UK elections – Is the Green Party a radical alternative?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The UK general elections take place on 4th July. As well as an expected Tory party meltdown and a Labour majority, the Green party is on course to possibly win more seats. Many voters regard the Greens as to the left of the Labour party. But what do the Greens stand for and are they really a radical alternative?

“Angela Rayner says Labour has changed. She’s right. They have changed into the Conservatives.”

This quip by Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer about remarks by Labour’s deputy leader during one of the UK general election TV debates summed up the reservations large swathes of people have about Labour under its leader, Keir Starmer.

Despite that lack of enthusiasm he’ll get enough of their votes to become the next prime minister. But for those that can’t bring themselves to support this vehemently pro-big business Labour Party, the Greens seem to offer an alternative. Promising investment in public services and a £15-an-hour minimum wage, as well as calling for ceasefire in Gaza, on paper their manifesto is markedly more radical than Labour’s.

They come off the back of good results in the English local elections too, becoming the largest party on Bristol city council. All opposition parties gained councillors as the Tory vote collapsed but the Greens made much bigger proportionate gains that Labour or the Lib Dems, with a 69% increase in seats won. Polling for the general election now puts them on 6%, meaning they could double their share of the vote from 2019. They could also win new MPs, targeting Bristol Central and Waveney Valley as well as the Brighton Pavilion seat they hold.

The Green manifesto may stand out amongst the unappetising diet of reheated Thatcherism we’re offered by the larger parties. But the illusion of radicalism doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny of their policies and approach.

Trade unions

Even their signature environmental policy, their target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions, is less ambitious than the 2019 Corbyn-led Labour manifesto. The Green MEP for South West England at the time, Molly Scott Cato, criticised what she called the “small print” of Corbyn’s Green New Deal in a telling tweet. The offending policies, in her view, were the commitment to 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 dismissed as “caveats to keep the unions happy” are in fact vital steps to ensure that protecting the planet is not at the expense of people already struggling to get by under capitalism.

This is just one example of a problem that runs through the whole of the Greens’ approach. They talk of a fairer, greener future but as a party do not say which force in society is actually capable of delivering it.

Many of the Greens’ policies run directly contrary to the interests of big business. Were a Green government a possibility we would see the full force of the ruling class turned against them, as we did when Corbyn faced threats of an investment strike by the capitalists and even army generals speaking ominously of their “worry” about his coming to power.

Achieving the future the Greens want is impossible without class struggle. It means not just changing the government or the law but would require the socialist transformation of society. To counter the threats of the ruling class means taking the power and wealth out of their hands – taking over the businesses that dominate the economy and putting them under the democratic ownership and control of the working class.

Socialist alternative

The Greens’ lack of vision of an alternative to capitalism or of working-class struggles to win gains even within that system is a limitation that pops up throughout their manifesto.

It says, for example, that they “seek to restore trust and confidence in the police”. But the police force is part of the state which exists ultimately to protect the interests of the big business-owning capitalist class. Rather than build trust in it, the Socialist Party calls for democratic control over policing by the working class, raising the need to challenge the capitalists’ control of the state.

The Greens’ call for a ceasefire in Gaza, which is one reason their support has risen in opposition to Labour’s craven backing for imperialism and the actions of the Israeli ruling class. But the Greens still advocate membership of NATO, the military alliance dominated by many of the most powerful imperialist nations on earth.

And why are they standing against Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North, as he attempts to hold on to the seat that he has represented for over 40 years against the opposition of all the forces of the capitalist establishment?

Compare this to the 2019 election when they stood aside for the Liberal Democrats in 43 seats. This pact came just a few years after the Lib Dems had joined the Tories in coalition government, presiding over the biggest austerity programme since the second world war.

This alone belies some of their radical posturing. In fact, as with any politicians, the best way to judge the Greens is not by what they say but by what they do.

Greens’ record

Their record in local government is poor. Without having any perspective for struggle to reverse the Tory spending cuts, they’ve parroted the line that councils had no choice but to pass the cuts on. Despite their verbal opposition to austerity, in practice they were indistinguishable from the other parties in implementing it.

In two periods of control of Brighton council they carried out cuts. They even provoked a strike of bin workers by proposing pay cuts of up to £4,000 for some council staff. Socialist Party members went down to support the strike while Green councillors found themselves on the other side of the picket line, being branded “Tories on bikes” by the workers.

Until recently, the Greens were in coalition with the capitalist SNP in the Scottish parliament, backing their austerity budgets. Green parties have also entered coalition governments in other countries including Ireland and Germany. Their role has not been to pull the other parties to the left but to give them ‘left cover’ as they carry out anti-working class policies.

Labour was founded by the trade unions in order to give a political voice to the workers’ movement. A new workers’ party today would need to offer a collective voice for the organisations of our class. It would need to be based on the principle of solidarity, that we lack power as individuals but are mighty when we stand up for one another.

That is not the approach of the Green Party. There is a Green Trade Union Group. But you don’t have to be a member of a union to join it! More significantly it has no constitutional role within the party. There is no provision for collective representation of a trade union or any other group. Even the Conservatives had a group for trade union members at one point – it is by no means an indication of a party representing the working class.

New workers’ party

The need for a workers’ party in British politics remains. The Greens will not be that party.

The Socialist Party has been active in building the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) since its inception in 2010, co-founded by the then general secretary of the RMT transport workers’ union, the late Bob Crow. It is by no means a mass workers’ party but it can play an important role in the process of building one. It has brought together those who are willing to fight for one and given an example of the principles on which such a party should be built.

What sets TUSC apart from other left of Labour projects is its focus on the mass organisations of the working class. It is the only one to have had the official backing of a national trade union in the RMT.

Campaigning and voting for TUSC is the best way of fighting for working-class representation in these elections, preparing for the workers’ struggles to come.

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June 2024