For some time now Bright Green magazine in the UK has provided a voice for independent and radical thought associated with the environmental movement. Supportive of but never sycophantic towards the GPEW it has been a platform for diverse voices that have rarely had an influential role in the Party’s affairs. But just before the Party’s autumn conference this month the magazine became a surprising and uncritical cheerleader for the Party’s leadership. On the basis of a single Yougov opinion poll it proclaimed that the Greens had overtaken the Liberal Democrats and were now the ‘third largest party in the country’. For co-leader Jonathan Bartley this was another sign that, ‘… more and more people are joining and supporting the Green Party as their natural political home’ (http://bright-green.org/2020/10/09/the-green-party-is-now-ahead-of-the-lib-dems-in-the-polls/ ).
The reality, however, is rather more grim. The Greens in England And Wales are stuck where they were in the opinion polls when Bartley was first elected co-leader in September 2016. The election of Keir Starmer as Labour’s leader, an event that many Greens naively believed would lead to large defections of the Labour left, has instead seen Labour widen its margin of support over the Greens – from 25% just before Starmer’s election to 35% on the basis of a moving average of opinion polls. And the Liberal Democrats remain an average 2.5% points ahead of the Greens.
Over the summer the Green membership decided not to take the opportunity to renew the Party’s leadership in internal elections. Plainly unexcited by what was on offer less than 1 in 6 members took part in the leadership elections and even fewer voted in elections for the Party Executive. Bartley and co-leader Sian Berry attracted the first preference votes of just 7.5% of members. The Chair of the Executive was re-elected with the first preference votes of just 3.3% of members. Contrast this with the engagement of Green party members in Canada where 69% turned out this September to elect Annamie Paul, a Black Jewish woman, to the Party’s leadership.
The Party is not only stuck in the polls. It is also stuck in the search for a relevant and distinctive appeal to voters. The Party’s messaging is a worrying combination of self-congratulatory valediction from the leadership, saturation fundraising appeals, and communications from HQ that are an afront to plain English. Evidence that the Party has lost a sense of political direction can be found in its commission of expensive consultants to identify a ‘theory of change’ for the Party.
The Party does of course face a much greater and systematic obstacle to progress. Under the current electoral system the Party has no foreseeable prospects of winning a second seat in Parliament. Putting up general election candidates in hundreds of seats squanders resources of time, money and energy that would be better directed to extending what the Party does do very well – electing local councilors who can make a major difference in their communities. Funds from deposits lost at last years’ General election would alone support several more members of the Party’s highly successful team of Field Officers.
It is time for the Party to stop wishing away reality. For all its faults the Labour Party will not implode and represents the best prospects for a government that will halt the country’s descent into deeper austerity, autocracy, and privatization. Its version of the Green New Deal may be second best to that of the Greens but unlike the Greens it has a real prospect of putting it into action. At the local level the Greens should give their all to elect councilors who will show the value of electing Greens for sustainable local leadership. But at the national level it is time for all progressives to recognize that the best hope for a decisive change in national direction is a Labour government at the earliest possible opportunity. Perhaps Bright Green will take the lead in debating the shift in the Greens strategic focus this will require?