Caroline Lucas is this country’s Great Green Hope, and it’s a very unwise Green Party member who seeks to get into a public argument with her. But I think it’s essential to challenge her view (Guardian, 17 June) that the best way to put Green policies into action is by entering into electoral pacts with other ‘progressive’ parties.
We have just fought a General Election during which we exhorted people to ‘vote for what you believe in’. We didn’t suggest that people ‘vote for the least-worst alternative’, or ‘vote Labour if they’re neck-and-neck with the Tories’. We put up candidates in over 90% of constituencies in England and Wales in order to give voters the chance to support our manifesto, which was based on well-thought-out policy proposals reflecting our core values and beliefs.
The fact that our electoral offer did not lead to an increased number of Green Party Members of Parliament is a great shame, of course. It’s partly (as Caroline points out) a consequence of an undemocratic electoral system that’s stacked against a party whose support is thinly spread. Partly it’s down to a lack of clarity in the story we told the electorate; and, if we’re honest, some of the blame must lie with flaws in our election strategy.
Our failure to gain more MPs to join Caroline in the Commons is a setback that should inform future tactics and encourage us to build a more effective political machine. What it shouldn’t do is start a debate about our continued existence as a distinct political force – which is what talk of pacts, however cautious, will tend to do.
Yes, we should vote and work on particular issues with people from other parties when their views coincide with ours. We should – for example – have the courage to join our voice with UKIP’s when they call for proportional representation. We needn’t worry that their brand will taint ours, simply because electoral justice would benefit us both.
What we shouldn’t do, in the wake of electoral disappointment, is make any moves which risk diluting our principles, our integrity, and ultimately our effectiveness.
A pact between such unevenly matched forces as the Green Party and Labour, or the Greens and the SNP, would be a one-way ticket to political oblivion. It would confirm what our enemies have always sneered: that we are nothing but a pressure group. Many pressure groups do fantastic work, and our society would be poorer without them. They seek to nudge, shame and influence. But they don’t seek to gain political power. That is what political parties exist to do, and that must continue to be the aim of the Green Party.
Anything else will suggest to people in other parties – ones we may have much in common with, and ones to which we’re profoundly opposed – that we have quit the field of battle.
From the perspective of a party with hundreds of MPs, a pact with a party with one MP is a chance to inoculate yourself cheaply against arguments that might otherwise be levelled at you, if that one MP was still a free-ranging, independent voice, inspired by her party’s philosophies and policies, and answerable only to them.
Caroline writes that ‘.. many Labour or Lib Dem candidates wouldn’t get approved by a Green Party meeting …’
I suspect that’s a giant understatement. Like (I would guess) most members of the Green Party, I’m not very interested in making the Labour Party a little bit greener, or the Liberals a little more honest. If individuals within those parties, or any other party, wish to lend a hand to improving the world by tackling climate change and ending humanity’s fatal addiction to consumerism, then they will join us.
The General Election result was very disappointing for Greens – so let’s learn from it. Let’s be smarter, use our people better, tap into all the positive energy that’s out there looking for a home.
We’re supposed to be offering something new and revolutionary, aren’t we? Do we have so little confidence in ourselves, and so little respect for our tens of thousands of members, many of whom are full of optimism and up for a fight (these are not exhausted battlers, weary from a thousand campaigns), that we’re now prepared to help mainstream parties tick the ‘eco’ box?
I’m sure this is not what Caroline intends by her very sensible-sounding proposal; it’s just that like many sensible-sounding proposals, it contains a trap.
The idea of a Green-Lab pact brings to mind all kinds of analogies, but what it most sounds like is a fable: The Mouse Who Married An Elephant.
All kinds of promises are made at the altar, but the results in the marriage bed are all too predictable. Whether by accident or design, the so-much-smaller partner ends up getting squashed …
Roy Bacon is Policy Coordinator for the London Green Party and is running for the London Assembly List.
Deals have to be on a case by case basis. As far as I am aware there are none available from Labour, so there is no point having an internal “debate” about it. It is taking our eyes off the real problem – lack of a professional, national media experienced director of Communications and Strategy at GP head office and proper media training for our leaders. Until that happens we won’t break out of our 4% Guardian-readers ghetto.
The point of a political party is political power. Everything else is covered by Greenpeace, FOE, Global Justice Now, Animal Aid etc….. If this will get us more M.P.s do it but scrutinise every step to ensure that we never compromise on our fundamentals.
I need more detail: who are we considering a pact with and where?
I’m very much pro a pact. I’m a Green Party member and a Labour Parter supporter – proudly so. I think pluralism is something very much within the ethos of the Green movement. We’ve moved on from the days where people need to have one identity or tribe – we are all capable of holding multiple political identities.
ok but no one who is anyone from labour supports this deal, instead they have a unit to destroy the green party just wishing for something wont make it happen. and if it aint going to happen all we can do is build the green party and if labour ever did come to us for a pact it would be because we were strong. consider though labour have never offered the liberals a pact in the eighties and nineties when they used to be seen as closer to lab than the tories.
First Past The Post makes it difficult to read the fallout, but there’s no obvious evidence to suggest that the electorate have moved away from tribalism at the last election. If anything the opposite is true. How many times did we read that in blind tests, the Green Party’s policies (quite rightly) came out top? Hence “Vote for what you believe in”. Yet, even given the opportunity to vote for a Green Party candidate – in many places for the first time – the electorate either stayed with Labour or voted UKIP (how did that happen?!), or went from LibDem to Conservative.
The idea of stepping aside for other political parties is utterly anti-democratic. More so it is a corruption of process founded on a faulty assumption that Greens would be happy to vote Labour if a Green option was removed. It supports the claims of those who advocate tactical voting, lends credence to people who suggest a vote green ‘splits the left’ and is ultimately defeatist.
SNP did pretty well rejecting each of the other Party’s and there is no reason why Greens can not achieve the same in England and Wales. Especially as policies for the ‘common good’ denotes policies for the majority transcending the elitist ‘left/right’ false dichtomy that is often perpetuated.
i think we need to stick to the plan of standing in as many places as possible and targeting. the reason the likes of the communist party, socialist alliance, respect and now tusc never emerged fully formed is that they have allways gave the impression they would dissolve if they could get the labour party to move in a different direction. greens have got to challenge the hegemony of the other parties. i get the arguments on proportional representation but i dont think Labour will ever concede it unless there is a hung parliament and a mass movement seperate from support from a particualar party. in any case electoral reform is not on offer from labour nor is a pact only an attempt to destroy the green party.
What Caroline and I are proposing is about GETTING MORE GREEN MPs.
Rupert its irrelevant what you’re proposing as the Labour party will laugh in your face. even the ones who are interested wouldn’t get it past their members. electoral reform could happen but it won’t comme from an electoral pact. you don’t choose your situations only your ideas.
There are a lot of establishment plants working hard to ensure that the progressive vote is split down all the progressive factions, it seems that this article was either written by one of them..or the kind of fool playing right into establishment hands.
Winning is not as important as getting someone in who will ensure that ideally STV becomes the norm and would also support PR and drive that as a vote as a stepping stone to STV..AKA a semi functioning democracy.
Never going to achieve that if 30% ‘Always vote Tory’ so long as they SUGGEST underlying moral intent, and the rest are split across parties with FPTP in play.
I’m siding with Rupert here although he is another one of those ‘Progressives’ who refuses to opt in to accountability. Not going to get that until voters demand that too.
If every election progressive, convinced that their bubble is a tidal wave taste the reality and then forget next time then they will be waiting for the oil to run out and the original battle being long lost.
Make a pact.
Make is mean someone using something like SMART-voter.org it’s just opt in parliamentary recall on the specific things candidates are willing to commit to. Rupert found that most insulting.
The really crucial point is this:
This is actually about ENABLING more people to vote for what they believe in, and to GET it. . .
>By achieving PR, which will at last end tactical voting: Which was still our utter bane in 2015: most voters did NOT vote for what they believed in: In Cambridge, where I stood, we reckon there were at least c.5-6k Greens who voted Labour, for example.
>And even under the proposed pact itself, by seeking to ‘trade’ [vote-swap, if you will] Green votes in some marginals, votes that would otherwise mostly be tactically squeezed into semi-non-existence anyway, for ENABLING Green votes en masse in seats where, under the pact, we will be able to win: e.g. perhaps the Isle Of Wight, as well as some seats where Labour would stand aside for us.
Above all: in 2020, this would enable people to vote for (and achieve!) what they believe in in the sense of voting for an achievable alternative to endless Tory rule, and in voting for an end to FPTP.
Start trying to play the electorate and you’ll find out what happens.
It’s up to every Green to continue to make the case for the Greens’ policies. The real problem isn’t what the electorate believes; it’s the overwhelming spell the media has. The electorate have been conditioned for a generation (since Michael Foot’s time) to accept that there’s only one, narrow political path to follow. If the Green Party want to be successful, that spell has to be broken.
Plus it’s fundamentally undemocratic and therefore completely hypocritical for a party who quite rightly pride themselves on their democratic procedures. It’s an unworthy idea for the sake of political expediency.
When the Tories have been in power for 15 years and the Greenland icesheet is losing it, I think that your objection to ‘political expediency’, pressHere, my friend, will look less compelling.
I can’t believe you’re still trying to defend such an obviously bad idea.
Roy is labouring (sic.) under some misunderstandings here. As I explain in this piece http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2912517/a_progressive_pact_for_a_green_and_democratic_future.html , Caroline is not seeking to have us endorse any Labour or LD candidates that are beyond the pale. Her move is specifically calculated to be selective, and thus cleverly would improve the chances of the Jeremy Corbyns of this world in their parties. More importantly, the idea is of course to get more Green MPs. The point is that, if we can improve the lot of our own Party by improving the lot of those in other Parties who are worth co-operating with on principle – anti-austerity, pro-climate-action, pro-PR MPs or candidates – then what’s not to like?
As I explain here http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2912517/a_progressive_pact_for_a_green_and_democratic_future.html, this is not at all about us sacrificing our own identity! It’s about us having a shot at becoming a parliamentary party in our own right with a phalanx of MPs, achieved through (1) a limited pact, and (2) achieving PR on the back of it. Then we’ll never need such a pact again, and will grow, as we should.
The great precedent is 1903-6: that pact enabled the emergence of the Labour Party from the shadow of the Liberals. That is what we are seeking to achieve: the emergence of the Greens as a full-fledged force that can then take its rightful place in history.
And the point of course is that we can’t hang around for 40 years waiting for that to happen via FPTP. We don’t have 40 years…
& this, following an election where a supposedly progressive party committed significant resources in an attempt to unseat Caroline Lucas, because her presence in Westminster had embarrassed them. Or in Cambridge, where the then incumbent tried to dupe the electorate by producing leaflets that looked more like the Green Party’s than his own.
The beauty pageant that is a general/by-election will never be run by Queensbury Rules: Power’s at stake.
This pact would only apply in seats where it was relevant. Not in Cambridge.
It is precisely to avoid the kind of stupidity that sees Labour throwing resources at taking Brighton Pavilion from the Greens while at the same time losing Brighton Kemptown to the tories by 690 votes that a pre-election pact makes sense. Labour’s candidate in Kemptown, Nancy Platts, was a genuine progressive and would probably be at home in the Green Party. Whether Labour can be persuaded to enter into an agreement that would guarantee the Green Party an extra 3 or 4 seats at their own expense is another matter, but for Green Party people to be opposed to it seems strange to me.
Well I’m strongly opposed to it.
I would rather have spoiled my ballot paper by writing “None of the above” than vote for a Labour or LibDem candidate based on their party’s policies at the last election: the only party close to my political views is the Green Party.
Rupert – I may be labouring under a misapprehension, but you appear to be suffering from extreme optimism. Who are these ‘Jeremy Corbyns’ you mention? As far as I know there’s only one, squeezed onto the Labour leadership ballot by people who would never support him but were scared that otherwise the choice available to Lab Party members would be like the choice that faces me whenever I buy toothpaste: a lot of different names for the same thing. These are the same people who are going to enter into pacts with us, get into power (presumably through FPTP), bring in PR, and then be happy when we take some of their vote share? Really? What an amazingly generous bunch. It makes me want to join their party right now – which is what I might as well do since their views are apparently so close to my own. In reality, all the other ‘progressive’ parties are pro-growth, which puts any chance of dealing seriously with climate change (among other things) out of reach. I do hope you’re right and I’m wrong, but I fear a political party that did everything it could to damage the Greens’ chances at the last election is not going to give us a hand up at the next. If it was that sort of party, it really would be full of Corbyns.
There is a growing number of Labour MPs who support PR.
What is your political strategy? What is your better alternative than the pact idea that Caroline and I are proposing? Please ‘put up’.
I didn’t see any such viable strategy in your piece.
Here are some of them: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/06/ed-miliband-changed-labour-party-way-we-dont-yet-fully-appreciate
Rupert – it’s a simple question of whether you want the Green Party to be a political party or a pressure group. If our national and global problems are such that they can be solved by a bit of nudging of the existing political order, then the pressure group route may be the way to go. If not, then we have to aspire to real political power. That means winning power in our own right, in our own name. You must be familiar with the old adage that no-one ever got power by asking nicely for it. That’s because no-one who has power ever wants to let it go. If so many Labour MPs are in favour of PR, they will argue for it irrespective of any pacts with us, no?
Rupert, Jeremy Corbyn has a massive majority and doesn’t need us to step aside for him. For a local party intent on increasing our local council representation, standing against Jeremy Corbyn was essential. We trebled our share of the vote and got more people than ever before committing to voting Green in a GE.
Jeremy meanwhile raised his share and was returned with a massive 60% of the vote. If we had stood aside he might have gained an even higher share but we’d have set back the cause to get Green councillors elected in 2018 and Labour would have ribbed us mercilessly.
I don’t see how it would have helped the cause of progressive politics to have had no Green candidate in Islington North.
Caroline – I don’t think anyone is arguing for the Green Party to stand down in seats like Islington North. The only sensible pact would be for Labour to give way to the Greens in a handful of winnable seats, in exchange for the GP doing the same in tight marginals where the GP vote is capable of losing Labour the seat. For me, this only really becomes workable in the long term if each party has some right of veto over the actual candidate in those seats – I can’t really see GP members wanting to vote or campaign for some Blair clone, but I would happily do so for someone like Clive Lewis here in Norwich South – and the election result indicates that many voters felt the same way.
At the General Election, the Green Party was the only party on my ballot paper whose policies were anywhere near what I hold to be right. If the candidates had only represented Lab/Lib/Con/Kip, then based on their election promises, I would have had the choice of either not voting, or spoiling my ballot paper with “None of the above”.
I completely agree with this piece.
For all the disappointment of the election result, the strategy was good: asking people to vote for what they believe in, and giving them the opportunity to do just that by having so many candidates standing. Electoral pacts go back on that, and for what? For the same result as the Liberal Democrats are now reeling from.
I exhort those who stood, to continue their efforts now: be Green in your communities. Be prominent in all you do and say. The Green Party were debutants in many constituencies: there’s much good work to build on.