A Welsh eco-socialist alliance?
Andy Chyba is a member of the Green Party in Wales, and was the lead candidate for the Welsh Greens in the European Parliament elections. He withdrew last week, explaining that he did not want to take votes away from Plaid Cymru, who share many of the ecosocialist goals of the Green Party of England and Wales. Here he explores the possibility of an electoral pact between the Green Party and Plaid.
Being a member of GPEW in Wales is more difficult than in any other region of the Party. Some of those difficulties could be considered self-inflicted, but I don’t want to dwell on those. The main and unavoidable issue is the fundamentally different political landscape to anywhere in England. The Plaid Cymru factor can be seen as a massive additional obstacle, or a massive opportunity.
First a little background. Plaid Cymru translates as ‘The Party of Wales’. It is understandably perceived as ‘nationalist’ party, with all the images that term tends to throw up. It has had a colourful and somewhat chequered history, but started to take shape as a distinctly left-wing, socialist party in the 1980s when it adopted “community socialism” as a constitutional aim. It has evolved into a much more palatable form of nationalism too. Former Green Party member, and my mentor when I joined the Green Party, Keith Ross, puts it thus: “I don’t see Plaid as necessarily nationalist in the generally accepted sense of the word. For me the desire for greater (though perhaps not complete) independence for Wales (and Scotland, and the English Regions) is more about allowing people to take more responsibility for their own lives, so loosening the grip of multi-national corporations; and allowing people to have more of an influence over political decision making, so loosening the grip of the big party machines.”
When I first moved to Wales, in the early 1990s, Neil Kinnock was still at the helm of the Labour Party and Labour was very much the party of Wales, whatever Plaid Cymru said. But then Tony Blair came along and destroyed the socialist principles of the Labour Party, as we know now, forever. This has allowed PC to make some headway in attracting support away from Labour – although the majority of Labour supporters are still in denial that Labour have abandoned them to join the neo-liberal caucus.
I still could not recognise them as ecosocialist comrades though! Welsh independence and promotion of a moribund language remained higher in their perceived priorities than social and environmental justice. That has well and truly changed in March 2012 when Leanne Wood became leader of the Party. In selecting a 40 year-old woman who didn’t speak Welsh, the Party was clearly and unequivocally signalling a change of emphasis. Its fortunes under the previous regime were in decline, but Leanne has been a breath of fresh air and demonstrably a true ecosocialist. She published her “Greenprint for the Valleys” in 2011. It is an ecosocialist manifesto, and the foundation of her campaign to become PC Leader. It also took all the wind out of WGP’s (tiny dinghy) sails.
PC membership has soared to record levels and there is every indication that they will build on their electoral successes. Plaid Cymru currently has about 8000 members, to WGP’s 400 or so. It has 3 MPs out of 40 in Wales (compared to UK Greens one out 650). It has 206 councillors in Wales, compared to WGP’s zero and GPEW’s 139 in the whole of England and Wales.
So this is what we are up against. In my local area, Bridgend, we have built a rapport with local Plaid Cymru members and worked closely with them on ‘Bridgend Against the Bedroom Tax’ in particular, and have informal agreements to ensure we avoid getting in each others way in our target wards. We are, I believe, seen as more or less equal parties working co-operatively for shared objectives. I see the relationship growing and being of mutual benefit.
The current Wales Green Party officers seem set against attempting to do anything similar at a Wales level, citing historical issues that bear little relevance to current realities. And of course we would be in a pretty weak bargaining position, given the figures above. We could not expect equal shares in any electoral pact for sure. But if we do not come to some arrangement, we risk being obliterated. I happen to believe that Leanne Wood would welcome having her own ecosocialist principles endorsed by the Green Party – GPEW, if not WGP, is a bigger party, and it would, after all, be little more than an extension of, and recognition of, the fact that we are already formal allies in Brussels with GPEW and PC MEPs sitting and working together as part of the Green/EFA grouping.
It also follows in the growing recognition of left wing factions having to pool their resources and build a spirit of co-operation if we are ever going to defeat the neo-liberal caucus represented by the big three parties and the right wing fringe parties – at the ballot box at least. This is the rationale behind the PAAA and Left Unity, for example. In this respect, working with Plaid Cymru makes even more sense as here in Wales they are an electoral force already. A Welsh Ecosocialist Alliance could well provide electoral credibility for left wing alliances across the UK. If Leanne Wood was able to take most of the credit for that, I am sure she would buy into it. In her own words:
“Plaid Cymru genuinely wants to support people in England who want to rebalance political and economic power. Our party is co-operative, internationalist and of the left. We will work with progressives of any hue in England who want to decentralise. We are also prepared to actively support a new Left party in England.”
Irrespective of the views of some in WGP and GPEW, I am personally determined that one of the hues Plaid Cymru work with in Wales will be Green. I think that both Leanne and I share not just ecosocialist principles, but an understanding that it has to be about change on the ground – positive changes to people’s lives – ahead of any party sectarianism. So be it.