08 June 2009

How the Greens let Griffin win

The call is already coming out, in light of the Greens' 2.4-percentage-point gain in the latest round of European elections, for all us other Lefties to rally around the Greens, back them to the hilt, swallow our pride and say they were right, we were wrong, we'll follow them from now on.

Let's look at what we achieved: with ten weeks to build a coalition and a campaign from scratch, No2EU fielded a complete list nationwide. With a fraction of the media coverage of Libertas or Jury Team, we handily topped their vote shares, even with Libertas running a coordinated Europe-wide campaign. With time short even to prepare a manifesto, we got literature with out message out. We gave volunteers and candidates, many from a new generation of socialist activists, practical experience and exposure on a national scale. These are all good things, especially as, chances are, we'll have to do it all again quite soon. On top of it all, we drew down the BNP vote. And yet even in light of the astonishing things we've accomplished, the gains we will make next time, the Greens still want us to follow them rather than go our own route.

I don't begrudge the Greens their success; two MEPs, a net increase of zero over the last time while the Labour Party is shedding seats the way a yak on vacation in Bali sheds fur, is respectable; but a lot of their increase in voter share was because the Greens were selling very hard this idea of "vote for the Greens, even if you disagree with them, to keep Nick Griffin out".

So, a bunch of people on the Left did just that.

And Nick Griffin is currently picking out curtains for a Brussels flat.

Some of us sold our principles a bit, crossed our fingers, said “real change next time”, and ticked a box for a party we don't believe in, for nothing.

In Finland, the eco-capitalist Green League used the exact same strategy. Not only did the eco-socialist Left Alliance get completely excluded and lose its seat in Europe, not even making the reserve list -- to the benefit of the Green League -- but the ultranationalist True Finns won an MEP anyway.

So if I am on the Left but I'm not a Green -- for whatever reason, and the possible reasons are myriad -- and I've just held my nose and voted Green on the promise that it was a necessary step in order to keep out the fascists, and I'm sitting hear reading these electoral results...well, I couldn't help but feel that maybe I've just been had.

The experience of the past century, for those of us in the revolutionary left, has been exactly this time and again: a reformist movement emerges, it promises change, it offers a broad front committed on paper to our principles; we join it and hope, we work hard for it, we push down our differences and struggle in solidarity; and meanwhile the reformists are having champagne breakfasts with the centre and getting quite comfortable. It happened in France, it happened in Germany, and in Britain...well, we're here now, aren't we?

Ah, the North West. The claim is made that our campaigning there is what let the BNP win that seat, the focus of their efforts. Let's examine that claim. What we have for results in North West England are:

Party Votes % votes Swing Seats Change
Conservative 423,174 25.6 +1.5 3 0
Labour 336,831 20.4 -6.9 2 -1
UKIP 261,740 15.8 +3.7 1 0
Liberal Democrats 235,639 14.3 -1.6 1 0
British National Party 132,094 8.0 +1.6 1 +1
Green Party 127,133 7.7 +2.1 0 0
English Democrat 40,027 2.4 +0.8 0 0
Socialist Labour Party 26,224 1.6 +1.6 0 0
CP-CPA 25,999 1.6 +1.6 0 0
No2EU 23,580 1.4 +1.4 0 0
Jury Team 8,783 0.5 +0.5 0 0
Libertas 6,980 0.4 +0.4 0 0
Independent 3,621 0.2 +0.2 0 0

First of all consider the Green's overall performance. In the 2004 EU elections in North West England, we saw:

Party 2004 votes % votes
British National Party 134,959 6.4
Green Party 117,393 5.6

So on the strength of the nationwide Green strategic campaign, which focused strongly on the Northwest, the Greens managed to increase their total number of voters by 8% in the constituency; this underperforms the overall Great Britain result, in which the Greens increased their number of voters by an average of 27%. I'll credit the Greens for getting their numbers in the North West up at all while turnout was down in the North West England by a quarter; but in terms of gains made, that North West seat was theirs to lose this year.

One thing to point out: the total number of Labour votes in the North West went up too, by 13% (336,831 in 2009 versus 297,810 in 2004). This Labour surge, I think, was the biggest bloc of potential tactical voters; they weren't voting Labour because they liked Labour (nobody right now likes Labour) but instead they were voting Labour to keep other parties from getting seats in Europe. Look at the Council results up there in the North West -- in the face of Labour's utter collapse, the Greens managed to gain all of one council seat! The discussion that I'm writing here about the Greens, the Greens should be having about Labour right now; if tactical voting didn't keep out the right, and handed the BNP a European seat, then the Greens clearly should have been appealing to these 39,000-plus soft, tactical Labour voters, not trying to undercut us to their left.

Now the logical question is, if No2EU and the Socialist Labour Party had piled on board the Greens' solar-powered microbus, would the BNP still have gotten that seat?

Well, on paper, they would have needed to pick up about one in ten of our voters in the North West, all else being equal.

All else is not equal.

Most people go to the radical right not because they're fundamentally racist or fascist or otherwise defective but rather because the left which claims to represent them is seen not doing so. No2EU presented a radical left alternative, opposed to both the center's neo-liberalism and the national chauvinism of the UKIP-right. Yes, we probably did "take" some of the Greens' votes (and it's amusing how the soft-left often thinks it's somehow entitled to the revolutionary left's voters); but for every voter who voted us instead of Green, there was someone else, or probably even two someone elses who voted us instead of BNP; on top of this we probably got most 2004 Respect voters, some UKIP voters and a number of people who would have just otherwise stayed home. If the Greens were pursuing our supporters in the Alliance for Green Socialism, then the Green Party would do well to remember that they've given no motivation, other than this argument from a blunt instrument, to come to them. The members of the Alliance for Green Socialism are outside the Green Party for a reason.

We earned our votes campaigning as we did. But let's say we had collaborated with the Greens -- we would have lost the radical vote, and deservedly so, in the compromises we'd have made. We would have lost eco-socialists, and deservedly so, for our collaboration with capitalists. And we would have failed, unforgivably failed, to give those potential BNP voters the Left alternative they were looking for. Having No2EU and the SLP around helped in the effort to keep the BNP out; and that Nick Griffin got in, which we all have to live with for the next five years, is the result of the North West Greens' failure to win over voters, rather than any illicit taking on our part. We're not Ralph Nader.

What could the Greens have done to defeat the BNP in the Northwest? Perhaps the could have run a campaign as Greens, rather than simply as anti-BNP activists. Peter Cranie, the Greens' Election Coordinator, was their lead candidate in North West England. His entire campaign, every bit of press he put out as far as I can tell, was about saying no to the BNP. There was no discussion about the Green plan for Europe nor its positions on Lisbon; no language about the rights of the average person or a plan to end the recession; nothing about taxes or defense or the NHS or light bulbs or windmills, just all Nick Griffin, all the time. If Peter Cranie lost votes to us, it's because we were out there saying “yes” to something: to a democratic Europe, to worker's rights, to sustainable, responsible planned development. Half these positions are already in the Green manifesto; the Green Party should have shouted them from the rooftops.

I can understand why the Greens held back, though. The gains of the Greens hide the fact that they are a party divided, torn between an eco-socialist left wing and a capitalistic right. I feel sorry for the Green Left, the group within the party that Peter Cranie helped found. Even if they wanted to run as real Greens, recognising that capitalism will always subvert any enviromental program it's allowed to take part in, they're held back from standing on their beliefs by the sad drive, the drive we've overcome, to collaborate with the Right in hopes that they'll give out a few crumbs.

Reformism in environmental politics has not worked. It has given us Kyoto, it has given us cap-and-trade carbon exchanges, it has given us better light bulbs and little plastic green bins; but the world is still warming, the oceans are still rising, and every day the urgency is building. We already know, as do many of our colleagues in the Green Party, that sustainability demands socialism and that socialism requires sustainability; what the Greens must finally admit is that this great, capitalist-made crisis of pollution and overconsumption is upon us now, not tomorrow, and realise, at long last, that radical crises call for, demand, can only be answered by revolutionary politics.

Time it is for socialists to commit to the Greens, they say.

Maybe it's time, then, for the Greens to commit to socialism?

originally posted on my LiveJournal