Is it time for the Greens to get clear about Corbyn?
Today is the last day people can register to vote in the Labour leadership contest. So I’m going to say it: the Green Party has been relatively quiet about Jeremy Corbyn and his momentous surge to become the front-runner.
Apart from a press release two weeks ago (mainly saying his rise was ‘no surprise’), Greens have been unsure how to respond. Some members have jumped ship and signed up. Others have simply opted to hold tight and see what happens. And maybe it’s ‘no surprise’.
Part of it – indeed, probably most of it – is tactical. Talking up the chances of a potential left-wing Labour leader could hurt the Greens in (at least) the immediate term. According to sources, we’ve lost around 400 members this month alone – no doubt many of whom are going off to vote for Corbyn.
I’ve heard that members have been told by party HQ that if they vote for Corbyn they’ll have to leave the Greens. This is quite possibly incorrect: after all, if you vote through a union, you don’t have to give Labour any money. You just have to lie to the Labour Party by saying you’re not a member of an opposing organisation. Green Party rules on it are, well, slightly unclear to say the least.
It’s a tough position for the Greens to be in. We’re faced with a likely Labour leader who embraces many, if not most, of our policies – a proper living wage, rail renationalisation, nuclear disarmament, opposing war and austerity and so on. Much Green support comes from people – like myself – who left Labour because it was, put simply, not left-wing enough. Labour refused to seriously challenge austerity in the last Parliament. It looks like that might be about to change.
I went to Corbyn’s rally in Camden last week. 2,000 people turned up – over 1,000 in the main hall, hundreds in two full overflow halls and 500 outside (listening to him speak from on top of a fire engine). This is electrifying for the left – it’s hard for anyone to deny.
So the question is – what do we do? The response from the national party – understandably, to an extent – appears to be ‘say nothing’. While privately many senior figures are encouraged by his rise, publicly there has been very little comment. As I say, on the surface, it might make sense. He hasn’t won yet. We shouldn’t talk up other party candidates. And we are the Green Party – we are different, even to Corbyn. But that’s the point.
We are different to Labour, even under Corbyn. He has talked about reopening coal mines. He prevaricates on proportional representation. Labour have a completely different focus, political tradition and internal culture. And as the response from the Parliamentary Labour Party has made very clear – he is not widely supported among MPs.
That is crucial: they will try and tear him down. It takes about a quarter of Labour MPs to express their discontent to trigger another leadership election. There are already calls to postpone or cancel the current ballot. And the Blairites are mounting an ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ (ABC) campaign. We should be on side to resist these attempts to undermine a genuine alternative to austerity politics.
If he doesn’t win, Labour could tear itself apart. The left will be emboldened but without power. The right will use his loss as an excuse to push through changes to make sure people like him don’t come close again. And if he wins, Labour could still tear itself apart. Talk of splits are simmering, most MPs publicly say they won’t serve in his Shadow Cabinet, and coup-discussions will begin from day one. They will try to oust him from the outset. Labour will be in chaos.
The Greens, on the other hand, will not. Not, that is, if we have a coherent position: i.e. that we are comfortable in our own skin, being left-wing. That this does not cause splits. That having a left-wing leader is the norm, not a source of discontent. That we are a properly grassroots, democratic movement party that doesn’t seek to overturn election results if the ‘wrong figure’ gets in. That we believe in participative democracy and a diversity of views – and that we can handle this. As part of a ‘progressive alliance’, we can keep Labour left if he succeeds – and challenge them if they don’t, or if they fail on the environment. As one senior Green has said in private – ‘Corbyn gets ‘social’ – he doesn’t get ‘green”.
At least one Green Party Executive member has broken the silence. The left-wing International Officer of the Greens, Derek Wall – a member of Green Left and a dedicated eco-socialist academic – wrote in the Morning Star at the end of July that:
‘It is my firm belief that when the left wins in one party, that benefits the left in other parties. I have been impressed by Caroline Lucas’s attempt to promote anti-austerity electoral alliances… like many of us on the left, I find his [Corbyn’s] work and the momentum he is gaining hugely inspiring. I would of course urge all of us who are not committed members of other parties to register to vote for Jeremy.’
If Corbyn wins and Labour don’t split, the Greens’ long-held views will be validated. We should put principle before party and support that. We will be stronger for it. The left will be stronger for it.
When one of my best friends recently said he was joining Labour (in part to vote for Corbyn) – after years of trying to get him to join the Greens – my view was this: fair enough. That’s where your fight is. We have our own fight in the Greens. But we are pluralists, and we fight together.
And the Greens and Labour – united, for the first time in decades, around core progressive policies – can win together, too.
I welcome Momentum because it supports working together for the common good, not just for the Labour Party, to build the anti austerity opposition we need to challenge this governments cruelty. Jeremy Corbyn is also putting forward many of the policies we Greens have campaigned for for many years.
Through working together with grass roots Labour movement and in the trade unions, the “toff heavy” Green Party has a real opportunity to build a working class base and stop this culture of ‘othering” the majority of people who stand to gain the most from the implementation of Green policies.
Together we are strong!
NB: my trade union meetings and community based activities are where I encounter other working class people, not the green party.
Most people in the Green Party (although perhaps not some members of the party within a party that is Green Left) realise that you cannot have infinite economic growth in a world of limited resources. Corbyn and his followers in the Labour Party do not get that. They still think that chasing economic growth is way to bring about equality. It is not – it simply creates (minimum) wage slaves.
It’s something of an aside, but I’m appalled that the increasingly centrist Labour party mps would fail to support a leader selected by popular vote. What price democracy?
I am pleased to see JC doing so well and very likely looks like he will win if Labour don’t reject too many votes for Corbyn. I have not signed up as a supporter to vote for him though was sorely tempted. I feel he will be ousted at some stage but this will drive the left away from Labour and be seen as (another) act of betrayal. Unless Labour absorb and soften Corbynism? That may trick voters into thinking Labour hasvreally changed? Some of his views on coal and what sort of infrastructure he would invest in are a concern. He had mentioned roads! But indeed this may legitimise most og our GE2015 Manifesto and stir positive debate which is all good. Let’s wait and see. There will be some interesting talk at autumn conference but let us not be distracted. We have much to do ourselves. Few in the Labour party will look kindly on pacts with us i fear.
We should be VERY wary of the labour party after all they had a person Sadiq Khan specifically to stop labour members being lost to the Green Party,it was a failure, in fact Green membership increased & I hope to see further increases in future,More Greens would be great & necessary if we are to see further electoral success thus need to work hard for the next few years as I am sure & hope many will.
If Corbyn does not succeed in the short or medium term then we should gain new members or associates.
nice piece josiah. i think youve managed to capture the range of opinion in the GP about corbyn’s leadership campaign. speaking for myself as a GP member ive very relaxed about jeremy’s campaign. he’s progressive and on the left and i welcome the apparent growth in support for these ideals among some in the labour party. derek is right about that – the growth of the left is good for us all. but i wont be lying to vote for jeremy in the labour leadership campaign (nor should anyone else) im sorry but if youre a gp member you cant possibly sign a statement that you ‘support the labour party and its values’ without lying.
another reason im relaxed about jeremy’s labour leadership campaign is i know that it is alas going to end in tears. even if he does manage to overcome the bureaucratic jiggery pokery being planned to stop him winning he’ll be under siege from the moment he became leader. i dont doubt he’ll be able to cope with the emnity of the right wing media, but he’ll be fighting a oonstant battle against his opponents in the labour party too. all it wil take is some poor polling figures or disappointing by election results and they’ll make their move against him – i predict within a year of him becoming leader.
natalie bennett and caroline lucas are every bit as progressive as jeremy but the difference is they are leading a party where radical progressive ideas are the norm, not a once in 3 decades aberration!. if youre in the greens stay with the greens, and when the civil war that is going to erupt in labour ends – and jeremy has been defeated or ousted – we should invite him and his supporters to come and join us.
Over a month ago I wrote this satire partly because i didn’t think the left was seriously addressing what it would do if Corbyn, the candidate they nominally supported, actually won.
Like the rest of us, (apart from super-leninists of course) I’m surprised my satire may become reality.
So apologies for not being serious.
And now I’m hoping to find the time to write about Jeremy Corbyn’s support and ask questions that the left STILL don’t seem to be asking.
I am not a member of the Green Party but I read your article with interest.
In response I would simply say that there is not a snowball in hell’s chance that Corbyn, if he tops the poll, would be allowed to continue in post. An anti-establishment figure at the head of an establishment party is a deviation from the script, simple as. He has few supporters in the parliamentary party, which has the means and the determination to oust him. It would be that or leave as so many of them simply couldn’t serve in a Corbyn-led party.
When it does your flock will return, and bring more with them. This contest is an absolute win-win for real progressives, as the Labour right looks increasingly destined either to cheat or to bully its way back into a position of control and there is only so much of this that even the dozy Labour “left” will be able to take.
The fickle few will be back – if indeed you want them.
I’d suggest that the GP refraining from comment is probably the best option. Intruding on the internal affairs of a different party would probably not be welcome and might damage the chances of the person we’d prefer to see elected. Being myself a disreputable old leftie I know whom I want to win, but whichever candidate does so, we ought to investigate whatever possibilities there might be for common action round specific issues. Tony Benn himself at one of his last public meetings (in South Shields) declared that he’d like to see co-operation between the Labour Party and Green Party.
Thanks so much for this Josiah. I am an active and committed member of the Green Party and at the same time have been hugely inspired and encouraged by Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. For me, internally, these don’t feel in conflict. It feels as if they draw from the same pool of values. I too was a member of the Labour Party in the past. I left in the early 1980’s and spent the next years very active in the peace movement. I have heard Jeremy speak at countless CND demos over the decades and at a People’s Parliament meeting last year reflecting on Tony Benn’s life and work. I have huge respect for him and trust him. I don’t share all his views, but then neither do I agree with everything my fellow Green Party members say! It feels so important that we find ways that people who are passionate about green / social justice / peace / human rights issues etc can work more and more closely together. And that our party political affiliation, if we have one, supports and enhances this process.
I do not trust Labour 1 bit look at Brighton,
Caroline’s high placement on Labour’s national target list (No.19, with the two neighbouring Tory seats at Nos.25 and 28) meant the full weight of the national Labour Party was thrown at us. Endless mailshots, scores of activists bussed in, a steady stream of shadow cabinet ministers, fancy offices, and a huge national infrastructure backing their local operation. In the end, while Labour threw the kitchen sink at Brighton Pavilion, they lost neighbouring Brighton Kemptown by 690 votes. With turnout in Kemptown 5% lower than Hove and Pavilion, there is so much more Labour could have done to elect Nancy Platts, their excellent, positive, left-wing Kemptown candidate. Not going hell-for-leather to unseat Caroline Lucas, and talking more about the Greens than about the Tories, would have been one thing that would have helped.
Do you still trust them I certainly do not even with Corbyn they will be even keener to undermine the Green Party.
At one stage of the campaign, (Adam Campaign Manager for Caroline) measured that Caroline was getting over sixty negative tweets a day from Brighton Labour members – some deeply personal. Other tools in their armoury included completely false allegations about Greens shouting at Labour activists in the street, as well as malicious complaints to the Electoral Commission – complaints that were proven to be false. On election day, a female Green candidate, telling outside a polling station, ended up having to call the police because of the abusive behaviour of a Labour teller at the same station. Their claim after the election to have run a positive campaign was staggering in its hypocrisy. Staying positive, talking about Caroline’s values, the Greens’ issues and ignoring the vast torrents of abuse helped us flourish. As I said do NOT trust them,they will have to radicaly change 1st.
Neil I agree and it is not just in Brighton. For pacts to work requires give as well as take. How much give is there likely to be from Labour?
If Corbyn wins, there is no point in having two distinct movements. Although the parties should keep their distinct identities, they should form an electoral pact under one name on the ballot.
AW1983 I think I have much more experience of electoral shenanigans being 43? years older than you & have seen all other parties deviousness, Greens are normally trustworthy but most others not!!
Do not be fooled, I am not against Corbyn but give it time, a lot of time!!!!
Good piece. The other thing to say about this is that if Corbyn does get elected it will shift the public narrative and mainstream media conversation left. Labour will tear itself apart and the Green’s can say look we support all of things he is talking about and we are united on it meaning we are the best people to drive it forward.
Ultimately a mainstream media that is talking about more ‘leftist’, ideas as a result of Corybn will help Green candidates around the country and what we are calling for won’t seem so radical.
We must not be distracted by Corbyn, he is not as green as we would like & is in the Labour party so just a bit uninteresting to an real Greens, also we may be very caring & have a heart but not so Left as people seem to say???