Sunday, 18 January 2015
Why I'm Excited by the Rise of the Greens
No matter how great our loathing of the austerity project forced upon us in the name of “reducing the deficit” by the ConDem government, and how unscrupulous Labour has been in positioning itself as the natural opposition to this government’s policies even though in the small print it is pledged to continue them, the various factors which come into play are beginning to conspire against Her Majesty’s opposition in a very serious way.
Of course it is difficult, even for expert psephologists (which I am certainly not) to get a handle on this year’s contest because it will be a contest unlike any other, in which the date of the election will have been known for years beforehand and the campaigning period will have been uniquely long. It could be that come May the country will be so fed up with politics that the election itself will be more poorly supported than usual. Or conversely, the intensity of the debate might just drag a few more souls along to sign up to the ritual in a way that keeps the system limping on with its credibility retained, at least for another five years.
THE GREEN SURGE
I am excited, if it is possible to be excited by anything that occurs at the circus that is British politics, by what has become known as the “Green Surge”. That is the emergence of a party which would appear to have been in relative slumber for as long as Rip Van Winkle as a serious player at the contest to come. This week the Green Party announced that its membership had surpassed those of both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, and was growing at a rate of 500 per day. For the benefit of any Martians or recently released solitary confinees who may be reading this, this is the party which the powers that be have decided should be excluded from the forthcoming televised election debates in which Nigel Farage and his party are to participate.
I am not a member, nor a doctrinaire supporter of the Green Party. For many years I have prided myself on my independence from the whole shebang and have stood in elections as an independent in which the Greens have been listed amongst my rival candidates. I served for twelve years as a local councillor, three of them as a member of the borough executive, without once feeling the need to be involved with any political party and I remain of the view that the adversarial party system lies at the root of most of the problems which afflict our politics. I have long foreseen with a sense of impatient expectation the demise of the establishment parties and look forward to seeing their woes compounded on May 7th, or whenever the results of that contest become known to us. It would appear that, for the short term at least, my erstwhile belief that voters would turn their backs on party politics entirely has proved to have been overly optimistic in that they would seem to be looking to smaller parties instead. I’ll settle for that, for now at least.
The Green Party has positioned itself firmly to the left of the Labour Party, a development which I believe has come about organically rather than having been a mere tactical ploy. Speaking personally I dislike labels, which serve to slot free-thinking human beings into neat pigeon holes when surely the need to retain freedom of thought and of action should be of paramount importance. Nonetheless, with the Liberal Democrats having their fingerprints over far too much of the malign and inequitable legislation that has issued forth from David Cameron’s government under cover of tackling debt which has conveniently been blamed entirely upon its predecessor, I feel the Greens to be very much the most likely recipients of my vote, and my support, at the coming election.
It isn’t that I blame the Lib Dems for having gone into coalition. I do believe that, at the time, it was the correct thing to do. But the inescapable conclusion for me is that over the four and a half years in which they have ostensibly shared power with the Tories they have allowed their partners far too much freedom in which to shape the government of this country in their own image. I know from personal experience that in coalition the big parties are pre-programmed to take much and to give little, possessed as they are with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and being so very quick to forget the reasons for them having been compelled to enter into coalition in the first place, viz. that they failed to win enough votes or enough seats to be able to form an administration in their own right.
There is an added attraction in voting for a minor party and that is that, on aggregate, there is likely to be more sincerity to be found within its ranks. People who enter politics in the hope of self-advancement above all else will naturally be drawn to the big establishment parties where there are jobs aplenty and hundreds of “safe” seats up for grabs. That is not to say that nobody joins such parties with honest intentions, but simply that those who have will quickly find themselves in competition for office with those whose speciality it is to tread on the heads and stab the backs of others in the uncompromising cause of the advancement of self.
As well as being a socially progressive party the Greens have the added appeal, to me, of being committed to devolving democratic participation to the people. Many of its adherents describe themselves as being of the “libertarian left”, which contrasts favourably to many like me with the authoritarianism, left or otherwise, of the Labour Party.
Of course the Greens are not the only minor party whose involvement is likely to impact significantly upon the outcome of the election to come. Much publicity and speculation has been heaped upon the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which in recent years has both topped the national poll at the European elections and won (or in some senses retained) two parliamentary seats at by-elections. As a consequence of its high profile and its clear impact upon our current body politic UKIP has been invited to the televisual ball from which the Greens have thus far been excluded.
Whilst I welcome the role that UKIP is destined to play in further helping to undermine the two-party hegemony, my problem with them is that I don’t actually support their policies. It is true that UKIP has called both for local referenda and for the recall of under-performing MPs, both of which I have no problem at all in endorsing, but it is undeniable that the party’s main policy planks are centred around a lazy xenophobia which would threaten the gains made by working people in the UK in terms of employment protection through its policy of withdrawing from the EU, and take us backwards as a society which respects cultural diversity within the confines of a cohesive whole.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY
The other smaller party which is likely to play a major role in shaping the character of the next Westminster government is of course the Scottish National Party (SNP). I use the term “smaller” here in an entirely UK context, as in Scotland the SNP is by far the largest party in terms of membership, has a majority at the Scottish Parliament and is expected to win the largest number of Scottish seats in May, mostly at Labour’s expense. Its membership in Scotland alone far exceeds those of the Lib Dems, Greens or UKIP throughout the UK and, if projected proportionately, it would by some distance be the biggest party in British politics.
It is for me a richly amusing irony that in spite of having been edged to defeat in the Scottish independence referendum by an unholy alliance of the three UK establishment parties invoking all the international and media power at their disposal, the SNP emerged when the dust had settled as the clear political beneficiary of that campaign in its aftermath. Scotland’s left-leaning electorate has found it particularly hard to forgive a Labour Party which joined with the Tories to deny them their right to self-determination for no other reason than that the union serves the party interest at a UK level. The humiliating and shameful spectacle of Gordon Brown, the son of Alba who grew into a British establishment politician, making promises to his fellow Scots which immediately after the event he admitted he was in no position to deliver, in exchange for their acquiescence, will live in Scotland’s collective national memory for a very long time to come.
Most opinion polls suggest that Labour will now lose a significant number of its Scottish seats to the SNP. It is going to be exceptionally hard for Labour to reverse this process over the coming few months. Having been stitched up once the Scottish people won’t, as the song goes, be fooled again. By ruling out the possibility of any deal with Tories post-May the SNP has very cleverly trumped Labour’s likely strategy of trying to convince Scottish voters that a vote for the Scots Nats is a vote for the Tories. In the wake of the referendum and of Labour’s betrayal it will be a brave Labour politician who attempts ever again to append the label “Tartan Tories” to the SNP. The Conservative vote in Scotland, modest though it is, is unlikely to be too much affected by the events surrounding the referendum as it is by definition a unionist party anyway. In opposing Scottish independence the Tories were at least acting according to principle.
To win even a larger number of Westminster seats than the Tories, let alone an overall majority, Labour needs therefore not only to overtake the Conservatives south of the wall, but also to gain enough seats to offset those which are likely to be lost to the SNP. Failing this, the party may still have the option of entering into an agreement with the SNP, allowing it to form a government. This could happen even if Labour is not the largest party in parliament. But the SNP will demand a king’s ransom. Any success for the Greens, who are pro-independence, elsewhere in the UK could strengthen the SNP’s hand still further if called upon to join a rainbow coalition.
One of the many things which unite the two major parties is their dependence upon scaremongering as a means of hooking in what they perceive to be their straying sheep. A vote for anybody other than Labour is a vote for four more years of Tory austerity, Labour tells us, with the curious inference that Labour austerity will in some undefined way be an altogether more enjoyable experience for us. It’s a two horse race, the Tories insist. A vote for anyone except the Tories will plunge us back into debt and consign us all to eternal damnation. Yawn.
The desperation of the establishment and its need, above all else, to preserve the old duopoly has led to some amusing sideshows. Presently the Prime Minister David Cameron is refusing to take part in the forthcoming televised debate unless the Green Party is involved too. Correct though his position is on this, does anybody seriously believe that it is one inspired by altruism towards the Greens? Rather than one taken by a politician who sees the Greens as being a potential thorn in Labour’s side, unlike UKIP, which will be a bigger thorn in his own?
And what should we make of “progressive” Labour’s implicit endorsement of the decision to include the hard-right UKIP but not the Green Party in the TV debates? Possibly the same as I made of the same party’s much-publicised alliance with UKIP in my own little part of the world during the local elections of 2014, in opposition to a moderate independent residents’ group. Namely that here is a party devoid of any semblance of scruple, a party which will say or do anything in naked pursuit of organisational power at all costs. The same party which, like the Tories, is currently trying to out-UKIP UKIP on matters of immigration.
For all the permutations and possibilities there is of course one potential coalition which certainly would achieve an overall majority and which, politically, would make perfect sense. In case anybody thinks my argument is far-fetched, the Guardian covered it recently in an article by Ian Birrell entitled A Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May. The subject matter speaks for itself. It is an unavoidable truth to any who care to scratch and look beneath the surface that of all the parties which are likely to have any meaningful impact at the election, the two with by far the most in common are the Conservative and Labour parties. For this reason, Birrell argues, it would be a logical step for the two major parties to come together in a unity coalition in order to avoid a “constitutional crisis” (which evidently would be the outcome of voters having the audacity to support parties outside of the big two in significant numbers).
Of course if could never happen. The reason is that the voters, supporters and members of neither party would stand for it. Whatever the similarities between the two major parties in practice, preserving the façade of “British democracy” depends entirely upon maintaining the illusion of choice, and it is simply astounding how many otherwise intelligent people still buy into the notion that these two organisations represent two distinct social constituencies and bodies of opinion in the face of increasing evidence that the real power is wielded behind the scenes and that British governments of whatever hue are merely the public faces behind which lurks an amorphous and entirely self-serving financial elite.
Although they will get my vote I am not convinced that under First Past the Post, and with all the forces that are ranged against them as well as against the other small parties, the Greens will increase their representation in Parliament by much if at all. Ditto UKIP. The SNP will certainly inflict some damage on Labour. But the system parties will still occupy the overwhelming majority of the seats on the green benches.
The challenge to their near-monopoly will be in terms of credibility, with a heftier share of the vote going to smaller parties than ever before as well as individual outcomes within the constituencies being thereby affected. It is beginning to happen, at long last. Aslan is on the move.