The Greens: A movement without the mass
This post is by Benali Hamdache, who is a member of the Policy Committee of the Green Party of England and Wales, and Co-coordinator of the London Greens. He tweets @GreenBenali.
There was a time in the 80’s where the explosion of concern for the environment looked like it was going somewhere in the UK. A growing consciousness about climate change, CFCs and Chernobyl catalysed into the explosion of green NGO’s and indeed popularity of the Green Party. Despite limited resources the Green Party exploded onto the scene in the 1989 European Election netting 2.2 million votes, 15% of the vote and beating the Liberal Democrats into 4th.
It could have been the dawn of the Green Party as a major third force. It was not. Stymied by an electoral system that meant 15% of the vote meant no seats in the European Parliament; the Green Party failed to capitalise. A lack of resources and members on the ground meant that the 1992 General Election was a whimper, clocking an increased 0.2% vote share.
More fundamentally much environmental activism decoupled itself from the Green Party. Seeing it could gain concessions from even Thatcher, whilst the Green Party struggled to gain even limited representation, the environmental movement adopted the apolitical neutral tone of today. It was a move that robbed the Green Party of its mass movement. More troublingly it has left the environmental movement happier to pursue minor concessions from the mainstream, rather than the wholesale change needed to avert environmental catastrophe. It has meant the loudest voices in the environmental movement are unwilling to challenge the capitalist consumerist system that fuels the worst excesses of ecocide.
Yet this innate Green Party opposition to unfettered free markets and uncaring neoliberalism should translate into support from that other mass movement; Trade Unions. The same machine that drives workers’ exploitation, gross inequality and hardship is the same that threatens our planet. The Green Party has been slow to make these links, or to clearly articulate that message. It’s why the Australian Green Party’s outreach to Trade Unions is particularly inspiring. Fuelled by Trade Union support and funding Adam Bandt was reelected commandingly in Melbourne, despite difficult conditions. It’s an effort the Green Party in England and Wales must look to replicate. Embracing Trade Unions offers the Green Party the opportunity for broader support, both with the workers movement and environmentalists frustrated with the lack of progress in dealing with climate change. This can only be achieved if the Green Party can achieve three key points:
1) Challenge the view that the environment can be saved by piecemeal reform, rather than structural change of the economic system
2) Create a blueprint as to how Trade Unions could engage meaningfully with the Green Party
3) Create a compelling narrative on how out of control capitalism attacks the worker and the environment
Perhaps then the Green Party can be a movement with mass.