Saturday 13 February 2016

Should Greens and Labour 'think the unthinkable' to topple the Tories?

Following on from the last article this is another Guest Blog, this time  from Davy Jones. It was first published by Labour Briefing LINK  I am no longer a member of the Brent Green Party Committee but need to make it clear that this is not to be seen as representing the views of Brent Green.  It is a contribution to a discussion which is also happening elsewhere (see Michael Calderbank's Facebook discussion of a Progress report by Danny Dorling.

JEREMY CORBYN’S AMAZING VICTORY in the Labour leadership election has rightly revived the question of how Greens and other progressives can work together with Labour. This was not easy during the recent General Election, when Labour nationally was supporting austerity and was well to the right of the SNP, Plaid and the Greens. Potentially, all that has now changed.

“There could be Labour Green candidates in many areas to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote.”

As someone who stood for the Greens against a left Labour candidate in Brighton Kemptown, I am acutely aware of the need for us to avoid dividing ourselves against the most reactionary government in my lifetime. The Tories received the support of less than 25% of the electorate.

They are also trying to hold onto power permanently by redrawing the boundaries and hastening individual voter registration. We therefore have to “think the unthinkable” to topple the Tories.

The historic link of the Labour Party to the trade unions has entrenched the notion of it being the sole party on the left. Most other European countries can boast significant alternative left parties. Almost uniquely, the UK still retains the First Past the Post system for national elections, which is deeply undemocratic and reinforces the two-party domination of elections.

It is vital that Labour under Jeremy unequivocally comes out in support of proportional representation. This would at a stroke make it far more likely that joint work and electoral pacts might be considered across the left. But it would also signal that Labour understood that it risks never being elected and forming a government under the current electoral rules.

Above all, members of Labour, the Greens, the SNP, Plaid and other left currents need to come together in campaigning work – against austerity, tackling climate change, defending the NHS, bringing railways back into public ownership. This will help to overcome accumulated sectarianism, lack of goodwill and trust. Only then will electoral alliances or other bold steps feel realistic and essential.

Out of such collaboration, it would be logical to identify the key areas of policy agreement of Corbyn’s Labour, the Greens, SNP and Plaid – and to discuss in a constructive way where differences remain on other key issues.

From such discussions a Progressive Policy Platform could be developed across the parties of the left. There could be negotiations over whether an agreed single candidate could be found to stand on that platform to take on the Tories, with other parties considering whether they would stand down or run merely a token local campaign.

Possible Issues for Collaboration and a Progressive Policy Platform:

  • Tackling climate change – supporting renewable energy, opposing fracking and nuclear energy; removing subsidies from fossil fuels
  •  War & Peace – opposing military interventions in the Middle East; no to replacing Trident; ending the global arms trade
  • Europe – for a progressive democratic Europe of social justice and solidarity
  • Austerity and cuts to public services – supporting those fighting against the cuts, especially the attacks on local council services and democracy, and for increased investment in public services; closing tax havens and loopholes, forcing big companies to pay taxes and reforming the banking sector
  • Privatisation – opposing it in the NHS and elsewhere, and for bringing other key services, such as rail, energy, academies, back into public ownership
  • Housing – opposing Right to Buy, supporting private sector rent controls, and a massive capital programme of house- building including making existing homes energy efficient
  • Democratic rights – Opposing the Trade Union bill; support for proportional representation; opposing the Immigration Bill and supporting refugees; for a fully elected second chamber.

“An even more radical option, namely that the Green Party affiliates to the Labour Party in the same way as the Co-operative Party...” 

Others on the left have suggested an even more radical option, though many Green and Labour members will be aghast at the suggestion, namely that the Green Party affiliates to the Labour Party in the same way as the Co-operative Party is affiliated.  Labour claims to be the broad church of progressive politics, it is argued – so why not invite the Greens (and maybe also the SNP and Plaid) to a affiliate if they wish to do so?

The parties would remain independent, but through affiliation, members would stand for election as Labour or Labour Greens, just as people currently stand as Labour or Labour and Co-operative Party members. So there could be Labour Green candidates in many areas to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote.

Clearly, this would be a non-starter unless and until Jeremy Corbyn is able to ensure the Labour Party nationally adopts consistently anti-austerity and pro-environmental sustainability policies, as well as a thorough democratisation of the Labour Party itself.

No doubt, opponents will come up with lots of reasons why serious collaboration between Labour and the Greens will not work. But one thing is clear: the current situation of division across the left is not an option – unless we are prepared to put up with the most reactionary Tory Government for 100 years continuing in power, with its neo-liberal policies of trashing the planet and the economy. “Just one more push” simply does not off­­er any solution.

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