, says adviser David Freud
    Then came Atos only following DWP 'norms' and overwriting the Hippocratic Oath with treating those tested as claimants, not patients. Sickness benefit clawback firm tells GP people are claimants, not patients.
    And now, in addition to bedroom tax and reduced Council Tax Support, we have privatisation of social housing and I could go on much more but will close the list of sins against the poor with
    Benefit Sanctions: Britain's secret penal system that highlights the fact that poor people are now more punished than supported, echoing the music hall song, 'It's the same the 'ole world over, it's the poor what gets the blaime'.

    By contrast, the casework of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is a form of direct action and we argue, 'Never attend anywhere official alone'. More info in the right hand sidebar of the Kilburn Unemployed blog and at
    "Benefit Tales blog and
    Kate Belgrave's blog

  3. I agree that to be more democratic we have to change the "first past the post" system for electing MP's to Westminster. The Conservatives predicted a "constitutional crisis" if the SNP won lots of seats in the General Election, but while the SNP's 56 seats were won at the rate of 25,972 votes per seat, David Cameron's majority government is based on only 34,244 votes per seat. Labour's role as the official opposition was gained at the rate of 40,290 votes per seat, while the Green Party (which was putting forward many of the sorts of policies which I would have expected from a real Labour Party) is left with just one seat for its 1,157,613 votes!

    Unfortunately, once in power, governments are unlikely to change the system that put them there. That should not stop people from campaigning for a fairer system, perhaps starting with a reform of the House of Lords to replace it with a new second chamber elected by proportional representation, and (if and when that is in place) seeking to have MP's elected by a single transferable vote, so that the winning candidate needs to get the backing of at least 50% of voters.

    In the meantime, I agree that smaller parties with similar sets of values (unlike some of the larger ones, whose "beliefs" now seem to be to say anything that they think will get them into power), and individuals who do not support any party but share those values, should seek to work as allies in support of particular issues.

    Philip Grant.

  4. "If Labour is re-captured by the Blairites it leaves space for creating a real alternative - not just through a political party but through a movement - and establishing a different way of doing politics through social and environmental movements."

    So you admit that you were only a pretend alternative during the General Election?