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What the UK Greens can learn from the Dutch elections

As well as seeing off Geert Wilders, the night was a triumph for the Dutch Greens. 

A few weeks ago it seemed the die was already cast for the outcome of yesterday’s election in the Netherlands. It quickly became a story about one man and his regressive brand of populism. Journalists clamoured with expectations - will Geert Wilders do enough to become the largest party in the Dutch Parliament?

For all intents and purposes the people of the Netherlands rejected Geert Wilders, with 83 per cent of Dutch voters looking elsewhere other than his Party for Freedom.

One less-told story has been the remarkable rise of GroenLinks, the Green Party of England and Wales’ sister party, and their leader Jesse Klaver. It had the biggest upswing in vote share of any party. Whilst it is undoubtedly true the Netherlands is not the UK - the Dutch electoral system is highly proportional with a low qualification for entering Parliament - there are still valuable lessons for us to learn as Greens in the UK.

After the crash of 2007, and with years of deregulation and globalisation leaving workers behind and causing inequality to rise, the liberal establishment’s failure to tackle the deep economic fissures of our age is now coming home to roost. Old social democratic parties – from Spain, to Greece to the Netherlands – are finding themselves to be victims of their own failures. 

The far right has, to some extent, filled the vacuum. Migrants and refugees have been used as scapegoats – and some progressives have been completely unwilling to make a stand. While populist parties like Ukip and the Party for Freedom often fail to impress at the ballot box, that doesn’t mean their politics hasn’t infected the mainstream. As the Dutch author Rutger Bregman said this morning, other parties "have copied Wilders’ ideas/language. [He] may not have won this battle, but is winning the war".

In the Netherlands, Greens offered a principled response to toxic, far right populism. GroenLinks capitalised spectacularly on the perfect mix of a well-run campaign, a fair voting system and most importantly, optimism. Klaver had an overwhelmingly positive message for Dutch voters, particularly young voters. The campaign promised a new era of hope and change for the Netherlands. Their vision encompassed empathy, economic equality and protection of the climate, presented to Dutch voters through innovate campaigning techniques. And they did not engage with war on migrants and refugees by edging towards the right – they stood up tall against xenophobia.

Klaver talked nonstop about the future during the campaign and the need for a futurist vision is the same here as in the Netherlands. We need big policies for changing times - less work, more humanity and new ways to power our communities. We need liberation in our lives, rather than liberation for big business.

There’s no doubt that lessons can be learnt from GroenLinks. For a start it’s clear that a proportional voting system allows people to back who they actually believe in.

But GroenLinks’ success should also make us redouble our efforts to offer voters a vision of Britain as an open society with an economy that’s managed for the good of everyone, not let loose to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

In just two weeks’ time Green parties from across the world will gather in Liverpool for the first ever joint congress between the European Green Party, the Green Party of England and Wales and the Global Greens. We are all buoyed by the success of GroenLinks, but we know we have a lot of work to do.

While the right keep saying people at the bottom just need to get a foot on the ladder – we will concentrate on stopping the rungs from getting further apart. We need to end the language of opportunity for the few and replace it with a politics that lifts everyone up. To fully counter the far-right we must re-embrace a tradition of welcoming migrants and refugees, not only out of compassion but because they make us a bigger and better country. We must also address the conflict, abuse and climate change which causes them to come.

The Dutch election has proved what we know to be true, that this kind of positive, optimistic vision for a better future can successfully take on the politics of fear pedalled by regressive politicians.

Now it is a matter of convincing people their vote will count if they invest it in our party. The truth is that this is difficult in the UK as long as we face an out-of-date first past the post voting system. But the desire for change is out there. A petition to adopt proportional representation has topped 100,000 signatures. And, as our London Assembly members, MEPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament will attest, people are much more likely to vote Green when they know their vote counts. Just last year the Scottish Green Party tripled its number of MSPs and now they now hold a pivotal role in determining the future of Scotland.

Proportional representation would undoubtedly add more voices to the debate. On the left, a more diverse input from a range of parties would determine the direction progressive politics heads in. Historically the Labour Party claimed a monopoly on left-wing politics – but this has clearly changed. More than a million people voted Green at the last election and almost all of Scotland’s MPs are from the SNP. Pluralist politics is here to stay.

The election in the Netherlands could be a taste of things to come here in Britain – and it’s my mission to make it so in the coming months and years.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting Greens from around the world in Liverpool at the end of the month. We will explore together how hope can triumph over hate, how we can build bridges not walls, and offer a vision of a better future. The success of the Dutch Greens is a cause for hope for all of us, even if we face an uphill battle against our voting system.


Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.