Did the Progressive Alliance cause the 55% slump in 2017 Green votes as compared with 2015? No, but Caroline Lucas has been leading us in the wrong direction.
This is a last ditch appeal to the Green Party leadership. It is not primarily a criticism, but I do believe that Caroline has been following a path which was bound to lead to just this disaster.
Please read my last three blogs, 8th, 10th and 18th June, but here is a recap of how we got where we are:
I joined, pointing out to the founder members’ alarm, that they had just formed a wildly socialist party, because the ‘steady state’ economy they proposed would involve drastic redistribution if social justice was to be guaranteed. They pointed out, correctly, that the crash if we did not heed ‘Limits’ would be much worse than their proposal. I introduced the Citizens’ Basic Income to enable a soft economic landing. It may be a bit harsh to say the Green Party never really grasped this point, but the (successful) ‘Target to Win’ strategy shifted the focus from global to local, so the ‘de-growth’ nettle was left ungrasped. Crucially, it still is.
According to Naomi Klein’s recent book ‘This changes Everything’, the small clique which eventually led the neoliberal hegemony also realized the egalitarian implications of no-growth. ‘Limits’ was duly attacked and rubbished, and in due course the massive climate denial campaign was set in motion.
In the 1989 European election Greens gained 2.3 million votes, uniformly proportional throughout England at between 40% and 45% of whatever the Conservative vote was. Caroline, de facto Leader (before we had a ‘proper’ one) explained about the redistribution. For some time she lost no opportunity to stress how socialist the Green Party was, but more recently I think she has taken someone’s advice to downplay this. At the 1994 Euro election our vote dropped to a figure less than 2017. [Our core, truly Green vote then was less than 500,000. If we had stood in all constituencies in 2017, it would have been circa 700,000]
Blair became Labour leader in 1994. He gained a massive majority in 1997 due to his aspirational thatcherite theme, but what was less noticeable was the modest, but steady growth in the Green Party, due to alienation from what the Labour Party used to be about.
The Green Party was then firmly on the course which led to the débacle in June 2017. We had no option but to propose drastic redistribution, but until 1994 there was a clear consensus that this must be in the context of limits to the ecosphere. Thereafter an increasing number within the Party were unreconstructed former Labour Party members who viewed ecological concerns as a millstone round their necks.
The ‘peak’ of 1.1 million votes in 2015 was not a recognition of ecological realities, it was a judgment that Green policies were closer to what those voters wanted than Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
For what it is worth, several seats can be identified where the Progressive Alliance either was, or would have been effective if my proposed strategy (blog 27th April) had been followed. There are seats where the Tory majority was slimmer than the Green vote even on the reduced figures, but Tim Farron’s Lib Dem survival in Westmorland & Lonsdale can plausibly be attributed to Green forbearance. But this misses the point.
The genuine Green surge will come where it happened in 1989 – Conservative heartlands, and it can be done without sacrificing social justice.
I claim that in the Sedgefield (Tony Blair) byelection in 2007 we had evidence watching the count that we had persuaded obviously affluent people who intended to vote Conservative, but who did take the climate threat seriously, that what they will get for higher taxes is a planet fit for their grandchildren. The Basic income takes too long on the doorstep – it is better explained on TV by someone who has it at their fingertips to a hostile, aggressive Andrew Neil, or Jeremy Paxman.
The Basic Income can be presented as entrepreneur friendly. If you have nothing but a bright idea, the Basic income supports you. Once your idea succeeds and you become rich, you pay more than the Basic Income is worth to you in tax.
But above all the Basic income enables a mind-set change in those who think the present sanctions scrounger-bashing culture makes sense. The sanctions régime deliberately misunderstands the poverty trap. Means tested benefits have the effect of a massive tax on anyone moving from benefits to a low paid job, so ‘scrounging’ has always been the rational option, surpisingly chosen by remarkably few low paid. Universal Credit was supposed to remedy this, but has still reached only a fraction of its intended recipients.
Not only does the Basic income ‘make work pay’ better than the Universal Credit even if that existed, it calls the bluff of anyone who thinks the poor are poor because they are stupid. Once there is a level playing field for all this can be put to the test. If you are bright, whatever your start in life, you will get on.
Apart from polite acknowledgments I have heard nothing in response to my appeals to our leaders, so I must assume that they are being ignored. That disappoints but does not surprise me. What depresses me more is comments of which I am aware from the party generally. But that does not surprise me either. I am asking a party which includes many who think of Tories as enemies to see some of them as our new friends. At all events I appear to be in a minority in stating what to me is so obvious.
In the Isle of Wight, the candidate’s agent tells me that there is a change to a less consumerist lifestyle. But I am aware of no one else who sees this as the key to the Green Party’s future. And I confess myself disturbed that the Green success there is not part of a pattern, though there are faint echoes in where deposits were saved, and the differential vote this time between Conservative and Labour held constituencies.
I am particularly worried by the results in Fylde, where Tina Rothery has been pursuing an energetic anti-fracking campaign – 2.72%, and Thirsk & Malton, the other site, Kirby Misperton, where fracking operations have started – 1.97% – not even the average in Conservative held seats. Not much sign of a less consumerist ethos there.
But neither have I seen anything to contradict the evidence of the 1989 election, or Sedgefield in 2007. In 2015 the average Green vote was around 4% in both Labour and Conservative held seats, but in 2017 there was a clear difference – 2.18% in Conservative seats and 1.61% in Labour seats (1.77% if you include Bristol West and Sheffield Central).
As I said on doorsteps in East Cowes, the government record on the environment has been appalling ever since 2010. But to remove that government means taking votes from it. And Caroline, if you really want the Progressive Alliance to work you will have to persuade the Labour party that instead of dirty tricks against Greens, they would be better helping us to remove Conservatives.
All this assumes no change in the weather. . .