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Green shoots are growing

The Labour Party’s rightward shift has given space for the Greens to flourish, meaning they could emerge as the primary voice of British left-wing politics, writes CHRIS JARVIS

IN MAY 2014, the Green Party was in celebration mode. In that year’s local elections, the Greens made 18 net gains. At the time, this was the party’s second most successful set of local elections in its history.

Twelve months later, the 2015 general election would see over one million people vote Green, more than at any election before or since. While record-breaking, that election was bittersweet.

The Greens only managed to retain their sole MP, failing to make further inroads. And within months the position of the Greens as the only mainstream party offering a left-wing diagnosis of the crises facing the country was thrown into doubt by the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn, the most radical leader the Labour Party has ever elected.

What’s the relevance of this now? There are clear echoes between the fate of the Greens a decade ago and the future of the Greens today. This time around, however, the political conditions are such that the next Green surge is unlikely to fade. 

May 2024 saw the Greens secure significant gains in local elections, the fourth cycle in a row in which the party has added large numbers to its overall tally of councillors. That tally now stands at more than 840. Whereas in 2014, the Greens secured their position as the biggest of the small parties, in 2024 the party reaffirmed its new status as the smallest of the big parties. All of this comes with a general election just around the corner.

When more than a million people voted Green in the 2015, many did so because of the Green Party’s unrelenting opposition to austerity, its rejection of hate-filled politics on migration and its recognition that the economic crisis was caused by the mega rich and so it was the mega rich who should have been made to pay for cleaning up their mess. And they voted Green at a time when the Labour Party had wholly capitulated to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s hard-right agenda and offered no meaningful alternative. 

Sound familiar? Much of this can be copied and pasted over into our current context. 

The Labour Party is haemorrhaging support as a result of the morally indefensible position it took on Israel’s assault on Gaza, the jettisoning of policy commitments on the climate crisis, and a refusal to offer a vision for the country which would deliver any meaningful redistribution of wealth and power. 

Meanwhile, the Green Party is the only major party which has stood firm in its solidarity with the Palestinian people, having consistently called for a ceasefire, an end to arms sales to Israel, and the dismantling of the occupation of the West Bank and the siege on Gaza.

We are the only major party committed to a total transition away from a climate-wrecking economy to one based on environmental sustainability and high-paid, unionised jobs. And we are the only major party that has retained a promise of ending the twin scourges of privatisation and austerity which have wrought economic ruin and misery to the majority of the population.

It’s no wonder then that while Labour gained hundreds of seats from the Tories in this year’s local elections, they also lost dozens of council seats to the Greens.

Across England, the Greens made major advances against Labour in places as varied as Newcastle, Stroud, Leeds, Oxford, Bristol and Norwich. Local issues were no doubt a factor in many races, but the national trend and anecdotal evidence from campaigners indicate that dissatisfaction with Labour’s overall offer was crucial too.

As we’ve already seen, the Greens hoovering up disaffected Labour voters by offering a genuine alternative isn’t entirely new. Nevertheless, there are three reasons why the current moment is the Greens’ to take and a repeat of the 2015 surge followed by decline is unlikely.

The first reason is that the Green Party’s existing level of electoral representation is on an entirely different scale to where it was in 2014. More than two-thirds of the council seats currently held by the Greens have been won since 2019. The Green Party is in joint or sole administration on more than 30 local councils. In 2023, Mid Suffolk became the first council to elect a Green majority in Britain’s history. In 2024, the Green Party came two seats short of winning a majority on Bristol City Council. 

All of this provides two important things that have historically been absent — a huge portion of the population now have had experience voting for and being represented by Greens, and the Green Party now has a much larger pool of activists with long-term investment in the party’s electoral success.

One only has to look at the electoral history of the Liberal Democrats to know what this is a recipe for — they first made inroads in local elections before making the leap into parliamentary success.

The second reason is that the Green Party is now a much more professionalised campaigning organisation which is better placed to take advantage of political opportunities.

The aforementioned local election success is indicative of this. But so too is the party’s approach to the next general election. Whereas in 2015, the party nominally had “target seats,” the truth is there was little in the way of concentrated campaigning outside of the effort to get Caroline Lucas re-elected, and to a lesser degree in Bristol.

The result was that the Greens saved a lot of deposits and came a distant second and third in lots of seats, but ultimately failed to break through.

This time, the Greens are laser-focused on getting MPs elected. There is no scatter-gun campaigning, no unrealistic claims about winning dozens of seats.

Instead, the Green Party has an ambitious target of getting four Green MPs into Parliament, with mass campaigns drawing in hundreds of volunteers already well under way.

Pulling this off would be no mean feat given that only Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have ever managed it in modern English politics, but some pollsters and analysts are saying the party is already in the running, particularly in Bristol Central. 

The third reason is arguably the most important for the long-term future of the Greens as the primary left-wing voice in British politics. This is that there is no prospect of a “Corbyn moment” lurking around the corner to stymie the Greens’ ascent.

In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader off the back of a bruising election defeat for Ed Miliband. At the time, the anti-austerity movement had created the political space for a left-wing figure to emerge, and there was still a substantial left-wing element in the Labour membership and Parliamentary Labour Party to capitalise on that space. 

There will be no bruising defeat for Labour at the next election as they look set to enter government off the back of the nadir of Tory unpopularity.

While there are strong social movements in Britain today — not least the mass movement in solidarity with Palestine, what remains of the energy that came from the great strike wave, and the constantly evolving climate movement — there is no longer any left within the Labour Party to build upon this.

As Morning Star readers will be well aware, many on the left of the Labour Party — from activists to councillors to MPs — have either been purged under Keir Starmer’s regime or else have left the party in disgust at his policies and actions. 

All of this means that in the coming years, support for the Green Party should only grow as more and more people turn away from Labour’s continued support for the status quo.

So, with a general election just around the corner, and more local elections next May, remember that the Green Party exists as the only mainstream option for socialists and progressives at the ballot box.

You can vote Green not only to stick it to Starmer and not only as an expression of your values. You can vote Green with the very real chance that you will get a Green elected off the back of it — a Green who will stand up for peace and global justice, that will fight for a just transition to address the climate emergency, and that will push for the redistribution of wealth and power the country desperately needs.

Chris Jarvis is leader of the Green Party Group on Oxford City Council.

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