In the Corbyn era, Greens can still embrace socialism
Green Party and Corbyn posters in a window in Islington, London, Jeremy Corbyn’s home constituency. Photo: David Holt, Flickr.
On 10 May 2016, The Ecologist published an article by Rupert Read titled “In the Corbyn era, Greens must move from socialism to ecologism”. This article was written in response.
The most recent local elections results represent a mixed bag at best. The Greens continues to make solid and steady progress in the shires, but in urban bastions we at best held steady or at worst fell backwards. Despite this calls for a change in direction of party ideology are misguided.
The Corbyn Effect
The rise of Corbyn has undoubtedly posed a conundrum for the Greens. Suddenly Corbyn has taken policies long shunned by his party, long supported by the Greens, to the heart of the Labour Party. Yet amongst the turmoil, the infighting and churn of the Labour Party it is hard to ascertain what is the policy of Corbyn himself and what is the stance of the wider Labour Party.
Indeed the only clear line Labour is currently able to get out is one of internal strife. Focus groups and polling has time and time again shown that Corbyn has not yet defined himself positively or his message clearly. Either through the drag of internal politics or incompetence of his team (or both) Corbyn has not defined what he is for, and instead is daily being defined by his opponents.
On policy the party has continued to be fractured. The party officially didn’t back the Junior Doctor Strike, but Corbyn spoke after pickets had closed. Corbyn has had to hastily withdraw suggestions of suspending companies paying dividends if they didn’t pay the living wage. There has yet to be a big policy proposal or narrative the party can get behind.
Nonetheless the Green Party has failed to develop its response beyond initially welcoming Corbyn’s election. The party was right to point out that Corbyn’s election showed a wider hunger for the type of politics the Green Party had long espoused. Our next step must be to make the case that we are in fact the better custodian of progressive and radical politics than an unsteady, inconsistent and divided Labour Party.
It’s quickly forgotten by critics but the party garnered its record breaking 1.15 million votes in 2015 on a radically anti-austerity agenda that put social justice at the core of its message. The consistent demands to return to a more ecological based agenda is hungering after an electorate that doesn’t exist, as consistently demonstrated by elections in 1992, 1997 and 2001.
In the last election only 2% of all voters said their primary motivating factor for how they voted was the environment. Indeed only 12% of Green voters said their primary concern was the environment. Undoubtedly the party should do more to boost the salience of the environment in elections, but this is not by playing the doom monger. It’s by showing how the answers to the ecological disaster we have long campaigned on unlock the solutions to the social justice issues voters have at the core of their concerns.
Voices that call for a dramatic change of policy direction risk losing the voters we have gained in search of voters that do not exist. Anti-growth, euroscepticism and “concern” over population growth is not an election platform, it’s a niche poorly attended lecture.
Furthermore, the calls for change of message simply paper over the organisational cracks in the party. Our current levels of revenue, the level of support available to local parties from the national party and indeed adherence to campaign strategy should be seen as bigger concerns than the message we are fighting on.
Areas that have stubbornly refused to follow national election strategy has unsurprisingly failed to make any gains. A change of message should not be the key concern. Increased revenue, better support for target areas and the spread of best practice should be. If the West Midlands Green Party can solidly post gains in the era of Corbyn there is little reason for us not to see it in similar areas.
Meanwhile highlights elsewhere show opportunity for the Green Party. Sian Berry posted a record breaking result for London Mayor. Her campaign of big ideas designed to disrupt a conservative and unimaginative “two horse” race was innovative and shows exactly where the future of the Green Party lies. We can be the party of big radical ideas, whilst the Labour Party’s internal strife means such ideas are out of reach.
Our brilliant party political broadcast bitingly sent up our opponents and shows that the Greens can generate bright and clear messaging that cuts through. Amongst our new cohort of councillors and assembly members there are the message carriers who can carry a radical and positive agenda better than the divided Labour Party.
Moreover it is all too easy to forget that whilst Corbyn represents a sea change for the head of the party, many of the same issues we face with Labour on a local level remain. In London the Greens posted their best results in Lambeth & Southwark, a place where a Labour council is shutting down libraries and demolishing estates. The actions of many Labour councils are massively out of step with the rhetoric Corbyn espouses and we must become the people’s champions in face of local intransigence.
There is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party and it is massively hindering its ability to be an effective opposition. It may prove that the Corbyn project was only a temporary experiment. Either way there is a long term future for the Green Party as a progressive party to challenge a brutal Conservative administration and a divided Labour Party.