What role can the Greens play now?
Starmerism has handed the leftwing party as opening to become the leftist equivalent to Labour of what UKIP was to the Tories.
Back in 2014–15 it looked like things were all looking up for the Green party; Labour has murdered the socialist agenda, and the home for and hope of what remained of the New Left in Britain had become the Greens, who were jumping to the likes of 11% in the opinion polls. The party embraced radical anti-austerity politics at the time it wasn’t a mainstream position in Labour or the Tories, they spoke up against the excesses of the EU with a soft Eurosceptic positioning, and they advocated an end to globalisation, and wholesale economic transformation of this country. Come polling day 2015, they amassed 3.8% of the vote (over 1 million votes), and things looked as if they might pick up further.
Alas, unfortunately for the Greens, the unthinkable happened. Labour didn’t pick another unpalpable centrist that would drive the British left yet further into the arms of their party; they did what had been written of as a future eventuality entirely by that point, and they picked a leftist leader. Jeremy Corbyn was the Green party’s worst nightmare, considering at both the 2017 and 2019 elections his transformative agenda reduced their vote share to a rump of half a million (1.6%) in 2017, and 2.7% in 2019, both unable to overtake their 2015 result, an all time high. This is down to the fact all those groups abandoned by Labour for so long finally felt safe to return under Corbyn’s tenure.
Alas, now Labour no longer represents those core principles and values, and many in the British left are now looking at the Green party once more.
The Greens took an odd turn during the Corbyn era, wedding themselves to the Lib Dems and the British establishment, before making themselves the party of Remain but greener. That didn’t work, and they seem to be reverting back to their core principles again.
The Greens strategically have a big opportunity now, and over the next few years going into 2024. They can begin to grow and continue that progression that they began in 2015, and which was stopped in its tracks by Corbynism’s hegemonic effect on the leftwing vote nationally. Keir Starmer has abandoned the commitment to a progressive foreign policy, he’s failing to speak up for liberal social values, he’s throw civil liberties under the bus, and he’s not even close to matching up on the Climate Emergency. Those disillusioned younger Labour voters won’t go to the Lib Dems, but they could go to the Greens; they have the opening of a generation to revitalise themselves.
Political parties very rarely get the chance to bring themselves back from the dead like this (ask UKIP), but the Greens now have that prospect in their grasp, and could become a serious competitor in national British politics, taken seriously, rather than the obscurity they’ve began to drift into. They could become the home of the British left. They aren’t a single issue EU party like UKIP was, they’re policy prospectus is as radical and transformative as Corbynism was, in many areas going further, and they fight the foundational issue of climate change in the sense of Green meaning a whole new form of politics, not just green issues being advocated.
If they really want to go this route and become a force to be reckoned with, the Green party has to get serious. Attacking HS2 is a strategically ill advised point, as is attacking nuclear energy; both these things lend themselves short term to the pathway to a Net Zero economy and society as quickly as possible. Anyone really serious about ideas like Net Zero 2030 or 2035 need to take these things as part of a package that’ll transform society, leaving no one behind. Greens need to flesh out their agenda much more and come to realise what sort of society they really want to create, with a coherent narrative of social and economic transformation stitching their excellent policy platform together.
The Greens cannot make themselves into a Rejoin party if they’re serious about becoming mainstream again. There is obviously a mass of opinion in the party that’s favourable to the EU, which is reflected on the British left, but if that becomes the hill to die on, rather than fostering a radical conception of post-Brexit Britain, with all the advantages of no longer being tied to a neoliberal institution being taken advantage of, then it poses serious risks of sending all the wrong messages and failing to become a serious competitor in the national debate. Leave that sort of clownery come 2024 to the Lib Dems; live in the real world and be serious.
Greens need to be unequivocally socially liberal. Labour is abandoning even that, and the Greens should loudly and proudly champion young people’s social values, so when they look at the party they see their own conception of society looking back. This party isn’t burdened by appealing to ageing racist pensioners, it’s best prospect is to grow loyalty among young people now, and grow bigger and bigger over the decades to come, putting leftward pressure on Labour, until it can eventually challenge Labour at a national level.
The short term goals for the Greens should be to push Labour from the left, challenging them for younger voters, forcing them to adapt progressive positions, and building themselves an ecosystem of media and organisational support on the British left. This as absolutely achievable; Corbyn has left a gap, and Starmer has failed to fill it over the past year, people are starting to dare to look elsewhere. During this time Greens need to grow and win at the local level, more councillors etc.
The medium term goal is to win in key seats, growing their showing in parliament. This might take a decade, but it’s something that has to be done, the more it’s done the easier it’ll get, the more it’s done the more coverage they’ll get on the mainstream media and political panel shows. You need to remember both Labour and the Lib Dems grew themselves from nothing; growing yourself a niche and winning seats is absolutely realistic, but will take serious organising power and strategic thinking, starting years before elections.
The long term goal, if Labour fails to match up to the challenges of the 21st century, should be, over the decades to come, to grow and overtake Labour as the centre-left party in Britain. This is inconceivable anytime soon, and may be impossible, but it should be the central ambition when Green strategists look ahead decades into the future.
My advice to the Green party is to focus on their watermelon (green outside, red inside) instincts, not the middle class neoliberal individualism that some branches of it encompass.