This weekend saw the announcement that Peter Pinkney, the President and highest ranking lay-member of the RMT, will stand for the Green Party in Redcar. This, as well as the broader rise of the Green Party, was described by Fraser Nelson of the Spectator as part of ‘the unravelling of the left’.
As if to underline his right-wing credentials, Nelson essentially attacks the very concept of trade unions, arguing that the RMT “specialised in holding Londoners to ransom with frequent tube strikes.”
Nelson continues by arguing that Ed Miliband is “not losing voters to the Greens for policy reasons…he’s also one of the worst leaders” that Labour has had.
Trust me – it is for policy reasons. It’s almost entirely because of policy that people like me have either been motivated to get directly involved in politics and join the Greens, or left Labour for the Greens.
Nelson is one of the non-zealots on the right, one of the major not-necessarily-Thatcherite-conservatives in modern British politics, along with David Davis, Zac Goldsmith, Peter Oborne and Ian Hislop. He’s someone I generally like, and think is worth engaging with. But he’s ridiculously wrong here.
One of the earliest parts of the ‘green surge’ came on the day after Ed Balls’ autumn conference speech – I saw several people cite the Shadow Chancellor’s announcement that he’d save money by capping child support, letting pensioners freeze and kicking puppies* as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Though I’d been voting Green whenever possible (which basically meant just in Europe) for me it was the spectre of policies such as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act and TTIP, and the non-opposition by the biggest parties that tipped me over into joining up.
Paul Bernal, one of the UK’s leading tech academics co-signed a letter opposing DRIP last year and later joined the Green Party, the largest party in England to oppose it. I think it’s plausible that disliking the policies and actions of the Labour Party, and later joining the Green Party, are linked.
Contrary to what Nelson argues, a fair amount of people within the Green Party seem to sort-of-like Miliband, or at least not actively dislike him. I think he’s vaguely got the right ideas – that sometimes the state is more efficient than the markets, for instance on railways, health, energy – but he generally only proposes pitiful half measures. The recent announcement that workers would be allowed to buy out their companies, but would apparently have to pay for it themselves, being one example.
The Green Party equivalent (WR610) in the huge policies document states that this kind of workers’ buy-out would be paid for by a nationally funded ‘Green Investment Bank’. This would involve the business in question needing to meet certain energy standards, but offers a far better deal than requiring that workers fund their own buyout. Whatever you think about the practicality of that, it’s at least a bold aim, and offers a significantly different vision to what the Tories are proposing, rather than just tinkering around the edges.
While Tristram “Labour is aggressively pro-business” Hunt infuriates many Green members and voters with his personal incompetence, this is generally not the case with Miliband.
Personally, I think Miliband will make a far better Prime Minister than Leader of the Opposition – he seems to be generally well-respected for the job he did as head of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so hopefully he’s a manager by instinct, rather than a substance-free performer, as Cameron and Osborne are.
Nelson’s final paragraph does make me feel a little uneasy – in light of the part crowdfunding has played in funding the current election challenges, Nelson raises the idea of rich Tories funding the Green Party in marginal seats. In fact, by imbedding a link in the article, he seems to be heavily hinting for his readers to do what he’s innocently speculating about. Accepting even the mildest of compliments from David Cameron makes me feel uneasy, so the thought of being a pawn in Tory plans doesn’t sit will with me on any level.
But, ultimately, Labour have got to convince voters that they are more good, it’s not the Greens’ duty to lie down and make the victory easy.
Regardless of what Fraser Nelson thinks, it’s all about the policy.
* one of these three was not in Ed Balls’ September speech. I forget which.