Thursday 11 January 2024

On the Green Party's Four for '24 Strategy

It's been evident for a while that the Greens are on a roll. After its best ever results at 2023's local elections, it has 745 councillors to its name. It governs in coalition in several local authorities and won Mid-Suffolk outright - the first time a Green Party has taken sole control of a council anywhere in Western Europe. The increased emphasis on popular left wing policies, support for workers in struggle, and speaking out against the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has seen their membership grow handsomely. And reflecting this increased strength, the Greens are going to stand everywhere in England and Wales when the election comes (the Scottish Greens, who organise separately, are committed to doing the same). Electoral Calculus also suggests they are in with a shout of taking the new Bristol Central seat, depriving Thangam Debbonaire of her place in the Commons.

There have been false dawns for the Greens before. In 1989 they polled 14.5% in the European Parliamentary elections. Because these were then ran on first-past-the-post this meant no MEPs, but they came out with triple the support of the then Social and Liberal Democrats, and it did spook the mainstream parties and their press friends. I recall a Dominic Sandbrook-style look forward in the News of the World that predicted a future fit for trees, but less so for people. Consumer choice was winnowed down and the ration books had made a comeback. All more than possible precisely because of the environmental problems the party highlighted. The Greens had hit the zeitgeist and their popularity spiked as the general public became aware of climate change (then dubbed the greenhouse effect), the threats to the ozone layer and what that meant, problems with acid rain, and how McDonald's and other fast food joints were driving deforestation in the Amazon basin. From that point on, all parties affected to take environmental issues seriously and the Greens were unable to capitalise on this temporary surge in support.

A much smaller wave crested in 2015. Following a relatively good showing in the 2014 EU elections (the Greens polled seven per cent and netted three MEPs), and then establishment politics' near-death experience with the Scottish independence referendum, the party put on membership weight as Labour were committed to Ed Miliband's Milquetoast agenda and there was no outlet for the small radical surge in England and Wales. Except for the Greens. This brought in more resources and more activists, and they subsequently stood in a record 538 constituencies and polled 1.1 million votes. Circumstances prevented the Greens from building on this growth in support when Labour went to the left and its activist and voter base decamped in large numbers to the bright lights and big cities of Corbynism.

And then there was 2019. In the course of the Brexit wars the Greens adopted a hard second referendum position, which attracted support from the more Europhile wings of Labour leftism disappointed in the untenable (but understandable) efforts of the Labour leadership to abide by the Brexit result. In the UK's last EU elections, they came within shouting distance of the 1989 peak with just under 12% of the vote and a return of seven MEPs. But that was far from replicated in the general election, though they improved on their 2017 figures. And then Covid intervened preventing an early capitalisation on Labour's return to managerial politics and Keir Starmer's found enthusiasm for Brexit.

The Greens' successes in 2023 differs from previous upticks in support because it's built on firmer foundations. Without any kind of media backing, unlike the incessant hype lavished on no-hopers Reform UK, the Greens have taken on the lessons of the Lib Dems in the 90s and built up their organisation at local level. And the investments are beginning to pay dividends. Which brings us to the so-called 'Four for '24' strategy.

Announced at conference in October, despite standing everywhere campaign resources are being concentrated in four seats: Brighton Pavilion, where Caroline Lucas is standing down and Sian Berry is taking her place. The aforementioned Bristol Central with co-leader Carla Denyer in the hot seat. Her counterpart Adrian Ramsey is taking up the cudgels in Waveney Valley, which should be safe Tory territory but where the Greens won several of their councillors last May. And North Herefordshire where the Greens also have a solid local government base, and in 2019 Ellie Chowns won over nine per cent of the vote. This makes perfect sense. But how does this sit with standing everywhere? Isn't four-for-24 undermined by this ambition? Not necessarily, and not in the way the Greens are implementing it.

Apart from the cost of deposits for all the English and Welsh constituencies, standing everywhere has a number of important effects. It's a morale boost for the membership and shows how much the party has come along this century. It means the Greens will benefit from more localised coverage. It should theoretically entitle them to more national coverage. Under Ofcom rules, the more seats the party stands in the more credible the case is for more election broadcasts than previously. And this wide notice can trickle down to the targeted seats, showing prospective voters the party is small but a nationwide force that has been recognised as such. And there are some important consequences the focused strategy has that go beyond the chances of retaining one seat and gaining up to three more.

One reason Corbynism was dispersed fairly quickly was the prospect of its failure was not prepared for. Demoralisation was an entirely predictable consequence, as so it proved. On a much smaller scale, the election campaigns of the far left, which have neither strategic rhyme nor reason stand in seemingly random constituencies, expend scarce resources for zero return, and end up burning through activists who were hopeful of at least saving the deposit. Instead the Greens are combining ambition and modesty. While flexing their newly gained muscle, they are also accepting political realities: that the party stands a chance in a tiny handful of places. This manages their membership's expectations, so few are going to get carried away thinking Starmer's abandonment of his Corbyn-lite platform will see a Green sweep of the board. By grounding aspiration, it's pointing to what the party has to do next. I.e. Carry on the hard yards of building up community organisation and local support. This is the best way, the only way the Greens can be well placed to benefit from disaffection with Labour. It continues during the next round of local elections (122 council seats need defending on top of hopes for an advance) and by the end of the next Parliament ensuring the party becomes a beneficiary of parliamentary by-election discontent. And the political positioning appropriate to this is not posturing as a government-in-waiting, but as the only party capable of offering effective opposition. After all, the Tories are already in the process of surrendering this responsibility while they're still in office.

The Green approach to the next election is a rare example of strategic nous informed by modest realism and basic honesty. There are no guarantees in politics, hence why it's more an art than a science. But the Greens have made an assessment of where they are, where they want to be and are acting accordingly. And if they remain this hard headed and Starmer continues ploughing his present course, there's a chance that over the next five years the party goes from a localised annoyance to a threat that Labour has to take seriously.

Image Credit


JulianGiulio said...

Surely, you would have appreciated a Corbyn-led government: he got the climate crisis and it was about as left as you are -maybe less so as he is conciliatory kind of guy -knowing him as I do; moreover, he's just soft left in my opinion -about where most of Scandinavia used to be!
However, as some of us witnessed during the time and since then -because Labour was so ahead in the polls by around the autumn of 2017, the Right wing media decided to systematically attack him by weaponizing Anti-Semitism (-the old trick they always do with the Left). He was also unaware of the hateful shenanigans going on without his knowledge in his own party i.e.-people just undermining him like they did in 2017 and maybe ‘Brexit’ had something to do with it -although I thought his handling of that was quite honest. I certainly would have voted for him and would now but he is a friend of mine so I’m biased. 😊

But now Starmer is firmly in place and after all that courting of the Right wing media, still the ‘Sun’ attacked him this week so it doesn't seem to be working that well for him. But the main thing is he does not represent people like me. HE is floppy and -like most politicians, he does not seem to get the Climate Emergency! He's a little better than the Tories but I will probably be voting Green in my usually-goes-Tory (Rushcliffe) constituency. The local elections in May brought 2 green councillors into power in my part of Rushcliffe (West Bridgford); but I do not know what will happen in the General Election.
Anyway, please be wholly honest I would really appreciate that this is a very good policy in itself and what have you got to lose? The sort of people who would be interested in voting for the Greens just want honesty!
Thanks -and good luck!

Anonymous said...

As far as I could tell, Corbynism was dispersed as quickly as it arose because its leaders failed to do anything to prevent the putsch that immediately followed. They immediately threw the leadership, allowing their bureaucratic enemies ample scope to rig the election of the new one - I watched as the establishment members of my local CLP systematically did everything possible to prevent the Corbyn surge members from gaining any meaningful influence, a desperately grubby struggle which went down to single votes at times, and left me in little doubt about their character. I don't have any trust that my own vote for Corbyn's replacement was properly counted. Once the right wing had the national party leadership again, from there the exodus (and purge) of the new leftists from the party was a fait accompli, and it wasn't hard to see that coming even before December 2019.

In short, they allowed absolutely everything to turn on the election of Corbyn's successor, so all that the capital vultures had to do was ensure that it was one of theirs. Presented with an open goal, Team Status Quo failed to miss.

As for the Greens... The capital vultures will have learned lessons from the Corbynist adventure, even if its participants haven't. A mass infiltration by Starmer-like characters and their associated politics will be beginning soon, if not already under way.

1729torus said...

Reminiscent of the strategy Sinn Fein employed to slowly but steadily grow in ROI, notwithstanding their volatile vote in 2019 and 2020.

Sean Dearg said...

All the Green need to follow the Sinn Fein model is a paramilitary wing leading a popular uprising against an oppressive colonial settler government. Although that does sound a bit like Hamas...

Sadly I have no faith that our dysfunctional and corrupt political system will allow the rise of an honest and genuine political group. As soon as it looks like becoming successful it will attract the sort of ambitious, principle-free, professional politician types that infest parliament. They will ensure that it becomes another establishment-friendly sock-puppet show.

Without real reform to how our politics works I can't see any prospects of people who actually want to make things better for most of us getting in to power. Those that benefit from the kleptocratic setup will make sure they never get near. The only hope is that our current kleptocrats are becoming kakocrats and they might just make things so bad that real change becomes inevitable. But that is likely to be very messy and nasty.

Old Trot said...

Well said, Sean Dearg, I find it quite extraordinary that Phil, and many other socialists, appear to be now , in understandable despair at Starmer's deeply corrupt, NuLabour2 monstrosity, pinning their hopes on the UK Green Party ! For goodness sakes people, wake up , the Greens are not in any way socialists, just purveyors of a cynical rag bag of often contradictory and always opportunist catch-all policies - which are often so badly thought through that they get crushed once heavily interrogated , as The Greens were on their confused Citizens Income proposals in 2017.

Look at the Greens when running Brighton council under Councillor KitKat - totally into imposing vicious tory-style budget cuts, and waging a long vicious battle against their own binmen workers. The Greens, despite their , out of office, pseudo radical rag bag policy offer, fundamentally just love austerity, as a permanent objective in itself - supposedly to 'save the planet', but not being socialists committed to making the 'broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden', their budget cuts always hurt the poorest, not the capitalist class.

Look at the ghastly German Greens, in all their various times in coalition power in both the various German landers and nationally, now the most vociferous , austerity-supporting, crazed Ukraine proxy war warmongers in all of Europe as part of the current German ruling coalition. Once in ministerial office, all that traditional Green policy bundle of anti NATO, anti nuclear weapons, anti war, stuff melted away like snow off a dike. Sorry folks, despite the numerous confused genuine socialists in their ranks, the Greens internationally, are simply neoliberals on bicycles, with , as Sean rightly says , and their role in Germany proves, full of gross opportunists always waiting in the wings to leap on their bandwagon and drive the Green party in office back to the imperialist warmongering, austerity-imposing political mainstream.

Blissex said...

«As soon as it looks like becoming successful it will attract the sort of ambitious, principle-free, professional politician types that infest parliament.»

My usual very relevant quote:
«An old mining MP called Bill Stone, who used to sit in the corner of the Strangers' Bar drinking pints of Federation ale to dull the pain of his pneumoconiosis.
He was eavesdropping on a conversation at the bar, where someone said exasperatedly about the Commons: "The trouble with this place is, it's full of c*nts!"
Bill put down his pint, wiped the foam from his lip and said: "They's plenty of c*nts in the country, and they deserve some representation." (To get the full effect, say it aloud in a broad northern accent.)
As a description of parliamentary democracy, that strikes me as unbeatable.

Blissex said...

«As soon as it looks like becoming successful it will attract the sort of ambitious, principle-free, professional politician types that infest parliament.»

What's wrong with them? As long as they represent the class interests of workers. Considering how enormous are their contributions have been to the wealth and incomes of their "sponsors" obviously they are pretty good at delivering what matters to those for whim the work.

As to that, which class interests do the Greens represent? That's a pretty important issue.

When our blogger writes that they may become “a threat that Labour has to take seriously” he seems to imply that they have a role similar to that of UKIP with the Conservatives, pulling them to the right to avoid losing votes to UKIP in marginals.

But would the Greens threaten New, New Labour from the left? And would New, New Labour care?

* My guess is that the Greens at the core are about "quality of life" concerns, that is incumbents who got theirs and are comfortable, except they would like more trees and squirrels and fewer factories and people in their affluent neighbourhoods In essence the party of NIMBYsm.

* My guess is that the whole political strategy of New, New Labour is PASOKification, that is to make "Labour" a smaller party that can only ever again get in office only in coalition with the LibDems. The Mllitant Mandelsoncy according to a 1993 entry in Tony Benn's diary has been working for decades to make "Labour" dependent on the LibDems (and it seems to me that there are many people in the Conservative party elites that horrified by Beleaver nationalism have been working to do the same to the Conservatives).

Phil said...

Hold on Old Trot, I'm not endorsing the Greens. But I am interested in their trajectory, the extent to which they can become a repository of the class consciousness of immaterial labour, and how they are poised to capitalise on Starmer once he's in office.

Sean Dearg said...

@Old Trot there's nothing unique to the Greens about a "cynical rag bag of often contradictory and always opportunist catch-all policies" That's a widely held view of the manifestos of all existing mainstream political parties. Show me a party with a comprehensive and carefully coordinated set of entirely consistent policies and I'll sign you up as a candidate.

Complaining that parties when in power behave differently from when they are campaigning to get there is the oldest moan in politics. Of course they do. They either go with all the promises they made, and try to do all the "contradictory " things you pointed out, and ignore the many competing demands and constraints they find themselves facing, or they cut their cloth to fit what faces them. In local government especially the constraints are rigid. They have a legal obligation to balance the books, and very little in the way of wriggle room. This is no accident. Central government does not want local experiments that might actually work and show there is a better way.

At national level there is less excuse, since they can essentially change the law if they don't like it, or it 'interferes', and they have control of the money supply. So, if the Greens get into power nationally, not as partners but in full control, and then don't do anything radical or consequential, I'll concede your points.

What you ignore in your tirade against the Greens is that your complaints are really about a party behaving as if they hold the same views as the majority of the population, rather than those of a radical subset (namely - You). We might disagree with NATO and capitalism and maintaining the status quo, but that's what most people support. So, doing what people want may be disappointing and will probably lead to disaster in the long run, but the alternative is to impose on people and act against their wishes. That seems unlikely to work very well, and it would most likely mean the end of that party electorally.

The trick is to persuade people that change is needed, and that it will benefit them, so as to introduce it without provoking an immediate backlash and great resistance. That is very difficult, which is why real changes tend to happen at times when the status quo has been shaken - after wars or disasters or societal upheavals.