Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Greens are good but genuine radicalism doesn't come in "party" form

Today, the Independent on Sunday asked "can Caroline Lucas change British politics for ever?" Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, is an MEP for the South East of England and is standing for parliament in Brighton and Hove. Largely unnoticed and unreported, she is set to become Britain's first Green MEP.

The IoS tells us that this will "would bring Britain into line with the rest of Europe, at last," and seem quite keen on the idea. Her election would "be a breach in the wall of Westminster, through which genuinely alternative policies might flow." Lucas's party, "whether you approve of them or not, are offering the truly radical choice"  against which "Nick Clegg's yellow-rosetted Lib Dems are every bit as conventional as the party of red and the party of blue."

The praise the paper quotes is gushing;
"The Green movement seems to me the most rational and honest way of behaving towards the planet we live on, and the Green Party is its political expression."
Philip Pullman, Author
"I think Caroline Lucas will be very exciting if she gets in, because we'll start to see some sway
from somebody who's very well informed and experienced..."
Greta Scacchi, Actress
"The election of our first Green Party MP would put us on the first step of a long journey to safeguard planet Earth for future generations."
Mark Thompson, Astronomer and television presenter
"The correlation between the number of green bottoms on parliamentary seats and the growth of a green economic sector is undeniable."
Sara Parkin, Founder director, Forum for the Future
"They have been able to do what the left hasn't been able to do, which has been to put forward an alternative to the free market and sound credible."
Mark Steel, Comedian
"Vote for what you believe in. There are no real differences between the main three parties. If you really want change, vote Green."
Alistair McGowan, Comedian
"The Green Party is the only political party to have a consistent message on the environment."
Nick Reeves, Executive director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
"It is an indictment of our attitude to our own long-term well-being that Greens, who might do us the most good in the long run, have yet to sit down in the Commons."
Simon Woodroffe, Founder, YO! Company
"Wouldn't it be nice to have someone [in the Commons] who is doing more than paying lip service to climate change?"
Thom Yorke, Radiohead frontman, backing Tony Juniper, Green Party candidate for Cambridge
"It is about time a Green Party candidate is elected to Parliament: their focus on the environment is essential to the future of the planet."
Rev Paul Nicolson, Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
"The sooner we have a Green MP the better... our world is heating up and we need to have people addressing these issues in Parliament who know what they're talking about."
Kelly Hoppen, Interior designer
"The Greens have remained constant at a 2 per cent voting share recently. This would equate to around 13 seats in the Commons if [we had PR]"
Robert Salvoni, President, Harris Interactive
"I haven't voted Green but I have sympathy with many of their policies... I think there are enough Green voters out there to deserve representation in Parliament."
Frances Crook, Director, Howard League
"The Green Party needs more exposure... It's not a question of having a Green MP, but including green issues and the Green Party in the debate."
Doug Stewart, Founder, Green Energy UK
But are the Greens really the radical alternative that they seem?

As most people might expect, the anarchist answer is no. Though they are genuinely progressive, albeit from a reformist point of view, outside of parliament, the constraints of power would dictate otherwise. The Brighton Solidarity Federation, who are active in the region Lucas is standing, explain this position in more depth;
The opportunity to vote for Caroline Lucas – in a town where the Greens have previously polled 23% against a national average of 1% – seems at first glance appealing. The Greens are perhaps the only left-wing party with a chance of getting an MP, and Lucas herself enjoys a certain respect amongst local activists and trade unionists.

However, we should sound a note of caution. It is true that Caroline Lucas shows her face at campaign meetings for more than just a photoshoot and some self-promotion (yes, we’re looking at you Nancy Platt), but history shows that wherever the Greens have got into power they have behaved just like any other capitalist party.

In Germany, the Green Party in government sent riot police against protesters trying to stop nuclear waste being transported through their communities – precisely the kind of green activism they had once supported. In 2001 they supported the invasion of Afghanistan as part of a coalition government. In Ireland too the Green Party went from vocal supporters of the ‘Shell to Sea’ movement against the Corrib gas project to actually implementing it. Green minister Eamon Ryan is now in charge of the project, the Greens having dropped their election promises in order to enter a coalition government.

Much the same can be said of the new Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. We all know what happened the last time a party of union bureaucrats got into power: the Labour Party. And we should dispel any nostalgia for ‘Old Labour’ from the off – they supported imperialist wars, opposed strikes and imposed austerity measures on the working class from their very inception: just like every other party that finds itself trying to balance the budget of the capitalist state.

The closer politicians get to power, the more like the rest they become, however well-intentioned and full of integrity they may start out. If Caroline Lucas does get in, she’ll be a lone voice of dissent. This will do her credibility on the left a lot of good, but will mean she’s not able to actually deliver any of her election promises. That would require a larger contingent of Green MPs… and if we got that, we’re back to the ‘power corrupts’ German/Irish scenario.
There can be no doubt that, as they currently stand, the Green Party do offer policies that would do a lot of good in Britain. Their support for a living wage of £8.10 an hour, abolition of prescription charges and restoration of free dental care, the development of housing co-operatives and more council houses, and increasing the basic state pension to £170 per week are amongst the policies that make them a far better choice than any other political party standing.* This is not to mention that their environmental policies, which no other party can touch.

Theirs is no manifesto for revolution, and a Green parliament will not bring about anything close to libertarian communism. But if you do feel that you have to vote, then the Greens are perhaps your best bet.

Nobody should be under the illusion that this will mean real change. The analysis provided by Brighton SolFed is given further weight when you consider that the Greens made themselves electable by conforming to mainstream expectations.

Previously, they rejected the cult of leadership, and according to the IoS this "condemn[ed] the party to have several figures speaking for it at once, so that its focus was hopelessly split." In 2007, Lucas herself led the campaign for the party to elect a single leader, and then stood as that leader. She conformed the party to an expected standard in order to gain votes, just as all parties and party leaders do. It is a neccesary prerequisite for gaining power, just as fitting into the narrow political spectrum of ruling class opinion is neccesary to retain that power.

As Brighton SolFed say, "if you want to make your voice heard don’t vote for a different ruler, vote to strike with your fellow workers." We shouldn't be aiming to pick a different ruler, but to "start creating the basis for a world without politicians and rulers altogether."

*Yes, I include TUSC in that statement. The limited reforms of social democracy are a better choice than any authoritarian form of "socialism."