Irish politics seems miles apart from English politics…for one us paddies seem to swear more but it is still possible for us to learn a lot from the Irish Greens experience and hopefully prevent a re-run. This March 11th will see Ireland elect a new government but there is a possibility of the election being called even before that. The election will be the final nail in the coffin of both the Irish Green and Fianna Fail parties.
The Irish Greens experience of being a minor player in a coalition government with a Goliath right wing party(sound familiar my Liberal friends?) is not likely to be repeated here by GPEW(Green Party of England and Wales) but just encase it’s important that we learn from their mistakes. What is striking is the complete unmasking of the mantra ‘we are not left nor right we’re Green’. This mantra left the Irish Greens very open to going into a coalition with a party that didn’t share it’s own core values, couple that with the voting power imbalance and the demise of the Irish Greens with hindsight seems inevitable. I would feel more cautious about criticising the Irish Greens if most of the membership hadn’t already left in disgust at the perceived ‘selling-out’ of their party leadership. The Greens in government sided with the establishment on issues such as the banking bailout, Tara and Shell to Sea and they also made very little headway with getting policies implemented this in turn alienated it’s core vote with the polls predicting a kicking for them in the next election.
Hugo Blanco was one of the key figures in the peasant uprisings in Peru during the sixties, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death but later thanks to a very high-profile international campaign was released to Sweden. The international solidarity campaign included Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Bertrand Russell….a bit before my time but very impressive all the same. After years in exile he returned to Peru, founded the Workers Revolutionary Party(over there they seem a lot saner than the very odd WRP UK factions) and he became a Peruvian senator.
More recently he was involved with a massive and successful direct action campaign with indigenous groups, helping them preserve the rain forests from huge transnational logging companies. Hugo Blanco is currently Director of a Cusco-based newspaper called Lucha Indígena. In October we are lucky enough to have him visit Manchester and he will be speaking at MMU as part of a Green Left/Socialist Resistance tour of the UK. I am really looking forward to meeting the man I have heard being referred to as the Peruvian Ecosocialist Che Guevara!
Morning Star article on Hugo Blanco
After what happened with NO2EU and Peter Cranie during the Euro election, the question of “left unity” has become ever more important. A group calling itself the Manchester Alternative is meeting today, with the strap line, “Come to plan a left alternative at the next local and national elections”.
In the upcoming election I believe that people are desperate for an alternative to the status quo. We can plainly see that the ‘credit crunch’, the recession, rising unemployment and climate change are the direct result of government which prioritises profit over people. People are acutely aware that the big brand parties are more likely to cut funding to education than rein in the corrupt bankers’ bonuses. It is for these reasons that I am standing in the general election for the Green Party in Manchester Central and in the locals for Hulme; and this is why I will do what I can to support a real alternative that truly brings together groups on the left. We have already worked with some of the people involved in the Manchester Alternative on different campaigns; Their intentions are honourable and I wish them well, but it would be disingenuous of me to ignore my concerns.
To begin with, it is unlikely that they will get the success they want in such a small timescale. The local elections are just five months away and the general election could happen as early as March and it must happen by mid-June. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system we have means that small parties generally have little or no chance of breaking through. Nevertheless, after thirty years of hard work it looks as if the Greens will finally get our first MP in 2010 (Caroline Lucas in the Brighton constituency). Any group expecting to make substantial gains cannot just spring up three months before an election.
The Manchester Alternative can offer people a left option or an anti-establishment vote – if it manages to generate a high profile – and I can see the sense in this if it helps move people out of apathy. But they wont get a seat in either election. In Manchester there are only two non-mainstream groups that are likely to take seats in the local election and they are the Greens and Respect. These are two established left-wing groups whose policies are at least 80% similar to the Manchester Alternative platform; to undermine the chances of the Greens and Respect can only lead to a continuation of the status quo. If the Manchester Alternative really wants to do what it says on the tin then it should put its principles first, ahead of branding and ego, and try not to undermine these groups.
So far the Manchester Alternative have made very little effort to speak with the left groups already campaigning in Manchester. But maybe – hopefully – this is planned for the future? The Convention of the Left, which acts a forum for local left groups to campaign together, seems like the perfect forum for these conversations.
Finally, every time a group claiming to be a ‘left alternative’ group does badly it reflects on all of us, and continues the process of undermining of the left that the centre and right wing groups relish so much. We have a chance to really challenge Labour in this election; people are angry and fed up with Labour keeping the seat warm for the Tories. We can push an alternative agenda, but only if we tackle the perceptions that have held us back and offer people a credible and consistent option.
For the local and general elections we need to have a common strategy with a long-term view. There is the possibility of a hung parliament, and this should be one of the best hopes we have for electoral reform and releasing ourselves from the choking hold of FPTP, and the best chance of getting left groups a voice in future elections. The upcoming elections could help the Left re-establish itself as a credible alternative to the big brands. But those conversations have a sell-by date and require real insight and consistency, not just tribal identity politics.