If we (the Green Party) are serious about the need for a wide range of radical environmental, social and economic changes, we need to accept that, of necessity, these changes will require a strong top-down dimension. As much as I admire and support grass-root initiatives and campaigns, they will not, on their own, bring about the changes to both social attitudes and political / economic structures that are required if we want to avert the worst effects of climate change, environment degradation and global inequality. At best, bottom-up approaches will just take too long. At worst, they will never acquire the power and momentum to overpower the neo-liberal agenda that forms the status quo. No, if we are serious, and I really do hope that we all are, we need to acquire political power. Or, at the very least, a degree of political power; a strong Green voice at the level of national government.
Now, I don’t want this to come as a shock to anyone, but we will not win the next General Election. I also suspect that we will really struggle to increase our solitary representation in Parliament. Without a fair electoral system, without some form of proportional representation, without a process that allows the various important yet minority views held by the electorate to be represented in Parliament in proportion to their existence in the country as a whole, we will just be banging our heads against the proverbial brick wall. And I for one do not like pain. Under our current electoral system, not only will the views of Green Party supporters not be aired on the national stage, where they have the potential to influence top-down strategies and recruit further Green Party supporters, but these existing supporters will find themselves wanting to support other parties in the hope of bringing about some actual positive change, however trivial. A small step away from disaster may not be sufficient, but it makes a lot more sense than running towards it.
I usually consider myself more of an optimist than a pessimist, and I don’t like the way my argument is going any more than you may do, but things gets worse. We are nowhere close to getting a system of proportional representation. Yes, there are many very active campaigns doing their very best, there is even a campaign within the Labour Party for its adoption. But so far the likelihood of there being a change to some system of PR in the near future seems highly unlikely. For this to happen the Labour Party will need to adopt it and campaign for it. How long are we prepared to wait for PR? I believe that the changes we need to bring about are too urgent to wait for the argument to be won. Yes, we need to continue campaigning for PR, but we also need to consider an additional strategy.
I disagree with the Labour Party, even the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, on several key issues. Their lack of support for PR I’ve already mentioned. Their reluctance to reject nuclear weapons is another. But most importantly, I disagree with their economic policy. It’s old fashioned, and it fails to acknowledge our relationship with non-human life and our environment. They still put forward the goal of economic growth as the raison d’être of the economy. Until they become agnostic towards growth, as Kate Raworth would phrase it, until they adopt a different goal and measure of economic success, one that aims to meet the needs of people whilst living within the means of the planet, we will still be sleep walking towards the next great extinction event – the one of, and the one caused by, humans.
One the other hand, I still regard myself a socialist at heart. And from talking to many other Green Party members I know that I am not the only one. My initial reason for joining the Green Party was my total disillusionment with ‘New Labour’ and the discovery that the then Green Party manifesto was more ‘socialist’ than anything put forward by Labour, certainly in my political life-time. Since joining, however, my developing understanding of our relationship with our planet and non-human life, relationships that need to be considered alongside our social and economic relationships with each other, means that I now consider my political colour to be deeply Green. I could never return to the Red camp, even though there are many aspects of Labour policy, particularly their social policies, that I would have little trouble supporting.
And there’s something else in Labour’s favour. Bearing in mind all the problems associated with the absence of a fair voting system, they offer the best chance of getting a radical alternative to the warring Neo-liberalism and Conservatism amalgam that passes for the current Government. Certainly the best chance of doing so in the near future. And at the risk of sounding too ‘doom mongering’, could I point out that time is not on our side! We need to start introducing legislation soon – legislation, for example, to facilitate the rapid expansion and development of renewable energy, to restructure our public transport system, and to control the types of plastics that can be sold and used.
So, here’s my suggestion. Why not start working with Labour whilst maintaining our own clear identity? I’m thinking on the lines of a critical friend. One who is prepared to offer constructive criticism – not with the intention of belittling or trying to usurp, but with the intention of offering a much needed Green perspective to Red policies. Why not offer help and support to the Labour Party where we can, whilst at the same time campaigning for them to adopt PR and to reconsider their economic policies. More specifically, at the local level why not work with Labour for the joint selection of candidates: not necessarily competing with each other at all elections; not necessarily both running a full slate of candidates; perhaps selecting those candidates from either party with the best chance of winning. And at the national level, Labour not challenging the Green Party candidate in our (very few) target wards in return for us not standing in those constituencies where they have the best chance of winning. If, for example, Labour challenged Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton Pavilion I would be the very first to admit that any deal would be impossible. Such a challenge would serve no purpose and would simply reveal the degree to which Labour needed to ‘get with the times’.
All this, of course, to be truly effective, would need to be top-down, would require an agreement between both parties at the national level. It would require a Labour commitment to PR and an understanding that they were prepared to offer us the same consideration and respect as we offer them. And it would need to be undertaken as a creative exercise, one in which everyone believed that the collaborative result would be greater than the sum of our individual contributions. But as above, can we afford to wait for such a national agreement? Whilst waiting, would it be worth exploring how we could collaborate at the local party level? Would the structure of Labour allow this? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do believe that if some dialogue could be started it would be an important first step in the walk away from the fast approaching precipice.