House of Lords

Where should socialists put their energy in 2023? This is a question facing many on the left.

There are some obvious answers. The wave of industrial militancy that has swept across the country has necessitated a solidarity movement alongside it. Campaign groups like Enough is Enough have provided a space for people to begin organising for the economic transformations the country needs. With the climate crisis getting ever more urgent and a socialist solution to it ever more necessary – leftists have an important role to play within the climate movement. 

These are all vital movements for the left to be organising within. But most socialists accept that while the collective struggle of social movements and of organised labour are crucial to building a new society, these movements also need a political expression. They need a political organisation able to fight elections, assume political office and – ultimately – wield state power. Since Keir Starmer’s ascension to the top of his party, it is abundantly clear that political expression will not and cannot come from Labour.

Instead, it must come from elsewhere. For a growing number of people – including more than a dozen left wing ex-Labour Councillors, Jeremy Corbyn’s former spokesperson, and outriders and influencers of the Corbyn era – that political expression of the tsunami of rebellion sweeping across the country, the political expression of socialism, will come through the Green Party. 

In light of that, our editor Chris Jarvis is writing a weekly column setting out why disaffected socialists should join the Green Party.

Greens want to overhaul Britain’s democracy

In last week’s article, we looked at how wealth redistribution is central to socialism. But for a socialist project to be genuinely transformative it must focus not only on the redistribution of wealth, but also the redistribution of power.

Redistributing power through an overhaul of our democracy has intrinsic value. Deepening democracy, giving more people more agency across more of their lives is fundamentally a good thing. But for socialists, it is also of keen strategic value. A government with a socialist economic policy that leaves the core of the capitalist state intact will see all of its advances unpicked and undone by future governments. By dismantling the state and rebuilding it anew with radical power redistribution baked in, economic transformation can be baked in too. Strengthening the oversight people have over decision making makes the right’s attempts to take away the gains of socialism harder harder.

That redistribution of power is core to Green politics. Those studying Green politics tend to agree that there are four central tenets – social justice, ecological wisdom, non-violence and radical democracy. The last of these is as important as the others, and is intertwined with how Greens would seek to deliver political, social, ecological and economic transformation.

Let’s start with the obvious one. The Green Party wants to abolish the anachronistic, rigged and unjust electoral system currently in place for most elections in the UK – first past the post. Under first past the post, millions of people are disenfranchised. People living in safe seats have a representative foisted on them that many of them have never voted for. People living in marginal seats feel compelled to vote for the lesser of two evils. People whose values align with a smaller party go unrepresented by the winner takes all nature of the system. First past the post is palpably anti-democratic and disempowering. The Green Party would see it replaced with a proportional system of voting to ensure that elected representatives reflect the votes cast in an election.

Abolishing first past the post is a necessary part of deepening democracy, but alone it is insufficient. Democratising the British state and redistributing power requires much more than voting reform. Greens recognise this. That’s why the Green Party would abolish all hereditary and unelected power from the political system – from the House of Lords to the monarchy. It’s why the Green Party would decentralise and devolve power from Westminster, allowing local councils to have more powers over revenue raising and political decision making. It’s why Greens support economic democracy – backing initiatives like participatory budgeting, democratic public ownership and the significant increase of cooperatives in the private sector. And it’s why the Green Party would overhaul the financing of political parties, prohibiting private companies and the mega-rich from buying influence.

What does the Labour Party have to offer in this regard? The much touted review into Labour’s policies on democracy – headed by Gordon Brown – turned out to be the dampest of damp squibs. It did not call for reform of the electoral system. It offered no profound reordering of power within the UK. And while it did support abolishing the unelected House of Lords, its suggested replacement would be gutted of any meaningful ability to offer genuine checks and balances on the House of Commons. Meanwhile, although Labour Party members and affiliated bodies endorse a proportional electoral system at the party’s 2022 conference, Keir Starmer was quick to say that vote would be ignored and it would not be implemented by the next Labour government.

As the Tories have used their 13 years in office to close down democratic participation, Labour has also offered tepid opposition or triangulation at best, and support for the Tories’ measures at worst. Anti-trade union laws, the Lobbying Act, the Public Order Bill, the Police Bill – the list goes on. These are all authoritarian moves to restrict the ability for social movements and organised labour to agitate, to organise and to effect change. Labour’s position under Starmer has been more than lacking. They’ve backed harsh sentences for protesters. They’ve abstained on key pieces of legislation. And they’ve jumped on board the train of attacking social movements.

With Green politics having been birthed by social movements, Greens by contrast are staunch in their opposition to these measures. Greens recognise that a thriving democracy necessitates a thriving civil society – it requires space for people to collectively organise for political change. With every new piece of authoritarian legislation the Tories introduce it becomes clearer that Labour can’t be trusted to defend democracy. That trust must instead be placed with the Green Party.

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Image credit: vgm8383 – Creative Commons