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The Green Party: socialists on bikes

After making gains in the 2024 election, Philip Proudfoot spells out why the Green Party is a suitable political home for eco-socialists looking for a democratic vehicle for change

5 to 6 minute read

Green Party co-leader Carla Dreyer wearing googles and a high vis vest talking to independent businesses in Bristol

Under Keir Starmer, Labour has completed its right-wing shift, forsaking a more egalitarian vision for a single goal: better-managed decline. In the process it has closed down debate and ended the Labour’s tradition as a broad church.

The Green Party spoke for many of us when Carla Denyer proclaimed ‘Angela Rayner said Labour has changed. She’s right. They’ve changed into the conservatives’. Labour no longer seeks to convince voters a better world is possible but instead promulgates establishment propaganda, from deliberate economic misinformation (‘the national economy is like a household budget’) to short-term solutions for structural problems (‘smash the channel crossing gangs’). But you don’t need to take my word for it.  ‘…look,’ said Starmer, reflecting on what he refers to as ‘my‘ Labour party, ‘if that sounds conservative, then let me tell you: I don’t care’.

Well, if that’s true, then why not let him just take the Labour Party? Abandon ship and let’s board our lifeboat: Join the Greens.  Here’s why.

An eco-socialist manifesto

As socialists, we believe the purpose of the economy is to produce social good not private profit. It is worrying, then, that a common critique of the Green Party is its lack of explicitly redistributive policies or working-class support – ‘Tories on bikes‘ who uphold the mantra that ‘environmentalism without class struggle is gardening’.

Yet the 2024 Green Party manifesto is full of policies that would radically begin shifting the balance of power back towards workers. While Keir Starmer, in his pledges to Labour members, promised a transformative vision he has since dropped practically every single pledge. But they are not lost to history, and nor is the spirit of Labour’s 2017 and 2019. They are now Green Party policies.

Like many, my push to join The Greens came earlier this year, thanks to their principled position on Gaza. But the party also speaks to my concerns as a socialist.  Starmer and Sunak, for example, frame taxation and borrowing wholly in the negative, declaring their manifesto costings will require ‘no new taxes’ and that they will not ‘borrow’ for fear of worsening ‘national debt.’  The Greens disagree. The wealthy should pay more, and we must invest to fix our economy, renew our infrastructure, and play our part in the global struggle against climate change.

While the two mainstream parties clamber over one another to promise us less; to appear more ‘fiscally responsible’ (always under broken neoliberal terms); to batter refugees; and defend war crimes in Gaza, the Greens talk about what could be otherwise.

The Greens can win

A typical argument (and limitation) for joining the Green Party is that our electoral system – First Past The Post – favours two parties. This is a particular challenge for smaller parties, as I learned myself throughout the heady days of the Northern Independence Party. For this reason, some argue it is more strategic to work within the Labour party, rather than seek to challenge it from outside.

The Greens are also exposed to the broader dangers of electoralism. The pursuit of democratic representation can lead to compromise on core principles; pragmatism over principle and a growing disconnect with a social movement base, hollowing out any radical potential.

These critiques are important but they don’t entirely apply to The Greens.

The Green Party is the only game in town for those still looking for change via the ballot box

First, the party can win. Its increasingly professionalised machine has produced 800 councillors. In constituencies with substantial green representation at the local level, a base can thereby be established to challenge Labour in parliamentary elections. The Greens are well-positioned to secure their four target seats. Pulling into second place across as many constituencies as possible will force Labour to contend with a new credible progressive force: ‘UKIP-ing from the left’.

Second, the Green Party branches have good records of collaborating with and supporting social movements, spanning from Extinction Rebellion to anti-Austerity groups. As socialists, we know that community organising is not distinct from electoral politics, and we can work together to ensure The Greens can navigate the pitfalls of electoral politics.

A democratic party

Evidence of Labour members influencing Labour’s policies is pretty scant. Gains made under Corbyn were quickly reversed by Starmer, reinstating the party’s centralised status quo. Whereas party democracy is ingrained in the Green’s constitution. If a policy isn’t to your liking, you can campaign for change. With ‘one member one vote’, consensus decision-making, and local autonomy, all members have a say in policy direction. This is crucial for socialists who might wish to challenge, for example, the party’s current stance on continued NATO membership or limited aspirations for police reform.

The Greens uphold the values of grassroots democracy. Whereas Starmer has shown strong authoritarian inclinations ­– most recently exemplified in his attempted purge of left-wing candidates. Rightwards is his only direction of travel.

Standing with workers

Perhaps the most significant limitation of The Greens for socialists is its absence of roots or strong links with the organised working class, i.e the trade unions. As the workplace organisations of the working class, trade unions are essential for the struggle to rebuild an economy that works to meet social need rather than private profit.

Founded in 1900, The Labour Party, with its roots in trade unions and socialist associations, was supposed to represent the working class in Parliament. By contrast, the Greens emerged in the early 1970s from the environmental movement, with no formal union ties.

These histories matter, but so too does the present. Keir Starmer refused to let his front bench support striking workers, straining his relations with affiliated unions while upholding Tory austerity economics.

By contrast, Green leadership was present at picket lines across the country, and The Green Party Trade Union Group is working tirelessly to improve links between the party and organised labour. We know too that a Green New Deal does not have to challenge jobs but create them, revitalising all regions of the country with new, good, and well-paid positions.

Green surge

The Green Party is the only national – and indeed federal, with parties in all three nations of the Uk – game in town for those still looking for change via the ballot box.

As socialists in the party, we can build a powerful coalition that fights for fair wages and social equity and tackles the urgent climate crisis, ensuring a liveable world for all. So, I say, why not join these Socialists on Bikes?

Philip Proudfoot is an anthropologist and former leader of the Northern Independence Party

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