As I have recently re-joined the green party (after around fifteen years) I’d like to say a quick word. I was actually hoping to attend the conference but other things got in the way this year. I’m not really an activist type, and I’m still seeking to become the sort of person who is prepared to express their complicated political opinions to random strangers (which is mostly what practical politics seems to involve). I always imagine that random strangers will think I’m stupid and I’ll feel crushed. Pathetic, but there we are.
Anyway, a good part of the recent increase in green party membership is, I suspect, from disaffected labour supporters fed up with the fact that the labour party appears to have shed all its significant differences from the conservatives. The greens were the nearest thing they could find to what they wanted – a party which doesn’t believe that the market always knows best (it sometimes does – but not always), doesn’t believe that big-and-agressive is always better (it sometimes is, but not always) and so on.
Now that Jeremy Corbyn, who does hold significantly different opinions from the alleged neoliberal consensus (but he is surely not “hard left”, c’mon), has been elected, I imagine that they’ll go back again. This is fine. Political parties are tribal and it must have hurt them to have left in the first place.
The green party is not a left-wing party.
The green party is the party of physical reality. That’s why it used to be called the ecology party. The natural world is its own thing, can’t be wished away, and ultimately we all depend on it. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet, we can’t meet “carbon targets” and expand fossil fuel production, etcetera etcetera etcetera. As such, the green party does not sit on the single left-right axis. ( “left” and “right” are not straightforward terms in any case).
At any given time, by a sort of psychological parallax effect, the green political stance can appear to be aligned with the left-right axis. Depending on the current political landscape it can appear to be a part of the either “the left” or “the right”.
At present, because of the way the “right” currently defines itself (sometimes called “neo-conservatism”), the green party looks like it is on the left. Amongst many other things, the green political stance reminds us that people are co-operative as well as competitive and that fairness is important – this modest observation of human behaviour and desire is currently pooh-poohed by the “right” which seems to hold that the only driving force in human affairs is competition, that might is by definition right, that being rich is an indicator of intrinsic virtue and so on.
But there are some definitions of “the right” which are compatible with green thinking. “Conservative” and “conservation” are closely related words. A wariness of utopian schemes (partly because of the modest observation that people are competitive as well as cooperative) and a reluctance to change things too much, or too quickly (because you probably don’t fully understand what you’re doing), both sit very well with green thinking. It is possible to imagine a different political landscape where a green party would look as if it belonged to the right.
The above two paragraphs suggest that not only are the greens the party of physical reality, they could also be the party of psychological reality.
So the green party is not “of the left”, even though at the present it looks as if it is. It is important that it doesn’t think of itself a natural “part of the left” because getting sucked too far into the crude “left-right” way of thinking will neutralise any good that having a green party might do.
And what exactly might that “good” be? Next time.