Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Over 1,500 people gather at the Hill of Tara in 2007, to take part in a ‘human sculpture’ calling for it to be saved. The Irish Greens allowed a motorway to be built through the site. Photo: Aerial Art by John Quigley/Spectral Q
I was a member of the Green Party for ten years and spent several years on its international committee and attending European Green Party conferences. This allowed me to witness the experience of Greens in power at close range, and how in each case it hugely disappointed both their members and the electorate.
The first case was my own country, Ireland, where the Greens entered into the coalition government with Fianna Fáil in 2007 with several ministers and crashed out of it in 2011 with no seats. Several friends are ex-Greens in Ireland and were closely involved in the developments over that period. I attended the Irish Green Party conference in Galway before the election in 2007 and listened to their deputy leader John Gormley excoriate the Fianna Fáil government for their corruption and nepotism. Gormley reeled off a long list of horrific measures that Fianna Fáil had inflicted on the country and promised that the Greens were their sworn enemies. Indeed, their leader at the time, Trevor Sargent, had promised never to serve in a Fianna Fáil government. I wrote an article in 2009 warning of the likely impact of this coalition on the Irish Green party and so it proved to be.
Gormley took over as the new Green Party leader after the election and as the minister for environment, heritage and local government minister in the coalition government. Eamon Ryan, the current leader, became the minister for energy and communications. They respectively sold out the campaigns to save the historic Hill of Tara from a motorway bypass and the farmers and fishermen in County Mayo fighting oil giant Shell in the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign. They also acquiesced to the blasphemy law, leaving Ireland as the only country in Europe with such legislation.
As the more radical members departed and the electorate became more disillusioned, the party was sucked further and further into the maw of the coalition. It ended up supporting the bailout measures for the corrupt Irish banks and signing up to the highest per capita debt payback terms in Europe. Unsurprisingly the election of 2011 left the party with no seats. It is now struggling to return to its pre-2007 levels of support and still has a long way to go.
The Czech Greens entered a similar Faustian pact with a right-wing party from 2007 to 2009. The fatal fault line in the Czech Republic was not the economy, nor the environment, where the party remained relatively true to its principles, but militarisation and the construction of ‘Star Wars’ missile bases by the US aimed at Russia.
Underlying all this was the fact that the party had been effectively taken over by a right-wing businessman, Martin Bursík, who overawed the membership with promises of funding and improvements in electoral methods. He delivered and the Greens entered government. At the European Green Party conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2008 he argued that the Greens’ natural allies were on the right and that connections with the peace movement were part of the historical baggage that needed to be jettisoned.
Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic there were massive demonstrations against the bases, backed by thousands of town mayors and councillors, and the position of the Greens came under increasing challenge. Several MPs broke away from Bursík’s leadership and tried to form a new party. Left-wingers in the party, such as Prague councillor Matej Stropnicky, challenged his ideological position but as long as Bursík remained environment minister and the state funding rolled in, they made no progress.
One Austrian Green MP, now an MEP, told me that the European Green Party would issue no criticism of Bursík and the Czech Greens because as long as they were in power the nuclear power station at Temelin on the Austrian frontier would not be activated. This proved to be the case and the fall of the coalition government in 2009 led to the plans for the nuclear plant being taken off ice. The Czech party’s attempt under Bursík to follow the ‘neither left nor right’ mantra popular with many Greens led to the party in fact making a clear ideological lunge to the right. Once again, many activists and voters became disillusioned.
A factor in the Green Party’s rise in the Czech Republic was its newness following the collapse of communism in 1989 and the fact that two decades later it offered what appeared to be a fresh start and a clear distinction from both the discredited Communists and the free-market conservatives. Much of its support was drawn from the youth, particularly students and urban bohemians. Bursík finally resigned from the party leadership in June 2009 and the party lost all six of its seats in parliament in the 2010 election. Stropnicky and others had fought internally for the party to maintain its radical roots but as in Ireland, where councillor Bronwen Maher, former MEP Patricia McKenna and others tried to do likewise, the outcome was victory for the right and political oblivion. As in Ireland the Czech Greens are trying to claw their way back electorally, now with a lot of historical baggage.
A third relevant example is that of France, where the French Greens are currently in coalition with François Hollande’s Socialists. The French Greens have long had the reputation of being among the most left-wing green parties in Europe. However, despite the fact that they have not entered a coalition with the right there are similarities with what happened in Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Hollande, who was elected on a promise to oppose austerity and fight unemployment, agreed to an electoral coalition with the Greens. Unlike the Irish and the Czechs, the French Greens had a strong eco-socialist wing. In 2012 Hollande agreed a deal with the party (Europe Ecologie, as it is now named) to progressively shut down 24 nuclear reactors and introduce a carbon tax. The resulting election increased the number of Green MPs and two of them were appointed to Hollande’s cabinet. Many of these were elected as a result of vote transfers from the Socialists under the French electoral system.
Hollande’s subsequent embrace of austerity and the resulting fall in his popularity has proved very problematic for the Greens. As Hollande’s ratings have plunged, they have tried to distance themselves, with both ministers resigning from the cabinet. But the recent vote in the French parliament on austerity measures put forward by the prime minister, Manuel Valls, saw only one Green MP voting against. The French Greens have recently been more critical of the Socialist government’s position on austerity but still remain a part of the coalition. Partly, this is because of the environmental commitments given by Hollande – a consideration that has some resonance with the Czech situation, where similar promises were made. But they are already leaking members to the Left Party (Parti de Gauche) and will struggle to avoid a similar fate to their sister parties.
Green parties in Europe have failed to place themselves firmly on the left and this has meant that they have put down very shallow roots. A new unity between greens and reds has never been more necessary but the traditional Green parties are not providing it.
Joseph Healy was a founder member of Green Left and a Green parliamentary candidate in the 2010 general election. He is now a member of Left Unity.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead