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. 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 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?
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?
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.