The Greens must stand in the Copeland by-election
I’ve been a somewhat sceptical supporter of a progressive alliance, but the Greens simply must stand in Copeland. It would be to the detriment of both us and the left, in general, to continue to prop up a Jeremy Corbyn leadership that should be subject to extreme scrutiny.
For a party in government to win a mid-term by-election from the opposition is essentially unheard of in modern politics; a defeat for Labour in Copeland should beg serious questions over Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. Keeping this in mind, it would be bad for the left as a whole were the Greens to simply prop up Corbyn by standing aside and endorsing Labour while being offered nothing in return.
Even before any of this, the actions of the Lib Dems should be taken into account. If the Lib Dems do not stand down, there is no progressive alliance. If the Lib Dems stand, as Labour did in Richmond, then we do not have a progressive alliance. Instead, we have the Green Party transitioning from a political party to a pressure group. I broadly supported the ‘progressive alliance’ in Richmond. The Lib Dems have appeared far more open to the idea in general than Labour, and ridding parliament of a despicable character like Zac Goldsmith was hard to resist. But in a scenario where there is no real gain for us (Labour’s current line on immigration and Brexit is little better than the Tories and 1 by-election will make little difference to the long-term economic and environmental pictures), and where no formal agreement involving Labour concessions is likely to be reached, we must stand.
Even if the Lib Dems do stand down, it must be a clear and publicly announced alliance. Us quietly standing aside does nothing for us. Indeed, us standing down for the third by-election in a row merely leaves hard working Green activists wondering why we bother. And to be clear, there is still no mandate for a progressive alliance from within the Green Party; it is not the role of the leader to decide on policy. Even if the local party does consent to stepping down, one must question what pressure they will be coming under from above, and, due in no small part to Caroline Lucas’s personal popularity, from other segments within the party too? A decision reached at gunpoint is not a legitimate exercise of internal democracy, indeed it is fundamentally no different to a diktat from above.
Assuming the Lib Dems did stand down, and an alliance was planned as something that would be publicly announced, there are still many reservations to be answered. Firstly, there is the whole Nuclear elephant in the room. Demographically, the Labour party will need to select a candidate who is pro-nuclear. Obviously, this is fundamentally against the values and aims of the Green Party (and the views of a good many Lib Dems). Simply put, there have to be red-lines in a progressive alliance, and supporting a pro-nuclear candidate has to be one of them. Further, we have to consider our message on Europe. Copeland, as a constituency, voted to leave; and Ukip achieved over 15% of the vote there in 2015. Therefore, Labour will almost certainly have to select a pro-Brexit candidate or at least someone open to a hard Brexit. This is likely to mean it will be someone extolling all the immigration views implied by that stance. This is not a candidate the Green party I joined should be supporting. And I among many others may have serious reconsiderations regarding our allegiances if we do endorse a candidate of this nature.
Finally, we have to ask the question of whether or not working with the Labour party is something we want to engage in? I’m going to go out on a limb here, the Conservatives will win the 2020 general election whether we have a progressive alliance or not. An alliance with Labour has virtually no short-term benefit for the Green party. Indeed, with the exception of the Isle of Wight, the majority of the seats we are looking to compete in are held by Labour; you have to ask, where is the benefit? All we will do is delay or possibly curtail our own growth, for something that is extremely unlikely to work.
That being said, there is another progressive alliance that could work. Richmond park has shown, that Greens and Lib Dems can work together. It was far from perfect, and we have so much work to do on securing a working relationship for the occasions when such a scenario unfolds. However, the Greens standing down in Richmond worked and sent a message to the government. All while putting an anti-Brexit, pro-electoral reform candidate in parliament. There is scope for an alliance, an alliance for democracy. An alliance between Greens and Lib Dems, with the sole aim of subverting the two-party system. And yes, that includes actively trying to take seats from Labour. Working with the Lib Dems offers us a chance in seats like Bristol West, though I am sure that seat will be subject to arguments that they are better placed to win it.
The point is, a progressive alliance has to be progressive in both senses of the word. It has to involve supporting candidates we can stomach and it has to advance our status and hopes for the future. At this moment in time, alliance with the Labour party does neither. They peddle the same xenophobic narratives as the Tories, increasingly joining in and legitimising the vile immigration rhetoric; and they continue to understate the threat Brexit poses to living standards in this country. Meanwhile, they have no real chance in 2020, even with our support. They would also expect us to stand down in some of our strongest seats, curtailing our growth as a party and thus limiting our leverage to demand change. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are organised, committed, and taking steps to tackle May’s disgusting rhetoric. We may not agree on every issue. Indeed, we are streets apart economically, but we agree on the issues upon which the next election will be fought, and we can help each other to grow.