Conrad Landin

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The trouble with the Greens

By voting Green, the voter too can transcend the left-right divide, and give up their social conscience along the way. It’s a good excuse.

I’m going to go against the grain and not write about Ed Miliband today, delighted as I am with his victory. While everyone else is at conference thinking about the future of the Labour party, I’m back home thinking about one of our rivals.

The issue of the Green party is one I’ve been thinking about quite a lot since the General and Local elections in May.

It really has to be an area of interest for me, as the chair of the Highgate Labour party. Why? Because Highgate is an electoral ward with one of the highest Green votes in the country. In May, we gained two of the three council seats from them, with them holding one position still. I’ve heard many in the Camden Labour party attribute this to the higher turnout and traditional party choices which come with holding a local council election on the same day as the General, but we must remember that in 2008 the Greens won a by-election here on the same day as the Boris vs. Ken fight – where party choices could not have been more drawn to the poles.

So the Greens issue came back to me today, as I observed that an associate had decided to dramatically defect to the grouping – supposedly from Labour. I didn’t actually know he was a member of Labour, or even a core supporter – I got the impression he was attracted to the great Cleggover at some point before the election. And when I first came across him, I think he was a Conservative supporter. I was slightly shocked, however. The associate in question isn’t a great idealist as far as I’m aware, and he’s always attempting to rip arguments apart by grasping their flaws.

To understand the Greens we must appreciate that they’re not a party in the usual sense: they’re more of a pressure group, and as a pressure group they’ve succeeded remarkably well in getting the main parties to put green issues on the agenda. Until recently, they didn’t have a leader or proper party structure.

But they could never form any sort of administration. And they rely on this. This is why they can have such idealistic policies – I got leaflets through my door promising me the world.There are many figures in the Greens I admire; Caroline Lucas, for example, because she’s fundamentally a Socialist.

The Highgate Green vote became an issue after it seemed that Tony Blair’s Labour government could be taken for granted. There was much discontent, however, in the local area, about the some of Blair’s more right-wing policies. People wanted more investment in public services, less privatisations via the back door, and less wars. So then came the Greens.

It wasn’t a surge to victory – Sian Berry narrowly missed out on getting on to the council by less than 100 votes in 2002. By 2006, Camden was gripped with discontent over the Iraq war. Elsewhere in the borough, this translated into a surge in Lib Dem support. But not here. There’s no easy way to answer why – my feeling is that the Lib Dems have never really bothered raising their profile in Highgate.

So you get the point – there wasn’t much about the environment in that. “Well,” you hear so many say nowadays. “The Greens needn’t be about the environment – we’ll have that on the side. But there’s no doubt they’re a left wing party, more left wing than Labour. That’s good enough for me.”

Carl Rowlands has written excellently on Greens’ haze and transience when it comes to proper politics – and not pressure group practices. But I’ll leave that to him – follow the link.

But what I’ve always found interesting is the psychology of voting green. One argument you can use in their favour is that it doesn’t matter where they are on the political spectrum – we must act fast to save the world, and only the Greens will do it. Rowlands identifies that across Europe, Greens are claiming to have transcended the left-right divide. By voting Green, the voter too can transcend this, and give up their social conscience along the way. It’s a good excuse.

The other thing is that as Green voters can be fairly confident their party won’t form a government, voting Green is a way of giving token support to a progressive party – and to policies such as more progressive taxation – but nothing more.

Don’t get me wrong. The Greens do have some good policies, which I think Labour would do well to adopt. But if they ever were given a chance to form an administration, it wouldn’t last long if they stuck to their guns – I’d bet a considerable sum that many of their voters would get a pang of shock – and regret – at seeing them introduce the radical policies which adorn their leaflets. It’s for this reason I think a Green government would actually be a lot less radical than they say they’d be at every election.

Personally, I’d like to see such policies in place, but to do so you need a party with a stable support base – and not a reliance on electoral deceit and protest votes.

This article is wholly my personal view.

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