01. 06. 2017

Green Stars in a Sea of Mediocrity

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I have to be honest: the whole idea of building a Progressive Alliance to take on the Tories in this Election (or ‘ABC: Anyone But the Conservatives’, as some of my friends put it!) is looking a little bedraggled.

I was in Bristol West on Saturday, supporting the Green Party candidate, Molly Scott Cato. Molly is a top-notch economist, has been a brilliant MEP, and would be an equally brilliant MP for a constituency that really appreciates the value of independent, radical politics.

There’s real momentum building in Bristol West – but no thanks to the Lib Dems. Molly’s up against a plausible Labour candidate who has marginally more convincing pro-European credentials than the vast majority of Labour candidates elsewhere in the UK, let alone her wretchedly equivocating Leader. The Tories in Bristol West are nowhere. So why-oh-why did the Lib Dems feel they had to put up a candidate even though they haven’t got a chance?

The answer is all too simple: crude tribalism runs deep, even amongst posturing progressives. Both the Lib Dems and Labour have defaulted to standard (‘we have to give people a choice’) tribalism, knowing full well that this will result, directly and inevitably, in fewer genuinely progressive MPs in the next parliament. Just two Lib Dems have stood down; none for Labour.

By contrast, I fee incredibly proud of the leadership the Green Party has shown over the last few weeks: 32 Green Party candidates decided to stand down to help either the Lib Dem or the Labour candidate in their constituencies, hoping against hope that this might encourage some reciprocity in the only two seats where the Green Party has a realistic chance in this insane electoral system of ours – Bristol West and the Isle of Wight.

That’s a lot of Green votes in those constituencies that will now go to other candidates, hopefully with a good outcome in some of those seats. But people forget that this is not a cost-free process for the Greens: the total votes cast for a Party are a critical element in determining the amount of so-called ‘short money’ for opposition parties. Fewer votes, less short money, less resource for the Green Party to be as effective an opposition (even with just one MP!) as it has been.

I’m still confident that there’s going to be a significant amount of tactical voting in a much larger number of constituencies than ever before. And with the Labour Party now performing far more effectively than seemed possible even a few weeks ago, that could still have a material effect on the final result.

But Labour is so utterly hapless on the three things that might be said to define the heart of genuinely progressive politics in the UK in May 2017:

1. An unapologetically pro-European position.
It’s critical to be able to promise voters the chance to vote again in a second Referendum on whatever deal Theresa May’s government may actually come up with. Let alone on her threat to quit the talks with ‘no deal at all’. Corbyn still twitches with truly amphibian ambivalence when put on the spot about Europe, and Labour’s record since the Referendum last year has been deplorable.

2. Second, PR.
You’d have to be not just tribalist but plain stupid to think that Labour is ever again going to win enough seats to form a majority government. Yet that pair of old-fashioned Marxists, Corbyn and McDonnell, still see themselves as prophets in the wilderness, leading their Party back to a land of socialist milk and honey, however many decades it may take them.

3. The environment.
I’ve lived through many General Elections, and wondered during each and every one of them why there weren’t at least a few politicians in the mainstream parties brave enough to buck the polls, defy this country’s rebarbatively right-wing media, and overcome their own risk-averse self-interest to tell voters what they never get to hear from any other Party other than the Green Party: that if you don’t prioritise the environment and secure the physical foundations on which all our economic aspirations depend, then you’re just pissing every more problematically in the wind. The Labour Party still struggles to convey any sense of urgency or even coherence on environmental issues.

So, can we take heart from anything else? Well, yes …

For one thing, More United has been hard at work single-mindedly doing what it said it was going to do to support ‘progressive candidates’ (prepared to sign up to More United’s own special recipe for motherhood and apple pie) in those seats where they’re deemed to have a chance of winning.

So far, 44 candidates have been supported by More United, distributing more than £300,000 raised from around 9,000 supporters – most of whom are not involved in any political party. And around 1,000 members have volunteered to get out and do some canvassing in key seats.

Check out the candidates: this just shows how much can be achieved with a little bit of goodwill, and what More United has done so far is perhaps the most encouraging signal of what might happen in the future.

But for really good things to happen in the future, we’re still totally dependent on getting rid of our horrendously unjust electoral system and ensuring Proportional Representation for the next Election.

So a final ‘shout-out’ for the amazing Make Votes Matter, that has stuck in there, creatively and with real purpose, getting candidates and voters to put support for PR at the heart of their progressive political commitments.

Which, of course, all Green Party candidates do as a matter of course. And, to be fair, all Lib Dem, SNP and Plaid Cymru candidates do too. And, to be really mean, quite a few Labour candidates as well. And to be uncomfortably honest, all UKIP candidates. And, to be nothing if not obvious, about half a dozen Tory candidates as well.

And guess what will happen on the PR front if we have another five years of Tory rule? Next to bugger all. Unless and until Labour sees the light.
 

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