Britain: Gains for Greens cause for hope

May 24, 2015

Britain's May 7 general elections, in which the Conservative Party won an outright majority, produced a couple of silver linings on a very large black cloud.

One was the success of the Green Party of England and Wales. While the party did not sweep into Westminster, it made progress politically and in terms of votes.

Looking at the numbers first, several things stand out. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Greens incumbent MP Caroline Lucas was elected with 41% of the vote in Brighton Pavilion. Her 2010 majority was wafer-thin and the local Green Party-run Brighton and Hove Council was far from popular.

Shamefully, given her great record, Labour threw everything they could at the contest. With all this in mind, an 11% swing in her favour was very satisfying.

The Greens received 1,139,682 votes nationally, compared to about 265,000 at the last general election. The party came second in four constituencies, despite never having come second before.

In Bristol West, the Greens won 26.8%, up from just a couple of percent in 2010, putting it in a good position to win the seat next time.

The Greens also came second in Liverpool Riverside, Manchester Gorton and Sheffield Central. The Greens saved 123 deposits, meaning they won 5% or more of the vote, compared to just six saved deposits in the 2010.

Green Party executive member Sam Riches noted of the saved deposits: “I think that is a truly startling figure and speaks very strongly of the much-increased reach of the party thanks to the membership growth across the country.”

Greens membership continues to grow rapidly — at the moment at least 100 a day are joining. The Scottish and Northern Irish Greens are independent parties, but both are also growing fast.

It is not just the numbers that are growing: our political influence is also rising. The Green Party has moved left over recent years and become ideologically more sophisticated and confident.

The Greens push for action on climate change, an issue largely ignored. Likewise, the party has told millions of people about the threat of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a treaty between the EU and the US that could allow corporations to sue governments over worker protection and environmental regulation.

Greens leader Natalie Bennett, a migrant herself from Australia, spoke out passionately against the demonisation of immigration. The Greens have challenged austerity.

The Greens gained votes because of, not despite, this radicalism. Instead of a general election focused on the UK Independence Party’s agenda, the Greens shifted the debate — at least a little — on to an agenda for equality and compassion.

The Conservatives will not make the British electoral system fairer. They will continue to find ways of making it less representative in order to cement their narrow victory.

Human rights are under threat. The Conservatives will steam ahead with attempts to ban strikes, accelerate the benefits cuts and please the bankers.

They will work hard to deepen the power of those who have the most. Deaths from benefit cuts will sharply rise. The vampires are in charge and the Labour Party will face growing pressure from the media to ditch trade union links and more fully align with the rich and powerful.

The Liberal Democrats, outside their long-term base in Orkney and Shetland, are pretty much destroyed. At least the neoliberal Orange Book group that dominated the Liberal Democrats has been shattered.

Despite the Conservative win, there are millions of people who want a fairer society. The large victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) also reflected positively on a party that moved to the left and challenged austerity. The left can make change.

Where next? The Conservatives have a small majority and need strong opposition. Caroline Lucas, working with left Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn plus the SNP and Cymru Plaid, will challenge our neoliberal government.

Despite an unfair electoral system and a fiercely right-wing news media, the Greens will target seats and, increasingly, win them. Above all, the Greens will campaign at the grass roots and use non-violent direct action where appropriate.

The frackers are coming, our hospitals are being sold to corporations, public services are being outsourced and social housing is increasingly transformed into assets for millionaires.
We will resist.

The Green Party will try to grow the social movements and change the country so that it works not for the millionaires, but the millions.

[Abridged from the Morning Star. Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party.]

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