Alistair Tice, Sheffield Socialist Party
Adrian Ramsay, the Green Party co-leader, claimed after this May’s council elections: “The phenomenal results for the Green Party… demonstrate that people up and down the country are looking for a credible alternative to the establishment parties, and are finding it in us.”
The Greens certainly scored their best-ever council election results, reaching a record-high 545 councillors on 166 councils. This follows on from a record share of the vote in last May’s elections for both the Scottish Assembly (8.1% in the regional list seats) and the London Assembly (11.8% for the all-London list).
They lead a minority administration in Brighton, have equalled the number of Labour councillors in Bristol, and chair committees in a “collaborative” Sheffield council. Newcastle and Cardiff are now the only major cities in the UK without a single Green councillor.
The Greens have had ‘surges’ before. In the June 2011 EU elections they won 12%, and were the fourth-biggest party by vote share. In 2014-15, in the run up to the 2015 general election, their membership trebled to 60,000. And since 2019 and the end of Corbynism, they have enjoyed a steady and incremental increase in support.
With opinion polls showing climate change as an increasing concern across the population, especially among young people, and a political vacuum on the left as a result of Starmer re-Blairising Labour, the Greens are seen as a more radical protest vote than the Lib Dems.
But exactly how anti-establishment are they?
Looking at their manifesto and policies, there are many reforms proposed that would improve people’s lives that socialists support. These include: increased government spending on public services, the scrapping of student fees and debt, council house building and retrofitting of homes, an uplift in Universal Credit, promotion of renewable energy, and investment in green jobs.
Limited and vague
But many of their policies are very limited and vague on how they would be paid for. For example, they do not even call for a windfall tax on the energy companies (let alone nationalisation), a policy now even being implemented by the Tories. They called in 2019 for Corporation Tax to be increased from 19% to 24%, which is less than the 25% the Tories propose to increase it to next year.
Even on climate change, their ambitions don’t rise beyond the international agreements arrived at, but not implemented, by capitalist governments.
Their main environmental demand is for a carbon tax on all petrol, diesel, shipping and aviation fuels. But without the necessary investment in and public ownership of public transport, such ‘green’ taxes and levies, as a means of trying to enforce changes in behaviour, can be seen as nothing more than a money-raising exercise, putting up prices and increasing scepticism about climate change.
Fundamentally, while they can be radical on policies to distribute the wealth created, they do not answer the question: who should own and control society’s means of producing that wealth: the elite capitalist class, or the majority – the working and middle classes?
Such moderation in order to appear ‘credible’ means that Green Party policies are constrained within the limits of the market-based capitalist system, something they accept as permanent. Hence they supported remaining in the neo-liberal EU, and Green Parties in other countries have entered national governments with unsavoury right-wing parties. They have supported anti-immigrant policies in Austria, pro-military and war policies in Germany, and austerity policies in Ireland and elsewhere.
And their record in local government in Britain is not much better.In Brighton, Greens first formed a minority administration in 2011, elected on an anti-austerity ticket. However they ended up implementing over £50 million of budget cuts, provoking a month-long bin workers’ strike against pay cuts in 2013 (for which they were labelled “Tories on bikes!”). By 2015, Brighton was ranked 302 out of 336 councils for re-cycling.
The Brighton Greens formed a second minority administration in 2020, after the preceding Labour administration collapsed. Again, the Greens provoked another bin workers’ strike in 2021.
In Bristol, the Greens have not been in power as such, but did take seats in the cabinet of the so-called ‘independent’ mayor between 2012-2016 which implemented big cuts. In fact, the Greens were the only party with all their councillors voting for every one of his budgets.
Last year, the Greens did a deal with the Tories to become leader and deputy leader of Lancaster council.
In Sheffield in 2021, the Greens entered a ‘co-operative’ executive with three cabinet portfolios to prop up what had become a minority Labour council. They did not vote against, but abstained on a £50 million ‘salami’ cuts budget and the setting up of cost-cutting reviews into libraries, early intervention services and hardship payments.
In Sheffield, the Greens won their first council seat in 2004 and only had two councillors up till 2013. As part of not fighting the Tory government funding cuts, the Labour council had signed up to a £2.2 billion Private Finance Initiative deal for the Amey multinational company to repair and maintain the city’s highways and street lighting. Under the mis-named ‘Streets Ahead’ project, Amey, with the support of the council, cut down over 5,000 healthy roadside trees, provoking a four-year community campaign of civil resistance, especially in the leafier middle-class areas of the city. While the Green Party did not lead this campaign, one of its councillors did engage in direct action and was prosecuted by South Yorkshire Police.
As a result, Labour lost votes with the Lib Dems and Greens making gains, the Greens rising to eight councillors by 2019, and 13 in 2021.
Launching this year’s Green Party council election campaign, Sheffield Green Party group leader Douglas Johnson said: “This was the first time the Green Party has entered the election from a position of being part of the administration (the co-operative executive) running Sheffield City Council. In doing so, we showed we can take responsibility for difficult decisions and not shy away from them” – ie £50 million cuts!
He went on: “It is important for the city that it remains in no overall control… (which) means that parties have to co-operate with each other… (resulting in) collaboration and compromise…” No ambition, not radical at all, and now part of the establishment!
Since, the Greens have entered a ‘collaborative’ council with Labour and the Lib-Dems in a new ‘modern’ council committee system. The budget crisis has forced these parties together into a ‘rainbow’ coalition to try to avoid blame and responsibility for the cuts coming. In joining the administration, the Lib-Dem leader warned of: “How serious the budget deficit is, how serious our reserve levels are… I kid you not there is a real danger of commissioners, appointed by a Tory government, [that] may come in and take over”. And the Greens have signed up to this!
This drastically illustrates that for all the well-meaning local ‘projects’ and a superficially different ‘style’, it’s impossible to protect workers’ living standards and public services, let alone protect the environment from climate change, by getting into bed with the politicians who represent the interests of the banks and big business.
It may have some members who think they are socialist, but the Green Party is definitely not socialist.
As the editorial in the September 2021 issue of Socialism Today explained: “Without an explicitly socialist ideological anchor to resist the pressure to follow the logic of pro-market policies, or a class anchor, not having emerged as an expression of workers’ political interests and their trade union organisations, the Green Party is not the alternative needed.”
Are the Greens an alternative for workers and their trade union organisations? The Green Party candidate in the upcoming Wakefield by-election launched their campaign with a tweet promising a strong “ Green voice in Parliament” for the “people of Wakefield”, “rather than making the rich richer, or being controlled by the unions.” Enough said.