Sunday 18 January 2015

Notes on the Green Surge

1. In many ways, the surge in Green Party membership is more significant and remarkable than the rise of UKIP. Consider the purple people bleaters for a moment. Since about 2011 this has been the anti-establishment party the establishment can't get enough of. Every advantage has been afforded them. The backing of certain papers, wall-to-wall rolling news coverage, loads of slots on Question Time. Fair or foul, the media lit a rocket under UKIP's arse and hundreds of thousands of people have taken notice. The Greens have had none of this. Their media profile is lower, they have no army of pub bores exclaiming their merits down the old spit 'n' sawdust, and yet this week the Green Party's membership across the UK has overtaken UKIP's and the Liberal Democrats'. Who knows where the Greens would be if they had the kind of exposure UKIP now take for granted?

2. Is this purely because of the extra coverage received by the Greens after Dave's chicken refusal to participate in the leaders' debates unless Natalie Bennett is given a slot? No. As Adam Ramsey points out in a handy graph, there has effectively been a two-step increase in Green membership during 2014. A modest surge - as you might expect - around the time of the European elections, and then a second beginning around the time of the Scottish independence referendum and Labour conference and snowballing from there.

3. Part of this is reactive. For many people who've signed up, UKIP is the very worst of British politics. Everything that is stupid and racist, Farage and co have that market cornered. One way to hit back is to not fall behind Stand Up to UKIP, the SWP's latest exercise in guilty liberalism and bandwagon jumping, but to sign up for a party that is the antithesis of the purples' dumb bigotry. Whatever one thinks of the Green Party's programme, they make a virtue of being evidence-led. Be it climate change, anti-austerity, renationalisation, and so on they have a stronger case than any of the other parties - and that includes Labour - that they have adopted policies not just because they're popular, but because they fit the needs of the moment. That to tell the truth is somehow a radical thing speaks volumes of the state official politics is in.

4. The Green surge can be seen as an aftershock of the Scottish referendum rumble. As we know, the pro-independence parties did very well out of their "defeat". The SSP put on a thousand members, the Scottish Greens a few thousand, and the SNP surged to 90,000 plus. In the main, the joiners were people politicised and, in some cases, radicalised by the campaign. These are left folks fed up with austerity, fed up with having policies imposed on them they didn't vote for, and appalled by the way official politics in the rest of the UK is always happy to wallow in the gutter. In England and Wales, it's people with very similar attitudes who are swelling the Greens' ranks. They've looked beyond the border and have seen that a viable alternative to austerity and austerity-lite is politically possible and electorally viable, and they want to see some of that here.

5. The Greens are successively filling the political space that exists for a small left alternative on the political spectrum. The far left, unlike elsewhere, have completely failed to live up to the opportunities that exist. They're either hopeless, as per the case of Left Unity and their fixation on getting procedure right and passing resolutions no one cares about, or useless as per the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who approach class politics as if it's the 1970s and persist seeing workers as economistic robots solely concerned with wages and cuts to public services. Their ingrained dismalism is a boon to the Greens.

6. While at the same time there are people - usually on the right of Labour - saying that we must "understand" the "genuine concerns" UKIP voters have, no such leeway is afforded the Greens. Many are the times I've been told that they're "not socialists"; are "misanthropic", caring more about badgers than people; as well as swear words like "Brighton City Council" and "sandals". I think we need to get a grip. Horror stories are good pub fodder but seldom the basis for sensible political strategy. Are there some deep Green types still in the party? Undoubtedly. Are they the majority? No, and they haven't been significant as a factional attractor for a long time. Nor are they appealing to misfits, oddballs and, for want of a better phrase, the 'socially dislocated'. They articulate the interests of a growing, rising strata whose emergence is deeply embedded in the development and contradictions of all advanced capitalist countries. To win elections Labour has to speak to, respond, and win over this increasingly important constituency.

7. It doesn't have to be like this. The Greens represent a threat to Labour's electoral prospects, yet the party can see them off, but only if it seriously wants to. Whereas UKIP offers backward-looking nostalgia for a Britain that never existed, the Greens offer the hope of something better. Labour, unfortunately, does not. Ed Miliband talks frequently of under-promising and over-delivering yet this is still managerial politics, of running things slightly more efficiently and fairly than the Tories. Such is electoral politics, that's where most of the voters are at. And this is Labour's biggest strength when facing any of the minor parties. In seats where a Green vote pulls many potential voters away from Labour it is the Tories who will benefit, and that can boldly be stated between now and election day. Green voters aren't stupid, either. As the most politically engaged and literate of all the various parties' voters, they know this too. Large numbers of them, perhaps just enough, are amenable to this lesser evil argument and come May will vote Labour in the tight marginals. This trick, however, can only be done once. Supposing Labour does win and implements the policies so far unveiled, but nothing else, that will not be a sufficiently high bar to neutralise the Greens come 2020 or whenever the next election comes round. To permanently eliminate them as a contender, Labour must redouble its efforts on climate change and education, and crucially - most crucially of all in fact - pursue policies that tackle insecurity and eliminate the blight of social anxiety. Hardly the stuff of which Winter Palace storming is made, but by acting in the general interest, the interest of the overwhelming majority of people (or the 'Common Good' as the Greens put it) Labour can ensure the Greens, as well as UKIP and the SNP, are put in a box. The prize may be even as great as a permanent majority. But again, only if Labour wants it.


Anonymous said...

I joined the Green Party back at the end of November. UKIP were a trigger, but it was much more the mainstream's response to UKIP that did it than the party itself. UKIP annoy me, but Labour enrage me.

I'm 32. Which means I grew up with a Tory government in power and the first time I could vote was 2001, after five years of New Labour government, with another nine to go until the current Coalition. The Labour that valued people over money is not the Labour that I know. Although I'm now reasonably well-off, I was on the sharp end of the benefits system in the late 2000's and a health service with waiting lists of more than 6 months. War in Iraq. National Identity. ASBOs. Continued promotion of the failed War on Drugs and the disaster that is prohibition. Weed is class C; oh, no, the Daily Mail disapprove, now it's class B again. More privatisation. Energy in private hands. Water in private hands. Railways in private hands. PFI. Increasing income disparity. House prices and buy to let.

Every time a politician talks about the working people of Britain as if they are somehow different from benefits claimants, they exclude me. The Labour I've known are not the party who introduced the welfare state, the crumbling remnants of which probably kept me alive, they're the party who continued its destruction. They're not the party who gave the British people a National Health system, they're the party who started selling it off to the highest bidder. They made life more difficult for me at the worst time of my life, while enriching a small group of super-rich businessmen who have asset-stripped our public infrastructure.

If I could vote for Labour and get Labour I would, but that isn't what I'll get: I'll get a version of the Tories who pretend that they care while doing exactly nothing that is meaningfully different. Would the me of seven years ago be better off if Milliband-led Labour had been in power? Doesn't seem likely with their commitment to continued austerity. At least the Tories know what they are.

So my interests - in people and in a future not full of despair - lie with the Green Party and not the failed politics of the rightward-drifting centre and a Labour party so in love with business that they won't even commit to a massively popular renationalisation of the railways (more expensive on pretty much every measure, both to end users and to the taxpayer as a result of a privatisation process that pretty much everyone agrees was utterly mishandled). I would ask Labour supporters exactly what values they think the party they're voting for really has at its heart? I know who gets my vote and my membership subscriptions.

David Timoney said...

Re #6, you are dismissing the criticism of the Greens as an essentially conservative force as trivial and spiteful, but the idea that "deep greens" are no longer dominant in the party is easily disproved by reference to their published policies, from migration (remove the "urge to migrate" through self-sufficiency) to the economy.

A combination of zero-growth and egalitarianism is a logical impossibility if you make the social-democratic assumption that equality is achieved by a progressive allocation of the fruits of growth. It is only possible in a zero-growth economy through the expropriation and redistribution of existing capital.

So far, the best the Greens have come up with is a 1% annual tax on wealth in excess of £3m. This is equivalent to the remittance basis charge that non-doms currently pay to avoid full UK tax. It is also about half the rate proposed by Piketty (2% on €5m), who also advocates progresssive rates on lower levels of wealth, plus progressive income tax up to 80%.

For the all the eye-catching commitments to a basic income and LVT, a party that eschews growth for sustainability while tolerating accumulated wealth is inescapably conservative.

Alan said...

You make some very good points in this blog but I fear you are sadly wide of the mark on one key point.

You say "Large numbers of them [Greens], perhaps just enough, are amenable to this lesser evil argument and come May will vote Labour in the tight marginals."

There is absolutely no way that this is going to happen. People are joining the Green Party because they like the party's policies. Not because they are looking for an alternative (anti UKIP) protest vote!

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of those who have joined the Greens are anti austerity, pro fairness and want a form of politics which represents the ordinary person in the UK.

These people will not vote for a right wing, neoLiberal party like Labour any more than they will vote for the Tories. You fail to understand that those of us who have joined the Greens do not care which brand of Tory get elected. Red tory or Blue Tory it makes no difference.

I grant you that some Greens want to prioritise getting the Tories out of power, but what is becoming clearer is that Greens will vote for Green Policy, not tactically.

Many of those of us who are members of Green Left, will not under any circumstances vote labour. Not until Labour lurch back to the left of centre.

It is my belief that Labour cannot win the 2015 election and that electoral failure will send those on the left of the party to the Greens in their droves come June 2015

Anonymous said...

“A combination of zero-growth and egalitarianism is a logical impossibility if you make the social-democratic assumption that equality is achieved by a progressive allocation of the fruits of growth.”

I understood that the assumption is changing the social relations of production.

But anyway, if zero growth and egalitarianism is a logical impossibility and only possible via ‘fruits of growth’, then isn’t that idea illogical because if you imagine growth in say ten years time and imagine an egalitarian society coming from that fruit of growth, if for example we start the process now, but then imagine if in ten years time we attempt to build egalitarianism based on zero growth we can’t get egalitarianism?!

David Timoney said...

@Anon, the need (or inevitability) of a change in the social relations of production is a Marxist assumption.

The social democrat assumption was that such a change (and the trauma it was assumed to entail) could be avoided if the fruits of growth were progressively distributed - i.e. with a bias towards the less well-off.

Though the SD approach did advance egalitarianism, by reducing inequality and eroding elite privileges, it did not directly seek to change the social relations of production. For example, nationalised industries were put under the control of managers recruited from the old private firms, rather than being put under workers control.

I'm afraid I don't understand your third paragraph. Perhaps you could clarify.

Anonymous said...

Basically, why can't egalitarianism be implemented at any point along the growth curve? The logical problem I have with your statement is that in theory you could implement egalitarian policy at a lower point of growth (so long as it had been rising before) but not at a higher point of growth (if growth was steady). But there is more growth, absolutely?

I claim we could implement egalitarianism today, given the level of growth and productivity (though I think some ancient societies did manage egalitarianism). And then we could say now we aim for zero growth society. At what point in this scenario does egalitarianism break down and why?

Mr Jelly said...

"As the most politically engaged and literate of all the various parties' voters..."

evidence for this? g\Greenies are from a very particular social layer - and that layer is full of crackpotts who think they are somehow elevated above class antagonism generally and have the luxury of abstention from struggle and hence retreat into lifestyle issues.

Speedy said...

Greens are the perfect party for modern Lefties - all the issues except the one that really matters, social mobility. They are the modern day Lib Dems, committed to maintaining the status quo while feeling good about themselves. They are simply the feel-good side of the Tory coin.

Alan said...

@speedy What absolute tosh. You clearly have no idea about Green policies.

The Greens want to tear down the current system, not maintain the status quo.

Social mobility? What does that mean? If you mean mobility in cash terms then Greens on the whole do not buy into that. That sort of social mobility is an instrument of capitalism that seeks to keep you as part of the rat race whist funnelling wealth to the 1%

David Timoney said...

@Anon, a more equal society can be implemented at any point, but this would necessarily require the redistribution of wealth, which in turn entails expropriation of private property (i.e. land, fixed capital etc, not your household furniture).

My point is that that the social trauma of expropriation was avoided by social democrats through a comibination of the progressive allocation of the fruits of growth (i.e. productivity gains went predominantly to labour, in the form of wages, rather than capital) and gradualist redistribution through progressive taxation of both income and capital.

The last 30 years have seen this approach flipped, so that productivity gains have predominantly gone to capital (with labour living standards propped up by debt), while progressive taxation has been eased (and even more so on capital - e.g. CGT, dividends and property - than income).

We could reverse this once more, but if we are facing secular stagnation (for technological reasons), and thus aenemic levels of growth for the foreseeable future, then the pace at which inequality would be reduced would be even slower than it was in the 1945-75 era.

The dilemma is that zero growth + private property (i.e. minimal expropriation) = entrenched inequality. You can only reduce inequality either by growth (which the Greens object to) or by redistribution and thus extensive expropriation (which the Greens also object to) in a zero-growth economy.

Ken said...

The bit that really resonated with me in this was:

[...] the Greens offer the hope of something better. Labour, unfortunately, does not.

The Greens' vision of 'something better' isn't mine, but at least they have hope for it.

BCFG said...

"all the issues except the one that really matters..."

Drum roll please...

"social mobility"

I was expecting something different! At least he didn't say immigration.

There was a study which showed that during the 1980's and 1990's those nations that had fully embraced neo liberalism were less socially mobile than nations which retained some level of social democracy. In light of this I would think the green party manifesto, for all its faults, would deliver more on social mobility.

Not that social mobility is the issue that really matters! What do they say where I work, too many chiefs and not enough indians!

Gary Elsby said...

The way for Labour to beat the Greens is for Labour to be more Labour than Greens are green.

When I hear Ed agreeing to austerity on his watch, I just quietly shake my head.
In his world it will be realism and in mine it is the white flag, not the red one.
My community centre has to shut to save the British Empire?
Yee hah!

The Green (the ecological party) are running a good wheeze.
Be more Labour than Labour. Full stop.

Cost the greens and Labour beats them and in the process explain why the world need not accept austerity to balance the bill.

ian said...

Labour seem to be totally misunderstand the Greens in Brighton

Phil said...

I guess there's only one way we will find that out, Alan, and that's what happens come May time. I only know from local experience that Green voters have, though by no means all, been swayed by the lesser evil argument. Also, I'm considering the action of voters here too. At present the Green vote is soft in much the same way LibDem support was before the election. It could well solidify, and in all likelihood will unless Labour goes down the road of tackling insecurity and inequality.

Phil said...

Gary, we are in danger of coming to agreement. Be rest assured in the coming days normal service will resume :)

Phil said...

Look at this, Mr Jelly. If it's an assumption good enough to guide Labour party strategy, it's good enough for me. I also recall research done a good few years ago that found Green voters tended to be active in various campaigns, more likely to attend demonstrations, and follow political news than supporters of other parties. Alas I don't have the reference - one of those half-remember things, sadly.

Jim Denham said...

The Greens' ostrich-like opposition to GM crops and nuclear power mark them out as unserious and reactionary. With the pressing need for a majority Labour government only the most self-indulgent elements of the petty bourgeoisie will vote Green in May.

Phil said...

I don't think the Greens are unserious because they have differing views on GMOs and nuclear power. There are plenty of labour movement people who share a critique of the political economies of both as well as the possible environmental consequences of such projects.

What is unserious is how the far left, the supposed vanguard of the proletariat, have dismally failed to grasp the nettle of political reality. They could have built something to fill the vacuum the Greens are pouring into. Alas, they did not, ensuring many, many more years of utter irrelevance.

Alan said...

@Jim Denham. The Greens are Ostrich like about GM Crops and Nuclear Power!!

You have heard about Fukushima and Chernobyl?? I think perhaps it is you who is acting Ostrich like about nuclear power. you might want to check out the list of nuclear energy accidents

As for GM the only thing that is proven about GM is that it increases crop yields. Fine. What harm is it doing to the Biosphere? you don't know and neither do I. One thing I am certain about though is that you screw with nature at your peril.

remember the genetic modification of 'Dolly the Sheep' a few years ago?? Remind me how that went??

I hate to burst your bubble but there will not be a majority Labour Government in May. The Labour party abandoned its roots and are now just a different shade of Tory. The differences are minuscule.

On Sunday Harriet Harman even said on the Sunday politics that an additional £30 billion of cuts by 2018 was "aspirational" for the Labour party.

We can't even vote for Labour as the lesser of two evils because they are just as bad a Camergoon and his acolytes.

BCFG said...

The scary thing about Jim Denham is that he takes the position of let the corporations do what they like no questions asked. So to Jim Denham not asking questions is now the definition of progressive!

Germany, a nation that I defy you to say is less progressive than Britain, has basically shut down it's nuclear industry. Are Germany suddenly reactionary by this decision?

Jim Denham is a classic example of what spending your life in irrelevant sects can do to the brain.

Everyone be warned!

Anonymous said...

If I was Cameron I'd do the same first cos it increases my lack of cred on green issues to include them. Secondly I can better depict an us (Tory) and them (a motley crew of others)and third I can get out of a debate I'd lose without making it too obvious that that would be the case.

Mark. A. Oxley said...

To the anonymous first commenter, I'm a few years older than you and I know exactly what you mean. I just missed out on voting in 1997 and wanted to vote Labour, but after a few months I was glad that I didn't -and didn't bother in 2005 or 10. This feeling continues into Milliband' s tenure.

Anonymous said...

Your conventional (conservative!) way of thinking is precisely why you don't understand the Greens. You will never achieve anything with an analysis like this which is rooted in the past. Establishment economics is in continual crisis because of the growth mentality. Conventional economists seem unable to think outside the box - which given that (at the moment) they unfortunately rule all our lives is a tragedy for everyone in the world. Why did the economic establishment fail to 'foresee' the crash of 2008? Since they couldn't, with all their vaunted 'expertise', why should we continue to give their boring conservative (small c) ruminations any credence? Lessons haven't been learned apart from some tinkering at the edges, so another crash is bound to happen soon. That's a major reason why Greens exist - and more enlightened people are beginning to realise it. Growth will never reduce inequality. Growth has a limit because it ends in death....and you don't have to be a socio-economic whizz kid to understand that.