Whatever Happened to the Green Party? (or the Greens’ Seven Year Itch!)

The Green Party is an old force in British politics whose time has seemingly come. Ex-Green Party and current A*CR member, Allan Todd, examines the party’s role, relevancy and difficulties

 

No, despite the film references, this is NOT a film review! This article is one ex-Green Party member’s take on what has been happening to it since 2017. However, it’s important I issue an upfront ‘political’ health warning: as well as being the views of one individual, my perspective is also limited by the fact I resigned at the end of 2019.

Some background. I joined the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) – and Green Left, its small but influential ecosocialist and anti-capitalist group – in 2012. I stood as their candidate for Copeland (Cumbria) in the 2015 general election; and was elected as Keswick’s first-ever Green Party town councillor in May 2019. In addition, whilst organising the anti-fracking ‘Green Mondays’ at Preston New Road (Lancashire), I spent several months on the party’s Climate Campaign Committee (CCC). 

Despite leaving the Greens in 2019, I have remained in contact with comrades from Green Left. For instance, helping to establish the Ecosocialist Alliance in 2021.

Early concerns

When I first joined in 2012 it was in large part because, as well as having strong environmental policies, they had radical policies for achieving social and economic justice. When I stood as a Green candidate in the General Election 2015, I was pleased to do so because, in addition to those policies, it was also the only mainstream party to be unequivocally against any continuation of austerity – even of ‘austerity lite.’

My concerns about political developments within the Green Party began in 2017 (hence the ‘Seven Year Itch’!). Firstly, during my time on their CCC, I was concerned by how several of our proposals for the Green Party to launch a national climate campaign were ‘knocked back.’ Had our suggestions been taken up, the Green Party would have been pushing the Climate Crisis up the national political agenda a full year before Extinction Rebellion came on the scene.

The second cause for concern was the number of times members of the leadership spoke about the need to focus on attracting ‘soft Tory voters’. This was often uttered when pushing back on the CCC’s suggestions.

The other cause for concern came after the 2017 general election, when the right wing of the Party began pushing back against radical policies for social and economic justice. On internal online discussion groups, there were many who began calling for (and I quote) “such socialist stuff” to be left to the Labour Party.

Down the Yellow-Tory Brick Road?

Those political developments in the GPEW led to increasing calls after 2017 – from the party leadership – for the formation of a ‘Progressive Alliance’ with the Tory-enabling neoliberal LibDems. Given that party defended its role in implementing austerity from 2010-15, ‘progressive’ seemed a inappropriate term for any such pact. Thus, for some time, I tried to argue that the correct description would be a ‘Democratic Pact’ – but to no avail! Nevertheless, an initial consultation of party members indicated a majority against teaming up with the LibDems.

Then, in 2019, came the bombshell that, in the end, saw me leave the Greens: the unprincipled ‘Unite to Remain’ pact, first announced on Thursday 7 November. I describe it as ‘unprincipled’ because the LibDems quickly abandoned their original position of renegotiating Johnson’s Brexit deal, and then presenting those terms to the people in a third EU referendum (the first one was in 1975!) – with ‘Remain’ as an option. This was the stated position of the Green Party – and, eventually, of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

When the LibDems reneged on another referendum, and simply stated they would end the entire Brexit process if they were in a position to do so, I thought the Greens would withdraw from the pact. They did not. They still didn’t withdraw when, during the leadership debates, the then leader of the LibDems stated categorically that she would be prepared to push the nuclear button – thus unleashing the horrors of nuclear warfare on civilians: something the Greens had always opposed.

The precautionary principle

Particularly obnoxious about this short-sighted and opportunistic pact was that it ‘targeted’ around 60 seats, many key marginal seats – in an election where there was a clear choice as to who would become PM: Johnson or Corbyn. Significant for me – as a Green Party member – was that of the 10 target seats allocated to the Green Party, pro-Remain Labour MPs held most of them!

Yet John Curtice (one of the UK’s top election experts) stated from the moment that the pact was announced it would yield the Greens not a single extra seat. It seemed immoral for the GPEW to gamble – on the lives of the most deprived – that he was wrong; or that targeting so many key marginals – that Labour needed to win or hold to prevent Johnson returning as PM – wouldn’t make any difference to the national outcome.

While it is okay to gamble with our own lives, gambling – quite literally – with the lives of others, seemed incredibly wrong ( Professor King of Cambridge University , in a 2017 study, had called austerity “economic murder”.)

Not on my ‘Todd’

I was pleased to learn that I was by no means the only Green Party member to be concerned by this pact. On 19 November, The Guardian ran an OpEd from Tom Meadowcroft, who’d been the Green Party parliamentary candidate for the Bristol seat of Filton and Bradley Stoke. He withdrew from the election, describing the pact as “rank opportunism”, and stating that his main reason for resigning was because:

“The [Unite to Remain] alliance could end up hurting the Remain cause as much as helping it. Polling expert John Curtice predicted immediately after details were released that there were ‘probably five or six seats’ that might be turned over by the pact – but rather counterproductively, it targets 10 pro-Remain Labour MPs…. As a prospective Green Party MP, I would have taken crucial votes from Labour – but its Brexit policy is [now] the closest to ours.”

And, as it turned out, the GPEW’s push for the marginal seats of Bristol West, Stroud and Warrington South saw pro-Remain Labour MPs replaced by Tories.

The Realo ‘itch’ continues

Since then, the Green Party has continued to move closer to the kind of centre-right policies that have seen the German Greens abandon many of the radical ‘Fundi’ positions, which had led to its early electoral successes. Particularly worrying is that – perhaps as a result of a desire to move closer to the LibDems – at its Spring Conference in 2023, the GPEW voted to end its long-term opposition to NATO.

Prior to that vote, the party’s policy was that NATO is “not a sustainable mechanism for maintaining peace in the world”, and that the Green Party “would take the UK out of NATO.” Worse, the Greens’ position now is that, in effect, they accept that it’s okay for NATO to use nuclear weapons – as long as it’s in ‘retaliation.’ 

Despite desperate attempts to justify this astounding reversal of policy, that is the inescapable position that results from their call for NATO to ‘reform’ itself by guaranteeing a ‘No First Use’ policy on nuclear weapons. In other words: second use is okay. A position akin to someone saying they intend to vote fascist – but, as ‘justification’ for that decision, will ask that fascist party not to be too xenophobic/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic!

Pessimism vs. optimism 

I became interested in politics in 1963, when I was 14, thanks to reading Shelley’s Collected Prose and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. My first political ‘act’ was to join CND. Since coming across his Prison Notebooks in 1977, I’ve always tried to follow Antonio Gramsci’s maxim:

“Pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will!”  

But I have never had to struggle so hard to overcome pessimism as right now – and that includes being increasingly pessimistic about the continued direction of the Green Party. First, their total commitment to electoralism has now led them – for the coming general election – to stand in Norwich South againstLabour’s Clive Lewis: a very ‘green’ pro-PR Labour MP who has worked closely with Caroline Lucas for years.

In my seat of Penrith and Solway – where the only candidate who stands any chance of stopping one of the most right wing Tory MP being elected is the Labour candidate – the Greens have decided to stand a candidate too.

When I asked a leading member of the local Greens how they would feel if, as a result of their candidate taking red-green votes, the semi-fascist Tory won, their reply was: “Devastated!” Yet they have now abandoned any precautionary principle –when, across Europe, we are witnessing an extreme right wing advance.

Finally, despite mounting evidence of the ever-worsening Climate and Ecological Crises, Green Party electoralism saw their leadership refuse to urge their members and supporters to join the Restore Nature Now march in London on Saturday 22 June. Instead, they prioritised one day’s canvassing – a decision that deeply perplexed and saddened many of my Green Left comrades. It begs the question of when the current leadership of the GPEW think that Climate and Ecological Crises constitute crises!


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Allan Todd is a member of ACR’s Council and of Left Unity’s National Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917, Ecosocialism not Extinction, Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary, and Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary

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