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Initial reactions to the European result.

Peter Cranie, Liverpool Green Party


 

Most readers here will have voted Respect and a few may have voted otherwise. If you are reading this and feeling very depressed about your regionís result, and about the rise of the hard/far right in Britain, you should know I have the same feeling. What you are now reading is my personal response, not any official line.

 

Firstly, a little bit about the Greens. Our share of the vote in Britain stayed the same as in 1999. We are also delighted to see Jean Lambert (London) and Caroline Lucas (South East) re-elected as our MEPs for another five years. In a year with increased turnout, we managed to hold our seats despite the threshold for getting elected having gone up. This is an excellent achievement when UKIP have forced us into 5th place nearly everywhere.

 

Whatever accusations or feelings have been directed towards the Greens regarding our lack of co-operation with Respect can now be put into historical perspective. The starting point for negotiations was that George Galloway, not Jean Lambert, would have topped any joint list in London. By campaigning on our own, we retained a Green MEP, and we would have been unlikely to have done so if Jean had been second to Galloway.

 

Secondly, a little bit about Respect. Lindsey German did well in the mayoral contest and George Galloway gained 4.8% of the vote in the European elections. These are respectable results but it is clear that George Gallowayís appeal was overstated, and his inconsistencies on important issues of social justice (like his views on abortion) showed the limitations of an over-reliance on him.

Elsewhere, Respect have been hugely disappointing. Despite a lot of hard work on the ground from committed activists, no other deposits have been saved. This is a big moral and financial blow for the new coalition. With no candidates elected from these elections, it will be difficult for Respect to sustain a national profile after the departure of Galloway from his parliamentary constituency (possibly as early as October if the rumours of an early general election are true).

 

The Green vote was nearly four times bigger than the vote for Respect, and more than five times bigger if you take London and the limited personal Galloway vote out of the equation. Any movement to bring together the progressive elements in British politics must take this result into account. Many Greens felt that we were given a list of demands which must be met (or else!) when we were invited to join the Respect coalition. Future co-operation must be based on two-way discussion. It canít be rushed. We are waiting to hear what the progressive forces on the left can offer to us, rather than talking about coalitions, mergers and grand schemes.

 

The Green Party will remain the Green Party for the foreseeable future. What shape the left is going to take is difficult to predict. The SWP who appeared to dominate the Respect coalition are in a difficult financial situation. The Respect coalition itself may well "owe" money lent on the understanding that deposits may be kept. If the organisational structures that existed for the Socialist Alliance still remain, it would be understandable if the left decided to move back to this structure. Fragmentation and disunity because of blamemongering is always a concern.

 

I am both optimistic and pessimistic about the future. I think it is clear that we should stand as many candidates as possible against pro-war Labour MPs in a forthcoming general election. In the North West, I would expect Michael Lavalette to stand as a parliamentary candidate in Preston (the only place in the North West where Respect did better than the Greens). Logically, the left should allow Green candidates to challenge Labour MPs in areas where the Green vote was stronger. That will mean Liverpool, Lancaster, Manchester and most of the North West, which may be a very bitter pill for prospective socialist candidates to swallow, but it may also be the most effective way of making our point to Labour.

 

We will not of course, be able to stand candidates everywhere, and there will be seats we alone canít target. We need the left to help us to ensure that not one Labour MP with a pro-war record (and a Lib Dem but not Tory challenger) is left unopposed, if that is a goal that we agree on. This is a big request but it is not a demand. Greens and Socialists must sit down and sort these issues out. In some areas we may come to agreement and in some areas we may not. I think this will be an important first step to see how far progress or co-operation may lead us. If the leadership of Respect / SA can provide guidance that facilitates this, then it is a promising start.

 

I am somewhat pessimistic right now in wider political terms. The hard right is growing in strength. In the North West region, even the combined Green / Respect vote was barely more than the BNP achieved. We are in a political landscape dominated by a right wing press and populated by hostile politicians unwilling to listen to us, particularly as they strain to adjust to the UKIP surge of support. These are going to be a difficult period for progressive forces in British politics.

 

There are questions that I would like readers in the North West to consider, and feed back to me on. We Greens are very local in our approach and I would not presume to speak for other regions. This is particularly true for the South East and London where emotions are much stronger because both Jean and Caroline only just managed to get back in. A Respect campaign (whatever the actual results) in these regions made the re-election of good MEPs much more difficult and understandably our activists may still be pretty sore about this.

 

  • We may have as little as four months to prepare for a general election. Is there an inbuilt scepticism about working with the Greens on the left, and if so, why? We have been accused of forwarding our own agenda, which is one of social justice and environmental improvement. Is this a bad thing?
  • Could or should the leadership of Respect / SA allow the Greens to target parliamentary seats in areas they are strongest to promote the most effective anti-war vote?
  • Could you as an activist actually go out and work for a Green candidate, or at least support their campaign?

These are questions that need to be asked of grassroots socialists and not just the hierarchy of organisations on the left. To either work with (or even join) the Green Party requires that an adherence to ideology will be sacrificed for a more pragmatic approach. I think the idea that created Respect was a pragmatic one and in these times it may be that activists on the left will be best served by working closely with (or within) the Green movement. We have socialists, light greens, dark greens and middle class environmentalists all within a single party which continues to make electoral progress. Activists from the left can either work within or co-operate from outside of that party, but they can definitely make a contribution in pushing forward progressive politics.

 

The left brings some excellent qualities to campaigning and activism, and many of us in the Greens admire your commitment to the cause. We have a chance now to start being open and honest with each other. Iíd welcome your views.

 

Please email: greenliverpool@hotmail.com

 

June 2004

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