The Greens don't seem to know how to handle Jeremy Corbyn - but abuse isn't the right way forward.
Thursday night, as I glanced at my phone from what I like to call my bed office, I was greeted by a message from Lesley Grahame, a local councillor and the Green Party’s candidate for Norwich South in the 2015 general election. The subject line of her email, sent just after midnight to all 900 members of the Norwich Green Party, contained the words “Progressive Politics”.
In this ambiguously-titled email of 478 words, Grahame claimed that she was going to set out the reasons why any Green Party member considering a move to Corbyn’s Labour should stay put. The sentiment itself is fair enough, but I was shocked by what I read next – and not just because a woman I elected to represent me failed to spell the words “break” and “qualifying” correctly in a message to hundreds of party members.
“Even if Corbyn can help break the consensus over austerity,” she begins haphazardly. This casual “even if” seems to suggest that “breaking the consensus over austerity” is an unattainable goal in Grahame’s view, despite both she and her party campaigning on an anti-austerity platform in this year’s general election. While I understand she might be bitter about losing out to Corbyn-loving Clive Lewis in the race to be MP in my constituency, the way she phrases her concern about Corbyn reflects badly on her and the Greens much more than it does on Labour.
She goes on to say that Corbyn is “both unable and unwilling to promote true ecological sustainability”. Yet when Corbyn published his green manifesto in August, he talked about Britain playing a leading role in tackling global warming, creating a fundamental shift in energy policy (including a ban on fracking and nuclear power, and getting all of the UK’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2030) and introducing a National Investment Bank to boost the green economy and help create a million skilled jobs. These policy suggestions closely resemble those of the Green Party itself.
In a section that slams Corbyn over his support of a second runway at Gatwick and his dedication to trade unions, Grahame says: “Leave aside the problems with his own MPs...If you try to end austerity but still put economic growth above environmental protection, then you are doing nothing to safeguard the planet, or even to promote equality: you are making the problem worse.” She offers no further explanation than that. To say that she is strawmanning Corbyn’s ideas and approach is an understatement. Why am I being told what Corbyn’s wrong about instead of what the Green Party wants to represent in the shrinking political space it occupies? Grahame’s arguments against Corbyn’s are, quite simply, without foundation.
And then comes my personal favourite of Grahame’s thought-provoking revelations: “We will not be able to share the cake more equally until we stop trying to grow the cake. Jeremy Corbyn himself does not appear to realise this.” If Lesley Grahame spends her time trying to prevent the growth of cakes, I’m rather glad she never made it to Westminster. There’s nothing meaningful or insightful in this statement; if anything, it suggests that Grahame doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.
And her accusations don’t stop there: “[Corbyn] believes in the Labour system of controlling branches from the top-down and...he will not ‘stick his neck out’ on local issues.” If this vague statement were true, he made a bloody good job of hiding his true intentions during the leadership campaign. Clearly he was up to no good with all that talk about participation, democracy and grassroots movements; a dishonest ruse to deliberately mislead the electorate. But what would be the point in that exactly? I haven’t seen or read anything to suggest that Corbyn wouldn’t fight on local and national issues with equal weight.
To her credit, though, Grahame’s need to send this desperate email to members shows the Green Party’s recognition that voters in today’s political climate are prepared to jump ship when it suits them. This reality well-demonstrates the growing irrelevance of our party-oriented political system – and if the Greens campaigned on and highlighted that issue, I may still have the motivation to support them.
But there’s little ground left for the Greens now, and this point is aptly demonstrated by Grahame’s misguided mass communication. “So if you are thinking of leaving the Green Party, I would suggest you wait a while to see how things pan out before deciding,” her email concludes. Well, thanks for the suggestion, Les. I was prepared to stick around a while, give it one last chance, before reading your email. But now I’m convinced: if the Green Party can offer only venom in our new political landscape, I’m out.
With the election of a Labour leader who encompasses some of the Green movement’s strongest positions, the Green Party is right back to where it started: emphasising the environment over all else and unable to articulate its most interesting policies (like a universal citizen’s income and stronger localised power structures). But if even the left-leaning Greens are coming out as anti-Corbyn, it’s going to be even more of an uphill struggle for Labour than I’d imagined.