Green Party: Rebels or reformists?

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In March, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett came under attack in Britain’s right-wing media after a stuttering LBC radio performance where she struggled to explain how the party would pay for half a million new social homes. What followed was a grim character assassination in a demonstration of how bourgeois politics focuses on individual personality, with a predictable dose of Daily Mail sexism. This charade led to a nose-dive in Bennett’s approval levels, but The Independent’s Favourability Index still shows the Green Party neck and neck with UKIP and above Cameron’s LibDem coalition partners. The Green Party are clearly a rising force in British ‘democracy’, but as communists we have to analyse whether they can offer a real alternative to capitalist austerity and imperialism.

Across Britain, millions have faced worsening living conditions as the ConDem government’s cuts programme has gripped communities and stripped them of basic services, from mental health support to childcare. Labour councils cry crocodile tears for the cuts they carry out on the government’s behalf, with councillors claiming to oppose cuts but enthusiastically voting them through. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is right in saying, ‘a lot of people are unhappy with a Labour Party that, in practice if not in rhetoric, is barely distinguishable from the Tories.’ The Green Party calls itself an ‘anti-austerity party’, so what is its record when it has been elected into council positions in Britain?

In Brighton and Hove, the party runs a minority local government that says it is opposed to the ConDem government’s cuts programme. In January 2015 a local Green Party General Meeting passed a motion that Green councillors should not vote for any cuts budget, and should commit the council to a big anti-cuts campaign, and refuse to assist any austerity commissioners sent in by the ConDem government. They also called on their openly pro-cuts councillor John Kitkat to stand down as their leader in the council. Despite this principled, militant and well-intentioned manifesto, recent months have seen the majority of the Green Party councillors supporting a new package of budget cuts, allying with Labour to get them pushed through. The limit of their initial opposition to a cuts budget was a proposal to raise Council Tax by 5.9%! Local party activists opposed this as it would have still required £18m cuts.

After a lot of political manoeuvring, the final 3 March budget vote had only four ‘rebel’ Green councillors voting against £20m in public service cuts, plus a 2% Council Tax rise. 11 Green Party councillors voted for the cuts, which had the unanimous support of the Labour councillors. Kitkat claimed that ‘councillors in the chamber reflected on their conscience before taking their decisions. This is local democracy and sometimes it gets messy.’

In Bristol, the Green Party form part of a ‘rainbow cabinet’, led by an independent mayor with a Green Party assistant mayor, Danielle Radice. Despite their verbal opposition to this year’s austerity budget, the Green Party councillors in Bristol in the end just abstained when it came to a vote. The budget requires huge library cutbacks, with as many as seven set to close because they don’t fit in with a ‘new look service’. Meanwhile, Bristol council are taking out a £91m, 25-year government loan to finance a new ‘state of the art’ arena, which will then be handed over to private contractors.

Two years ago, in the run-up to setting the 2013/14 council budget, Bristol Green Party councillors proposed shutting down local Adult Learning Services, claiming this was the only way to stop cuts to homeless support. Gus Hoyt was Green Party assistant mayor at the time. He claimed there was ‘no alternative but to accept the financial situation which has been imposed upon us’ and personally drafted the 2013-14 council cuts programme of £35m. His party has no problem with him standing for re-election in May.

In the general election the Green Party is optimistic about increasing its number of MPs, which currently consists of Caroline Lucas. Lucas has voted against war on Libya and Syria, and against the racist Immigration Bill. The party’s Peace and Defence document says, ‘We would take the UK out of NATO unilaterally. We would also end the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and the US.’ It also has a longstanding commitment to scrapping Britain’s Trident nuclear programme. However, leader Natalie Bennett has hinted that none of these issues will be sticking points if it comes to forming a coalition government with Labour. As Caroline Lucas said at the recent Green Party conference:

‘We have the chance to forge a new alliance in Parliament... And if, as many polls are predicting, we end up with a Labour minority government, then we can work to ensure they abandon their commitment to austerity and to pandering to big business, and instead promote urgent action on climate change.’

The message is clear – vote Green to get Labour

The Green Party does not recognise Britain as an imperialist country and its policies on military intervention are vague and liberal. Economically, it promotes ‘zero growth’ and investment in ‘green jobs’. It wants a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ to give the poor a larger share of the profits of bankers and multinational companies. Internationally, it says it will push for sanctions on Israel. As socialists there may be elements of Green Party policy that we agree with. The question is, can a real challenge to austerity, racism and rampant, warmongering imperialism come from a party which is already setting itself up for an alliance with the imperialists? As we can see, the party has not been able to tie its members down to a consistent, anti-austerity position. It is not a socialist party. The inconsistencies of the Green Party’s challenge show the real need for a movement on the streets to build the alternative to cuts and war, one which is led by a revolutionary organisation that fights for a socialist alternative. We won’t get that with the Green Party.

Louis Brehony

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015