Green Party campaigners in Bristol

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.

Why socialists should join the Green Party #6: If you don’t like a policy you can change it

This article is being published immediately after the Green Party of England Wales held its spring conference in Birmingham. Unlike most other parties, the Greens have retained democracy at the centre of their conferences. Yes, they contain the set piece speeches, the troop rallying and the staged managed communications opportunities. But they also still operate as the central decision making body of the party.

Nominally, the Labour Party has retained an element of this too, with extensive and often heated debates taking place on the party’s conference floor. However, the Labour leadership has consistently demonstrated that decisions adopted by party members and affiliated organisations can be hastily cast aside or ignored. Recent examples of this have included Labour Party conference voting to support proportional representation and sanctions on Israel, only for these policies to be eschewed almost immediately by the frontbench. Ultimately, the decisions made by Labour Party conference have very little impact on what ends up in a Labour manifesto, or what Labour governments implement.

In stark contrast, the leadership of the Green Party has the same power over policy as ordinary members. They get one vote at conference just like any other member does. There’s no behind closed doors wrangling about where the party stands on one issue or another. The party’s platform doesn’t shift radically from one leader to the next.

This is important. It means the values and policies of the party are held collectively by the membership. As such, party members are given genuine ownership over the party’s direction.

It should be obvious why this matters for socialists.

Firstly, radical democracy is an important socialist principle as we’ve previously looked at in this series – both in how we want to rebuild society, but also in how we organise to get there. That’s the principled reason.

The practical and strategic rationale for grassroots democracy we also discussed last week holds internally too. The lessons of the Corbyn years are indicative of what can happen when you don’t have that internal democracy. Significant steps forward on policy were made under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, on everything from public ownership to migration to the climate crisis. The 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos were ambitious (although deeply imperfect) programmes which, if implemented, would have had a transformative impact on the country.

How many of those policies are still intact? Virtually none. As quickly as Labour’s policy offer was radicalised it was dismantled, and the membership were given no say.

In many ways it is worse than that. When Labour members elected Keir Starmer they did so with him standing on a platform of policy continuity. Laughably, the infamous ‘ten pledges’ are still on his website, despite him spending every waking hour of the past three years abandoning them. Labour members were therefore sold something specific, voted for it, and then have no powers of recourse now that it turns out what they bought looks very different from what was advertised. Gains organised around for decades are unpicked in a matter of months.

That is the warning against anti-democratic party structures, the negative reason for supporting thriving party democracy. But there’s a positive one too. With members in the driving seat, the core values and vision of the party can be kept solid. And on specific policies where the party ought to go further, or take a different approach, members can collectively shift this too.

That’s the basis of democracy in the Green Party, with all members being able to write, amend and vote on policy twice a year at conference. There are no doubt areas of the policy platform that those on the left of the party would want to see improved. For us Green socialists, we don’t have to wait five, ten or fifteen years until a leadership election to try to do that. We can do it now.

This has happened on a number of occasions in recent years. Most significantly, members organised behind a £15 an hour minimum wage in the face of some intransigence from elements of the party’s bureaucracy. The motion received the most supporters of any submitted to the Greens’ October 2022 conference, and members eventually overwhelmingly voted for the policy. Now, the party’s spokespeople are actively and enthusiastically advocating for the measure.

What this means is that socialists have genuine power over the direction of the Green Party, whereas in Labour they are marginalised, and increasingly they are demonised and even expelled. If you want a party that not only shares your broad value, but also you can steer to the left – that party is the Green Party.

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Image credit: Bristol Green Party – Public domain