With both Labour and the Lib Dems currently facing leadership elections, William Pinkney-Baird argues that Greens should support left-wing candidates and campaigns within these parties.

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Jeremy Corbyn, candidate for Labour Party leader. Should Greens support left-wing candidates like Corbyn within parties such as the Labour and the Lib Dems?

Over the past few weeks, the Labour Party’s leadership contest has been the subject of constant discussion in the news and social media. This contest was incredibly depressing, an argument between four Blairites on who could appeal to ‘aspirational’ people the most—until Jeremy Corbyn entered the field with his anti-austerity, pro-peace message.

Alongside this, the Liberal Democrats have their own leadership election. The candidates are Norman Lamb, representing continuity with the Lib Dems under coalition; and Tim Farron, seeking to distance the party from Nick Clegg’s leadership and move to a more centre-left position.

How should the Greens engage with these leadership contests? ‘If Labour or the Lib Dems (or the SNP in Scotland) move to the left, then surely they’d get votes that would otherwise go to the Greens?’ you might argue. Well, yes. That is true to an extent—at least in the short term. But in the longer term, if these parties move to the left, politics as a whole will move to the left, and that is nothing if not beneficial.

The consensus around austerity, cuts and privatisation that both Labour and the Lib Dems have helped to perpetuate could at last be challenged; the benefits of immigration and the need to bring an end poverty could be more widely championed in politics; and parties could recognise the urgency of dealing with climate change. While a move towards such policies could attract votes that might otherwise go to the Greens, this broader shift in the centre-ground of politics would ensure that the Greens are not a lone voice crying out in the desert, but part of a broader movement seeking to completely transform the political landscape.

From 1945 to 1979, the political landscape in Britain was almost unrecognizable. This period saw the creation of the modern welfare state in Britain (best represented by the National Health Service), it saw the nationalisation of industries, and it saw the trade unions as a major force within society. All of this changed dramatically under Thatcher, who cut away at the welfare state while deregulating businesses and the financial sector; privatisated left, right, and centre; and launched devastating attacks on the unions. This consensus was adopted by New Labour under Tony Blair, who began the privatisation of the NHS and the marketisation of education, continued the deregulation of business and finance, and failed to reverse the laws limiting trade unions. This Thatcherite/Blairite consensus is very much with us today, embraced by not only the Tories and UKIP, but very much so by the leadership of Labour and the Lib Dems as well.

I do not propose a return to the years of 1945. The decades that followed took the shape they did for a variety of historical reasons, and this period was no utopia, particularly for the groups who we marginalised and discriminated against by society. But it shows how the political consensus can change so dramatically, and the time has come in which we once again need to change this consensus.

The leadership contests represent a moment at which the future of both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are in flux, a moment at which they can choose between two different paths. On one side, more of the same. On the other, the beginnings of a challenge to the current political consensus.

In Scotland over the past few years, we have seen just this process in action with the SNP. It has positioned itself to the left of the Labour Party, vocally opposing austerity, and it has been rewarded with a landslide last month. Partially because of the referendum—though it has been a much more long-term process—the entire political landscape in Scotland has been transformed. And in this landscape, the Scottish Greens have thrived, if not achieving a high vote in the Westminster election, at least placed to raise their representation in Holyrood from 2 to 10. Scotland shows that there is space for a spectrum of parties on the left, from the SNP to the Greens and the Scottish Socialists, with the latter two working to hold the former to account.

As Greens, surely we should support these parties in moving towards a more left-wing position, and thus moving the centre ground of politics with them? While I accept that the left-wing candidates winning the leadership election in these parties (or in the case of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn getting on the ballot paper and at least presenting an alternative message to the Labour Party) would not accomplish the structural changes that are needed in these parties for real change to happen, they are a beginning. And surely that would be better than a political landscape in which the Greens (and to a lesser extent, Plaid Cymru and the SNP) are the only real opposition.

While I support the efforts of groups such as Red Labour (which seeks to shift Labour to the left) I am cynical as to the extent to which this can be achieved. With things going as they are, it seems to be much more likely that Labour will meet a goal mirroring that of Pasok in Greece—a formerly centre-left party that embraced austerity and was swept away by Syriza. At the same time, their work helps shift the political narrative to the left, paving the way for the political landscape to move to the left, and that is something I will always support.

William Pinkney-Baird

About William Pinkney-Baird

William is one of the Co-Editors of Bright Green.