Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Green Left: A response to our critics

 It is alleged by some Green party members that Green Left operates as a party within a party in the GPEW, the implication being that we are a tightly organised group plotting to take over the party by underhand methods.

The truth of the matter, as anyone who subscribes to our discussion list, and is therefore regarded as a member, will testify, is that Green Left is made up of  Green Party members with a wide range of views who broadly subscribe to the view that in order to save the planet, (or more accurately humanity on it), we will need to build some kind of socialist society, both in Britain and across the world, and conversely that any movement for socialism must have ecological and environmental concerns at its very core. As Romayne Phoenix and Will Duckworth said when standing for Leader and Deputy Leader, the struggle for social justice and sustainable economics are two sides of the same coin”.

Green Left functions primarily as a discussion group, open to any Green Party member who states that they share its broadly eco socialist perspective and is willing to pay a small membership fee. The notion that Green Left is united or organised enough to function as a sinister party within a party would make its activists laugh.

To the extent that Green Left organises at all it is primarily in the build up to, and during the course of, the twice yearly Green Party conferences. Green Left members discuss suitable motions and amendments to motions, collaborate in writing them and encourage members to stand for election to positions on GPEX and the partys various committees. We also produce and distribute a conference publication (Watermelon) which is made up of articles written by members of Green Left, and which are an expression of their own views rather than any agreed position of the group. An exception is sometimes made, with an occasional article being published in the name of Green Left Committee, which can be regarded as representing the collective view of the group.

Specific criticisms have recently made about Green Left in relation to what has been stated as its hostile attitude to the Green leadership of Brighton & Hove Council. The following is an attempt to set the record straight.

The Green Party took over the administration of Brighton and Hove Council in May 2011. At Spring Conference a few months previously, and in hopeful anticipation of Greens coming to power in Brighton, a motion on the partys response to government imposed cuts on local government spending was discussed. The motion itself was a composite of two remarkably similar motions which had been submitted, one in the name of several members of Green Left and one in the name of Darren Johnson and others.

The essential difference between the two composited resolutions, and which formed the basis of a Green Left amendment, concerned the question of whether Green Councillors should be willing to vote for cuts in order to ensure that a balanced budget could be set. The amendment argued that they shouldnt, the opponents of the amendment, (almost all of whom who spoke in the debate were elected councillors), argued that they would have to if Greens became responsible for setting a budget.

The debate was fierce, even aggressive, (although none of the aggression came from the supporters of the amendment), and the amendment was narrowly defeated on a card vote. Brighton Greens took office shortly afterwards in the knowledge that Green Party Conference had supported the view that they would have to make cuts if absolutely necessary.

In the following months Green Left members discussed the implications of the conference vote and expressed concern about what was likely to happen when Brighton Greens set their first budget the following spring.

Autumn Conference at Sheffield, dominated by the divisive issue of the redundancy of the partys Head of Media, featured no discussion of Brightons forthcoming budget, although by then the council was already starting, (correctly), to discuss budget priorities with local residents and stakeholders. Conference did however find time, (at the top of the agenda!), to unanimously commit the party to support the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign and, (nearly unanimously); to join the Coalition of Resistance, an initiative supported by various groups and individuals on the left and by various trade unions including the largest, which aimed to unite all those who wanted to fight austerity, including local government cuts.  The then Party leader, Caroline Lucas, had spoken at its founding conference and Romayne Phoenix was elected, and remains, its chair. Whatever future disagreements were to be had about Brighton could not detract from the fact that the party had strongly committed itself to the fight against austerity and the promotion of a green jobs alternative.

In early 2012, with Green Left members expressing concern in internal party discussions about the forthcoming B & H budget, and publishing a single measured statement in the public domain questioning the wisdom of Brighton Green Council embarking on a strategy based on cuts.(Why not take advantage of our electoral success and use this opportunity to build support for an alternative economic plan , and an ecologically and socially just future ?”, we asked ) members of the group were invited by Red Pepper magazine to participate in a round table discussion with leading members of Brighton and Hoves Green Party administration.

 The discussion was comradely and based, on Green Lefts part at least, on mutual respect. Green Left participants in the discussion, ( Romayne Phoenix,  Pete Murry and Peter Allen) recognised and acknowledged, the enormously difficult situation that B & H council found itself in and hoped at least that the administration would share its dilemma with the wider party and draw some red lines limiting the extent of cuts that it would be prepared to administer. We argued that cutting services and jobs would seriously threaten the reputation of the Green Party as a principled anti cuts party. 

We followed up our trip to Brighton to meet with councillors by holding a Green Left meeting in the city, to which all Green Party members were invited and to which a good number came. As we expected there was a range of views expressed by local members, some broadly supportive of Green Lefts position of opposition to jobs and service cuts, others much more supportive of the Green Councils proposed budget. There was general agreement that both local and national party members should have an input into Brightons budget strategy based on a recognition that what was happening in Brighton and Hove was crucial to the future of the Green Party across England and Wales.

Spring Conference 2012 in Liverpool coincided with budget setting week in Brighton and Hove. Green Left members, noting that cuts of around £17 million had been included in the budget which had been passed a few days previously, and that an attempt by the Green Council to reduce the extent of cuts in the forthcoming and future years by a modest increase in Council Tax had been defeated by an unprincipled alliance of Labour and Tory councillors, attempted to submit an emergency resolution calling in Brighton Green Council to reconsider. The motion was ruled out of order by a vote on the floor of conference which supported the view that Brighton and Hoves Green Councils budget was entirely a matter for Brighton and Hove and that the rest of the party had no business even discussing it.

The above was the last straw for several leading members of Green Left who immediately left both the party and the group. The majority of us chose to remain in the party, continuing to believe that it offers the best forum for us to argue openly for the eco socialist views that we hold, and that its democratic processes offer us the continued opportunity to seek to persuade others in the party of the wisdom of our views.

Regarding Brighton Council Green Left members added their voices to many in the local party who were critical of the council leadership during the recent City clean dispute. We also fear for the ongoing reputation of the party if that council leadership produces a budget for 2014/15 with cuts of over £20million, as Jason Kitcat has said will be necessary to balance the books.

We remain committed members of the Green Party even when our efforts at conference fail to persuade a majority. We are also acutely aware that those attending conference are a small self selected minority of party members and that we must also engage with the wider membership and potential membership. 

To that end we run an interesting website
 and  blog
and have a large Facebook group (Green Left, membership over 1,000) Green Left Facebook, which is open to members and non members alike.    

Please check us out.



David Flint said...

I think what concerns some of us is the intemperate language used in some Watermelon articles and, worse, in recent public attacks on Jenny Jones.

These may not come from Green Left as such but that's not always clear to non-members. This blogpost adds clarity and I think that's helpful.

I do like your Code of conduct for Green Left email lists. I think we should all follow this in all party discussion. Sometimes we need to ask our allies to remember the need for courtesy and the fact that its possible to learn from people we disagree with.

George Barnett said...

What constitutes a ‘party within a party’?
It might be a well organised body with a large steering committee, manifesto, conferences/AGM, disciplinary regime, a flag, subscription based membership, publications, websites, policy development, speakers and officers. It might gradually envelop the main party by promoting selected members to key positions on governing bodies.
It would circumvent the party’s press office by issuing its own press releases, often critical of the main party’s policy and leadership and undermine the Party through publicly concerted smears, attacks, insults and calls for resignation against the party’s leadership, officers and councillors. It might support candidates from other parties in favour of Greens (we suspended Jonathon Porritt for doing that once!) and intimidate opposition to its ultimate goal to transform the Party into a different entity altogether.

Oh my God, I’ve just described Green Left haven’t I? If that’s not a ‘party within a party’ what is?

When Green Left formed in 2006 it proclaimed:
“Green Left has been launched as a network for socialists and other radicals in the Green Party. It will act as an outreach body that will communicate the party’s radical policies to socialists and other anti-capitalists outside the party.”

Well and good. There has always been a Green Left in the Green Party playing an invaluable role developing and promoting the Party’s social justice dimension and establishing footholds in left wing areas of the country. Without the efforts of Green Left members and supporters the election of Caroline Lucas and a Green council in Brighton would have been impossible. But it would have been equally impossible without the support of the national Party, including members from all over the country donating their time on Brighton doorsteps and providing additional financial support.

A small but very determined group of hard left extremists have joined the Party and slowly transformed Green Left into its current state. Many things listed above may be acceptable for an group within the Party, some are clearly not. These include: smearing, intimidating and publicly attacking the Party, its members and leadership; supporting candidates from other parties over Greens; running an independent media operation contrary to that of the main and attempting to transform the Party using undemocratic and aggressive techniques.
This is not why Green Left was founded, nor what its members signed up for. They are not disloyal to the Party, nor stupid, and a growing disquiet amongst their ranks suggests they won’t put up with all this for much longer.
You said “We remain committed members of the Green Party...” A demonstration of this might be to root out and deal with the comrades currently waging a war against Jenny Jones. Jenny was democratically chosen by the Party to represent us in the House of Lords. Much as we detest that institution, her presence within offers huge potential for advancing our cause, just like the Green presence on councils and Caroline in the Commons. Apart from directing a stream of abuse and unwarranted criticism at Jenny over social media platforms and at meetings, her detractors have been directly contacting journalists feeding them with the lie that a large section of the Party oppose her appointment and are demanding her resignation. This has already resulted in damaging stories appearing in The Guardian and The Times about a divided part. Even if these people are not of Green Left, you are certainly in the best position to discover their identities. The same is true of the poisonous ‘Twitterers’ of GreenLeaks.

The Green Party flourishes best when it is united. Above everything else I would urge you to turn Green Left back into a positive force. One that is pro-actively engaging in a friendly and cooperative way with the rest of the Party. The Party needs Green Left, as much as Green Left needs the Party, but neither can prosper when constantly in conflict with each other.
Greens of the world unite!