Why I resigned from the Green Party

Joseph Healy, a founder member of the Green Left, explains why he left the Green Party of England and Wales
April 2012

Joseph Healy, in a Green Party publicity photo.

I joined the Green Party ten years ago as I believed that it had something new and radical to say in British politics. I was also a founder member of Green Left, which was formed in 2006, and I helped draft the Headcorn Declaration, the group’s mission statement. One of my aims in doing so was to ensure that there was a radical left faction in the party constantly pushing it in a progressive direction - and providing a counterbalance to those in the party for whom pragmatism and ‘lifestyle environmentalism’ were the driving forces.

As an Irish person with strong links with some of the founding members of the Irish Green Party, I watched in horror as pragmatism and party centralisation led to both the entry of that party into a right wing coalition government and the resignation of many of those radical members in disgust. I wrote a critical article about this in 2009 entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Irish Greens’, which also predicted their eventual drubbing at the hands of the Irish people in the general election of 2011.

Many in the Green Party of England & Wales (GPEW) watched the story of the Irish Greens with horror, but were also convinced that it would never happen here, because the GPEW was one of the most left wing Green parties in Europe. 

But there was always a strong group at the centre of the Green Party, and supported by many of its councillors, who regarded Green Left as too left wing and whose vision was to replace the Lib Dems as the main centre party. The entry of the Lib Dems into government in 2010 strengthened the hand of this group.

The battle lines became obvious over the issue of local government budgets and cuts at the GPEW conference in spring 2011. At that point the Greens had not yet taken control of Brighton, but it was clearly on the mind of the party leadership.

An amendment was put to an anti-cuts policy motion by Green Left and some of the Young Greens. It called for local Green councils to fight the cuts and to defy the government by setting an illegal ‘needs budget’. Councillors were dragooned by the leadership to speak against it and finally it was defeated by just 3 votes.

For many of us this was the writing on the wall and a sign that should the Greens take Brighton, they would implement the cuts. It led to a real fall in morale among many of us on the left of the party.

In May 2011, only three months after the conference, the Greens took Brighton. Almost immediately the debate about the cuts budget began. Green Left organised many internal discussions on the issue and agreed to send a delegation to Brighton to argue the point with the Brighton Green councillors – this was only a few weeks before the budget deadline.

For me it was too little and too late – although I supported the initiative. I was pessimistic about the outcome and was proved right. I drew parallels with the story of the Irish Greens and referred to this in a speech I gave at a meeting of the London regional party in January. I quoted the comments of the new Irish Green Party chair, Roderic O’Gorman, following the defeat of the party in 2011 and the loss of all its parliamentary seats: 'We became part of the political consensus. Our voters did not want us to be part of that consensus.'

Painfully aware of the impact of any cuts budget in Brighton on the national party’s reputation and on its relationship with the wider anti-cuts movement, as well as the new political movements such as Occupy, I supported a motion calling for a last minute debate with a Green councillor from Brighton on the budget there. The motion fell and the majority abstained, prepared to accept any decision reached by the Brighton councillors.

It was now clear to me that the iceberg was fast approaching the SS Green Brighton, with its consequent impact on the reputation of the Green Party nationally. The collision happened when the cuts budget was passed at the end of February. However, the budget passed was even worse than predicted and was the Labour-Tory version, which the Greens swallowed whole in order to remain in office.

A few days later at the party’s national conference, despite vigorous objections from Green Left, the party voted to support the Brighton decision. Pragmatism had defeated principle, realpolitik triumphed over radicalism.

I resigned on the same day. I saw no indication that those of us opposed to the decision would be able to remain radical opponents of the cuts agenda while our own elected members had sold the pass. I was always determined not to end up as a member of a small internal opposition in a political party which had moved away from its core principles, as happened in the Labour Party post-Blair. Some Green Left members have remained in the party, while others have joined Socialist Resistance or Respect. I have remained as an independent anti-cuts and anti-war activist.

It is certainly true that it was not only the cuts agenda in Brighton which led to my resignation, although that was the major issue. I also found a lack of honesty and consistency in the way that those leading the party were treating both its employees and its activists. This came to a head in the autumn of last year at the party conference in Sheffield. A highly respected and hard working party member, who held the post of head of media relations, was treated appallingly by the party leadership.

This included disciplinary action taken against him while he was ill, no proper consultation with staff and members, and a complete ignoring the of the party’s radical policies on workers rights and trade union support – using the services of a human resources consultant to undermine his position. As a trade unionist and campaigner for workers rights and social justice, I found it intolerable. Myself and other members, many from the Green Party Trade Union Group and Green Left, put a motion to the conference condemning the actions of the executive. Every effort was made by the party leadership to force the motion off the agenda. But despite their efforts, the motion was passed by a significant majority and the executive censured.

This did not go down well with the party’s leadership. Comments were made about the party’s activists and we were referred to in pretty damning terms. The conference decision was also pretty much ignored and the staff member in question was made redundant and forced to sign an agreement (which I was advised was probably illegal) that he could not stand for any office in the party for one year, so worried was the leadership about his popularity and the possibility of him upsetting the apple cart. All of this indicated a worrying hubris at the head of the party and a willingness to ignore the concerns of activists and members.

I believe that the Brighton situation is further evidence of this, with many at the head of the party arguing hysterically at the recent conference for tribalist support for the councillors and condemning criticism as disloyalty.

It does have to be said here that Caroline Lucas did not support the Brighton budgetary decision and said so openly at a fringe meeting at the party conference. I am certain that this indicates her concern at the apparent contradiction between her support for Occupy and calls for a radical anti-cuts politics, and the decision of the council in her own backyard.

When I resigned from the party, one prominent Green told me that I had too many principles. The disconnect in modern British and European politics is rather that there are too few principles. The real battle now underway is whether we can give politics new life and new meaning and to reconnect the millions in this country who no longer vote, and have given up on electoral politics completely, with the political process.

The Greens presented themselves as a party to the left of Labour (not too difficult one would have thought). Their policies are radical and many are worth supporting. But as with the situation in Ireland, consistency and veracity are called for. It is not enough to parrot truisms about being unable to challenge the status quo, no matter how urgent it is to do so. How can the Greens seriously challenge the corporate sector, the global corporations, climate change in the Arctic and the prospect of resource wars and famines, if they fall down at the first puff of wind from Eric Pickles and the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Vision requires courage, and courage requires mounting a challenge. On both, the Greens have been found sadly wanting.

This article is partly a response to a debate on the decisions of the Green-led council in Brighton, published in the latest issue of Red Pepper.


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Don't believe the claims about Tower Hamlets – the devil is in the detail

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Portsmouth’s smeargate: dirty politics in the age of austerity

Democracy takes a hit as local politicians play dirty against anti-cuts campaigners, write Sarah Cheverton and Tom Sykes

Tony 12 April 2012, 11.39

reconnect the millions in this country who no longer vote? Anarchism. Really. A re-connect with our responsibility to each other and the decisions affecting our own lives doesn’t have to involve party politics, it has to involve those millions of non voters…

Martin Deane 12 April 2012, 11.45

An important article from Joseph and a reminder about the centrality of principles and integrity, and especially for a party that’s doubled in size in the last 3 years!

Id take issue with “Labour-Tory version budget”. Brighton Greens consulted the people widely and in-depth, we heard, only to be hijacked at the last-minute by both Tories and Labour amendments demanding no council tax rise and to take the Government’s 2% bribe.

But Brighton Greens got 99% of their budget. I understand why the left called for a national stand to confront Government, but also why a minority Green council chose to honour the vote of local people who put them their to do their best for them.

Martin Deane
Hull and East Riding Green Party

keith 12 April 2012, 12.14

I thoroughly agree with Joseph and left the party at roughly the same time. I joined the party when it was the Ecology Party and have watched it slip further and further towards the westminster village and conformity.I was so dissolusioned that I now longer vote and have joined the AF. I have found that to create any kind of an alternative to the current system is to do it yourself and forget politicians.

Hannah Berry 12 April 2012, 14.24

Joseph, you write passionately and with conviction. There is much to be admired in your stance. But I’m left feeling that you are just the kind of person who will never be happy in any political party, or indeed any large organisation that has multiple stakeholders and multiple objectives. Your main gripe seems to be that internal party democracy worked against you and other members disagreed with your views. Joseph, that is the way democracy works. You seem to think that power is a dirty word and not something a well-meaning person should aspire to. But without it (achieved democratically, of course, not seized), none of those well-meaning policies or ideas will ever be implemented, so what is the point? I’m glad you will continue your anti-war and anti-cuts activism. Hopefully, such focussed activities will suit your skills better than trying to function within a heterogeneous and full-agenda political party.

Sean 12 April 2012, 14.36

Party politics is a waste of time, real radical change comes in spite of politics, not because of them. There are plenty of non-party organisations such Solidarity Federation, Anarchist Federation, IWW, the trade unions where it would be better to invest your energies while keeping your integrity in tact.

Sean 12 April 2012, 14.55


“in spite of politicians”

Rich 12 April 2012, 15.40

Many people left Labour over Iraq. Joseph Healey leaves the Greens over a budgetary decision for 1 year in 1 out of the 152 unitary authorities in England and Wales.
I wondered if he polled the >12,000 members to see if they’ve “moved away from its core principles”. No, of course not, because this article is only based on his own interpretation of events, and self-interest.
He could have resigned and written an article attacking the Tories, he could have written an article attacking the Lib Dems, he could have written an article attacking Labour. But, no, he wrote an article attacking the Greens and why we must all leave immediately – because clearly they are the greatest threat to our society.

Hannah Berry 12 April 2012, 15.51

No party is perfect – and I’m not a member of any party, because I don’t feel so strongly that I should be. But the Green Party is clearly (to me) the party whose core principles, policies and practices are closest to what I believe in. I have voted for them each time since I have been old enough to vote and will do so again. There is no other credible candidate whose views I could support. Sadly, Sean, the only credible candidates are the ones standing for a party (usually, and certainly in my local election this year), so if you think party politics is a waste of time, does that mean you think democracy is a waste of time?

Paul Cooney 12 April 2012, 15.53

An articulate post, as ever Joseph. I too left the GPEW and find myself among a growing number of unaligned independent socialists / eco-socialists who still carry on the fight against the cuts et al in different ways. In Huddersfield we are larger in number than the SP and SWP combined and I believe that there is still time for a new socialist party to be formed which will bring together the many small party groups of the left and the remaining socialists in Labour and the GPEW. Keep fighting.

Rich 12 April 2012, 16.29

@Paul Cooney, a new socialist party is about as likely as “the revolution’s just round the corner”. What the true left do very well is in-fighting. It’s a miracle Respect and the Greens even exist as significant parties.

Reuben 12 April 2012, 17.11

Articulately put, but thoroughly unconvincing. The question of whether the Brighton Greens ought to have set an illegal budget is not a question of fundamental political principle. Rather it is a tactical question, over which red greens might legitimately find themselves on either side.

The point , of course, is that where an illegal budget is set Eric Pickles and co. can come in and set the budget themselves. All cuts may be worthy of condemnation, but not all cuts are equal. It is possible to cut in a more regressive or less regressive. I have some sympathy with those who believe that radical councils should take the fight to central government. But it is easy to see why even greens good social and economic politics might think otherwise.

Whatever one thinks about the behaviour of the Brighton green councillors, it is well wide of the mark to see their decision as analogous that made by the Irish Green party when they voluntarily entered into a national coalition with the furthest right party in Ireland – or indeed to see this as sufficient grounds for leaving the party.

We on the left have had a healthy sense of the dangers of being sucked into the establishment. Yet the flipside of this can be a tendency to see “treachery” and “selling out” everywhere.

Peter Murry 12 April 2012, 18.15

Don’t actually see how Brighton Greens sticking to a no cuts stance would “seriously challenge the corporate sector, the global corporations, climate change in the Arctic and the prospect of resource wars and famines,” don’t even see how a Green British government could manage that. I agree with many of Joseph’s beefs (or should I say “veggies” (ho,ho,ho!))with GPEW. they are ideologically ramschackle and I am not sure some prominent Greens even want to be “of the left”, However having just stood as a Green local gov’t candidate against a Labour council enthusiastically carrying out cuts to Brent’s libraries and lib dems pretending they were nothing to do with coalition Government policy, I would rather be pissing out of the Green tent than on it at this historical conjuncture.

Peter Allen 12 April 2012, 19.59

There are Green Party(and Green Left) members,myself included,who take the view that there is still a debate to continue in the GPEW about the best way of “fighting the cuts”.
That debate is continuing in Brighton on Saturday, when Green Left is inviting local party members, and those from further afield, to discuss the B&H budget and the way forward.I am certainly of the view that the decision to make “savings” of £17 million + was a serious mistake and that the minority Green administration should have been prepared to give up office rather than make them. I suspect that this is a view that is not shared by the majority of Greens in Brighton (infact I know it is not) but, as the full impact of reduced services, year upon year, at least up to the next general election,is felt,I think the view that greens in office should never have embarked on a ruthless slashing of spending on essential services (for that is what is taking place) will be be seen by many party members as correct.

In the meantime myself and others will be campaigning along with other Greens,against the austerity measures being imposed by this awful government, following on from the (not quite so awful) previous one. The Green Party’s support of the One Million Green Jobs campaign should be a central focus of this.

Nick Foster 13 April 2012, 09.58

I have been a Green Party member for 7 years, after spending my youth first in Militant (now Socialist Party, the SWP and briefly in Solidarity Federation. I have experienced the good and bad sides of being in a democratic centralist and a pluralist organisation.

Activists should be where they feel both comfortable and effective, this may vary – Dawud Islam the Green Candidate in the recent Bradford West Bye-election is now standing for Respect, whereas a number of ex Respect members in areas where they have had less impact have joined the Greens. (like here in Bristol)

The replacement of principle speakers by a leader, also was too much for a lot of great people in the Green Party (I voted against but it wasn’t enough to force me to leave.)

It isn’t easy being Green as Kermit says and it isn’t always easy being a Socialist in the Green Party.

Nick Foster Bristol Green Party

Doug Rouxel 13 April 2012, 11.28

Rueben above states that the disagreement is purely tactical, this is nonsense – this assumes that both Brighton Green and Joseph are both proposing a position which entails a fightback against the government and it’s austerity agenda, but this is quite simply not the case.

The tactical effectiveness of setting an illegal budget is one thing, and there is a lot to be discussed around what an effective fightback by a council would look like in 2012, what I can assure you is that it wouldn’t look like the activities of the Green Group on B&H council – they are quite simply not taking part in the fight, there actions are not those of a body of people fighting back.

In light of this, this is not someone leaving over a tactical disagreement – indeed, if that was the case then he would have left last december, rather than waiting till now, this is someone leaving because the green group on B&H council refuses to fight, and the party conference is happy for this to be the case – and the person (or in fact people, as there are a number of others) leaving are keen for there to be a fight, and can’t be part of an organisation which is not prepared to fight.

Simon Hales 13 April 2012, 17.00

Like a number of people on here, I joined the Green Party after many years on the radical left, starting with the Militant Tendancy and spending many years after that involved in various direct action movements that were not run by or affiliated with any particular political party or organisation. These campaigns included the Newbury Bypass protest and similar “treetop” camps.

Many of the people on these campaigns, including myself, could best be described as “anarchists”, “anarchist-socialist”, “independant socialists” and so on, i.e. holding a range of very left wing (often revolutionary) political views but not working within any political party.

My current view of the Green Party is that it is far from perfect but that it is currently the only viable political party in most parts of the country which can be used as an umbrella group by left wing radicals to take part in electoral politics whilst still holding on to their principles and remaining involved with other grassroots campaigning outside the party. It is possible that in the future the Green Party may insist on its members becoming more “on message” and resorting to mass expulsions as the Labour Party did with the Millitants but we have not yet reached this stage.

Rhydian Davies 14 April 2012, 10.23

“My current view of the Green Party is that it is far from perfect but that it is currently the only viable political party in most parts of the country which can be used as an umbrella group by left wing radicals to take part in electoral politics whilst still holding on to their principles and remaining involved with other grassroots”


james? 14 April 2012, 16.58

the tactical debate on whether to try and do the best you can or to let the government come in and make the cuts is not a simple one. but what should not be forgotten or forgiven is the cuts will be nearly 5million worse because the brighton and hove labour party would not let the green adminstration make a small increase in council tax. in other areas of the country labour have done the same taking a grant from the government not to raise council tax.
labour are not serious about making the best of it they are making the cuts worse and playing politics with peoples lives. moreover they dont even have a national plan to stop the cuts should they be returned to governement.

Mathew 15 April 2012, 21.48

I know how you fear the word pragmatic.

Mike 18 April 2012, 04.43

I am not sure why this was a resigning issue.

The Greens are not a socialist party. So socialists who join should not be surprised that as it becomes increasingly involved in electoral politics it will take positions that socialists oppose.

When it does so, the job of socialists is to argue against those positions, hopefully winning members and supporters to its side and strengthening the left within the organisation.

To resign because a non-socialist party behaves in a non-socialist manner only concedes ground to the right.

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government, and Labour councils, implemented savage cuts across the public sector. Socialists within the party did not walk away in disgust – and they were right not to.

Lesley 23 April 2012, 16.24

I agree what Joseph says but wish he hadn’t left the Green Party. There is still plenty to fight for and as many have said it is still the best option on the voting paper. Regarding the Brighton and Hove budget he omitted the fact that it was not a unanimous decision. There are still people there including a councillor, and Caroline Lucas, who were opposed to the decision. I am afraid there will be GP members who are glad Joseph resigned and I hope that one day he’ll be back to challenge them from the conference floor again. We are a democratic party unlike airbrushed Labour and a member who doesn’t agree with policy or actions of the party has a chance to say so.

Peter 25 April 2012, 14.41

Hi Joseph

I resigned from the Green Party some time ago for similar reasons.
I’ve decided to go with the Respect Party as I see them as the only credible eco-socilist party in the UK.
Respect needs more people like you!
By the way I have been talking with Malcolm Bailey of Green Left in Luton.

Best wishes

Peter Wakeham
Luton Respect
01582 512184

Xanti 7 January 2013, 12.20

This is an age old story with Green parties around the world. They typically (though not always) start off as pretty left-wing, becoming a big tent if you will for leftists of various stripes, but once they start entering the mainstream more and more, they quickly move to the “center” or liberal compass and seek desperately and as fast as possible to shed their leftist origins. This is primarily because Green politics resonate the most with upper middle class liberals and not working class stiffs, so it’s never an arrangement that can last forever. What you guys need is a genuine left-wing party, if you really want to promote leftist policies.

brianquinlan 7 March 2013, 21.34

great stuff spot on,very intrested in eco -leftwing party,greens in Ireland soldedout, in Goverment shifted to the right.
After being part of rightwing neo con goverment got wipedout, a real green- socailist group
badly needed in Ireland.

Adam Green 29 April 2013, 12.04

I’m a former long standing Green supporter at elections but now I’m campaigning for Labour in Norwich. I didn’t ‘leave’ the Greens because of anything they’d done but rather because I see that there is one almighty existential threat from the Coalition to practically every decent thing that progressive people stand for and I want be on the side of the only national alternative government. In a nutshell, times are too tough to muck about.

Here in Norwich, the Greens are Labour’s opponents and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Green Party above everything else is that, despite it cornering the ‘brand’ it’s not “A Cause” or an alternative to “the machine” – it’s JUST ANOTHER POLITICAL PARTY. And, locally, one that campaigns in almost exactly the same way as the Lib Dems – the continual attacks on Labour Town Hall (at the same time as their own Council in Brighton is having to make the same cuts amd compromises), the almost complete lack of principle (see a bit further down) and the almost sociopathic idea that because what they stand for is so important that the ends always justify the means.

Here, where I campaign, we’ve had the absurd spectacle of the local Green Party whipping up local nimbyism to prevent vital social housing being built where there are currently garages (i.e in favour of cars) and in a Labour intiated anti-eviction campaign against private developers telling local residents that they weren’t evictions just “terminations of tenancies” (even when Shelter here were calling them evictions) and criticising Labour for being “political” for trying to prevent them.

Since then, the local Green Party have decided that evictions a) do exist and b) are bad – because the completely hypothetical prospect of evictions as a consequence of the bedroom tax gives the Green Party another opportunity to attack Labour Town Hall. A Labour Town Hall that is using some of its rent proceeds to eco-retrofit its stock saving tenants far more money than the Tax is taking from them and reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

There is more but it’s just too depressing to spend the time typing it out so here’s a reasonable summary of the situation here in Norwich by a former councillor of theirs who has had enough and left (and not come to Labour, btw): http://bit.ly/11wpHqS

In the last couple of months I’ve spoken to over 500 Green supporters and there is a such a disconnect between what they think they are voting for and the reality of the party that they are electing. If you were a Green supporter wouldn’t you expect that they’d be the party resisting evictions by a private developer or fighting for social housing or wanting to cut carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty at the same time?

As I said, the Greens are just another party. And before anyone says “well, that’s politics, mate” that doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about a party that makes it corn by coming on like an alternative to what’s wrong with our political system. Their supporters think they’re voting for something better than that.

Comments are now closed on this article.

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