Alex Phillips
Image credit: YouTube screengrab

For many of us in the Green Party, the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party presented a moral quandary. He was the most radical leader the party had seen in a generation, and certainly took Labour closer to Green policy than we’ve seen before. Though the list of bad Labour policies still remained long (Trident renewal, continued drug criminalization, refusal to back a fair voting system etc) it did feel like Labour was moving in the right direction at last. 

Some people left the Green Party to join Labour at the time, a tactical decision I certainly don’t judge them for – while others like me stayed in the Greens both because I believe our policies to be the best, and because I didn’t want to see us slipping towards the soft green centrism that some of our sister parties across Europe have ended up with. While I made clear in the election my disagreement with forming a pact with the Liberal Democrats, and certainly didn’t enjoy seeing colleagues standing against Labour in super-marginals – I do believe that our democracy is stronger, and our politics better for having a party that rides outside of Labour and attempts to steer the debate our way. 

As we come up to this year’s leadership election I’m struck that the party is at a crossroads. The axis of the last few years’ politics, Britain’s decision to leave the EU, has now passed. The Labour Party as we briefly knew it – a vehicle for social movements, and a genuine force for radicalism, appears to be dying. Just a brief look at recent Labour pronouncements – from Keir Starmer’s bizarre and insulting words on Black Lives Matter, to the party’s refusal to recommit to 2030 net zero targets, shows that they no longer feel accountable to the movements from which they previously derived some of their political power. 

In one sense this presents the Green Party with an electoral chance. Our best ever general election result – by quite some way – was when, in 2015, we ran a campaign pitched plainly to the left of Labour. When they made mugs saying “Controls on Immigration” we made ones saying “Standing up for Migrants”, when they said ‘austerity-lite’ we said ‘no austerity’. And it paid off – with over one million people voting Green. To build on last year’s exceptional local elections, and our second best ever general election result – I believe we need to be bold. 

A 2020 leadership election, with Keir Starmer as Labour leader surely provides us with such an opportunity. But it shouldn’t just be about us. The Green Party is at its best when it is the voice for social movements in the council chamber, parliament and on the TV and radio. Our support for those movements isn’t just about where we can find political space, it should be in our DNA. The next few years should be a chance for us to show movements – from Black Lives Matter to the Climate Strikers – that we are here to support them. We may like to think they already know it, but 3 years of EU obsession (which I was as guilty of as anyone!) has left some people thinking the Greens have drifted off towards the political establishment. Despite some amazing work – from Sian’s radical housing plans, or police monitoring to Caroline’s brilliant work with the peace movement in parliament or the strength of LGBTIQA+ Greens reaffirming our party’s resolute backing for trans rights – we’ve sometimes seemed too distant from the groups whose ideas and activism should be running through our party. So a pivot back towards radicalism won’t just benefit us, but I’d hope it will also help strengthen the social movements in this country. 

The context of this leadership election for the Greens is one of change. The country has been shaken like never before in my lifetime – and the future looks less certain than ever. A successful leadership team will look firmly at the future, riding outside the blinkered vision of the others and telling a story of what a post-covid economy and society should be like. And we should also be honest that such a leadership, if it’s to expand the party’s support base, cannot go back to solely focusing on the environment – a tactic that was deployed in our earlier years when we failed to achieve any serious electoral success. People in Britain are on the breadline – if we don’t meet them where they are at, and link the twin crises of environmental degradation and economic failure – then we risk sliding into oblivion. 

It’s great to see this election contested, because debate is always good. I’ll be watching closely – and casting my vote for the candidates who chart a course to victory that supports social movements, drags the political discourse in our direction, broadens our appeal and sees more greens elected.

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