Are we ready to shake things up?
This election has been transformative for the Greens: we have seen an incredible surge in support and membership, we have provided voters a Green voice in an unprecedented 571 of 650 constituencies, we have fought and won a platform in the mainstream of British politics, and we have had to deal with the scrutiny that comes along with it. We’ve had a whirlwind of an election and many successes that every member can feel responsible for and proud of.
However, we can’t presume that any of this will translate into electoral success. Our broken, dysfunctional electoral system traps and alienates so much of our electorate, and whether people wake up with the bitter taste of a begrudging tactical vote or with an intense feeling of being cheated of your democratic voice simply because you took the plunge and voted for what you actually believed in, on May 8th we’re going to be facing an angry nation, a nation with an appetite for change and a passion and will to bring it about.
So what will this mean for the Greens? And what must we do to harness the energy, anger and hunger of the generation of all ages, classes and colours who’ve been betrayed by the 2015 election and all it epitomises? Here are some ideas for what we must do:
• Socialism: We must embrace our left wing policies and become an unashamedly socialist party. With austerity and the widening inequality gap, we are increasingly living in a society ripe for the kind of left wing politics that now only exists on the fringes of British society as an inaccessible remnant of the past. The rise of Podemos and Syriza prove this, and the time for playing the middle ground and being cautious is well and truly dead. We need to be bold about our politics and the society we want to create. The Greens have the potential to provide a modern, more holistic socialism suited to this generation and the issues that await us.
• Class and race: We must tackle our class and race representation problem (yes, like it or not, we do have one), not because it looks bad on the party but because the poorest are being hit hardest, and with the rise in racist rhetoric we need to start putting race issues on the political agenda. If we claim to be a real alternative than we have a duty to speak to and represent the groups most attacked and scapegoated by establishment politics. The Greens need to do this by actively going into these communities and learning about people’s lives and starting a dialogue, not preaching and claiming to know what’s best for them.
• Unions: We can’t just whine about why the unions back Labour when our policies actually favour their members. We need to prove ourselves and earn their support. The unions and Labour movement are intrinsically linked and it’s going to take years of visible action, grassroots support and solidarity, not just written but unimplemented policies to get the unions behind the Greens, and we can’t underestimate the importance of this.
• Communication: We must start becoming eloquent and creative in how we communicate the Green vision. We need to take our principles of “doing politics differently” and “the politics of the future doesn’t need to look like the politics of the past” and radically implement them in everything we do, especially between elections, both locally and in our national messaging.
When politics only enters people’s lives as an election looms and a rosette knocks on their door, it’s no wonder people have a hard time being all too convinced of the integrity of any party or politician. If we’re to challenge this and truly do politics differently, we can’t just act and sound like every other party, however radical our pitch may be.
• Cooperation and solidarity: We must start actively supporting and working with relevant NGOs and grassroots movements locally and nationally, from the Electoral Reform Society to the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
When Fergusson highlighted the insidious systematic racism of the law, political and media establishments still evident in the US and even here; when the E15 mothers started their inspirational occupation; when Warwick free education campaigners’ right to protest was met with unnecessary police brutality – where was the Green voice? Why didn’t our leadership actively support these people or comment on the injustice they were facing? Why by our silence did we unwittingly make a stark statement and join the political establishment?
• Membership: We need to inspire and involve our new membership, so they actually become builders of our movement not just bystanders. If we are to retain and increase our membership, this is one of the most important things we must do immediately post-election.
• Leadership: We must learn to offer leadership, especially in the unstable post-election climate on 8th May. This will be vital to our future. From anti-austerity to proportional representation to championing immigrants, marginalized and minority groups, we must be the leading voice, not just a contributing one, as we are now. Nicola Sturgeon is apparently now our leading anti-austerity voice. Think about it, shouldn’t that be us? And isn’t the fact we aren’t leading this discourse our own fault? The SNP’s stance is political and opportunistic, ours is principled. We are failing those suffering this cruel, unnecessary austerity programme by accepting our supporting role in combating it.
The calls for electoral reform will never have been louder than they will be in a few weeks. The absurdity of our electoral system will be on display more blatantly than ever before; the “major” parties will all no doubt fail to win any majority and those who live in safe seats or dare to vote for a smaller party that actually represents their values will have been all but silenced. The Greens must make the loudest, strongest and most passionate call for proportional representation, political education, votes at 16 and a more accessible democracy. And they must do this with urgency and before the dust settles on this general election.
Are we ready to shake things up?
- Sahaya James is South West Green Party Coordinator, South West Young Greens Co-Convener, a founding member of Greens of Colour and recently elected National Union of Students National Executive Committee (NUS NEC) member.