There has been much talk on the left about creating a ‘UKIP of the left’. They have watched as UKIP went from nothing to setting the political agenda, making history and winning representation across the board. The left want to do the same thing with Left Unity recently being established explicitly as an attempt to create a UKIP of the Left. However, the contender for this mantle that is mentioned most often mentioned is the Green Party. Whilst it is popular for the left to believe this, it is in fact not true for several reasons. Firstly, the Greens rise is modest, secondly they will be torn by factionalism, thirdly their punch is limited outside of London and fourthly, they have too much left-of-Labour competition.
The Greens boasted they would win 6 MEPs at the 2014 European Elections and could have done so with just a 1.6% swing. They actually won just half this number, and 2 of those 3 owe their success to UKIP. In London and the South West, the UKIP splitter party ‘An Independence From Europe’ poached enough votes from UKIP to hand the final seats in those regions to the Greens. So put bluntly, 2 of the 3 Green MEPs are only there because of UKIP splitters. Had the splitter party not been there, the Greens would have kept their MEP in the South East, but lost their seat in London and not added a seat in South West. One wonders how the Greens would have tried to motivate their base if they had actually lost representation. Hard to cast yourself as a dynamic insurgent party that had actually lost representation. This modest increase has given the Greens and the left hope that is not founded in fact.
Secondly, the Greens will be haunted by the original sin of the left; factionalism. Every time a left-of-Labour party pops up, it immediately becomes to hard-leftists what soft drinks are to wasps on a summer’s day. The British hard left, the SWP and so on, yearn for an electoral vehicle to put their programme in to place. It’s one thing to address half-empty university debate societies about dialectical materialism, and it’s another to have a political vehicle to translate theory in to action. In the past, the hard left had briefly backed Respect. When Respect broke through winning the MP seat for Bethnal Green in 2005, it was treated with the same jubilation on the hard left as the Green breakthrough in Brighton in 2010.The hard-left retreated from Respect as it became clear it was too skewed towards Muslim grievance, and looked for a new home. With the Greens, the hard left sense their time has come.
The Greens are like any left movement. In any left movement, there are two kinds of people. Firstly are misguided and naive, but generally decent people. They are sensitive souls, drawn by the alleged compassion of the left. If you imagine your average cardigan wearing vicar, you get the picture. The second type of person within a leftist movement is the hard-leftist. They are utterly ruthless, nihilistic and ambitious, for whom the ends always justify the means. There is already evidence that these factions are emerging within the Green Party as hard leftists flood in to make the Greens their electoral vehicle.
In the past, the Greens were known for their polite and dignified campaigning, as any UKIP campaigner or candidate who has met them prior to very recently will confirm. Warm handshakes at hustings, and passionate but polite issues-based debate marked their behaviour. Recently, they have resorted to storming opponent’s meetings, scuffling with the police and spitting wild insults about ‘racists’ and ‘fascists’ at opponents. These are clearly recognisable signature tactics of the hard left. This will eventually demoralise the Green’s ‘soft’ liberal supporters and members, and the Greens could then follow Respect down the road of politico-cultural irrelevance. It will also limit their votes amongst people who don’t like voting for people who yell outside opponent’s meetings or call them names. Respect could always fall back on the Muslim community votes, which are very substantial in places like Bradford, but the Greens have a more limited hinterland of voters. This brings me to my third point, which is where do you actually get Green voters?
The third reason the Greens will not be a UKIP of the left is their punch is limited outside of London and its commuter towns. The Greens are significant threat to Labour in London, Brighton and London’s commuter towns. This is where there are unusually high concentrations of political liberals who will be drawn ideologically drawn to the Greens left-of-Labour message. You genuinely do get significant numbers of Notting Hill-esque leftists in these places, so the Greens can vacuum up votes. But, unfortunately for them, you don’t get this concentration in many places outside of London and London commuter towns. This means the Greens will always struggle to punch through in other parts of the country. UKIP are the opposite, in that whilst they struggle in London, they hit hard everywhere else. Even UKIP’s alleged poor performance in London is actually much better than commentators would have you believe, as I have written about in the past.
In short, the Greens have made something of a dent politically. However, their rise is not like UKIP in terms of numbers of driving political debate. Everyone is trying to out-UKIP UKIP. Cameron talks of referendums, Miliband talks of immigration controls. None of them are trying to out-green the Greens. Furthermore, the Greens are competing with a wide range of left-of-Labour competitors such as TUSC and Left Unity for the same voters, as well as left-leaning Plaid Cymru and the SNP in Celtic nations. By contrast, UKIP does not have any realistic competitor for votes for our kind of leave-the-EU-stop-mass-immigration politics. The internal factions within the Greens could wear down morale long term. Whilst at a basic level I welcome challengers to the Lib-Lab-Con, the Greens are not a UKIP of the left.