The Greens should celebrate Corbyn’s massive victory but they also have to build a common future through co-operation on the left, writes DEREK WALL
THE Green Party meets this weekend for its conference in Bournemouth. In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, what does the future hold for the party?
One view is that while New Labour was in ascendency the Green Party acted as a kind of wildlife sanctuary for supporters of “old” Labour, who would otherwise have become extinct. While Blair ripped up clause four, banned the S word and joined in any military adventure with George Bush’s cavalry that he could, the Green Party kept old Labour values of socialism and opposition to war alive.
Ever since Neil Kinnock rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s members of Labour have, over decades, joined the Greens. Perhaps now the Labour Party is led by socialists, we can stop being Greens?
As a member of the Green Pary since 1980 and a socialist, I disagree. While Corbyn’s victory is to be welcomed, the Greens are an established, enduring and necessary part of the British political scene.
I am not that nostalgic for old Labour, seeing Corbyn and John McDonnell as taking us back to Clement Attlee, but enthused that they are creating a different kind of Labour Party — diverse, grassroots-led, creative rather than conformist and certainly ecosocialist.
Attlee achieved wonderful things including the welfare state, council housing and the NHS, all fast disappearing under David Cameron. However, radical ecological commitments were not on Attlee’s agenda: even the Clean Air Act had to wait until the 1950s. Britain went nuclear, the empire rumbled on for a little longer and Britain took its place in the cold war.
Traditionally the Labour Party has had more to do with managerialism than Marxism, reform rather than radical change. At its worst it has been paternalistic and centralising. While the gains of 1945 are to be celebrated, the John and Jeremy pairing moves in a new direction. McDonnell has been a passionate opponent of Heathrow expansion, a man prepared to take direct action for the environment and a keen advocate of the trade union climate campaign. Many of us in the Green Party have worked with both Corbyn and McDonnell on many ocassions. Corbyn was even kind enough to speak at the launch of my 2010 book on ecosocialism, The Rise of the Green Left, at Bolivar Hall, along with veteran Peruvian revolutionary Hugo Blanco.
Corbyn’s commitment to green politics is very strong. Indeed, as Caroline Lucas has noted, he is seeking a less tribal, less sectarian form of politics that is energised by popular participation and reaches out to socialists in different political parties and to social movement activists from the Occupy generation and People’s Assembly. So rather than joining Labour I think Greens can perhaps co-operate with Labour, bringing new ideas and new perspectives to create a different kind of politics.
Green politics, with its focus on the threats to human survival from climate change and other ecological challenges, is a vital part of the spectrum. Greens are keenly aware that human beings are part of nature, not separate from the rest of nature. The Green Party has articulated radical policies ranging from people’s quantitative easing to the basic income scheme to rail nationalisation, some of which are now being adopted by Labour.
We Greens need to generate new policies and communicate them to radicalise a wider political agenda. Greens have already strongly defended Corbyn from media attacks and we can build support for policies such as opposition to Trident, which he advocates but the wider party has been reluctant so far to advance.
Making an ideological contribution is vital for the Green Party but it is also clear that the future of Labour is unclear, which means it is even more vital that we maintain our own unique identity. While Labour members have voted overwhelming for a new kind of politics, Labour MPs are largely unsympathetic and there are powerful forces opposing Corbyn, McDonnell and their supporters. Who knows exactly how things will play out? If Corbyn is ousted, the focus of left politics could turn to the Green Party.
So while we Greens have welcomed Corbyn’s victory, we are not going to stop campaigning for our own party. However if the Corbyn victory is a sign of wider, deeper and sustained change in Labour, there is no doubt that our party will build co-operation where we can.
Lucas has argued that Greens can work with Labour on constitutional reform to make Britain democratic. We could sweep away the unelected House of Lords, promote more diverse media ownership, introduce popular participation (the people’s question time being a brilliant start) and gain proportional representation for Westminster.
An electoral pact to sweep away the Tories is one goal. While this may be difficult to achieve, common campaigns — for example, to oppose Cameron gerrymandering constituency boundaries and to challenge changes to the electoral register that have removed millions of voters — could build trust between Labour, Greens and others on the left.
In the 1980s the Socialist Environment and Resource Association (SERA) promoted ecosocialist politics and was open to members of different political parties. I learnt my commitment to ecosocialism partly from its publications. Later it became a Labour Party-only organisation. If SERA moved back to a more open form of membership, it would provide a strong platform for Greens to work with other socialists.
Greens have also worked with Labour on the Greater London Assembly. A strong green presence after the 2016 elections, led by our mayoral candidate Sian Berry, would also be a practical step to working with a renewed Labour Party. Our paper, the Morning Star, is another space for co-operation between members of different organisations on the left.
Politics is fast-moving, but popular discontent with austerity has led to both a growth in the Green Party and Corbyn’s victory. The Green Party is challenged by Labour moving in a greener and left direction. This is a good thing: good because politics is about creating an ecological, democratic and equal society, not just the electoral success of one organisation.
It is also good because it challenges those of us in the Green Party to become more sophisticated, more strategic, more focused and more effective if we to realise the promise of our radical potential.
In 1945 while Labour won, the Commonwealth Party also elected MPs and its ideas fed into political renewal. We need to celebrate Corbyn’s massive victory but we need to recognise that the Green Party is vital to politics and build a common future through co-operation on the left.
Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales.