The Green Party leadership election may not have generated the same level of media attention granted to the increasingly bitter tug of war currently threatening to tear the Labour Party in two; for the Greens themselves, however, this contest was the most decisive in its history. Having ridden the wave of the much-heralded “Green surge” and gained its largest ever vote share in last year’s general election (albeit just one MP), the party is currently seeking to find its place in the Corbyn/Momentum era of left-wing politics.
Thousands of disillusioned Labour supporters flocked to the Green Party in protest at Labour’s shift rightwards under successive leaders; a great many have returned to the “fold”, confident in Corbyn’s ability to institute a Socialist utopia where others have failed to do so. The question of the Green Party’s position in this brave new world is a topic of discussion at local party meetings the length and breadth of the country and will have undoubtedly played a key role in helping people to nail their colours to the mast in the leadership election.
In Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, party members have clearly opted to place the future in “safe” hands. Lucas is easily the most prominent, widely respected Green and Bartley is as far removed from the bearded sandal-wearing stereotype as you could possibly get. Their overwhelming mandate from party members suggests a yearning for a more PR-savvy approach, a less awkward image in the public consciousness.
It is difficult to avoid drawing parallels between a key tenet of Lucas and Bartley’s speech at the Green Party conference yesterday and some of Owen Smith’s most noteworthy utterances in his head-to-head tussles with Jeremy Corbyn. All three politicians have made it abundantly clear that they remain convinced of the UK’s place in the European Union. In the case of Lucas and Bartley, they have openly committed to a policy of holding a second referendum based on the detail of the exit plan eventually negotiated with the rest of the EU. Corbyn, conversely, has insisted that the referendum outcome must be respected. Whether or not that is indicative of his personal outlook on the issue could be debated until the proverbial cows come home.
Where the Green Party’s newly appointed co-leaders will find little in the way of common ground with either Corbyn or Smith is in the area of electoral reform and prospective ‘progressive alliances’. Neither Labour candidate has shown the moral fibre it takes to commit to the kind of changes that would help assuage the widespread sense of disenfranchisement provoked by our antiquated first-past-the-post voting system. Being one of the two beneficiaries of this democratic deficit prevents high-profile figures in the Labour Party from joining the calls to make every vote count.
Lucas and Bartley used their first speech as co-leaders to reiterate their commitment to building progressive alliances with other left-wing parties. At its most tangible, this would involve forging electoral pacts in marginal constituencies to deny the Conservatives the opportunity to gain seats off the back of a split left-wing vote. As logical as the notion may seem to grassroots activists, Corbyn has rejected the idea outright with Owen Smith equally as unenthusiastic. The sad reality, it seems, is that the Labour Party just doesn’t like to share its toys.
A more sensible, and infinitely more realistic, plan of action for the Lucas/Bartley leadership would be a two-pronged attack comprising, on the one hand, a sustained campaign for electoral reform and, on the other, a concerted effort to raise awareness of exactly what makes the Green Party distinct. While Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party unfathomably clings on to the principle of infinite growth on a planet of finite resources, the Greens should aim to redress the balance in the political landscape by emphasising its truly revolutionary vision for the future of our country and, crucially, our planet. With Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley at the helm, supported by the party’s policy of truly member-driven policymaking, there’s never been a better time to present that vision to the nation.
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