Green Party banner at a protest
Image credit: Bristol Green Party – Creative Commons

There have been lots of different responses to the general election writ large. Mired in defeat and punch-drunk with the loss of ostensibly safe seats, the Labour Party recriminations have begun. Various narratives have emerged, each seeking both to explain the defeat and vindicate the approaches of various different factions. Some on the party’s left are claiming Brexit polarisation is individually sufficient as an explanation. Rather predictably, the Blue Labour faction and their allies are recommending a return to reactionary positions on social issues, seemingly unaware that such narratives put us all in this mess in the first place. The rest of the party’s right are simply loading the blame onto Jeremy Corbyn and his allies in the hope that they can rid themselves of the stink of defeat. All signs point to a grim leadership fight in the New Year, and a fight for the party’s future direction, with frequent interventions from an overwhelmingly hostile media.

The Liberal Democrats also have decisions to make. They gambled on a hard remain position, and trusted Brexit polarisation to hand them huge numbers of seats – which failed to materialise. The Unite to Remain alliance, conceived in this spirit and shamefully supported by the Greens and Plaid Cymru, was shown to be a dead rubber. The loyalties of remain-backing Tory voters were steadfast, and leftwing remainers’ contempt for the Liberal Democrats did not seem to diminish. The Liberals have a choice to make: which head of the chimera will now do the talking for a party whose basic political commitments beyond EU membership have become hazy at best?

For each party, the existential question – what are we for? – is set to be answered briefly and brutally over the coming months.

The Green position

All of which makes the Green position in England and Wales peculiar indeed. No seats were gained, while the vote share increased slightly. Neither triumphant nor routed, the Green party faces no electoral imperative to overhaul leadership or approach.

And yet, as Chris Jarvis wrote last week, the election campaign was in a number of respects disastrous. The Unite to Remain concept was deeply opportunistic, and reinforced a simplistic polarisation along Brexit lines that could never assemble a winning left coalition. It detracted from the message that this was a climate election – our most powerful selling point reduced to a secondary issue. The intense focus on marginal tactical gains encouraged weird sniping at Labour from rightwing angles, such as Molly Scott Cato’s musings that compared union backing to corporate backing. Jonathan Bartley made an islamophobic comment on radio and TV twice, before making a twitter apology that didn’t face up to why and how the comments were islamophobic in the first place. Most of all, all this helped to confuse Green messaging and demoralise activists, not least the younger generation of school strikers who looked to us for clear representation.

There are, then, clear moral and political imperatives to break from this performance and take a good look at what we’ve been doing. Not only that, however, but the constellation of political forces around which our election messaging was built is disintegrating rapidly. As other parties reconsider their options, we cannot use the political cover of an increased vote share to avoid doing the same.

So what next?

As the achievements of Labour’s left come under threat, and are erroneously blamed for the Tory victory on Thursday, it is vital that Greens take this as an opportunity to support the groups most threatened by such developments. The rights of migrants, people of colour, the LGBTIQA+ community, and many others are liable to be jettisoned if the Labour right gains currency. This means building on the fantastic progressive policy that the Green Party offered at this election – such as abolishing the Home Office, self-ID for trans people, and more – to show unflinching solidarity. No less crucially, it means dealing forthrightly with any examples of racism in our own ranks, acknowledging them and resolving to do better.

Likewise, we need to take this opportunity to stand by the boldest policy stances that we share with the Labour Party. As some of Labour’s most radical proposals – expanded public ownership, workers’ wealth funds, the Green New Deal – come under attack from hostile media and an emboldened right, we must stand resolutely by these policies. We must demonstrate that the future lies with a transformative left programme, one that we will continue to promote on the merits.

But most of all, we must show that we have the tools, the means, and the intention of leading a transformative programme that can win hearts and minds. As Adam Ramsay has written for openDemocracy, ostensibly transformative economic models are popular on their merits, but in order to capture the imagination they must appeal directly to the deep disaffection many feel at the existing system of government. Building common wealth must mean bringing power closer to the people and building common institutions they can believe in. Greens must make an unwavering case for deeper and more expansive democracy at all levels.

It wouldn’t be the first time. We have long recognised the state’s repeated and systematic failure to respond to the people. Recently, Caroline Lucas’ Dear Leavers project represents a rare, true attempt to dig beneath the Brexit divide and discover the untapped consensus underlying our differences: a common experience of disempowerment, and a desire to rectify it.

It is on this vibrant, participatory basis that we should strive to build a working understanding with allies – Labour’s Left, even sympathetic left-liberals – and build a popular cause that’s worthy of the name.

With these steps, we can reinforce the best in our respective traditions and build a broad front to resist Tory dominance. Anything else is likely to be insufficient, and this work must begin now.

Winning this struggle requires us to be our very best – so let’s get to work.

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