Last year, Luke Akehurst published a piece on Labour and the Green Party on Labour List, in which he argued that Labour needs to campaign strongly against the Greens to stop their momentum. Like all good strategists, he’s seeking to avoid a war on two fronts. I made a comment on the page, and considered writing a longer piece here but in the end failed to find the time. Akehurst argued that the Greens play a right wing role on councils and act as a repository for anti-labour votes in areas where the right wing parties are electorally weak. He argues that Labour can’t triangulate the Greens because we’ll lose too many of our supporters. Later in the month, at Orgcon, and at the GLA Labour Group Xmas reception in December I found the issues raised again, and earlier this week, Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP published a piece in the Guardian calling for the renationalisation of the railways.
Under Natalie Bennett’s recent leadership, the Greens have become more explicitly competitive with the Labour Party i.e. they are positioning their programme to the Left and asking our supporters (and members) to join them. We have left them a massive amount of room politically and they are believable. Certainly more so than the LibDems were under Ashdown and Kennedy, days long gone, who offered 1p on the income tax to fund education.
It may be that where they win public office and sit in opposition in to Labour that they ally with the Tories and LibDems; their record on Brighton Council shows that they have both a right-wing, liberal and ultra-leftist hinterland. Furthermore, as Akehurst argues, none of us should forget that in some parts of London they have become the opposition to Labour on the back of Tory & other anti-Labour votes. For those who consider this merely tribalism, there can be real political choices, whether to build more houses or plant more trees. Despite all this, the policy offer and brand is rightly attractive to many Labour supporters, but we should also remember that the small Green group on the GLA were firm allies to the Labour Group and to Ken Livingstone in his campaigns to replace Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor and continue to work with the Labour Group to hold Johnson to account to the electorate and even his mandate.
However, Akehurst argues that,
The option of triangulating the Greens does not exist because if we move towards their policy stances we will alienate vast numbers of mainstream voters.
I don’t agree. The Green’s positioning is a threat to Labour’s support and an appeal to our activists and donors. Labour response should be to listen to those concerns and engage with the politics i.e. say what we want and where we agree. It would seem that the management of the Railway system is the totem policy at the moment but the minimum/living wage and education are both areas where Labour is vulnerable to a left wing/green offer. I have to ask why is it that it some so-called Labour supporters and spokespersons say we should listen to UKIP and their voters (and be just be a bit racist) and yet engage in street combat with the Greens. When challenged, the argument turns to defence, where the Greens are anti-nuke; the assumption that Labour members and voters want Trident is far from proven. Times have changed and the arguments for them are weaker, than in the ‘80s.
Without a policy programme that addresses the needs and desires of those voters whose support we want, all we have is name calling and the promise (or otherwise) of victory. i.e. you got to vote Labour because they are the only party that can beat the Tories. There are many who find the lack of courage on wages, housing, welfare and education makes them question Labour’s commitment on health and the economy. When we talk about credibility these voters and this question needs to be considered. Credibility is not just about the public finance arithmetic, it’s also about people believing what we say!
One also need to consider the impact on activists. Our neo-triangulators are so concerned about the impact on voters that they ignore or undervalue the impact of triangulating with the Tories on Labour’s activists. In a general election mandating that every MP visits a seat three times is not possible and if the programme doesn’t motivate, they won’t turn up.
Perhaps the electorate is getting tired of the cynical adoption of policy based on the chimera of the Overton Window, what they want is some passion, commitment, leadership and roots. Labour is leaving political space to its Left, based on the idea there’s nowhere else to go. This is no longer the case. The Greens need to grow up and behave coherently, and some of their voters may find the left wing positions unacceptable however both Parties need to be true to their/our politics. I agree that their Party as a whole has some way to go before they can be reliable allies in building a progressive and fair society, partly because some of the their voters are liberals to whom the environment is important, but we shouldn’t deny that their programme is attractive to natural Labour supporters, & activists.
A piece of collateral that reinforces the argument that programmes are about activists as well as voters is this article by Richard Stein, whoever he is. In it he states why he’s left Labour, but why the Guardian is printing shit like this from non-entities I don’t know, he’s probably someone’s neighbour or drinking partner. It does illustrate the loss of activist(s), who as Mark Ferguson points out we need for a ground campaign. It’s getting late in the day but the Tories adoption and encouragement of the hunt supporters is about activism and money, maybe Labour needs to reconsider its policy offer in the light of what the activists want and what they believe will make society better and fairer.
Richard Seymour argues the Greens need to articulate their opposition to an enemy, for him its capitalists, but I need to ask if the Greens (and their early adopter voters) want them to go there. It’s equally questionable if Labour’s leadership wants to do so either. I agree that the Green Party is anti-capitalist, not all its supporters agree.
This has taken me a long time to write, I have backdated it to about the time of my final trigger which was Lucas’ article on renationalising the railways. This article really addresses an internal Labour Party debate partly because I am not sure what to say to those who with good will to the left find their projects easier to pursue in the Green Party. I wish them well and will welcome them back if and when they see the need. We should not make it harder for allies to express their politics.