Can the Greens become the "Ukip of the left"? Photo: Getty
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The very nature of left-wing policies and party funding means there isn't a Ukip of the left

Instead of asking why there isn't a feasible left-of-centre party, we should be asking why, when support for their policies is so high, only 1 per cent of voters crossed the Greens' box in May 2010.

This article was written in response to a column by Helen Lewis asking "Why isn’t there a 'Ukip of the left'?" Read Left Unity's response to the column here.
 

This week has been a good one for the website voteforpolicies.org.uk. The team have finally hit their fundraising target meaning they will now be able to replicate their popular 2010 site for next year's general election. As described by a Channel 4 reviewer, posted with pride on the site, "Vote for Policies is an interesting survey based on policies alone - allowing  users to find out who they would vote for if the policies were anonymous."

And as the Conservatives "won" the last election with 36 per cent of the UK vote, it was also the Conservatives who came up on top on voteforpolicies.org.uk in 2010, right? Wrong. In fact, it was the Greens who came top, with 25 per cent identifying most closely to their policies - ahead of second-place Labour by a margin of 5 per cent, and ahead of the Tories by over 10 per cent.

Using visitors to one website as a representative sample of Britons is not without its flaws - perhaps the half-a-million people who took the survey happened to be more left-wing than the general population? But as the New Statesman's deputy editor, Helen Lewis, wrote last week "there is certainly space in British politics for a party beyond the edge of Labour."

Helen and I are in agreement that the electorate is crying out for a party that represents their views on a range of issues from nationalisation to the living wage. Helen is also not alone in calling for a "UKIP of the left" - here she is joined by Russell BrandKen Loach of Left Unity and a plethora of founders who have set up their parties because of a perceived "vacuum" in British politics. But the reason I asked her to grant me the column inches for this article - which, by the way, went directly against the plea in her article for affronted Greens to "sheath our pens", so I am very grateful to her for humouring me! - is that, as I have argued elsewhere, I believe nothing will be gained by creating another leftist party when so much activist time has been spent on one already.

One of the lessons we can learn from Vote for Policies is that the public are already behind the Greens' political aims. The Greens' already boast three MEPs, an MP, a working peer, two London Assembly Members and 162 Councillors (plus two MSPs north of the border). In addition, the struggle involved in becoming an elected Green means that a) the power hungry need not apply and b) those who make it are at the top of their game. Just check-out the number of political awards Caroline Lucas MP has totted up for a list to make you feel inadequate.

I believe that the very nature of left-wing policies and the current party-funding structure and media environment means that there will never be a "Ukip of the left". Creating a new "Green Party. v2" will simply mean spending time building up a party which will ultimately repeat the Greens' modest electoral history - if indeed if ever manages to match a party that punches so far above its weight.

So instead of asking why there isn't a feasible left-of-centre party, we should be asking why, when support for their policies is so high, only 1 per cent of voters crossed the Greens' box in May 2010.

Rich businessmen and media magnates have a vested interest in pushing the political discussion to the right in order, consciously or otherwise, to preserve their own wealthy and privileged lifestyles and that of their descendants. This is why they can often be found bankrolling and publicising parties that maintain the status quo, both politically and economically. It is unsurprising that voters, who despite the great work of campaigns such as Vote for Policies, still gain the majority of their political information from the mainstream media, go on to vote these parties into power.

To combat this problem, the Green Party advocates public funding for political parties, allocated on the basis of previous performance in proportional elections (as have others here). Amid the ongoing cash-for-peerages scandal, reform was promised at the start of this government - but given who benefits from the current system, it is hardly surprising that reform was not forthcoming. How can there ever be a "Ukip of the left" whilst Ukip are allowed to receive a £1m donation from one single supporter's company? It is hardly likely that there are similar millionaire donors waiting in the wings to donate to or to use their news-sheets to publicise a party that would see them give up much of their wealth to help those less fortunate in society. Similarly, it is unlikely that a party that relies on such donations would produce legislation to reduce wealth inequality - how on earth would it fund its next election campaign?

Just as Vote for Policies found it needed capital to reach its audience, political parties can't pay for their election campaigns using just goodwill. It costs cold hard cash to fund press staff, pay for candidate's deposits, pay for leaflets and advertising. Without a fairer system of party funding, no party that dares challenge the super-rich can ever compete.

Clare Phipps is editor of the London Green Party website and is studying for a PhD in gender and health

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Celebrate Labour's electoral success - but don't forget the working class

The shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face. 

In the moment when the exit poll was released on 8 June, after seven weeks of slogging up and down the streets of Britain, dealing with scepticism, doubt and sometimes downright hostility, we felt a combination of relief, optimism, even euphoria.
 
This election broke wide open some assumptions that have constrained us on the left for too long; that the young won’t vote, that any one individual or political party is “unelectable”, that perceptions of both individuals, parties and even policies cannot change suddenly and dramatically. It reminded us that courage, ambition and hope are what’s needed and what have been missing from our politics, too often, for too long.
 
We have learnt to tread carefully and wear our values lightly. But in recent weeks we have remembered that our convictions can, as Jonathan Freedland once wrote, “bring hope flickering back to life” and meet the growing appetite for a politics that doesn’t simply rail against what is but aspires to build a world that is better.
 
In this election at least, it seems the final, anticipated fracture of Labour from its working-class base after Brexit did not materialise. Shortly before the snap election was called I wrote that while Brexit appeared to be Labour’s greatest weakness, it could just be our biggest strength, because: “consider what remain voting Tottenham and leave voting Wigan have in common: Labour… We will succeed if we seek the common ground shared by the decent, sensible majority, and more importantly, so will Britain.”
 
But consider this too. The Tories ran a terrible campaign. It was, without any doubt,the most inept, counter-productive campaign I’ve ever seen in British politics. The day their manifesto hit the headlines, even in our toughest neighbourhoods, we could feel change in the air. Arrogance is never rewarded by the British people and Theresa May has paid a price for it. Yet, despite a Tory manifesto that was a full, square attack on older people, the majority of over 65s still came out for the Tories.
 
And despite the growing relevance of freedom, internationalism and tolerance in an era characterised by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Liberal Democrats managed to become bystanders in the political debate. They stood on a platform that aimed to capture the support of those remain voters for whom Brexit is the major question, but neglected the rest. And they quite spectacularly failed to foresee that those who were intensely angered by May’s conversion to a little England, hard Brexit stance would vote tactically against the Tories. Over those seven weeks, they all but disappeared as a political force.
 
As Bob Dylan once said, "the times, they are a-changin" – and they will change again. The recent past has moved at extraordinary speed. The Brexit Referendum, the rise and retreat of nationalism, the election of Trump and his crushing unpopularity just a few months later, the reversal in fortunes for May and Jeremy Corbyn, the astonishing phenomenon of Emmanuel Macron and pro-European centrism, and the dramatic rise and sudden collapse of Ukip. Politics, as John Harris wrote last week, is now more fluid than ever. So now is the time, for hope yes, and for conviction too, but not for jubilation. We need some serious thinking. 
 
We should be cautious to rush to judgment. It is only two weeks since the exit poll sent shockwaves across the country. There is no comprehensive explanation for the multitude of motivations that delivered this election result and will not be for some time. But there are some early indictors that must make us think. 
 
After seven years of austerity, as John Curtice observes, the Tories made some of their biggest gains in some of the poorest areas of Britain. It is something I felt in all of the eight constituencies I campaigned in during the election. While the Labour vote rose significantly in towns like Wigan, so too did the Tory vote, despite little or no campaigning activity on the ground. As Rob Ford puts it, “Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle-class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales… Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017”.
 
To acknowledge the growing, longstanding scepticism of many working-class men, and women, towards Labour in towns across England is not to take away from the hard work and drive of the activists, advisers and politicians that helped to fuel such a dramatic turnaround for Labour during the short campaign. To have won considerable gains in wealthier suburbs is no small achievement. 
 
But if the future of Labour lies in a coalition between middle-class young professionals and the working class, what is the glue that binds? While there is shared agreement about investment in public services, how are those interests to be squared on areas like national security and immigration? I believe it can and must be done, but – as I said to conference when I was first elected seven years ago - it will demand that we begin with the difficult questions, not the easy ones.  
 
Just a few days before the election, statistics were released that pointed to a collapse in trade union membership. What does the decline of an organised Labour movement mean for who we are and what we can achieve? These are not new questions. They were posed by Eric Hobsbawm in his brilliant lecture, "The Forward March of Labour Halted" in 1979 - a challenge laid down in the year I was born. Now, 37 years on, we are no further down the road to answering it. 
 
The most dramatic finding from this election was the support Corbyn’s Labour party appears to have won from middle-class, young professionals. They said he couldn’t do it and quite stunningly it seems they were wrong. But a ComRes poll last week caught my eye – by a large margin those 30-44 year olds would favour a new centre-ground political party over the current political settlement. In an election where we returned strongly to two-party politics, it appears they moved to us. But what would a dynamic and renewed Liberal Democrat Party, or a British En Marche do to our support base?
 
After a hellish two years we have learnt in Labour, I hope, that unity matters. The public and private anger directed towards each other, whether the Labour leadership, the parliamentary Labour party or elected councillors, is desperately damaging and its (relative) absence in the campaign was important.
 
But unity is not the same as uniformity, and while two weeks ago I felt there was a real danger of historic fracture, now I believe the shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face, and must avoid. No one person, faction or party has ever had the monopoly on wisdom. The breadth of the Labour movement was and remains our greatest strength. 
 
Consider the Labour manifesto, which drew on every tradition across our movement and demanded that every part of the party had to compromise. Those broad traditions still matter and are still relevant because they hear and are attuned to different parts of Britain. Our country is changing and politics must catch up. The future will be negotiated, not imposed.
 
As we witness the age of "strong man" politics across the world, here in Britain our political culture has become angrier and more illiberal than at any time I can remember. The Brexit debate was characterised by rage, misinformation and a macho political culture that demanded that we abandon nuance and complexity, an understanding of one another and tolerance of different points of view.
 
But this is not where the future of Britain lies: it lies in pluralism. It lies in a politics that is nimbler, more fleet of foot, less constrained; a return to the great tradition of debate, evidence, experience and argument as a way to build broad coalitions and convince people; not shouting one another down, nor believing any of us are always right; an arena in which we listen as much as we speak; a political culture in which we are capable of forming alliances within and across party lines to achieve real, lasting change.
 
And ultimately that’s the prize: not just seek power but, to paraphrase a philosopher whose work inspired millions, in the end “the point is to change it”. We could sit tight in Labour and hope to see the current government fall apart. We might even inherit power, we could temporarily reverse some of the worst of the last seven years, but what then? If we have learnt anything from 13 years of Labour government it should be this: that to build lasting change is the hardest political task of all, and it requires now that we do not turn to the political culture, the tools or even the ideas of the past, but that we think hard about where the future of our movement and our country really lies. Now is not the time to sit back and celebrate. Now is the time to think.

 

Lisa Nandy is the MP for Wigan. She was formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

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