The route to alliance-based power

The Green Party should build its strategy around progressive alliances and common ground, says Stephen Clark of the Compass Greens. The group have published a strategy paper ahead of the Autumn Conference this weekend (22-24 October).

Two hands in a handshake
Stephen Clark

The Green Party shares a vision and a way of doing politics with individuals in other political parties, or in none, but it is unique in that:

  • It is the only vehicle in the green movement trying to win representation in Parliament and local authorities, and participate in government.
  • It is the only party committed to achieving net-zero carbon by 2030, refusing to pass on the burden of redressing environmental destruction to future generations.
  • It is the only party of significance to hold a vision of a post-capitalist Britain rejecting financial indicators as measures of progress or human well-being, viewing the present economic system as inherently destructive of the environment which we share with all other living things.
  • It is more prepared to work with other progressive political parties, pressure groups and civil society organisations to meet climate goals and address other societal issues.

These are vital differences. The Green Party should retain a clear and distinct identity, not subsuming itself into any other group, or automatically deferring in elections to any other political party.

But:

  • The current first past the post (FPTP) electoral system is heavily weighted in favour of the two major parties; it is almost impossibly hard for a third force to break into government.
  • We will not meet net-zero carbon by 2030 without some form of cross-party collaboration.
  • The Conservative Party is a major roadblock to achieving net-zero and must go.
  • The Labour Party will not win the next election alone, and perhaps not even the one after that. It is also questionable whether it is desirable that Labour wins alone on the basis of a minority FPTP mandate.
  • The Labour Party machine has been reluctant to cooperate with other parties, but there is movement at a grassroots level in favour of electoral reform and dialogue with others. This must be grasped.

For Compass Greens, the only route to removing the Tories, to achieving a Green New Deal and proportional representation (PR), is through the election of a Labour-led progressive alliance. The Green Party has always accepted that elections are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. 

The Party should be a key mover in building alliances and political pluralism. The object is to deliver power to progressive forces in politics to create the conditions for a green, more equal and democratic society. 

There can be solid common ground between Greens and other progressives on a Green New Deal that sets out a programme for serious climate action and just transition. We see a common agenda making society more equal, incorporating a Universal Basic Income, the eradication of racism and other forms of discrimination. And on the need for a more democratic electoral system based on proportional voting.

Let’s change the dynamic that either our votes don’t count and the Tories stay in, or we are forced to vote for unreformed Labour candidates.

There’s a lot we can do:

  • First, we have more time than in 2017 and should start preparing now.
  • Second, the Party must be able to negotiate from a position of strength. Experience has shown that the Green Party has often made all the concessions. Ahead of any agreement, we should fight hard in every seat, local or national, where we have a chance of winning or stopping others from doing so. We should not be diverted, where it is in the party’s interest, from standing in Labour and Lib Dem held seats and their Tory held targets. Let’s remember the influence UKIP had over Tory policy.
  • Third, alliances are vehicles for driving green policies, fundamentally changing the way we do democracy and breaking the grip of reactionary forces in UK politics. It’s about how we govern better with other parties, not just how we might win.
  • Fourth, with the surge in Green Party councillors on local authorities we have a wealth of experience of making alliances work and having a direct influence on local decision making. We must build on this and the relationships that have been established to move beyond the zero-sum politics that exists across the left.
  • Fifth, we should take the lead in working with, or setting up, local Compass Groups to provide vehicles for co-operative action.
  • Sixth, we should be open to democratic innovations such as open primaries, running joint candidates and citizens’ assemblies.
  • Seventh, let’s include in alliances individuals and organisations from the trade union movement, the climate and environmental movement, and other civil society groupings.

Let’s get to it!

Stephen Clark is a Green Party member in West London and a Compass Associate. This is an abridged version of a longer strategy paper published by Compass Greens ahead of the conference at the weekend.