Just how left wing is the Green Party?


Caroline Lucas with Stop the War delegation to Downing St

Caroline Lucas with Stop the War delegation to Downing St

The Greens are telling those calling for a discussion of a new left party that they should just join them instead. Tom Walker looks at the Green Party’s record

“There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” commented Green Party deputy leader Will Duckworth on Ken Loach’s appeal to discuss a new party of the left. “Just get behind it and push.”

He’s not the only one – Green friends of mine seem not so much angry as bemused as to why there is even a discussion on this subject at all. After all, the Green Party’s most prominent spokespeople are all left wingers. Duckworth himself is. Caroline Lucas, the party’s only MP, is one of the left’s few representatives in parliament and has a proud record of support for the anti-war movement. The Greens’ new leader Natalie Bennett is often to be found speaking at anti-cuts rallies and strikes. So what’s the problem?

Those of us outside the party often point to the record of the Greens in Germany, where the party joined a neo-liberal coalition and voted for the Afghanistan war, and in Ireland, where they joined a right wing government and cut healthcare and benefits while saying it was OK because they were creating new cycling schemes.

Against this we are told that the Green Party of England and Wales is different – the most left wing Green Party in Europe, even. Perhaps. But before we get carried away, let’s examine its record in the place where it has gained some power locally – Brighton.


Anti-cuts protest in Brighton

Anti-cuts protest in Brighton

The Brighton budget

I went down to Brighton to report on the anti-cuts protest outside the Green council’s first budget-setting meeting last February. It felt like a milestone worth witnessing. What I found was a strange scene.

On one side there were local anti-cuts campaigners and trade unionists. Many told me they had voted Green and felt incredibly let down. Several were concerned about the council scrapping its mobile library – a long-running battle locally.

On the other side, though, there was a collection of Green supporters – not quite a counter-protest, but holding placards condemning the Labour Party. They told me they were “here to support our councillors”. They were handing out a leaflet defending the council’s decision to implement the cuts, which included the shameful claim that the mobile library is just too expensive.

Inside the town hall, council leader Jason Kitcat sounded in his element as he proposed the budget. As he wrote the next day, “Our budget showed up the opposition’s favourite lie, that Greens aren’t up to the job of governing.” As if governing were an end in itself.

As the Brighton Greens are a minority administration, the Labour-Tory opposition was able to band together and force them into a council tax freeze, making the cuts even worse. The Green administration could have resigned rather than implement the Labour-Tory budget – but it didn’t. After all, that wouldn’t be “responsible”.

Three weeks ago the Greens passed their second budget in Brighton. Once again Kitcat called it “the fairest possible budget for the city, despite the tough times”. But the truth is that it slashed millions of pounds from adult social care and children’s services, and over 100 jobs are likely to go. They’ve even been closing public toilets.

Of course that is not the whole story of the Green council in Brighton. As you might expect, it has been pursuing many sustainability initiatives. More significantly, it has just declared that no Brighton council tenants will be evicted if they cannot afford their rent because of the bedroom tax. And councillors have been active in supporting all sorts of other local campaigns.

But when it comes to the key issue of fighting austerity, there is scarcely even a cigarette paper between the Greens’ “fairer” cuts and Labour’s. The bogeyman of Eric Pickles’ administrators coming in and making the cuts is used to justify… making the cuts.


Spotting the pattern

After the first Brighton budget, the Greens held a vote at their conference on whether it was the right to make the cuts. It wasn’t even close – two thirds backed the Brighton councillors. It was at this point that Joseph Healy, one of the founders of internal left wing grouping Green Left, quit the party on principle.

As he noted  “A few days later at the party’s national conference, despite vigorous objections from Green Left, the party voted to support the Brighton decision. Pragmatism had defeated principle, realpolitik triumphed over radicalism.

“I resigned on the same day. I saw no indication that those of us opposed to the decision would be able to remain radical opponents of the cuts agenda while our own elected members had sold the pass. I was always determined not to end up as a member of a small internal opposition in a political party which had moved away from its core principles, as happened in the Labour Party post-Blair.”

Why did he do this? It’s simple – because he’d been involved in the Irish Green Party, and he could spot the pattern. The Brighton vote was the canary in the coal mine.

red-flag The Greens and the left

While the Green Party has many good socialist members, and some radical policies, it is not a party of the left – deliberately so. It has always included different wings of the green movement. Quite a large element of the membership are devoted to an agenda of ‘cycling and recycling’, with a narrow focus simply on environmental issues. While there are many who see themselves as part of the left, they are happy to work alongside those who use the phrase “neither left nor right” with a straight face.

Open expressions of leftism are widely seen as a turn-off to voters, and class is generally not thought relevant. The party just voted to put a commitment to “social justice” in its constitution, but that’s as far as it is willing to go. The consequences of this are that Green politicians’ positions can be all over the map. As Joseph Healy put it, “When I resigned from the party, one prominent Green told me that I had too many principles.”

Green councillors in Leeds were even part of a coalition with the Tories from 2004 until 2006. The last time I made this point in an article about a party it was about the Lib Dems during pre-election ‘Cleggmania’. I was told their local council coalitions with the Tories were a one-off and it would never happen nationally. Yeah.

Of course we’ll all work with Greens in the battles we face against austerity – and with the many people in Labour, too, who want to oppose the Tories’ destruction of everything we’ve worked for. There is too much at stake not to. But the Green Party offers no solution to the problem of working class representation, or a left alternative to the mainstream consensus. After all, if the Greens are the answer, then why are so many crying out for something new?


64 responses to “Just how left wing is the Green Party?”

  1. Christian Smith says:

    There manifesto is a definitely on the left of Labour, it seems to be one of the true centre-left. I thing we should build and work with the Greens, form an alliance with them … bit of the old Red-Green.

    • the pressing question, in the even of taking office in westminser, at what point in their first term, would they arradicate private ownership, seeing as that is what left wing means,

      • Simon Hardy says:

        No I don’t think they would, they are against “large scale” capitalism and monopolies but would very much favour a kind of smaller, greener “nicer” capitalism. In this sense I think they are utterly utopian.

    • Mark Luigi R says:

      should we just all vote third party regardless, to make a statement?

  2. Joe says:

    As a Green Party member I agree with a lot of this article and am quite embarassed by the truth in it. However it’s worth pointing out the demographics, the younger greens are overwhelmingly left. As a young green hanging around with other young greens I was told there were Green Party members who weren’t socialists but didn’t believe it until I went to conference and met the old, deep greens but that generation is being replaced. Also while 2/3 to 1/3 may sound like a huge majority, it’s probably around 70 votes. A further influx of socialists to the party would tip the balance. Also, while I think greens in Brighton should set a needs budget, it’s a tactical decision. We might look like the Labour Party in local government but our national policy is anti-cuts and left wing. Their national policy is to cut. The Brighton party may be cowards but they’re not pro-cuts like the Labour Party.

    • Dave K says:

      Joe the problem is that you can’t have a credible party that speaks anti-cuts nationally but cuts locally. In fact is a bit worse than that because what has happened is that the only place where the Greens are actually the leadership they have caved in on the cuts. The whole point of the greens like any party is to win more support and therefore win more councils. If your first council follows a policy of making cuts then what hope is there for places where Greens will win again. There are alternatives to their decision – to set a needs budget, build local support for it and be prepared to resign. Holding on to public political positions is not essential for the party to grow and increase support so even within the current politics of the greens the decision of the Brighton people seems short sighted. Essentially I think it comes down to how Greens link the ecological struggle to the class struggle and how you can’t really do one without the other if you want ecosocialism.

      • David Walker says:

        “There are alternatives to their decision – to set a needs budget, build local support for it and be prepared to resign.”

        As we all know, it is the government that sets the effective budget for councils. If Greens resign, there’ll be massive job cuts and privatisation. Labour are also blocking us in plans to defend the poor such as ganging up with the Tories against the council tax increase.

        Greens are working to build a consensus on anti-cuts and use all powers to defend the poor in Brighton. Brighton may have reduced budgets but homeless budget has been doubled etc.

        The cuts are coming from the government not councils. Let’s not lose focus and target councils genuinely doing their best. The Greens cannot change national policy and in favour of biogger budgets NOT cuts.

        Support the Greens and we can fight the government to change the rules and free councils. There’s no point Green councillors being in prison and allowing a bureaucrat setting the budget. We need united action on the streets and co-ordinated campaigns. The Greens will be at the forefront.

  3. Rob Simmons says:

    Hmm interesting points, but out of interest (I don’t support either party). Is the Green party to the left or right of Labour? At a guess many of the things Brighton Greens have done (rightly condemned) have been done by Labour councils.

    • Tom Turner says:

      The Green Party are generally to the Left of Labour. However, as the article says, much of the party isn’t particularly Left Wing. As with all parties, the Green Party has factions, and it is the Left faction that have been able to reach leadership positions in recent years (Caroline Lucas, Natalie Bennett, Darren Johnson). At the same time, the centrist faction (originally lead by Green 2000, more recently by other individuals) have not fared so well within the party, so for a long time the Greens appeared to be the best alternative to Labour. However, as Brighton Council has shown, much of the party is still primarily about “cycling and recycling” whilst being baseless on much else, meaning they will more easily flow into any position. I hope that helped.

      • David Walker says:

        Cuts in budgets are reducing services and benefits for the middle classes or higher. Minimum wage has been introduced in the council. Director salaries have been reduced. No bedroom tax evictions. Reversing privatisation (this saves money and would reduce a budget). New discounts available for leisure services etc. for the poor. Doubled homeless budget.

  4. David Smith says:

    The issue of cuts has split the party. Jason Kitkat argues that if Labour get elected then the same budget cuts will happen. We currently have around 150 councillors and do not yet have a majority on any council. I believe we have learned from Ireland and will not form a national coalition. However you can never rule out a supply & demand agreements. Greens occasionally get into the position of having the ‘balance of power’ in the council. Many take advantage of this.

    Please look at our facebook poll on the brighton cuts at facebook.com/questions/423236104435151/

    Leeds is an unusual council and it is not always obvious who is left wing! For instance in the 2013 budget, Labour voted against a TORY amendment to introduce a living wage!! Our Councillors are active in their local community and support groups such as Nuclear Free Local authority. Our Councillors have tried to reduce Councillor allowances and do not claim all of their allowances. They do practice what they ‘preach’. And this year one of our green Councillors was the only 1 of 99 to vote against it as ‘it’s as bad as I’ve ever known”

    We don’t tend to use the word ‘class’, perhaps some people are unaware which class there are in or find it old fashioned? We do care about the growing gap between rich and poor and yet some of our policies such as the ‘citizens income’/state income cut across left and centre politics.

    We do not have the resources to stand everywhere and I welcome the discussion. Please contact your local green party, you are almost guaranteed a response to any polite question. Also please contact the ecosocialist group within the Green Party called “green left”, find them on facebook or the web.

    David Smith
    Campaigns Officer
    Leeds Green Party

    • Alex Sobel says:

      I would like to point out in the 2013 Leeds Budget the Conservatives put an amendment to pay 1/2 the council staff under living wage the living wage and for just 6 months. This was not an amendment to bring in the living wage but an act of political pantomime. There are a number of Cllrs working in how to find the £4.3 million it would cost to implement the living wage without job losses. David if you think this is wrong happy to discuss it.

  5. Joe says:

    Also just because we have “green” in our name why should we be like the Irish greens (who were booed at our conference). There’s a variety of green parties in Europe. The Catalans Greens come from the old Eurocommunist party that split from the Catalan Communist Party over their support for the USSR. The Turks and Italians are part of Left coalitions. The Greeks are in Syriza. If this new Left party gets off the ground I’ll happily join but until then I’m getting behind the Greens and urge socialists to do the same

  6. Howard Thorp says:

    I wonder whether the anonymous author of this article has ever bothered to read the GPEW’s policies? Yes, there are many of them, pro-trade union, pro-economic democracy, pro-NHS and public services, and dealing with the realities of climate change rather than just talking about as the other parties do. GPEW is a party in transition, it is essentially a social democratic party, with very strong environmental roots.

    Recently, B&H council was the first in England to refuse to evict tenants for arrears due to the bedroom tax. There is still much work to do, but we are the only mainstream UK party with policy decided directly by the members, if you want to bring about real change come and join us.

    Howard Thorp
    Green Party Campaigns Co-ordinator and member of GPEW Executive

    • Guy Harper says:

      You obviously didn’t read the article – this is addressed in the article, in the context of a wider austerity budget hitting many of the vulnerable people that turned to the Greens hoping that they offered an alternative…

      • David Walker says:

        Vulnerable people are being protected. Loss of services are to the better off. Mobile library replaced with personal doorstep service. Doubled homes budget. Min. wage. Bus services that are cut are those for moving middle class children further away to non-local schools.

        Next year there is a plan to use council tax to charge the rich more and the poor less, as well as raise money for the council to fight the cuts.

        So, in the wider context of austerity, Greens are in minority but still fighting the cuts in innovative ways.

    • Tom Walker says:

      Hi Howard – I’m not anonymous, my name is right there on the article! And I did acknowledge the point about the bedroom tax. The problem is that it’s all very well having some left wing policies in a national manifesto, but what’s the use if when you get into power locally, as in Brighton, you vote through the cuts?

      • Howard Thorp says:

        Apologies, where I come from its normal for the author to head the article with their name not bury it in the text.

        There are plenty of people on the left who are hostile to the GP and have made a meal out of the situation in Brighton.

        If you’d bothered to read my response you’d notice that I said that GPEW was a party in transition. Its policies are well to the left of Labour and it is the only mainstream party which opposes austerity.

        Rather than trying to put the boot in by playing the well-worn record of Brighton and extensively quoting the views of one disaffected member it might be better to help us bring about change by joining a growing party which is still moving leftwards.

        So much for left unity!

    • Nick says:

      Being from Brighton, and having voted for the Greens in the council elections, I agree with Tom Walker over the issue of national policy conflicting with local policy.

      There’s more to it than just the budget cuts being implemented, things like the “redevelopment” of a local farmer’s market (the old market) into flats and the paving over of half of the Level (a central park). Both of these issues really riled me, as they run contrary to what the Greens stand for.

      The way I see it, it’s all very well calling for people to stop criticising and join to improve the organisation, but you haven’t addressed any of the issues raised (here and below).

      Furthermore, playing down events here in Brighton is frankly disgusting. Not only did we vote the Greens (you) into power, but we are also taking the brunt of the Greens’ (your) decisions. Downplaying events that affect real people, people who voted Green in the only Green council in the country is not only electorally foolish, but destroys peoples’ faith in your party.

      Rather than trumpeting your policies, implement them. That’s why we voted for your in Brighton, not to have a Green party imposing Labour cuts.

      • David Walker says:

        Hi Nick, I joined the Green Party in Brighton because it was a socialist and equality based party. I’m now on the Exec.

        Brighton Greens cannot stop the government cutting council income. What the council can do is start reversin privatisation, , refuse to evict tenants, support the homeless, bring in the minimum wage. Greens refusing to set a budget will get them removed and the budgets will all top-sliced harming the poor. Greens setting a needs budget will be closer to what we’re doing, reducing benefits for the more well-off and protecting the poor. Also, the council cannot borrow to make up any shortfall and if the council run out of money that would devastate the poor.

        The campaign to free local councils and properly fund them needs to be national. The Greens are protecting the poor in Brighton but we all must fight the government and rally people to the plight of council funding.

        If Brighton Green council breaks the law, the poor lose. If the Tories win, the poor lose. If the Greens stay, they can protect the poor.

  7. just me says:

    I am a lifelong committed socialist. I am also aware of how very far down the road to making the planet uninhabitable for humans we are, and how many humans have already suffered/are already suffering from the damage humans have done to our planet. We possibly have one more generation before it is too late. There won’t be any socialists, there won’t be any socialism, when nobody can breathe. Climate change is real and it’s as urgent as it gets that we make radical changes if we want a future on this planet. Let’s try and keep the planet habitable long enough to reach a future that contains socialism. Think of it this way – when your house is on fire, you do everything you can to 1) get everybody to safety 2) put out the fire, you don’t continue to debate how things are organised within the household. l

    • john matthews says:

      as a long standing party member who lived through and was politically active on the left through the thatcher era it is very disheartening to follow this discussion with its i am a better socialist than you or how left wing do you have to be. followed by all those old goats in the party are nothing but a bunch of old reactionaries
      Please temper your language and stop and think for just a moment that it is thanks to these old goats that there is still a left leaning green party but if we continue with this secterian bitterness then it will only lead to the same place splits accusations counter accusations and an electorate turned off again. have we learnt nothing from the past it certainly looks that way. what comes to mind is that famous quote which i will probably misquote, those that forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. but hey never mind when that new mythical beast a true workers party is formed i am sure many of your contributors will disappear like snow in august to swell its ranks and the whole sad cycle of claim counter claim and i am more left than you will start all over again

  8. steve ryan says:

    The article is actualy a little shallow in its anaylsis. The German Greens came out of the autonomous movement and were recuperated into the state as they gained power . The constant trajectory of very left groups into utters sells outs as they obtain power is in need of a in depth look. Re Green party here, it has some potential as it IS moving leftwards, and has a political and direct action dimension to it. Further I feel the ex Trot left looking for a new party tend to still be encumbered with some very narrow thinking about what being on the Left is…Greens tend tro come from a Libertarian Left and have some excellent ideas. There IS a way to go, like Plaid in Wales, Greens are still lumbered with a lot of rather reactionary members . Brighton and Bristol dont help…but again if a new workers aprty was built which gained seats…what, really, would be done?

  9. red kevi says:

    The brighton situation is more complicated. A green budget was voted down by a tory labour coalition. This has led to the cuts that the greens are making. The greens have been more union friendly (certainly to the gmb) than labour ever was. I am no member of the greens but siding with right wing brighton labourites is just plain wrong.

    • Tom Walker says:

      The Greens were already voting through a cuts budget. The Labour-Tory amendment made it worse, yes. At this point the Green minority administration could have resigned rather than implement the worse Labour-Tory budget. They didn’t.

      • Kevin McNamara says:

        Don’t think you’re being fair. Question is: are politicians there to do as well as they possibly can or to resign if they cannot deliver the impossible?

  10. Philip Hosking says:

    How green will the new left party be? How committed to radical democratic reform, to federalism, to regional autonomy etc. Create your new left party and then approach the Greens, federalists, English regionalists and democratic nationalists (Plaid, SNP and Mebyon Kernow) and see what kind of common Left Front you can establish.

    Don’t start by already looking who to exclude! Compromise will be needed if you are serious about a broad based movement and not just the creation of one more left party.

  11. Tom Ferrour says:

    Labour are no longer left wing. Neither are the Green Party. Is it not something about joining the ruling class?

  12. Jay Blackwood says:

    The pattern of Brighton is being repeated in Bristol where I live. The two Bristol Green councillors joined the “independent” elected mayor’s cabinet – alongside the LibDems and Tories. They’ve supported his first cuts budget with the full support of the local Green party, involving major cuts to local services and compulsory redundancies. They’re also conducting a systematic campaign designed to undermine the city-wide anti-cuts campaign. The rationale is the old Labour one of the “dented shield strategy”. It didn’t wash in the 80s or 90s, and it doesn’t wash now either.

    I’ve written a few posts on their activity in Bristol, having been (briefly) a member of Bristol Green Party myself last year. Three of the articles can be found by clicking on these links:




  13. Anya-Nicola Darr says:

    Can I turn this question on its head and ask, ‘how green will left Unity be?’ To me socialism and environmentalism are of equal importance and one without the other is no good for our community or the planet. I know a lot of the more left leaning members of the Green party are getting a bit restive but to give them their due they have been struggling for a long time with very little funding and the media not exactly falling over themselves to represent their views. With UKIP getting more attention, I think we definitely need a party of the Left, if only to offset the effect their message is having on taking the whole political debate to the right. I also think Labour has vacated a huge space in the British political spectrum where the Left used to be. We badly need to fill this gap if we are ever to see anything remotely left in government again. For people who argue that small parties have no chance of government, I’d say maybe not but look how they can influence debate and move the big party’s postions. As UKIP is helping to shift the politcal dialogue to the Right we MUST get as powerful a voice on the other side. Much as I admire many things about the Green party, they are not big enough or strong enough to do it on their own IMO.

  14. marc renwick says:

    The central problem is what do left parties (green or red) do when they get into positions of power. This is a problem that any united party of the left will have to face. We will be made up from people of green, social democratic and revolutionary traditions. The debate that we suggest the Greens in Brighton should have had ie: set a budget or resign, will be one a party to the left of Labour will face when it has any electoral success. The potential questions are obvious….in a local council do we join a coalition with Labour or let Tories assume control? Set a budget or resign etc etc. Look at Die Linke in Germany where they share power in several states and implement cuts. May be we will be clearer. But look at a number of ‘revolutionaries’ in the UK. From SWP/SP etc in full time bureaucratic TU positions. They will negotiate job losses and cuts. Without rank and file support they sell out disputes and potential disputes. The revolutionary left in the UK is by no means whiter than white on this. As long as we insist on any left unity party being based on activism and fighting cuts we can avoid many problems. Electoral strategies can be a useful part of the process but not by any means the central part.

    • theo says:

      The problem of “betrayal” by left politicians and union officials is such a visible pattern that it must be a process which can be understood and prepared for organizationally. as a local activist I have been invited to join the Greens several times and maybe to”stand”. But what community of actual people who know me and support me, and pull me back into line when they need to, would I actually be representing. Electoral politics without a genuine social movement behind them will always lead to isolation and compromise by leaders who are not confidant that they have real support for facing down the status quo, or do not have the confidence based on experience that they can explain to and lead a community when a fight is necessary. the Greens have maybe focused too much on seats and standing candidates rather than creating an ecological movement of the working class.

      A new party should not go straight for winning seats, but rather for building community based sections which can then work for their self-representation. That means also that, while many “high profile” people with left or green leanings may sign-up, their celebrity and media-skills should not be seen as a substitute for creating a real constituency of engaged people.

      I will often support the Green Party, but the beauty of a fresh start is that we can drop all the rigidities and personal loyalties of the previous organizations and design a better organization, which genuinely and candidly tries to learn from past mistakes of the left – without name calling and criticism of past leadership, which has fallen victim either to its isolation or to its class attitudes of superiority.

      We could almost do with a “Truth and Reconciliation” exercise by anyone with past left/ green history!

  15. john skarp says:

    I’m not a member of the Greens but I am sympathetic to the Green Party’s dilemma in Brighton. Given most local council funding comes direct from Whitehall and that councils’ ability to raise taxation is severely limited it seems a bit harsh for condemning councillors for passing a budget, especially when in a minority administration and unable to pass anything by themselves. Every council in the UK has to make cuts whether they wish to or not. Sure a mass resignation might gain credibility from the anti-cuts movement but it was not going to stop millions being cut and Labour and Tories alike would have made great capital out of the elected representatives being unwilling to do their ‘job’ and brand the Greens as a party of protest not government.

    • Taylor Dockerty says:

      Who cares what labour and torys would call them, they would be doing their job by showing backbone and supporting and representing the people they are supposed to be. Not Whitehall’s money grubbing agenda. No spine? Get out of politics is my opinion.

      • David Walker says:

        Green were voted in to fight for fairness and that’s what they’re doing. The Greens will resign and stand idly by while the Tories and Labour rip the poor apart. They cannot change the national funding situation alone but they can fight to protect the poor in Brighton. Resigning might be noble but it doesn’t help the local homeless and poor.

  16. Barry Kade says:

    I am troubled by what I think is an overly-defensive responses by friends who support or are in the Green Party (GP) in this discussion. Instead, I think we need to openly acknowledge there is a real dilemma. Green councillors, through radical and imaginative approaches, have been able to make a real difference on some councils. However, we are now reaching a crunch time, as the cuts imposed by the central government get ever deeper. If we remain within the routines of conventional politics, then it is true that local councils have very little power in relation to the central government and its cuts. The GP now risks being forced to make cuts that will attack and undermine its own base of support. In this situation, the GP needs to evolve a more sophisticated approach to the problem of power, social movements and social change. Many in the GP still have a conventional view of politics, that social and political change comes through simply gaining more seats in councils and parliaments. However, many will also acknowledge the crucial role played by social movements in making history – from the suffragettes to the civil rights movements, from trades unionism and environmentalism to anti-colonial movements – tectonic changes in society have been achieved through mass protest and resistance, civil disobedience and counter-cultural challenges.
    The key question is: How should we understand the relationships between left political parties and this social movement and community resistance? The social movements and their communities must resist all cuts. As the future unfolds, will they find Green councillors acting as their allies – or as managers and political facilitators of the governments cuts?
    It is unfair to single out the Green Party here. The Labour Party has huge council majorities across huge swathes of Britain. It has the loyalty of the mass of working class voters, who look to it to make a stand against austerity, cuts and recession. And many devoted labour councillors are distraught at the idea of taking the axe to community services that are vital to the lives of their constituents.
    Working class communities and broad sections of society are going to find themselves under attack as the cuts bight. But sometimes, some will fight-back. Popular protest movements are inevitable. Sometimes these will be sporadic and disorganised. Sometimes these will be cohesive and gain momentum. But one thing is certain – these popular movements of resistance will find their job much harder if they also have to fight the left-wing green and labour councillors and local councils – who may find they are standing in the way of effective protest against the central government.


    But their is an alternative strategy that we can follow. The popular social movements and communities against the cuts have every right to demand that their elected representatives on local councils make a stand against the cuts. Imagine if some councils were to spearhead civil disobedience and mass social protest? Side with the protesters against the government? What protests can councils organise and lead? Imagine if Labour and Green councils were to lead protests on the streets – instead of making cuts? What would the government do?
    Instead of behaving like ‘normal politicians’ proving how ‘responsible’ they are at managing the capitalist crisis and the cuts, a radical left party like the Green Party should be thinking about how it can subvert the rules of the game and change the the paradigm. What would Gandhi do?

    We have an example in our history – indeed its how we won the welfare state and funding for local council services for the people.
    From Wikipedia:
    “Poplar (now in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets) was one of the poorest districts of London; there was no government support to alleviate the high unemployment, hunger, and poverty in the borough, which had to be funded by the borough itself under the poor law. Poplar’s Labour administration elected in 1919 undertook a comprehensive programme of social reform and poor relief, including equal pay for women and a minimum wage for Council workers, far in excess of the market rate. This programme was expensive and had to be funded from the rates….

    In 1921, faced with the prospect of a further large increase in the rates, Poplar Council decided to hold them down by not collecting the precepts which it should have passed on to the four cross-London authorities. The London County Council and Metropolitan Asylum Board responded by taking the matter to the High Court. The council’s response was to organise a procession of 2,000 supporters from Bow, led by the borough’s official mace-bearer, to the accompaniment of a band and a banner proclaiming, “Poplar Borough Council marching to the High Court and possibly to prison”. Thirty councillors, including six women, one of whom was pregnant, were sent to prison indefinitely for contempt of court for refusing a court order to remit the monies. The men were put up in Brixton Prison, and the women in Holloway. The latter were taken by cab to Brixton where council meetings were held….
    ….The revolt received wide public support. Lansbury addressed crowds that regularly gathered outside, through the prison bars. Neighbouring councils threatened to take similar action. Trade unions passed resolutions of support and collected funds for the councillors’ families. “Poplarism” became a political term associated with large-scale municipal relief for the poor and needy, and also with local defiance of central government. Eventually, after six weeks’ imprisonment, the Court responded to public opinion and ordered the Councillors released, which occasioned great celebrations in Poplar. Meanwhile, a bill, the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act 1921, was rushed through Parliament more or less equalising tax burdens between rich and poor boroughs”.

    This was of course, a long time ago, in a different period, when the Labour Party was still young and the Russian Revolution still a fresh example for the working class movements worldwide.
    But what can we learn from our radical ancestors – how might anti-austerity green and councillors reinvent poplarism for the twenty-first century? The sad point is, the Green Party is not even debating this, or formulating a radical strategy. It is behaving like a conventional political party – rather than as a radical party that attempts to synergies with the energy and creativity of mass popular social movements to upset the austerity apple-cart, to subvert conventional politics and shift the existing paradigm – and effect meaningful change. Looking back at all the past great movements of social change, it is these strategies and tactics that have really made history.


    • oskarsdrum says:

      great post Barry! I think the left is well behind the curve on understanding the political dynamics and possibilities of local councils in the fight against austerity (though the pitfalls are quite well known!).

      true that the majority of labour and greens are playing a damaging role here, but that’s been facilitated to an extent by our abstention from serious thinking about alternatives – what is it actually possible for a handful of councils to achieve on their own? what strategies could they be pursuing, given that a mass outbreak of Militancy is inconceivable (certainly for the foreseeable)? we need to point out the dead end of electoralism without popular mobilization, yes, and strongly, but how can we build alliances with councillors who aren’t convinced to join ‘councillors against the cuts’?

      important piece on the greens, too, every so often I’m struck by the thought, ‘well, why not them?’ so it’s good to have a reminder about why – the excellent work done by many green party members notwithstanding, of course.

      also it’s true as ‘just me’ noted above that if we’re ever going to achieve socialism, we’ll probably need to green-up capitalism pretty urgently, before we get there! I thought the NLR interview with Richard Duncan last year was quite helpful on this point – http://newleftreview.org/II/77/richard-duncan-a-new-global-depression . The conclusion is essentially, use quantitative easing to invest in a million green jobs….he’s got some good economics to back it up with though.

      ps sorry if my post appears 3 times, I got an error twice trying to post from my phone!

      • john r says:

        Not just nearly a hundred years ago in Poplar, there was also the example of Clay Cross in the 70’s..

      • oskarsdrum says:

        quite so! but never generalized beyond a couple of councils, because of labour’s centrism. I think socialists could usefully think of local councillors as being shop stewards for working class communities in some respects (well ok, someone already did on this thread, but it can be taken a lot further!). It’s a huge opportunity for building working class solidarity and organisation, without having to succumb to the parliamentarist pressures of MPs.

        But it’s generally attempted in a really tokenistic way – turn up at election times with a few leaflets, concentrate on the day-to-day life of the micro-sect (or single issue campaign) the rest of the time.

        So it’s not surprising that Liverpool, Clay Cross etc lost – we wouldn’t expect a major strike that was isolated by the rest of the movement to be successful! time to look afresh at those struggles I think.

  17. Dave Riley says:

    The discussion about green politics and green parties has been ongoing here in Australia for two decades. You may find this thread of articles useful.

    But this old fart argument that ALL green parties can never be of the left is a bit of a bore. That doesn’t excuse green parliamentarism but it sure does underscore how blind the socialist left can be and how divorced it is from the environment and climate change movements.

  18. Mark James says:

    Interesting article but as some commenters have pointed out, more recent recriuts to the Green Party are from the left. There is a growing awareness that the greatest threat to the ecology comes from unrestrained corporatism and that the main parties are all slaves to their corporate donors. The large limited liability companies have turned into immoral monsters trashing the planet for short term profits and their size makes them seem unstoppable. There are still some in the Green Party who think that increasing recycling by 10% in the UK or getting a few people to buy electric cars is going to save the world. They often seem oblivious to the fact that consumerism and pollution are growing at unprecedented rates in China and India and that whether you turn up at a meeting by bus or car makes not the slightest difference. Until the corporate monsters are tackled, all the rest is just window dressing. The Green Party is highly democratic (too democratic for its own good) so hopefully, as time passes, the shift to the left will start to have an impact. I must admit that I am so far disappointed by Natalie Bennett’s lacklustre performance; she doesn’t seem able to exploit the weak arguments of the mainstream in the way of more charismatic orators such as George Galloway and Owen Jones and is not nearly as articulate as Caroline Lucas.

  19. David Wyllie says:

    Socialism is one of the forms of consumerism, with the objective of raising material affluence.
    I don’t know what “green” means, but if the Green Party wishes to see an end to consumerism and all the dirt it causes then its objectives are incompatible with socialism. Socialists are swamping the party and making it just another consumerist party (“grey” is another silly word). Far from being welcomed into the Green Party, socialists should go back to Labour and restore its values, not hijack and destroy another party.

    • PhilW says:

      I hate to put this so bluntly, but you appear not to have read much in the way of socialist contributions to the ecological debate, from Barry Commoner in the seventies to John Bellamy-Foster now, by way of many others, if you think socialism is the same as consumerism and “material affluence”. Thank you for so eloquently illustrating Tom Walker’s points about the nature some Green thinking. As for other Greens, judging by the tone of several of the comments and claims in this thread from Green Party supporters, your suggestion that socialists leave your party would reduce your membership by about 70%. Finally, there is no chance of “restoring Labour to its values” (even if those values were originally to provide parliamentary representation for the trade union bureaucracy, which they were).

      • PhilW says:

        Perhaps it is worth pointing out that, although many socialist writers have shown that socialism involves a critique of “productivism”, not an endorsement of it, and theorised a socialism of use values, as opposed to exchange values, the left has generally failed to put that understanding into an ecosocialist strategy. It therefore almost always downplays the significance of ecological issues. Climate change is just tagged onto its other campaigns, with a minimum of resources allocated, rather than recognised as the near-existential threat that it is. This failure, and the terrible sectarianism of many of the left groups, perhaps explains why so many socialists have sought a (not entirely comfortable) home in the Green Party. This new party, if it comes about, needs to adopt a new outlook on ecology and so change that situation.

    • David Wyllie says:

      Socialists don’t talk about growth, then?

  20. chris foren says:

    Focussing on the Brighton budget is somewhat unfair: it would serve no purpose to set an illegal budget. This would result in the finances of the local authority being taken over and run by unelected officials. What is more significant is that the Labour party chose to side with the Tories rather than support the Greens. Maybe the better question is “Just how left wing is the Labour party?”
    I am a member of the Green Party and comfortable with where we are. We support a mixed economy – we believe major industries like rail, water, electricity should be in public hands; we want to see more co-operatives and partnerships and we are not against SMEs being privately owned provided they are properly regulated and pay their taxes.

  21. Benali says:

    The Green Party is a broad coalition. Does that coalition include liberals as well as socialists? Yes it does. Do I find myself often in disagreement with other members, even elected officials? Yes it does. But it is the price to pay of parliamentary politics. I truly believe though that as a party we have the strongest manifesto that actually defends left wing values, and largely a body of people committed to change.

    On Brighton I don’t think it unreasonable to consider feasibility, even if I get damned for realpolitik. The B&H council is often forgotten to be a minority administration. Do we imagine for a second that the Labour councillors would vote for a needs budget? No, instead they delight in allying with the Tories to scupper Greens. I’ve never seen such vitriol as garnered in Brighton from Labour there. A needs budget would not progress beyond council, never mind reach the desk of Eric Pickles to be vetoed. And then what, even if it did reach Pickles’ desk. Until we have a raft of Labour councils willing to resist cuts I cannot see any feasibility in the Greens acting alone. Instead all we would see would be the Green Party pressing the self destruct button, while New Labour would portray itself as the face of the reasonable left, and we’d be stuck even further in the duopoly of politics we live in.

  22. Barry Kade says:

    So the comments from Green Party friends sadly proves the point of the article – the Green Party is not interested in thinking about how a council might promote civil disobedience against the cuts. Instead they will stay firmly within the prison of conventional electoral politics, make the cuts, and then whine that it us not their fault.

    Therefore, we do need a new left organisation. And from this debate – the Green Party is not that organisation. Thats one dilemma solved! Forward to left unity!

  23. Salman Shaheen says:

    I voted Green at the last election and don’t for a second regret it, they had the most progressive manifesto on offer. The Greens are far more than a single-issue party. The old little c conservative conservationist types, I believe, are largely gone. The Greens are very much a party of the left. That being said, I do believe there is a space for a new socialist party. But I think it can only work if it recognises the appeal of the Greens, works with them as closely as possible on issues of mutual agreement and the two cooperate to ensure they’re not splitting the left of Labour vote in key constituencies.

    • Glynn Smith says:

      Moving away from the bribery culture we currently have is a must. Government should be about the people. Government should broker the best deals for the common good. If the Asda’s of this world don’t like paying contributions or paying wages to staff they can move along.
      I fear at the moment without an alternative we may even end up with a three party coalition next time round just to keep the old school in the style and power to which they have become selfishly accustomed.
      At some point we have to introduce the electorate to the idea that we are heading towards total depletion of some resources.
      I care less about the turn over of private cars than I do about the delivery of necessities.
      Playing at bedrooms etc is all part of avoiding these. Surely we need to be working towards more self sufficiency if we are to minimise the risk of a self imposed cull.

    • simon hester says:

      You make some good concise points.
      The Greens have much deeper principles which could be said to encapsulate those of the ‘Left’. Left/Right wing politics is all about conflict – Left or Right is not tattooed on the back of a persons neck. There are sound and practical ways in which human beings can exist in a happier and healthy fashion which brings in to question the old ‘money trick’. Who has more or less of this stuff has an immediate urgency with those that have less, but the questions about what makes a human being content and in tune with with its habitat is more profound and interesting.
      Yes, let’s not split the vote – the ruling elite are far too united for us to indulge in this luxury.

  24. John says:

    Its no good the Greens going on about sustainability and then opposing civil nuclear power. We have a stark choice, build nuclear power stations now (the French can build them in five years) and have the problem of recycling a few tonnes of nuclear waste, or have a planet devoid of human life, and several hundred decaying wind-turbines.

    Already there are reactors that can render waste from the older nuclear plants into something less hazardous, and no doubt this technology will improve in the future – remember all those mine tailings that were recycled to recover the ore once the technology had advanced enough.

  25. Doug Rouxel says:

    As a socialist (eco-socialist if you will) member of the Green Party and Green Left, my response to the above article is not so in any way defensive – many of the points raised are correct, and it is an effective critique of the party – which is a broad coalition of people, not just those who are firmly “on the left”. There are those in the party who will concede principle for power, and there are those who would not.

    I think the key thing which this Left Unity initiative should be articulating, is how exactly it will incorporate what it is doing into what those in the Green Party with whom it shares common ground are doing? Whilst the Labour party has a structural inability to allow any collaboration with another electoral formation – the Green Party (although hesitant and in some areas resistant) does not have this impediment, and depending on the way in which the Left Unity formation is created, it could incorporate people who remain members of the Green Party, or close coalition with them, without people becoming members.

    As it stands at the moment, Left Unity, as a grouping, could be formed of Green Party members, because it is not, as far as I understand, a registered political party…?

  26. tony skeels says:

    They are all too main stream now to reach out to the average joe and by the look of this stream this party will go the same. whatever alternative arises i doubt it will come in a conventional form which you would be able to label like u want to. does it make u all feel safer to say oh we must be this side of this or this side of that there’s only one side and we all know it in our hearts.

  27. Sean Thompson says:

    I’m afraid that I found both Tom’s article and the responses to it and Ken’s appeal from a number of green party members equally disappointing. Tom’s article really doesn’t really attempt to understand the peculiar nature of the Green Party or the socialist left within it. Instead, it approaches the question in a rather shallow journalistic fashion and merely attempts to dismiss the party as not really on the left and therefore more or less irrelevant. And the responses from Green Party members seem to me to have been, on the whole, needlessly defensive and prone to a naive sectarianism. They essential first step towards left unity seems to me for us all starting to actually listen to each other with some respect and perhaps just a little humility.

    I’ve posted a much fuller response to this debate on my blog:

  28. Chris Fernandez says:

    It is about time trade unions stood their own candidates in local elections against cuts and NOT to carry them out once elected and reflect union policy. If you have a look any any council whatever their political colour and I include the Greens in this they are carrying out cuts. It is no use coming out with language like humaine cuts, slow cuts etc a cut is a cut throwing unuion members on the dole and closing services.

  29. James Youd says:

    Alan Thornett has written the following http://leftunity.org/a-new-left-party-must-be-both-democratic-and-ecological/ partly in response to the above discussion.

  30. Doug Rouxel says:

    I think Sean’s analysis above pretty much hits the nail on the head, demonstrating the shallow nature of the article here and the opposition to it.

  31. Tom Trainer says:

    It all looks very Judean People’s Front to me. If there are gripes with Greens’ implementation of their policies, why not join the party and improve it, rather than just splitting the left vote, which is what always seems to happen.

  32. John Holland says:

    The problem with your discussion of the Green party, and of green politics generally, is that you simply don’t get it. You think it wants to be Red but hasn’t got the nerve.
    Like most ‘old-skool’ Reds, your mindset is still stuck firmly in the 1850’s. You seem to be, as Marx was, an all-out industrialist and growth fetishist- your view of the world has failed to take into account two things that have changed since Marx’s time- the immediate threat of environmental collapse, and the cultural and technological changes that have made still more relevant the anti- corporatist(and that includes Statism) agenda, the small-scale, bottom up paradigms that are not aligned to traditional left power structures that see people as the lumpen prols.
    While I agree with a lot of what you say about the right-wing atack on working people’s lives, your logo says at all- flags, fists, stars. There are greeens who suffer from equivalent anachronistic delusions- all hey nonny no and flower pixies- neither they or you are going to challenge the vile but brilliant neo-cons until you seriously work out what’s going on, now, and stop living in a fug of nostalgia.

  33. RedShift says:

    I’d actually go further.

    The Greens (sole council) record in local government is actually less left-wing than Labour.

    NO Labour councils have threatened to sack workers and rehire them on worse contracts. This is exactly what Brighton’s Greens did to bin workers in Brighton though. Either it is a case of extreme spite because they snubbed meat-free Monday and insisted on keeping their morning bacon butties OR they simply have no respect for negotiating with trade unions. To be honest this would’ve made some Tory councils blush.

  34. Dave Edwards says:

    There are a lot a good policies around the Green. The problem comes with the old ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’. Brighton is the pudding and it does not taste very nice. Indeed it appears that the Green Party is actually promoting KitKat as Deputy Leader of the Local Government Association. Which send the signal that his actions are acceptable and positive in their eyes.

  35. Chris Keene says:

    I am one of those nature conservationists dismissed by Salman Shaheen.

    But I also believe in social justice. When I first started thinking about politics around age 15 I independently invented the idea of the Citizens Income. I didn’t call it that of course – I just said that everyone should get a pension but that we should also be paid lower wages, which would result in greater equality without removing the incentive to work.

    I’m also a lifelong member of the Green Party, was Campaigns Coordinator 9 years ago, and have no intention of leaving. The slogan ‘not left, not right, but out in front’ isn’t a bad one, but could be updated to ‘Green is the new Red, and it’s the new Blue too’. Greens believe in social justice, as socialists do, but they also believe in stability, as conservatives do, the most important need at the moment being climate stability.

    The problem with the left, and the reason why you are losing the fight against neoliberalism, is the never ending tendency to split and fight amongst yourselves. ‘Divide and rule’ is a very effective tactic, and we need to counter this urgently if we are not to see the climate reaching a tipping point where temperatures rocket up several degrees in a few years,and we see mass starvation leading to wars then a nuclear holocaust.

    We need to use some divide and rule tactics of our own – many Conservative voters are nature conservationists, many support small businesses – the Greens could appeal to both. However, I doubt very much whether this will lead to a Green government in 2015, so I propose instead that we aim for a national government to implement the Green New Deal (the number one demand of which is to re-regulate the banks, then kick-start the economy by getting people to work building renewable energy infrastructure, insulating homes, driving buses etc, thus saving the environment and the economy.)

    The national government could consist of green Conservatives like Zac Goldsmith, green Liberals, eco-socialists and Green Party members (UKIP and the BNP would be excluded as climate deniers). I carried out a small opinion poll, knocking on 100 doors in different areas of Norwich, when the financial crisis broke in 2008. About two thirds of people on a council estate and in surburban bungalows were in favour of such a government, whilst around half in the terraced houses, many in multiple occupation, closer to town were (that doesn’t mean half were against, as many were undecided). I know this isn’t a scientific poll, but I think it gives an indication that such an idea is worth pursuing; I bet it would get more votes than a Left Unity party.

    Co-operating with Conservatives you will find extremely hard to swallow, but think of the better world we could create if we could make it work. And just consider the consequences if we don’t – billions will die from the effects of climate wars, and before that happens many in Britain will be thrust even deeper into poverty by yet another collapse of the still unreformed financial system.

    It is important to get some Conservatives on our side, otherwise we could end up with the situation we have in the USA, where climate denial is a part of the political identity of those who regard themselves as on the right. Remember it was a Conservative MP, Tim Yeo, who introduced the amendment to introduce decarbonisation targets into the Energy bill – it narrowly failed to pass unfortunately. We need to work with such people if we are to have any hope of avoiding a tipping point which would consign our children to a climate hell.
    I imagine that my plea will fall on deaf ears, but I have to try to convince you to do what Martin Luther King said ‘Love your enemy, for only then can you turn him into a friend’


  36. Pete Kennedy says:

    Sir, your analysis is flawed for one simple reason: it ignores the fact that the Green Party is a democratic party. As the left unites inside the Green Party, the Green Party becomes more and more left.
    Green Party Conference voted two thirds in favour of the Brighton Party’s cuts? Imagine if even a fraction of Left Unity’s membership were instead Green Party members attending that conference and voting against the cuts?

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