How radical are the Greens really?

The Green Party often present themselves as a radical alternative to the capitalist establishment parties. However, their actions repeatedly undermine that image. In this general election they have reached an agreement with the decidedly pro-establishment Liberal Democrats in order to promote remaining in the establishment’s EU club. This follows a record of voting for austerity measures when the party has held positions in local government.

Climate protests, including the worldwide youth strikes, have seen environmental issues rise rapidly in public consciousness. A YouGov poll earlier this year showed more than a quarter of people in Britain now consider the environment to be among the top three issues facing the country. This rises to 45% among 18-24 year olds.

The Green Party should be well placed to gain from this growing wave of anger about climate change. In June they more doubled their number of members of the European Parliament (MEPs), from three to seven, in an election result they described as “spectacular”. With over two million votes across the UK – a 12% share albeit on a 37% voter turnout – they were the fourth largest party, ahead of the Conservatives.

In fact, the surge in concern about climate change saw Green parties gain ground in the European parliament elections in a number of countries. In the UK, with Brexit dominating that election, they undoubtedly also picked up votes on the basis of their remain position. That included votes from those who could not bring themselves to back the Liberal Democrats after their participation in the Tory-led coalition government of 2010-15.

So does the Green Party actually have answers, on the environment and the other key issues facing workers and young people who have been badly hit by capitalist crisis and Tory-driven austerity?

In contrast to Tony Blair’s New Labour, under Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party has enhanced its environmental promises, calling for a Green New Deal and a target of Britain being carbon neutral by the 2030s. The Green MEP for the South West, Molly Scott Cato, however, has criticised what she calls the “small print” of this promise in a telling tweet. The offending policies, in her view, are that a Corbyn-led government would work with the trade unions to guarantee an increase in good, unionised jobs and that the cost of going carbon neutral should be borne by the wealthiest, not the majority. What she dismisses as “caveats to keep the unions happy” would be seen by many as vital steps to ensure that protecting the planet is not at the expense of people already struggling to get by under capitalism. Good jobs and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive and this approach fits with the demand for ‘climate justice’ that has been prevalent on many of the youth strikes for climate.

Even on the environmental issues which are seen to define them, the Greens’ ‘radicalism’ is limited. Their ‘Policies for a Sustainable Society’ platform relating to climate change still bases itself on targets for limiting temperature rises that are set out in the Paris Agreement. On the basis of the latest scientific reports these are now considered to be insufficient.

The section on energy production contains laudable aims for a decarbonised energy system based on renewables, with greater democratic control. However, there is no mention of how they plan to achieve these aims. In particular, no mention is made of ownership of the energy system. The Socialist Party argues that democratic workers’ control is necessary and that it can only be ensured by public ownership. Only by taking energy firms out of the hands of big business can the decisions currently made behind the closed doors of boardrooms actually be taken democratically. Only by removing the profit motive which drives private companies can the environment become a top priority. Only a socialist plan of the economy can deliver the rapid changes in energy production and consumption that are needed.

Big business is killing the planet for profit, with just one hundred companies worldwide having been responsible for 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the last three decades. The link between climate change and capitalism is inextricable. The Greens’ complete lack of alternative to this profit system means they have no real solutions to the threat of climate catastrophe.

The Green Party’s participation in the ‘Unite to Remain’ agreement alongside the Liberal Democrats is a new development which further undermines their claims to be radical. Although they have said that December’s poll needs to be ‘the climate election’, their participation in this remain alliance clearly subordinates all other issues to attempts to keep Britain in the EU bosses’ club.

This is a deal with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru to stand aside for one another in 60 seats across England and Wales. The Liberal Democrats are the senior partner in the arrangement with the Greens stepping aside in their favour in 43 seats, compared to just ten seats where the Greens will be given a free run.

The decision represents quite a shift for the Green Party. Helping the Liberal Democrats could well indirectly help the Tories back into power. Their leader Jo Swinson has explicitly ruled out the party going into coalition with Labour but has not ruled out joining the Tories in government again. This was done in 2010 with disastrous consequences for ordinary people through the implementation of brutal austerity policies.

The idea of some Green defenders of the remain alliance that supporting continued membership of the EU is an example of the internationalism necessary to defeat climate change is also completely false. The EU’s common energy market rules build in competition between energy companies and limits on state intervention and public ownership, for example, and would be used against a socialist Green New Deal.

This move has caused consternation even within the Green Party. Tom Meadowcroft, their former candidate for Filton and Bradley Stoke, a Tory marginal on the outskirts of Bristol, has stood down and is now backing the Labour candidate. He has also resigned from the Green Party, decrying the “rank opportunism” of the remain alliance deal. In his resignation statement he said it made “no sense to stand on a platform where we criticise Labour’s environmental policies but are tacitly asking voters to turn a blind eye to the Lib Dems’ objectively much worse ones”.

Many potential Green supporters would share the worry that the Liberal Democrats’ values do not align with theirs. However, the record of the Green Party itself also undermines their claims to oppose austerity. Where the party has held positions in local government it has not only failed to consistently oppose cuts but has actually voted for them.

In Bristol they took cabinet positions under the former mayor, the independent George Ferguson (mayor of Britain’s fifth biggest city from 2012-16), and were the only party for whom every councillor voted for every one of his cuts budgets. In Brighton a Green minority administration actually ran the council from 2011-15, the first of its kind in the country. However, they followed councils of all other political complexions in passing on Tory austerity to residents. Their plans to implement pay cuts of up to £4,000 for some council staff provoked a strike of bin workers.

During that dispute one worker at a meeting with Green Party representatives famously described them as “Tories on bikes” to the cheers of colleagues. Their latest electoral alliance helps reinforce that assessment and destroys any claims to be a radical alternative.

Tom Baldwin