Natalie Bennett: leftward bound. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Truly radical policies: how the Greens are hammering Labour’s left

The Green Party could stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister.

Until a few months ago, Labour thought that its passage to power was simple enough. Hold onto its core vote, scoop up angry left-wing voters disaffected with the Liberal Democrats, and watch Ukip and the electoral system do the rest. They were reckoning without the Greens.

In 2010, the Green Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Green Party amassed a combined 1 per cent of the vote. Today the Greens are averaging 5 per cent, and even reached an all-time high of 8 per cent in a YouGov poll last week. And their trajectory is only going up: their average support has doubled since April. They are rapidly gaining footsoldiers – the membership of the Green Party of England and Wales has risen by 90 per cent in 2014. For so long bereft of publicity, the Greens have astutely exploited their exclusion from the broadcasters’ proposals from TV debates.

The upshot is terrifying for Labour. A Green surge would shatter Labour’s fragile electoral coalition for good. No wonder David Cameron supports including the Greens in the TV debates.

Labour is alert to this threat. Last month it appointed Sadiq Khan to lead a Labour’s Green Party Strategy Unit. Khan seems to believe that the Greens can be flattened through flattery. This week, he praised Caroline Lucas “with whom I agree on a great many things” and Green supporters, who “share the same values and aims as the Labour Party: reducing inequality, saving the NHS, building more homes, a commitment to human rights and civil liberties and protecting our environment.” But he warned that “every vote for the Green Party only makes it one vote easier for the Conservatives to win.” Vote Green, Get Tory is the new Vote Ukip, Get Labour.

The great problem for Labour is that it cannot simultaneously launch an offensive on its left and right flanks. Before 2013, Ukip took only one Labour vote for every nine they took from the Conservatives: no wonder Labour seemed so unperturbed by their rise. Since January 2013, it has lost six voters to Ukip for every nine that the Conservatives have lost to the People’s Army. Labour can try – as it has, but to no avail – to win back Ukip defectors but reconciling this with reaching out to disaffected left-wingers flirting with the Greens looks like an impossible balancing act.

And the Greens want to make it harder still. At last night’s Leaders Live debate, when Natalie Bennett answered questions from young voters, the Green Party leader again positioned her party well to Labour’s left. She reiterated her support for a wealth tax, and said she was attracted by a top rate of income tax of above 50 per cent, which would be imposed on income earned over £100,000, rather than over £150,000 as Labour proposes. Bennett also reiterated her support for the abolition of all academies and free schools.

Throughout, the implication was clear. Where Khan called Labour “a truly radical party again”, Bennett was decrying them as vacillating supporters of timid and incremental change. Labour’s worst nightmare is that enough of the Lib Dem defectors it has been relying on agree.  

The Greens remain a long way from being a true “Ukip of the left”. They are yet to develop much working-class appeal – 61 per cent of its supporters are ABC1. Unless that changes drastically, they will not match Ukip in the election. But that does not mean they could not have a critical impact on the next general election: even with just three per cent of the vote, Ukip cost the Tories at least five seats in 2010. So perilous is Labour’s route to Downing Street that even similar damage to them from the Greens next May could stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Getty
Show Hide image

Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.