The Green Party needs to learn some lessons after a devastating election result for climate campaigners.
Donnachadh McCarthy, The Independent
In the middle of the catastrophic climate and ecological catastrophes, the Green Party needs to learn some lessons after a devastating election result for climate campaigners. When asking what its role should be now, the party could look to both Fridays for Future youth strikes and Extinction Rebellion for inspiration.
Last Thursday, the RSA hosted a debate between Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley and Franziska Brantner, a Green Party Bundestag MP, titled “a new model for eco politics”. But no such thing was proposed. Brantner rather weirdly used the time to espouse her love of meat and flying, and made no references to the depth of the crises facing us. Bartley admitted to being terrified by the climate science but offered no political way forward, other than pointing out that, under First Past the Post, it will be very difficult for the Green Party to make progress nationally in UK politics.
Despite the Greens almost doubling their vote at the general election, they still only won one seat — Brighton Pavilion, held by Caroline Lucas. The Greens are lucky that their one MP is one of the best working representatives in parliament, but it took 865,000 votes for the Green Party to win that single seat, compared to only 26,000 votes to win each SNP seat and 38, 000 for each Tory seat. In an analysis carried out by Benali Hamdache, the party is not predicted to win a second parliamentary seat until the election after next at the earliest. In December, the Greens came second in only a tiny number of seats, such as Bristol West and Dulwich and West Norwood, but even there they were still over 35 per cent behind the winning candidate.
Under first past the post, almost the only way for a smaller party to win a parliamentary seat is to slowly win more seats on a local council until such time as the infrastructure is in place to enable you to campaign successfully in a general election. It took the Liberal Democrats almost 50 years of doing this to build to a position where the party shared national power in the 2010 coalition government.
However, the doubling of the Green Party vote in December ironically also the disastrous by-product of assisting in the defeat of candidates from other pro-climate action parties. In 13 seats, these green voters were the difference between a winning Conservative and the defeated Labour or Liberal Democrat candidates.
It would be unfair to blame the election defeat by the pro-climate action parties (Labour/Lib Dem/SNP/Green), which between them won 50.3 per cent of the vote compared to the combined Tory and Brexit Party vote of 45.6 per cent, solely on the Greens. Despite the billionaire press lauding Boris’s triumph, it was the Lib Dems who had the best election night, securing the largest swing of 4.2 per cent, compared to 1.1 per cent to the Greens and 1.2 per cent to the Tories. But that swing to the Lib Dems resulted not in extra Lib Dem seats but in a slew of Labour seats falling to the Tories instead.
The Green Party now has to face that it has run out of time to use national electoral politics to address the climate emergency. Even if the next election produced a government that introduced proportional representation, it would be 2030 (at least) before a second Green MP would be elected under it, and the mid 2030s before any Green policies could start producing results.
For too long, the party have wasted has trying to be a green-tinged version of Labour, seeking to capture the political left ground abandoned by Blair but then reclaimed by Corbyn. A number of years ago, at a Resurgence conference, I asked the then Green leader, Natalie Bennett, why her party was not hammering home the depth of urgency dictated by the climate science. Her reply shocked me. She said that, if they did, the billionaire media would dismiss them as a lunatic fringe. I looked at her in despair, realising that even the Green Party feared telling the truth to power.
Many Green Party members, including co-leader Jonathan Bartley, have already led the way by assisting Fridays for Future and by being either key leaders, supporters or arrestees at Extinction Rebellion actions. It is now time for their party as a whole to mobilise. Yes they can!
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