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22 January 2015

The Greens are a joke, and Labour shouldn’t be frightened of saying so

Labour's response to the Greens shows a mixture of arrogance and lack of self-confidence; it needs to fight rather than flatter them.

By Conor Pope Conor Pope

There is a popular notion within the Labour party that the Greens are really all just Labour voters. Somewhere along the line, each and every one of them lost their previously unshakeable faith in Labour, and opted for a more acceptable socialist alternative.

It is, of course, not true – and the idea does both parties a disservice. Yet both now seem to argue that Green supporters are simply a part of the broad Labour church who have had enough. These arguments ignore the fact that Labour and the Greens have their own distinct, separate ideological roots.

So why are they being made? In the short-term, both sides see the lie as being beneficial. The Greens hope to win support of disgruntled Labour voters, while Labour hope to harness as much anti-Tory support as they can muster.

That particular thinking has formed part of the basis for Labour’s shaky electoral strategy since 2010: an expectation of being able to command support from most who do not want another Conservative Government.

The latest Green surge, I would wager, comes largely from ex-Liberal Democrat voters. They are another party whose supporters are seen by too many within Labour as faithful who have lost their way, rather than actual opposition. A huge number, of course, ‘came home’ to Labour following Nick Clegg’s foray into the rose garden with Cameron five years ago. We have come to lose them because we have already treated them as though they are our voters by some divine right.

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Although sustained anti-Lib Dem rhetoric has helped stop a resurgence in their vote, losses to Ukip since 2010 have been met by trying to meet Nigel Farage halfway on immigration. So far, this does not appear to have been entirely successful. To approach the Green Party in the same way would be a mistake.

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If Labour are losing support to the Greens it is not because we are failing to be enough like them. We are not them, and we should not aim to be. And we shouldn’t hope to win votes back with an argument about splitting the progressive vote. The Labour Party should be so much more than Not The Conservative Party.

The problem for Labour is not just that we are faced with the threat of a “Ukip of the left” – we already have Ukip for that – but that we are losing votes to a party so utterly useless as the Greens. Let’s not be coy about that. We can wait until after 7 May to try and build coalitions if we need them. Now is not the time to retreat to an “I agree with Nick” type narrative. Less lovebombing, more bombing.

Simply pointing out the similarities between Labour and the Greens is unlikely to work. The Green party has more than enough crackpot ideas and dodgy motives for Labour to set up some clear red water between the two. The threat of overpopulation has been a concern of theirs since they were known as the Ecology Party. Their current solution amounts to little more than free condoms. Their only council, ever, has managed to reduce recycling rates in Brighton to among the lowest in the country, while cutting wages for binmen. Their leader, Natalie Bennett, is the kind of media performer who makes Ed Miliband look like Benedict Cumberbatch. She thinks there is a, “place in the NHS for homeopathy”.

Labour should not be worried about saying the Green party are wrong; it is saying they are right that will cause problems. After all, if even the Labour party talks as if the Greens are better than them, who wouldn’t vote Green?

Conor Pope is a staff writer at LabourList