Onward the Greens! 

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Colin Tudge predicts big political re-alliances over the next few years – with a growing army of Greens 

All political parties are coalitions. As someone once remarked re the Church of England, no two people sharing a pew think exactly the same, and this is abundantly true too of politicians sharing a bench. But some parties are more divided than others, and the bigger they are, the more schismatic they are likely to be. Both Labour and Conservative are highly heterogeneous, and in addition to the inevitable, interpersonal differences, the mainstream of both parties divides fairly neatly into two quite distinct camps. 

The divide in Labour is between those who, roughly, follow in the wake of the late 19th-early 20th century founders of the Labour Party, best represented by Keir Hardie; and the Labour Left, which veers towards Marx. The Keir Hardie school, now represented by Keir Starmer, is basically left-of-centre social democrat. It favours a mixed economy, and in general tends to see the economy as a pragmatic device that should help us to achieve the social ends of kindness and justice (or that at least is the ideal). 

The quasi-Marxist school, though itself inevitably heterogeneous, also aspires to achieve equality and justice but sees the economy as the means to achieve this, and in particular has faith in Marx’s own idea that the workers should own the means of production. These days, more practically, the “Marxist” ambition tends to translate into state ownership of – well: as much as possible. Jeremy Corbyn has retained his seat — as an independent—and for the time being at least is the neo-Marxists’ leading representative. 

The Tories are split between the right-of-centre social democrats and the out-and-out Right. The former, as social democrats, again favour the mixed economy but with emphasis on private enterprise and private ownership. At their best they too seek to improve the wellbeing of all society but believe in the style of Plato and Cicero that this can best be achieved by entrusting our affairs to an elite of individuals who, supposedly, are intellectually and morally superior to the rest of us. In a democracy those supposedly superior individuals are elected – a meritocracy indeed. In a feudal society they just are. The last Conservative governments who fitted the right-of-centre social democratic bill were those of Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, who ruled off-and-on from the 1950s to the early 1970s, when Labour resumed control under Harold Wilson, and then James Callaghan. 

But Margaret Thatcher defeated Callaghan in 1980 and also brought Macmillan-Heath-style Toryism to an abrupt end when she introduced her party, and hence Britain, to the joys of neoliberalism — and then via Ronald Reagan to the US and thence to the whole world. To the neoliberals (as to Marx, though of course on a quite different track) the economy is supreme; and the economy to the neolibs means the global market. All producers and traders of all kinds, from one-acre farmers in Africa to Tesco and Tata, are invited or obliged to compete with all other producers and traders for profit and market share. The extreme neoliberals want the market to be as “free” as possible: “deregulated”; not hampered by what they see as pettifogging laws, but left to make its own rules; and to be as ruthless as the various competitors can get away with. Social justice, insofar as they have such a concept, is supposedly ensured by the “invisible hand”, which Adam Smith envisaged as the sum of all the internal restraints within the market, which keep it on track. But Smith, who was a moralist first and an economist second, was writing in the 18th century, when markets were very different. In the modern age of transnational corporates it should be obvious to everyone that the invisible hand cannot alone ensure that the market works in the world’s best interests. But this isn’t obvious to the dedicated neolibs, for whom the “free” market is God. It isn’t clear that Smith would have approved the modern interpretation of his ideas, any more than Marx approved, even in his own lifetime, some at least of the manifestations of “Marxism”.   

The two Conservative schools seem quite distinct. No-one opposed Margaret Thatcher in her early days more vigorously than Macmillan and Heath. 

So how will things pan out in the next few years, now that Keir Starmer’s Labour has such a huge majority? Logically, and I think sensibly, both Labour and Tory should recognize the deep rift within each of their parties and build accordingly. Labour should split between the left-of-centre social democrats led at present by Starmer, and the out-and-out Left, led for the time being by Corbyn. The Tories should recognize the division within their own ranks and find someone to lead a right-of-centre social democratic party in the style of Macmillan, and leave the out-and-out neoliberal Right to join Nigel Farage’s Reform. The Tories, long term, should be grateful to Farage. By siphoning off the neoliberal, post-Thatcherite right-wingers, he leaves a Tory rump free to re-create the right-of-centre social-democratic tradition. The governance of Britain would then be divided between the two versions of social democracy, roughly as it was in the days of Macmillan v Harold Wilson, or of Heath v Wilson. But we will also have two more, extreme parties agitating on the wings, now represented by Farage and Corbyn, and some would say that in a democracy that is no bad thing.

However: None of the aforementioned parties takes the natural world seriously enough, or anything like, and this is a huge and potentially fatal oversight at all levels: practical; social; spiritual. So for my part I will continue to support the Greens. They are still very much a minority. But Caroline Lucas stood heroically as the sole Green MP in a largely hostile or at least indifferent House of Commons from 2010 to 2024 and although she has now left parliament she laid a good foundation and after yesterday’s General Election the Greens now have four MPs – a 400 percent mark-up. They won’t be able to go on growing at such a pace but if they did they would be the majority party within a couple of decades. 

In truth, nothing less than a Renaissance can save the world now. But a Green majority or at least a decisive Green presence would at least be a step in the right direction.

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8 responses to “Onward the Greens! ”

  1. Mary Franklin avatar
    Mary Franklin

    This makes a lot of sense. Let’s hope that the different factions and wide range of views now represented in the House of Commons results in all sections of the population feeling that they are being heard and in important matters being properly discussed.

    And thank you Colin for the shout-out for the Greens. I know that the four new Green MPs are determined to push the environmental agenda and are committed to championing the interests of the natural world as much as they possibly can.

    1. Carol Horne avatar
      Carol Horne

      Given my age, I felt this might well be the last election I get to vote at; and so I took the plunge and voted according to my conscience and my firm belief that to survive we must work WITH the natural world, not against it. Humming and ha-img about how to block the Tory candidate in my ward I could not decide on the best strategic vote – so I voted Green. My happiness and relief at this decision told me it was right- for me. As it was, Plaid Cymru took the seat. A good choice for my location.
      It will take time to build a robust Green Party – which as far as I can see is the sole party to acknowledge the rights of the non-human world to be of equal importance as human.
      In the meantime I hope we can bring in meaningful electoral reform with additionally the setting up of proper citizens assemblies- only then can we be assured that the elected government correctly represents the percentage of the votes cast.
      Thank you for your thoughts, Colin

  2. Howard Davies avatar
    Howard Davies

    A really helpful and insightful analysis…with a not unhelpful balance of realism and optimism! Thanks Colin

  3. Stephen Quilley avatar
    Stephen Quilley

    Hi Colin, a disproportionate number of green candidates were either unhinged trans-activists pushing an extreme variant of gender/race politics and/or Hamas supporters. Whatever the merits of those issues, for green politics to become enmeshed with one side in the culture war guarantees that they can never achieve the kind of traction and mass mobilisation that would be necessary to transform our political economic model.

    Here is one in Leeds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpMQkd1sY1A. Jill Stein in America has been in the same road – supporting Hamas. Canadian Greens ripped themselves apart in a controversy over pronouns and misgendering. Right now I wouldn’t vote green in Canada or the UK if you paid me

    This is all indicative of a cosmopolitan, internationalist, commitment to the most radical kind of left wing Enlightenment politics – globalist, high energy and high complexity. Totally ncompatible with any kind of limits to growth or pattern of place-based ecological constraint.

    On the other hand, I have no idea where to go politically so I will carry on training my sheep dog ☹

    It’s a restaurant at the end of the universe moment

    All best steve

    1. Maggie Roberts avatar
      Maggie Roberts

      What shocks me is that the Green Party seems to be the only party that wants to put a halt to the genocide that is taking place in Palestine. The topics discussed above relate to moral and human rights issues. Israel is not abiding by international law and has pursued a policy of illegal occupation for many years now and having got away with forcing people out of their homes and embedding discriminatory practices into their society, they have now descended into ethnic cleansing civilians to build their empire. Surely the bombing of hospitals and refugee facilities should be a concern for all of us as human beings. Similarly with trans issues. I know I can’t remember all the different terms, but I do believe people should have the right to be themselves in whatever way suits them best. Why does this affect anyone else, I cannot understand why that should upset others? The Greens have been courageous enough to stand up for these principles. Fighting climate change and creating a better environment cannot be achieved without co-operation and that requires inclusive policies.

  4. Ian Rappel avatar
    Ian Rappel

    Interesting and thought provoking as always Colin. But I would appeal to you to recalibrate your political lens a bit. Keir Starmer is not a centre-left politician of the Kier Hardie school. He is a neoliberal (neo-Blairite). The parameters he and his chancellor are adhering to are more of the same neoliberal pro-market, pro-growth (a euphamism for corporate profit incidently), heart-breaking nonsense (to parahrase GB Shaw) – see today’s news of the forthcoming and unecessary demolition of the planning system and the green belt (and a great deal of grade 1 agricultural land to boot) in favour of corporate housing profits. Corbyn is on the left but not a Marxist (he is actually much closer to the Kier Hardie school of left-reformism you asign to Starmer). I will, as a Marxist, politely leave your characatures of Marxism to one side here, but would ask that you consistently apply the useful concept of divisions within parties to the Green Party itself. It too is split between right and left, between misanthropic Malthusians and radical anticapitalists… see discussion here: https://socialistworker.co.uk/general-election-2024/green-advances-show-left-right-divide-in-party/ Even the Green Party’s centre will have a hard time holding in the period ahead as the contradictions arising from global capitalism (from the ecological to the socioeconomic, from the cultural to the real wars) boil over.

  5. Timothy Gorringe avatar
    Timothy Gorringe

    As usual, Colin, you write beautifully, but I’m not sure about your analysis. Has there been a one nation Tory since Macmillan? In fact, Thatcher changed her party from ‘Conservative’ to ‘The Neo Liberal Party’ and as we know, 18 years of Tory rule convinced the erstwhile Labour party that the only way to get elected was to get in to bed with the Mail and the Sun. They, too, think privatisation is the way forward, and we see that in some of the new appointments (though hurray that the Rwanda scheme has been abandoned). In general I think Leon Rosselson got it right:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWTuBpopL6g

    I also think its wrong to parallel Farage and Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn is not a Marxist but an old fashioned Labour Politician, believing in nationalisation and public ownership of utilities. Hundreds of thousands of people support this – he got more votes than Starmer got on Thursday, but the vagaries of our ‘democracy’ means that he lost whilst Starmer got a 150 seat majority.
    All this means that van Reybrouck’s proposals for democracy by sortition need to be adopted( ‘Against Elections’ and also TG, The World Made Otherwise).
    As for PR, if we had it Farage would have twice as many MPs as the Green Party which, pace your previous respondent, I think would be appalling. Why? Well Farage, unlike Corbyn, is not a principled politician but a thug, an ally of Trump, a climate denier, who combines a commitment to big business with xenophobia and a hatred of difference. He shares this with Alternativ fur Deutchsland and the French Rally. There’s a name for that kind of stance…
    Corbyn, meanwhile is not only an honest man, but a good one, which is why he only replies to the treachery of Starmer and Evans with ‘I’m disappointed…’
    And if anyone believes the ‘anti semitic’ trope, just have a look at Jewish Voice for Labour…

  6. Bill Grayson avatar
    Bill Grayson

    Thank you Colin. Your account of the current situation and how we got here has helped to clarify my own, somewhat more muddled assessment. I agree that ‘compassion’ sounds like a much better basis for guiding our politics than all the other kinds of ‘passion’ that seem to be driving things now. Most of these, however, appear to be founded on the opposing principle of self-interest, which is nowhere more manifest than in the UK’s ‘first past the post’ electoral system.
    Whilst I agree that the Green Party represents our best hope for developing an overall survival strategy, I feel there are some issues that they need to address regarding their food and farming strategy. These concern the need to properly recognize the fundamental role that ruminant livestock can uniquely play within an agroecological, mixed farming system, which can help free us from the tyranny of chemical agriculture.

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