Monday, January 22, 2007

Independent thought

A little while ago over at Dave's Part Dave announced his return to the Labour Party fold and, along with a number of people on the left I shook my head. For shame. However, in keeping with my current perspective that there is no obvious place for a socialist to be I wished him luck in his venture and hoped his involvement in the John MacDonnell leadership bid would be productive.

As an independent minded lefty I was concerned that Party membership would mean curtailing his right to advocate voting to the left of Labour where he thought appropriate. I said "let's get this straight - you wont be able to advocate *not* voting for particular Labour candidates will you? If you were a member at the last election you could not say vote Reg Keys rather than Anthony Blair. You could not say vote against Oona King. You could even not say think about who to vote for on a case by case basis.

"You might not even be able to say "I'm glad Gordon Brown lost his seat" if that happened. Not just on this blog but in Red Pepper or anywhere else. That's quite a big deal isn't it?"

Quite correctly he replied "Jim - you are in the Greens. You therefore have to advocate a vote for GP candidates, even the tossers that want to ally with the Tories in Leeds?" This gave me pause for thought.

My considered reply went along the lines of "Well, I can and do say many times that the Leeds tossers are wrong and they are unrepresentative of the party as a whole. Unfortunately the tossers are in charge in Labour... But I guess the main thing is I'm a socialist who happens to be in the Green Party not the other way round so if it's a choice between my politics and my party I'll choose my politics everytime."

The thing is - where is it appropriate to draw the line? Surely every member of a party, who isn't a pre-programmed hack, must have this dilemma to some extent.
At the election, disregarding the street pounding and other direct work I'll be doing, I'll advocate that people use their vote to maximise the impact of the anti-capitalist left, which includes Green candidates.

In Scotland I'd have no qualms about saying vote Scottish Socialist Party. I think this is a make or break election for them and I believe that if they broke it would be a major set back for the left in England. In Wales there are interesting alternatives like Forward Wales, the Blaneau Gwent mob and even Plaid has solid left members. Socialists could legitimately vote for all of these with a clear conscience and most of whom will be standing against Green Party candidates. I wont be condemning them except where they appear to making a severe tactical error.

I would not want to be thrown out of the Greens for the hell of it - but at the same time I joined the party because of it's commitment to progressive politics and a decentralised pluralism. Ironically, the electoral system combined with the most effective electoral strategy, ie tight targeted campaigning, cuts against that pluralism. So being a Green in most areas actually means supporting one key candidate as a representative of the Party.

Now that could create problems, because although I believe there's a progressive consensus in the Greens that does not mean that there aren't members, or even branches, who are weak on privatisation, the war or a commitment to a democratic and pluralist way of working. As a party member I'm obliged not to undermine Green candidates even when it appears that perhaps another party's candidate seems more compatible with my world view.

Take Tower Hamlets. I'd have voted for George Galloway, no question. That doesn't mean I'm in his thrall or have a crush on him - but it was the most effective way of giving the New Labour project a bloody nose at the last election. But just saying that sentence... doesn't it mean I'm breaking the rules and could be expelled or at the very least disciplined?

I guess that worries me. I write in a number of places, including this blog. I assume I'll be doing my usual election coverage this May for Red Pepper for instance. I've always praised the Greens, of course, but have allowed myself to do this in a critical way, will I feel the hot and heavy breath of Green Party Central down my collar as I ponder a pro-ALMO Green candidate at the coming election? My first as paid up member.

As I say I'm certainly familiar with compromise, I've heard all about it from friends. I'm happy to keep in mind what party card I have in my pocket when it comes to minor matters... but I suppose there is a contradiction there that everyone who joins a party or organisation must feel - when does your commitment to the overall aims of your group start and your willingness to overlook specific transgressions end?


Jim Jay said...

I should do this as an addition but I'm too lazy:

Interesting parts of the Green Party Policy

"PB501 We do not believe that there is only one way to change society, or that we have all the answers. We seek to be part of a wider green movement that works for these principles through a variety of means." [1]

but alas I can't seem to find a members charter or whatever it might be called outlining the rules of membership. I'm sure it's there because I've crossed the line before...

What do members of other parties do?

Peter said...

As a member of a party, it is surely forbiddento advocate for people to vote against that party. I'm fairly sure the Green Party has expelled people for that before.

There are many things I don't like about the Green Party. There are whole sections of the manifesto I disagree with, and there are some members that I wouldn't want to see elected to any position of power. This is natural for all parties. - I'm sure even the leader of the Labour Party would say the same thing :)

It doesn't bother me particularly though, because I'm not on some quest for ideological purity - and I'm not going to become disgusted if the party diverges too much from my own beliefs. My test is - does the Green Party enable me to act politically in a fun and interesting way. At the moment the answer is yes.

Jim Jay said...

I'm sure that's right Peter.

My problem is that its perfectly possible to find being a member of the party enabling and for the party to gain the benefit of my membership AND for me to want to advocate voting for specific candidates in particular places who oppose a Green Party candidate.

The Party might expel me even though its that very commitment to pluralism that brought me in in the first place.

How can I write about Forward Wales candidates freely? Do I have to load my writing with caveats? Or simply acknowledge that being a free thinking political commentator and a member of a party are not compatible?

Anonymous said...

I don't claim to know much about Scottish Politics, but why would you advocate voting SSP rather than Green Party in Scotland? Seems strange to me. Both are able to win seats under the PR system (7 Green MSPS and 6 SSP MSPs currently). Who has been more effective over the past 4 years? Haven't the SSP spent half their time with internal wrangling and getting themselves suspended, while the Greens actually got on with the job in hand a bit more constructively over the past 4 years? I could be missing something here, but sounds to me like a vote for SSP is a sympathy vote for a party on its way down more than anything . . .

Jim Jay said...

Hi Sue,

I'm certainly not saying that voting Green is Scotland is a ad vote, but the SSP are an effective and down the line socialist organsation.

Their MSPs have been effective and, of course you're right the last couple of years has been bad for them internally but that is behind them now as they have had a clean split.

Also the SSP have a good orientation on community struggles and trade unions and whilst I've not agreed with everything they've said and done they have made a mark on Scottish politics which, I think, the Greens have been unable to replicate to the same level.

At the end of the day if I were living in Edinburgh, say, and there were issues of privatising council housing or a racist incident I know i could depend on the SSP, but I'd have to persuade and pull the Greens to get involved.

But perhaps I'm being unfair - I would like to hear more of the Scottish Greens achievements.

AN said...

Who has been more effective over the past 4 years?

Well the answer to that is overwhelmingly the SSP, if you follow the press at all.

The SSP has set the agenda over nutritious free school meals, Trident, camoaigning to defend asylum seekers, etc. It was also the first party to sign up to the Independence Convention, which had the SNP and Greens playing catch up.

the Scottish greens in contrast seem excessively parliamentarian and grey conformists.

(incidently, although the Greens got 7 MSPs they actualy got less votes than the SSP last time - a quirk of the electoral system,)

AN said...

The only time I have ever seen the Scoittish Greens in thr press, is whaen they voted to support suspension of the SSP MSPs following their direct action against Trident. (If I am factualy worng on this I apoloigise,, but this is what I read at the time)

This not only temporarily denied the SSP a voice in parliament, disenfrachising their voters, but alos increased the financial problems of the SSP, as their sallaries were suspended.

I would be ingtersted in hearing the justification for this vote by the Greens.

Generally, I am intersted in where the green party of England and wales stand in their international sister organisation. For example, in Berlin a vote for the Greens was clealy a vote for the neo-liberl right last year, whereas in Chile, USA, NZ and Oz the Greens seem to be clearly left parties.

Jim Jay said...

AN: i didn't know that about the vote - i must take a look at the figures

AN said...

Actually Jim I am wrong - I was confused by the fact the greens did not stand in the constituencies, only for the regional lists.

But there was only about 4000 votes between them over the whole country.

Peter said...

AN - the vote on suspending some SSP MSPs was NOT about trident. It was because the MSPs started protesting in the debating chamber about the G8.

Surely if you have been elected to a parliament, it is a bit demented to start protesting inside it. You can't have your cake and eat it. It made the SSP look very immature. They'd clearly broken the rules of the parliament, and so it was quite right for the Greens to support the motion to suspend them.

The Greens and the SSP are political rivals. Why should the Greens cry crocodile tears if the SSP makes a stupid political blunder that costs them politically and financially?

My view about Greens internationally is strength in diversity. It is up to each party to evolve tactics and approaches that are right for it. Some will fail and others will succeed - but this is a much sounder strategy than trying to impose international uniformity - or having acrimonious attempts to expel parties from the Green movement.

Derek Wall said...

Mark Ballard, MSP has an impressive ecosocialist pedigree and was even a member of the original Green Revolution in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

The SSP has been the one shining example of a non dogmatic democratic left party....I hope the Greens and the SSP can work together but I am obviously keen for scots to vote Green and re-elect Mark and co!

this is a good and interesting debate to have but I guess most greens would be unhappy having party members telling others to vote for non gp candidates in elections where there is a green party.

the leftist mebyon kernow the cornish party have an electoral agreement with the gpew.

In Swindon, a green stood in one constituency and a socialist unity candidate in another....I would tell people not to vote for Tommy Sheridan's solidarity even if the scottish GP didn't exist!

Jim Jay said...

peter - the protest was about the fact the scottish parliament had lied about policing of the G8 and as such it was directly significant to the scottish parliament

and the reverse sde of havng an nternational diversity is that someone left leaning wil support the greens in some places and their 'political rivals' elsewhere. As I do.

I've not had a green party tatoo or taken an oath of allegience to support whatever is done under a green party flag anywhere round the world.

Derek - there's a useful point there of course. being in favour of deals wth other left groupings is perfectly in order and where candidates are not opposed by a green candidate it s witin te rules to support them.

Anonymous said...

As a member of the Green Party in Tower Hamlets at the time. I can tell you that short of a BNP (or similar) candidate being on the list I would have voted Respect in last. Their aggressive campaigning and their actions against green activists in the area was awful, as were the attacks on members of other parties.

Fine, be upset that we stood, but be that threatening to our activists? I think not. The whole Galloway mob was despicable and I'm sad Oona King didn't get back in over Galloway. She was the least worse of the two options and I wouldn't be shedding a single tear if the Greens had stopped that man from getting in.