Like many members, I found the general election a bittersweet experience. I stood against Theresa May in Maidenhead; I didn’t oust her as MP, but I was pleased to see her fall from grace. When she announced an early general election, the Conservatives were so far ahead in the polls that it looked as if she would have a majority of a hundred, and would use it to rip up environmental protection and animal welfare laws, transforming ‘Brexit Britain’ into Donald Trump’s best buddy. In the event, her majority disappeared, and as I write she is in deep trouble. As for the Greens, I was overjoyed to see Caroline Lucas re-elected with a remarkable 52.3 per cent of the vote.
But that was about it. Our vote often dropped in target seats and our national share fell. I have been a member of the party since 1980, when we were the Ecology Party, under the guise of which we won just 1.5 per cent in Brighton Pavilion. With Corbyn-mania looking like it is here to stay, we Greens face a serious challenge. If we miscalculate, we risk moving back to the 1.5 per cent days!
Don’t get me wrong – I love Jeremy. I have worked with him on several occasions, as I guess anyone over the age of 50 and active on the left in Britain has. It’s great to see him moving Labour leftward and fighting austerity. He has always had time for Greens. I remember how he and John McDonnell put on People’s Parliament sessions in the House of Commons, getting Green Party speakers, including Molly Scott Cato, to discuss our opposition to economic growth. I have happy memories of meeting him at the Little Green Gathering in Hampshire in 2012.
However, great as Jeremy is personally, the Labour Party is a deeply flawed organisation. Even if it weren’t, we’d still need a strong Green Party, because green politics is the politics of survival – vital in the face of accelerating climate change and other existential environmental ills. So how do we Greens maintain momentum in the face of a resurgent Labour Party?
We should respond by highlighting the contradictions in Labour. Jonathan Bartley has done this especially well and provides a good example. In 2016, he came within 36 votes of beating Labour in Gypsy Hill ward in Lambeth, where they had previously had 70 per cent of votes. Lambeth Council has become notorious for demolishing council estates and closing libraries. In Sheffield, Greens have been pointing out Labour’s dubious environmental policies, including cutting down mature trees. Spotlighting Labour’s local failures and contrasting Greens’ solutions will help us grow.
Labour is also far from democratic. Local members, for example, have no say when it comes to selecting general election candidates.
We can be proud of how our ideas are agenda-setting; when Labour supported austerity, we Greens resisted the cuts. Opposition to fracking is another of our stances they have borrowed. Since the 1970s, we have shown that continuous economic growth is environmentally damaging and does little to create real prosperity. We need to continue to be radical and lead with ideas, shouting about climate change as well as advocating diversity, intersectionality and liberation. We can promote ‘green sky thinking’ with ideas such as land value taxation, basic income and the four-day working week.
We should stand in as many constituencies as possible. I appreciate the case for not contesting every seat, and yes, if local parties agree not to stand in marginals, this might be justified. However, general elections provide an important platform for ideas and action.
By keeping our politics grassroots and democratic, we Greens can continue to grow. We should, where possible, cooperate with others for the common good, yet we have a distinct identity and a vital role. We need to raise the sophistication of what we do; green politics is for future generations and we are in it for the long haul.