Monday 12 August 2019

The Demise of Caroline Lucas

By now you will have heard about Caroline Lucas's emergency all-female cabinet in response to the looming no deal Brexit. And the derision has proven to be near universal. From proposing a cross-party alliance among politicians with little in common to the essentialist supposition that women are bound to do a better job of negotiating Brexit because, well, they're women (um, Theresa May?) and to the noted exclusion of black and minority ethnicity women from her fantasy cabinet. An absence compounded by her clarification/apology that all the leading women in British politics happen to be white. So quite how did the very Brexity backbench Yvette Cooper get selected for Caroline's gang over the very remainy actual Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott? Readers can speculate about this oversight.

Unfortunately for the Green Party's sole MP, this crass initiative has pretty much trashed her reputation among a left who've happily given her the time of day. Despite the space she has put between the Greens and Corbynism, and going full-on remain since the EU referendum. It's a distance travelled from green radicalism to green liberalism, but why the journey at all? What happened to the searing critic of the Blair government and all-round champion of good causes?

Some, particularly on the left, might point to the original sin of green politics: the analytical primacy of the relationship of our species to the environment. Notwithstanding the diversity within green thought and the integration of leftist positions, most of what you might call mainstream green politics swerves or downgrades the importance of class analysis: as if the logics of capital and the exploitation of labour has little to do with our collective species relationship to the environment. Conceived this way, what matters is the doing of something to prevent unsustainable usage of the Earth's resources and climate change which, historically, in the early years of the Greens resolved into a division between radicalism and pragmatism.

The Green Party in England and Wales (the Scottish Greens are a separate organisation) has undergone significant shifts during its history. Starting out as People, this was a conservative and misanthropic sect steeped in Malthusian population control - compare this to the (West) German Greens who were a party hailing from the new social movements of the 1970s. In the 80s it moved to the left, which is where it has sat ever since with varying degrees of radicalism. Caroline Lucas, for instance, has been arrested at Faslane protesting Trident and at Balcombe in an action against fracking. During the 2015 general election campaign, the Greens - then under Natalie Bennett's leadership - formed a de facto alliance with the SNP and Plaid Cymru and were able to place themselves to Labour's left and poll over a million votes for their efforts. Leftism paid.

And then it didn't pay any more. The emergence of Corbynism has made it impossible for the Greens to operate profitably against Labour's left flank, as the 2017 election underlined. The election of Jonathan Bartley as co-leader, in retrospect, appears a significant moment the party acknowledged the new political reality it operated in. Unlike Caroline Lucas and his co-leader, Sian Berry, who have backgrounds in activism, Bartley worked on John Major's leadership campaign to see off John Redwood in 1995, described himself as late as 2010 as a "floating voter" and had a wonkish career flitting between think tanks and doing odds and sods commentary for the BBC. In other words, he's the first senior Green figure who is entirely the product of Westminster and its environs. And you know what social being does, right? It tends to condition consciousness. Bartley was elected jointly with Lucas in September 2016 after the Greens heavy involvement in the remain campaign, with the latter being one of its most visible advocates during the referendum. Particularly since continuity remain took to the streets Lucas has allowed herself to be positioned as the greenish wing of EU fandom, associating the party more with Brexit than other issues. Meanwhile Labour has stolen their march on a green industrial strategy, opposition to fracking, and support (admittedly guarded) for Extinction Rebellion stunts. Still, the current turn hasn't harmed the Greens' electoral standing. In the EU elections this year the party polled 1.4m votes, its best results since it won 2.3m back in 1989. Likewise when it comes to local elections and by-elections, the Greens have proven more adept at picking up disgruntled centre/floating Tory votes than disgruntled lefties or Blairy refugees from Corbynism. Which means they're fishing in the same pond as the Liberal Democrats.

All of a sudden, the desire for a remain alliance or some such nonsense becomes clearer. Nick Cohen looked like he had egg on his stupid face when the first piece of proper journalism he did for nigh-on 20 years got roundly mocked by Sian Berry on social media, but as someone on the party's left would she necessarily be involved in tete tetes between the offices of Caroline Lucas and Jo Swinson? From the Greens' point of view, it makes sense for them to come to an arrangement with the yellow party thanks to the near identical constituency profile. And also to reach out to politicians in other parties who broadly fit with/might appeal to this sub strata of the electorate, and make them look like the much celebrated "grown-ups in the room". So the two halves of what was Change UK, the SNP and Plaid, certain "soft" Tories like Justine Greening, and remainy Labour members like Emily Thornberry were dutifully namechecked. And Yvette Cooper got included too because she's part of the same milieu, and is a great hope of the centrists - even though her Brexit position is more Brexity than the stance of the supposed closet leaver leading the Labour Party.

Being and consciousness, remember that? When you move in new layers there is a tendency to acquire their habits of thought. The elite circles of continuity remain, the studios, the corridors, tearooms, and parliamentary offices of assorted MPs are rarefied environments where individual politicians and figures appear within the milieu as significant personalities with real world pull. How else to explain the continued crush for the sulky Alastair Campbell? But it is also a dismissive, near preternaturally white environment where the nostrums of social liberal inclusion demand the requisite lip service, but little beyond that. Diane Abbott and other leading women of colour in the Labour Party do not mix in these exalted centrist circles, nor are they onside politically speaking. Therefore when Lucas said her fantasy cabinet was composed of leading women, her mind automatically connected to her narrow parliamentary squad.

Yes, Caroline Lucas's standing has suffered from this episode, less thanks to the implicit racism in her letter but because it demonstrates how far she's travelled from an activist politics to the most vapid parliamentary gesture politics. A sad demise, all told.


Mark James said...

It has been very possible for the Greens to position themselves on Labours left flank Phil. That is what has happened in Sheffield despite the best efforts of the Labour left in the city. You see in Sheffield as elsewhere Labour has not actually broken with austerity. In Sheffield at least the Greens are well to the left of Labour. This is proving infuriating to all the cities leftists who have found themselves outflanked by the ‘ petite bourgeois ‘ Greens!

DFTM said...

I think the ‘left’ have a knee jerk disdain for the ‘green movement’ because it appears to be oh so Middle class, which let’s face it is pretty much accurate.

However, I think within the green movement there is a better conception of what communism actually means and what the struggle against capitalism actually entails than you generally get in the labour movement. The question is, why this sorry state of affairs. Or why is the labour movement so wretched?

For example, if you read and look at the work of someone like Rory Spowers you can see clearly, or I can at least, the communist implications of the message, for ‘greens’ like these the solution is not capitalism without the capitalist (which effectively sums up the position of the radical labour movement, the moderate labour movement simply want capitalism and the idiot labour movement (see imperialist chauvinist Paul Mason) want capitalism without the worker!). But when you read the ideas and proposals of the radical greens the communist implications are clear and the break from capitalism is marked.

I find it amusing and interesting that when presented with actual communists the left become all uncomfortable and nervous, and instead of actually providing a thorough critique of the ideas just resort to ad hominen attacks, but I guess the whole of politics has been reduced to this debased level. Except it isn’t quite the whole of politics because people like Spowers are still actually thinking in a conceptual way.

I think Marxists are too rigid, too polluted with an erroneous progressivism, and actually close their eyes and ears to what the science is telling them, namely that no matter how many so called wars of liberation are undertaken the fact is that the vast majority of the planet will still have a carbon footprint way lower than the average Westerner and that meeting the economic and social challenges that lay in wait involve a little more than throwing missiles at the problem and telling the backward natives to treat women better.

I also think Marxists are good on explaining capitalism as an exploitative system, and bringing out all the resulting contradictions, but they are appalling at the other and more important critique that Marx levelled against capitalism, i.e. its utterly anarchic and destructive character (destructive in a physical sense and in amoral sense, dehumanisation etc) and the resulting implications of all that. For this critique we need the ‘green’ movement, among others.

Mark Walmsley said...

She apologised:

dermot said...

Thanks for the link Mark. The comments are a hoot! People are not buying her non-apology apology. Same on the other threads, a very tiny minority of posters standing by her, but not even 1%.

As one points out, she's labeled 17.4 million Brits as 'feral'. Or at best, dopes of the billionaires. Because to Caroline, working class people are feral, or their dimwit slaves. They couldn't possibly have a reason to vote the way they vote (best to leave that difficult chore to middle class white women I guess).

She just doesn't know when to stop. Hope she keeps on tweeting her 'thoughts' and 'apologies', because she might just eviscerate the Greens. Latest polls showed them losing their Euro/local gloss, and this may finish them off, with luck.

Claire Fairbrother said...

If the greens are so " middle class" or " petty bourgeois" how do you explain that the most radical and "green" of all Labour Party Manifesto was a copy and paste version of the Green Party's manifesto?

The Green Party of England and Wales remains a broad church were the spectrum of ideas and policies ranging from eco-marxism, ecosoccialism, feminism, anti-racism, social democracy with a green agenda, nature conservation, animal rights activism to "deep greens" ecology are not only tolerated, but positively supported.

And the reason why it works is because of our shared values of respect and tolerance for ideas coupled with policy development always based on facts and scientific evidence.

Added to this, the Green Party is proving to be such a responsive and resilient organisation because its basic foundation is the autonomy of local parties as enshrined in the party's constitution.

So, whilst the occasional "brain phase" or error of judgement from the only Green Party MP elected under the unfair and undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system still supported by both the Tories and Labour will obviously cause some dismay, but nothing as calamitous as allowing a Tory Government to leave the EU with "No deal".

Unknown said...

What does that mean "Labour has not actually broken with austerity"? I don't know who your local Labour mps are, but the Labour Party couldn't be more anti austerity.

Unknown said...

Her original proposal spoke volumes when she failed to include people of colour. The apology is meaningless now

Mark James said...

Somewhere out there( I cannot cite the research but there you go!) is an analysis of the class composition of each of the main parties. Intriguingly the most Working class Party is the Greens. Institutionally they do not have the organic link to the class that Labour have through the union movement but to characterise the Greens as middle class or petite bourgeois is off the mark. In Sheffield the Labour left are desperately trying to label the Greens as not serious about fighting austerity by implying that they will go into coalition with the Liberals to gain control of the city. No doubt this argument is having some purchase but there is no evidence to support it. For the Greens inSheffield it would be electoral suicide to flirt with the Liberals so they are not going to do it. Why? Because the Greens are stating to make inroads into the working class communities in the east of the city. It is the lefts generational failure to take seriously environmental social movements as a structural anti capitalist formation that has led to the continued belittling of the Greens or the sort of opportunism practised by the SWP. I would argue that Caroline Lucas might well be unrepresentative of the Green Party and I bet there has been a lot of internal critique of what she has done. Sheffield illustrates that there is political space to the left of Labour that can electoral bite. Driven by the trees movement the Green wave in the city has not just been about the environment or remain but has posed the question of fighting austerity now.

Anonymous said...

It is always amusing to read analyses of Green thinking by non-Greens. The reason that class struggle does not much feature is that it is ground well covered by existing groups. What was, and is, not covered, is the need to place the environment at the heart of the human endeavour. It doesn't really matter if the planet is destroyed by neo-liberal elites or working class sons of industry. As long as "the left" continue to believe in the death fantasy of infinite economic growth just as much as the right do, then both need to be fought. The greens are trying to steer us away from inevitable destruction - be it for the benefit of the few, or the many. Until you understand that, you understand nothing.

PlebJames said...

Mark James - find the study or I call BS. I tried to find it but all I could find were articles about the exact opposite i.e. that green issues ARE apparently more of interest to older, whiter, more middle class people.

The main thing that drives 'the left' (whatever is meant by that in various contexts) is that most problems in society and the world are caused by the immense inequality of wealth and power. To overcome this means to effectively challenge and overcome, quite literally, the most powerful interests in the world.
Lots of greens agree that this is also what is needed to address environmental issues, which is where there is overlap.

As for Sheffield, it is a really shitty right-wing Labour council who deserve to be kicked out. Don't equate Sheffield council with 'the left' because they're anything but.
Greens councillors in Leeds joined with the Tories to keep Labour out - so they are often totally shit too.
It's all a bit depressing really - coming from someone with a foot in either camp.