Monday, 14 May 2012

After Caroline - what next?

I'm guessing most Green Party members were shocked by the news last night that Caroline Lucas is not seeking re-election as the Party leader. I also suspect that our political opponents will be relieved. As party leader Caroline played a blinder as an advocate for the Party's policies of social justice, economic regeneration, fighting climate change, and support for the public sector. As leader, she is going to be sorely missed, and hard to replace, so perhaps I should have said - "who next?"

Caroline Lucas
After the local elections, and the news of Caroline's departure as leader, Green Party members need to take stock of where we are, before thinking about what they want from a new leader. We are still a minority party and, although we punch well above our weight, we have a long way to go before we can get into government, even as part of a coalition. We keep making gains in local elections but we have failed to make a national breakthrough despite our anti-austerity message and support for jobs and public services. Many people in the party are committed to plugging away, doing the hard work of leaflet delivering and canvassing, and, whilst this is necessary and commendable, on its own it is not enough.

What the Green Party needs is a strategy which will increase both membership and support in the country as well as energising many of our less active members. What's worrying about the GPEW statement about Caroline (link above) is the talk about attracting disillusioned Liberal Democrats, because that is not the best way forward for GPEW. Why? because the Liberal Democrat Party is neither radical nor green, despite what many of its current and ex-members might like to think. It is an entirely conventional, grey, neoliberal party committed to austerity and the 'business as usual approach' so often condemned by Caroline Lucas herself.

Depressingly, there are those in GPEW who think entirely in conventional political terms and would like to see GPEW replace the Liberal Democrats in Westminster. This is delusional politics for two main reasons: Firstly, the last thing the UK needs is another Liberal Democrat Party, even if it was a fairer, greener version, and the voters won't be fooled by any attempt to do this; Secondly, this is a potentially a move to the right, to what some people would see as the centre ground, though centre-right would be more accurate, and risks the GPEW falling into the same trap as the Irish Greens did - I posted previously about this trap here.

The way forward is for the Green Party to strengthen its position as a party of social justice and radical economic change. By the latter I mean an explicit rejection of neoliberalism, austerity, corporate domination, and the democratic deficit in the EU, and a commitment to the alternatives such as the Green New Deal, ending privatisation and de-regulation, saving the NHS, ending tuition fees, government planning, and control of the banks.  What we should be aiming to do is to attract support from the huge pool of young people, many of whom have never voted, and who want real change, and access to jobs. We should also be attracting support from the millions of ex-Labour voters who believe in the public sector and social justice. And we need to do much better in attracting support from the ethnic minorities. These are all potential supporters who are more likely to be attracted by a party offering a radical alternative than many of the disillusioned Liberal Democrats.

As things stand, Ed Millband is likely to be Prime Minister in 2015, if not before. But this will be a victory by default. People will vote Labour to get the Tories out, not because they love Labour, but in the hope that things will be less worse than they are now. There is still plenty of room for a radical party of social justice at the next general election. We are more likely to make gains then, by going down the route I have described, than the dead-end advocated by those who see replacing the Liberal Democrats as the best bet.

One of the things those on the right of GPEW, who oppose a more radical Party direction, need to come to terms with, is that that green, environmental politics and 'free' market capitalism are ultimately incompatible. This is the elephant in the room, and is central to the whole debate about what kind of Party the GPEW should be. The kind of society we Greens want, is more democratic, more fairly regulated, more local, more community based and truly sustainable, and this is anathema to the corporations, because they understand fully that such a green economy would exclude both them and their destructive practices. That is why people like Nigel Lawson of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) expend so much energy and cash railing against climate change. And that is why so many commenters in CiF rage about Greens being eco-fascists. They get it even if some Greens don't. As I said in a previous post:
".....you have to ask - why is it that climate change has become a left vs right issue over the past decade or so? Why do right-wingers like Nigel Lawson, of the GWPF, Tory MPs, and Ruth Lea seem to think that all environmentalists are lefties and climate change is a left-wing plot to bring about an eco-socialist world? Why do they object so strongly? The answer is simple - capitalism and corporate profits. The 'free' market right have recognised that climate change is a potential threat to established big businesses and capitalist accumulation, which relies on compound growth."
If Ruth Lea and co. think like that, then it makes Green politics radical and anti-capitalist whether you like it or not. Don't believe me? Then read this excellent article by Naomi Klein, "Climate vs Capitalism", which sums up why capitalists are out to kill climate change and green politics. Here is a telling quote:
"The [climate change] deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system."
There is no route to a green future in going down the same political cul-de-sac as the Liberal Democrats, and no point in wasting time with the illusion that capitalists will 'see the light' and suddenly become socially and environmentally responsible. In addition, as I've made clear in previous posts, neoliberal capitalism will never revive our economy, and those that believe that existing economic systems can be made to work in the face of climate change are doomed to disappointment and failure.

Finally, there was an interesting post in the Guardian today by party colleague Jim Jepps entitled "Caroline Lucas stepping down is good for the Greens". I do hope he is right. For my money there is only one Party member who has the track record and credibility to replace Caroline Lucas as leader. I just hope he is willing and able to stand.

Footnote:

I just wanted to update this post to clarify some of the points I made in the light of comments I have received here and elsewhere. As for Lib Dems:

1. Lib Dems may be active and disillusioned but do they really share our values? - I don't think so. I'm sure that many ex-Labour supporters and members have values which are closer to our own. I can't pretend this is scientific but it is based on my 40 years of involvement in politics. I am, of course, not opposed to ex-Lib Dem supporters or members who share our values joining GPEW -  In fact I would welcome them.

2. Following on from 1; Five million voters deserted Labour from 2005 onwards, there are over 1 million unemployed people under 25, and many others who are politically disengaged. We also need to reach out to ethnic minority voters. This is a much larger pool of people than disillusioned Lib Dems and these are people we should be targeting. Targeting Lib Dems is a very limited approach for a party that wants to make a breakthrough and shows a lack of ambition as far as I'm concerned.

On Capitalism:

If you have read other posts on this blog you will know that I have been careful to distinguish between "capitalism" and the "private sector". By capitalists I mean people who own the means of production such as Branson, Murdoch etc, people who control and own the the corporations. However, I have no problem with the "private sector". Your local newsagent, pub landlord, tenant farmer, co-operative, and numerous other small businesses etc etc are not capitalists. I welcome the contribution these people make to our economy, in fact, I think it is essential. The problem of "capitalism" centres around the power and sheer social, economic, and environmental destructive capacity of corporations and financial capitalism, including the banking sector. If we want social justice and to fight climate change and deal with resource depletion we will have to move away from the current "capitalist" model which is unsustainable in any case, as I have argued above, and in other posts.

A key part of the purpose of this blog as far as I am concerned is to share ideas and stimulate debate so I welcome both comments that are supportive, and those that are critical, the latter as long as they are constructive and deal with the arguments. I don't publish comments from people who are simply out to slag me off or be abusive.

16 comments:

Hazel Dawe said...

Ironic that this blog will not accept anonymous posts but the blogger remains anonymous.
We are already campainging strongly on all the issues you mention. "an explicit rejection of neoliberalism, austerity, corporate domination, and the democratic deficit in the EU, and a commitment to the alternatives such as the Green New Deal, ending privatisation and de-regulation, saving the NHS, ending tuition fees, government planning, and control of the banks. "
But still those involved in Croupy won't vote. I was told in no uncertain terms by Occupy London that they weren't interested in Party politics when I volunteered to be a legal observer.
The reason disillusioned Lib Dems are a good target is because they have rejected their own party's current stance. Also they are already politically engaged and therefore more likely to become activists.

Andrew Pointon said...

I have to say I agree with this article in its entirety. As someone with a working class background but now would be labelled middle class, the Green Party's social justice policies were as important reason for me joining the party as the need to address the enviromental disaster the world faces. In my naive youth I thought sticking up for society's vulnerable meant joining the Labour Party which I did for a short time. Now older and hopefully wiser, I realise of course that after contributing to the 30 plus years of neo-liberal economics, the Labour Party is not the answer. The Greens have to become a real viable alternative, and for me that means sticking to an eco-socialist route, as simply attempting to make capitalism more "environmentally friendly" will not address the issues that the planet and its people face. As you have stated, capitalism and ecology are not compatible, nor will capitalism solve the social issues that many millions of people face.

Andy Pointon
Leeds Green Party
(Personal capacity)

Howard Thorp said...

Hi Hazel, I'm a bit baffled about being called anonymous?

My point about Lib Dems is as follows:

1. Lib Dems may be active and disillusioned but do they share our values - I don't think so. In fact I'm sure that many ex-Labour supporters have values which are closer to our own

2. following on from 1., 5 million voters deserted Labour from 2005 onwards, there are over 1 million unemployed people under 25. This is a much larger pool than disillusioned LDs and that is what we should be targeting. Targeting LDs is a very limited approach for a party that wants to make a breakthrough and shows a lack of ambition as far as I'm concerned.

Also:

3. after the Liverpool conference I have my doubts whether some on the right of the party are keen on campaigning on the issues you and I mentioned. I strongly suspect that their main drive is political power and they would be willing to sacrifice some of those 'issues' to achieve this. I hope I am proved wrong.

4. I was intending to write a very critical blog about the influence of these people at the Liverpool conference - but decided not to out of party loyalty - perhaps I was wrong not to do it?

cheers

Howard

Anonymous said...

Another strategy, destined to fail?
Ali P

Hazel Dawe said...

Hi Howard
All clear now as to your identity.
I strongly believe that these issues are central to both our policies and our campaigning.
However, as a long term Green Party campaigner I am sceptical about attracting non-voters to actually turn out and support us - and yes, I have many helpers who are not members and may or may not vote but do valuable campaigning work.
I did try to engage with Occupy but they were pretty hostile to any form of party politics. That doesn't exactly bode well for the demographic you are suggesting that we target.

In addition, I have spent many years trying to get students at the University of Kent at Canterbury to vote - to no avail. The polling station on the university campus is the quietest in the whole district.

Howard Thorp said...

Hazel

I agree the youth vote is a tough nut to crack because there is so much disillusionment with politics - which is why we need to remain radical and offer real hope of change to people. Moving rightwards to attract LDs won't do that and I fear that is a strategy favoured by some in the Party.

I can't say I blame Occupy for wanting to steer clear of parties. If they did they would probably lose their crdibility

Howard

Mr K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mr K said...

I fully agree with you.

I posted similar sentiments yesterday:

http://ozzyscorner.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/the-greens-crossroad/

Good luck,

Garry

Tom Chance said...

Howard,

Your post is certainly stirring and provocative, but ultimately the problem is that it is politically naieve in the extreme. I think you're talking about leadership of a wider political movement, not a political party whose primary means of bringing about change is through democratic elections (with a welcome second means of direct action).

You suggest we can "crack the nut" of age-old demographic tendencies (that young people don't vote as much) by "remain[ing] radical and offer[ing] real hope of change to people".

Just how many radicalised young people are there in any typical council ward, region (for Euro elections in 2014) or Parliamentary constituency? What is your evidence for thinking we can turn this around to our advantage?

Which radical, anti-capitalist parties can you name that have been more electorally successful than the Lib Dems?

How many voters out there are even thinking in some theoretical terms as "eco socialism" and "anti-capitalist"?

A political strategy is more than a collection of bold, stirring statements. It needs to begin with a serious analysis of our current strengths and weaknesses, of the opportunities to gain power and the threats to our party.

I hope we get some leadership candidates who can stir our hearts while keeping their head on, and who can unite and bind us together rather than seeking to sow division between made-up factions of right/left etc.

Perhaps you will read this and brand me right wing, or allege I think capitalism is compatible with climate change, but neither is true. I simply think few elections are won on lost on little theoretical spats, except where they tear parties apart in pointless in-fighting.

We all share the same values and the same political platform, let's get on with it!

Best wishes,
Tom

Ross Greer said...

As a Scottish Green who attending GPEW spring conference this year I did notice an element of what I would call 'New Labour' syndrome, which you have identified as the Right of the party. i would possibly idenitify a lot of them as the so called 'Green Democrats.' SGP simply does not have this for a number of reasons, not least because we are a much smaller party and we are embedded in a much more traditionally Left and progressive political environment.

At the same time though, the conference overwhelmingly endorsed motions for a wealth tax and in support of the Occupy movement. I do not think that this element will ever actually have enough influence to turn you into the Irish Greens (and us as a result, our fortunes are tied together until we achieve Scottish independence). Understandbily many members who've stood and fought time and again and never got anywhere do begin to think about how to get elected rather than why get elected but the dynamic and structure of the party is such that any attempt at a shift towards electioneering over principle simply would not slide.

As for the attempt at getting 'the Lib Dem vote' i believe that this is a moderately fruitful strategy but our ultimate success comes in getting the vote that hasn't actually existed before; young people, the disillusioned etc. This is where many other global Green parties have seen their success. This is also crucially where we need to expand our activist base into.

Howard Thorp said...

Hi Tom

It would be better to have this discussion face to face because there is so much to talk about, but I'll confine myself to picking up a couple of points.

1. we are in a crisis which is about to get a lot worse with a Greek default. We have a failed economic system - neoliberal 'free' market capitalism which isn't working and won't provide the prosperity people (including us) expect - ever. The tectonic plates of politics are shifting and this is an opportunity for a radical party like the Greens when there is an economic paradigm shift coming. You seem to have wholly ignored one of the main points of my post which is that our party is 'radical' whether members like it or not. If you don't think a radical party can be more "successful than the Liberal Democrats", why are you a member? In addition I would dispute the fact that the LDs have been "successful". If what they have achieved is "success" why are they about to be wiped out? That is the lesson that some people in the party do not appear to have learned.

2. I said we need a strategy. This post wasn't intended to be a detailed exploration of what that strategy should be, and I would very much agree that it needs to be a "serious analysis of our current strengths and weaknesses, of the opportunities to gain power and the threats to our part". Do we have such a strategy? If we have I haven't seen it yet.

One final point does "politically naive in the extreme" count as abuse? It could certainly be taken as such and is entirely unnecessary in a 'fraternal' political debate. Maybe our regional moderator is too sensitive but I suspect you would have been blocked from our list if you'd included that in an email debate.

Kind regards

Howard

Tom Chance said...

Howard,

I apologise for the slightly aggressive undertone in that statement, I shouldn't have let it slip into my post.

1. I would agree that we are a radical party, I like our willingness to step back and say "look, this is the root of this big problem, we need to fix the root cause" at the same time as showing how we can make pragmatic improvements based on those same values. For example, councillors can promote the idea of a land value tax to rein in house prices and regulation to fix the private rented sector while ensuring (as in Brighton) that new council and co-operative housing is built, private tenants are helped out more. These all embed the importance of social justice and our rejection of the market as a good way of providing decent, affordable housing.

I don't think many of the people that are often branded "right wing" in the party would disagree with that. They share the same values, believe in the same policies. The difference is more often strategic, sometimes tactical.

I touched on the unhelpful references to "wings" of the party in my comment for Jim and Matt's group blog, we are much stronger together than we are in little factions and a leader really needs to have that understanding:
http://greenpartyelections.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/tom-chance-caroline-is-an-example-we-should-follow

2. I don't think it helps to say "we need to do x" if it isn't based on any strategic thinking. You've put the cart before the horse in assuming that "an explicit rejection of neoliberalism, austerity, corporate domination, and the democratic deficit in the EU, and a commitment to the alternatives such as the Green New Deal, ending privatisation and de-regulation, saving the NHS, ending tuition fees, government planning, and control of the banks" is the starting point for an effective political strategy. Developing a strategy would lead to that kind of statement, it wouldn't set out with it without any evidence.

The party's national strategy up to 2010 was based on a cool analysis of the possible winnable seats, of the issues that swing voters care about in those constituencies, and of the national mood. What hard evidence do you have that there are sufficient numbers voters out there who would be moved by your suggested focus to go into the polling station and put a cross by the Green candidate, thereby electing lots of new Greens to councils, the European Parliament and the national Parliament?

A really good example of the dangers of naive political ambition is the Lib Dem vote in 2010. The "I agree with Nick" thing was a phenomenon, it was massive, but it lost them seats because activists got distracted from winnable seats and started to think that plugging into a national mood could win many more. In the event they made no breakthroughs and lost target seats by small margins.

Comparisons with other countries are difficult because of voting systems. If we had the German voting system we would have seen major breakthroughs as well on our recent vote levels.

3. The big mistake the Lib Dems made nationally after May 2010 was to get into bed in a coalition government that completely contradicts what many supposed were their core values - fairness, belief in public services, environmental justice. The Irish Greens made the same mistake. Locally I also think the Lib Dems became too focused on local issues like litter that seemed to win elections but in many places meant they stepped back from more transformational policies and politics.

But were they successful before then? The Lib Dems got up to over 4,000 councillors, over 60 MPs, 12 MEPs, etc. They shaped national debates and ran councils. Parties that made "radicalism" a big part of their message have mustered at most a couple of dozen councillors.

Just imagine if the Lib Dems had refused to go into coalition, if they had stuck to their guns. I think we'd be having a very different conversation.

Howard Thorp said...

Tom

"The party's national strategy up to 2010 was based on a cool analysis of the possible winnable seats, of the issues that swing voters care about in those constituencies, and of the national mood" - what next - New Labour focus groups? Perhaps we should ask the voters what policies we should espouse thus ensuring we always get elected?

My point which I think you have sidestepped is that this 'electoralist' approach is one dimensional. It can also lead us into the situation where the party becomes about getting bums on seats and loses sight of why those bums should be on the seats. Too many people in the party think that way, assuming that if we get into power we'll still be the same cuddly old GP they have always loved..

If we are to reach out to the millions of voters I have described we have to maintain our radical edge. People want a real alternative. No point in voting otherwise. To reach those people we need to change the view people have of the party which is too often a middle-class tofu munching bunch of environmentalists. Caroline has done really well in this respect but we need to do a lot better as a whole party. The local election broadcast was a wasted opportunity. It needed to focus on jobs, housing health etc - too arty by half and I suspect largely meaningless to the majority of voters.

What I and others witnessed in Liverpool was the kind of New Labour spinning and attempt to suppress debate which has no place in the Green Party - that is the same road to failure that the Irish Greens and LDs have trodden on the path to "power". My view was that it came from the 'electoralist' faction that I believe is in danger of pushing us down the cul-de-sac I described in my post. The big mistake the LDs made was to seek power when they could have stuck to their principles. Now no-one believes they ever had any. The behavior of the electoralists lead me to believe that they would do exactly the same thing given the same opportunity. Of course the LDs don't have someone with the nouse of Caroline but I guess even she would be expendable to them.

Of course I could be wrong but I was sure I could see the glint of power in the eyes of one or two people.

As for Brighton, don't get me going on that. All is supposed to be hunky dory but there are some of us who are not very happy about what our first Green council is doing.

The bottom line is that I don't want to be part of a party that is just part of the global neoliberal stitch-up. I'm not suggesting we are anywhere near that yet but I think I may have seen the very first signs.

I've been involved in politics for 40 years and I've seen happen too may times.

cheers

Howard

Howard Thorp said...

In case anyone is wondering I deleted Garry's post above because it was a duplicate

Chris Burton said...

Howard, well said, and I totally agree. But what is our strategy going to be? Yes, the Green principles you list, but that's not enough. We need to make it clear how the necessarily higher costs of Green policies can be afforded. As you know, I believe that state-created money, and the banning of banks from creating money, is the answer. If we make this a major plank of Green policy and strategy, it will be very attractive to many people who can see that capitalism causes poverty and distress.

Howard Thorp said...

Chris

I have been thinking about that motion and although I broadly support it, it needs to go in hand with other measures which will give ordinary people more control over the economy as a whole - like mutuals and credit unions - hence my Economic Democracy motion

I don't agree that the costs would be higher. One of the fundamental problems with the costs you mention is that much of the wealth created is 'creamed off' by a small minority. Rather than re-distribution we need to give people more economic power so that the distribution of wealth is much more even than it is now

Howard