Fighting every seat – why Greens should reject electoral alliances
When I joined the Green Party seven years ago, it was because it’s the only party which takes seriously the physical reality that infinite economic growth is impossible on a finite planet. I had voted and been supportive of the Liberal Democrat’s and the Conservatives, but studying environmental science and climate change at university showed me that neoliberal politics was failing to deliver a sustainable society for the common good.
The severity of the crisis we find ourselves in was played out over the past week. The so-called ‘natural party of government’ continued to tear itself apart over ‘the Europe question’ by electing a man whose political career is overtly based on a fictionalised caricature of himself, who then selected a far-right cabinet. Two days later, temperature records were broken on a day of extreme heat, probably driven by a human-caused climate emergency.
Meanwhile, the official opposition continually fails to find a position on the main constitutional question driving our politics – whether to support Brexit – and finds itself at the centre of reinvigorated anti-Jewish hate. On a Newsnight special, the two candidates running for leader of the Liberal Democrat’s affirmed their commitment to global annihilation in the event of nuclear response being presented as an option by the military to the government.
A few weeks before these events, Green Party members had received an email seeking their input on a Remain alliance with other political parties. The concept of the Remain alliance, or ‘Unite to Remain’, has unavoidable similarities to the ‘Progressive Alliance’, which saw Greens standing aside for parties including Labour, which in turn made no concessions nationally towards Green policies. Labour also committed staff time and used Corbynista outriders to campaign against Caroline Lucas MP in Brighton, highlighting the lengths they were willing to go to, to expand their tribalism.
The Green Party is a political party, seeking to gain votes and elect politicians to the halls of power. Our core political project is to build a sustainable society for the common good.
Any form of Brexit will be damaging for the UK and the EU, and will have a negative effect on environmental protections, workers rights, and our ability to tackle global issues like multinational corporations avoiding tax, and climate change. Greens believe we need to have a People’s Vote with the negotiated deal and remain on the ballot paper, campaign to remain in the EU and seek to reform it. The EU will likely remain one of our primary trading partners after Brexit anyway, so we should absolutely campaign to keep our seats in the democratically elected European Parliament, giving us a voice.
The world’s climate scientists have told us in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C made clear last year that we have 11 years to take radical, unprecedented action to avert climate catastrophe, something the Green party’s policies address by reshaping the economy, society and political systems.
We’ve spent the past three years talking amongst ourselves about Brexit, rather than dealing with this climate crisis which is likely to end modern life as we know it in the UK and much of the majority world.
Entering into an electoral pact will involve standing aside in some seats for parties including Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Labour is still open to building new coal mines, while the Liberal Democrats are committed to nuclear weapons, neoliberalism and are not there on the necessary action on the climate emergency.
With UK politics so febrile at the moment, there’s no guarantee that Greens entering into an electoral pact will affect national opinion enough to stop Brexit. The risk of denying voters the opportunity to make their voice clear on stopping Brexit AND on tackling the climate emergency, is simply not worth it. We may well spend the next 11 years talking about renegotiations with the EU, during which time we will have missed the opportunity to deal with the climate emergency.
This isn’t about ideological purity, it’s about political strategy in aid of delivering a survivable planet for the near future.
Every extra Green vote will make the other parties think again about their ambition on tackling the climate emergency. So we must campaign for every Green Vote.
We are facing the prospect of a right wing government that will make the last nine years look like a social democratic concensus. Although there are many practical difficulties in forming an alliance to prevent such an outcome, I hope that every effort is being made to do so. Unless there is an electoral arrangement that gives Greens something to fight for, we will be left as bystanders while the Lib Dems corner our remain vote.
The problem, Chris, is that Labour won’t ever do this so outside Wales the only available deal would be with the Lib Dems. Any deal with the Lib Dems but not with Labour would play havoc with the Labour-Green swing vote, and right-leaning Lib Dem voters with no Lib Dem candidate and only a choice between us, Labour and the Tories are very likely to go with the Tories.
This article is muddled in its thinking about how to respond to a Remain Alliance. For starters, such an alliance would not include the Labour Party, who are still committed to pursuing their own plans to implement Brexit. Therefore, Greens need not be bothered about the approach of that party to an alliance 2 years ago. The approach Greens need to look at is that of the Lib Dems who chose not to oppose Caroline Lucas among others in 2017. Jo Swinson has already publicly stated that she expects the Lib Dems to not run candidates everywhere. This is clear evidence that the Lib Dems would be more than willing to stand down in seats where the Greens have a better chance of winning. Further evidence comes from Wales where Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems agreed on an electoral pact for Brecon. These two parties look likely to agree a Remain Alliance across the principality.
Nothing could be worse for the Green Party moving forward, than to prevaricate over electoral pacts at a time when party politics has become so fluid. This is not the time for the Green Party to sideline itself.
Well said, Tom!
Thanks for this article Tom. I found myself nodding along agreeing with much you had to say yet still found myself coming to a slightly different conclusion.
I think the risk of denying voters the opportunity to make their voice clear in stopping Brexit and tackling the climate emergency is more manageable than the risk of giving right wing libertarians carte blanche. I fear that political outcome above all others in the short term. It pains me to think of the untrammelled damage such a government could do with a renewed mandate.
Consequently, I would accept tactical alliances for any general election in the next 6-9 months. I would favour working with other parties where it would be tactically effective to do so over the absolute principle of contesting every seat as long as we contest sufficient seats to protect our overall vote share nationally in order to maintain the growing green consciousness. I also think such a more focused strategy might even achieve more MPs under FPTP. I suspect my campaigning efforts might be more useful in a target seat than my local constituency. There are indeed no guarantees either way but I think it worth having another go at this and it’s possible to do it in a way that fits with our principles and ambitions.
The Progressive Alliance idea of two years back proved to be the predicatable disaster many thought it would be. The idea that the Greens could stand aside for say Sarah Woolaston, who apparantly is thinking of joining the LibDems, in Totnes in order to support a Remain candidate suggests that the Greens are far less radical and progressive than they think they are. Whether the EU is actually reformable is actually something Greens need to consider very carefully rather than simply assume it is possible or likely. In the meantime the EU remains an undemocratic supranational neoliberal economic organisation which remain today is what it was always meant to be. Perhaps we need to break up this bloc in order to invigorate progressive-leftist forces at home and elsewhere.