Saturday, March 10, 2018

Time to think again about unity on the left

In a week in which a leading figure on the Labour left bizarrely called for disaffiliation of trade unions from our Party it may seem idiosyncratic to continue to be interested in the fate of another minor Party.

But – having advanced the argument here some time ago – I was pleased to see Owen Jones take to a wide audience the plausible case for Green Party affiliation to Labour.

It was not too much of a shock to see that argument comprehensively rebuffed by the Green Party’s two leaders – albeit their arguments are fairly slender.

Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley justify their continued electoral project on the grounds that they have some better policies than our Party (they already oppose Trident and we haven’t quite got there yet), they exist to challenge an economic orthodoxy based upon a belief in endless economic growth – and they are committed to activism (sometimes including civil disobedience).

Anyone who wants to win the political arguments which the Green Party could still have with a left-led Labour Party must know that what winning will look like will be influencing a left-led Labour Government. Those of us who want to see unilateral nuclear disarmament (for example) would welcome new allies to help us win that argument in the Party and trade unions.

Equally, a real challenge to economic orthodoxy must encompass a renewed attempt to empower democracy against finance – and the only prospect of doing that in the next ten years (or, for that matter in my adult lifetime) is through the election of a Labour Government committed to socialist policies.

If the political and ideological justifications for the continuing Green electoral project (on a national scale) are so slender as to disappear when you turn them sideways, the argument that Greens are activists and that this differentiates them from Labour’s left simply fails to stand up to examination. Since the 2015 General Election and leadership election, tens of thousands of committed activists have been among the multitude who have joined or rejoined Labour.

Lucas and Bartley are looking away from the reality of national politics in Britain in order to justify an electoral project the only material consequence of which (under a First Past the Post electoral system) can only be – outside Brighton Pavilion perhaps – to win enough votes in a few Labour/Tory marginals to provide evidence for those who want to accuse the Greens of “splitting the vote” and letting the Tories in.

This is not a negligible consideration given that the two main Parties are close in the polls, the Tory Government are trying to introduce identity checks to discourage voting by those least likely to support them, the next General Election may be fought on new boundaries of benefit to the political right, and the establishment and their allies (including those within the labour movement) will pull out all the stops to scupper the prospect of a socialist Government.

In these circumstances it may be a hopeful sign that a Labour movement campaign has been launched which – among its objectives – supports the electoral reform which the Green Party leaders suggest is a sine qua non of any future cooperation with Labour. Although our first priorities in Government must be the social and economic policies needed to repair the damage done to working class communities by austerity, we do need to address the need for constitutional change.

This isn’t just about the electoral system for Westminster – which requires the sort of informed debate we did not have in 2012 – but about abolishing an unelected House of Parliament and addressing the absurd and archaic monarchy.

With a once in a lifetime chance of socialist victory in a General Election we all need to be prepared to re-examine long held views – and bring together all those who want to see the transformation of society.

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