Can the Greens become the "Ukip of the left"? Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Getty.
Show Hide image

Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.