Continuing our series on Britain’s parties of power. Today we have a light vegetarian starter (the Green Party) followed by a stodgy main course (the Labour Party):
3. The Green Party
The Green Party is the perennial under-achiever of British politics. In most European nations (including Scotland and Wales), the main social democratic party faces a significant challenge from the left. But, in England, the Labour Party has nothing to worry about.
On paper (recycled, of course), the Greens present the most serious threat to Labour’s left flank. But outside of Brighton’s political micro-climate, they’re nowhere in sight. No doubt they’d blame this on Westminster’s lack of proportional representation, but that hasn’t stopped UKIP from upsetting the applecart. If England can have four-party politics, then why not make it five?
For a while it looked as if the Greens were on their way. In 2008, they abandoned their eccentric system of collective leadership and duly elected Caroline Lucas as their first proper leader. In 2010, Lucas also became Britain’s first Green MP. Then, in 2011, the Greens took minority control of Brighton and Hove City Council – their first local authority.
However, it was this taste of real political power thus resulted in the party making an astonishing botanical discovery – which is that money does not, in fact, grow on trees. Faced with financial responsibilities of running a council, a damaging civil war broke-out between the realists and fundamentalists of the Green Party heartland. Lucas will now do well to retain her seat in 2015 – and has stepped down as party leader in order to concentrate on the fight.
All-in-all, it’s a pretty poor show. With Labour discredited by thirteen years of government and the Lib Dems in bed with the wicked Tories, the Greens have blown their big chance to become the leftwing party of protest.
Now, their best hope of a second chance lies deep underground in the shale formations of southern England. As Mark Wallace argued yesterday, fracking could have big environmental benefits. But it also has the potential to ignite an almighty eruption of nimbyism from one side of the country to the other. If the government and the shale gas industry gets the regulation and public relations wrong, then the Greens – as the only significant party opposed to fracking – is well positioned to benefit (no pun intended).
Past glories: 1/5
Current position: 2/5
Post 2015: 1/5
Long-term prospects: 2/5
4. The Labour Party
It is said that in a first-past-the-post electoral system every (major) party is its own coalition. The 21st century Labour Party is proof that this no longer applies.
Over the past four decades or so, Labour has suffered a remarkable decline in its political biodiversity. One party faction after another has gone extinct, with only one still left extant.
The first to go was the old Labour right – whose big beasts went off to form the SDP, leaving a remnant population to gradually die out. Labour’s great schism also precipitated the demise of the old Labour left. Dennis Healey just about defeated a deputy leadership challenge from Tony Benn in 1981, but from then on it was all down-hill for bad old-fashioned socialism.
With both the right wing and the left wing gone, the bit in the middle eventually took flight as New Labour. This might have evolved into a diverse party of the modern centre-left, but the vicious power struggle between the Brownites and the Blairites put paid to that. Not even the departure of first Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown was enough to bring about a reconciliation. The purges went on, dividing brother from brother – until all that remained was a single, homogenised mass of politically correct, neo-Keynesian, statist-but-not-truly-socialist, soft-left Labour pap.
Ed Miliband is wise enough to allow a little flavouring in this otherwise flavourless mush – a sprinkling of red pepper from the likes of Owen Jones, a bit of crunch from Jon Cruddas and the Blue Labour movement. But these are mere garnishes, the substance is all Brown.
So after decades of in-fighting, Labour has finally achieved unity through uniformity – which, for want of any higher recommendation, is why they’re still set to win the next election and stay a vital force in British politics for decades to come.
Depressing, isn’t it?
But cheer-up – a lack of variety may yet be the party’s downfall!
Like the Chinese Communist Party, Labour is now notorious for its ‘red princes’ – i.e. the hotshot young pols who just happen to be related to the current generation of party bigwigs. Labour’s enemies – and its more discerning friends – may cry foul, but what the red princes symbolise isn’t so much nepotism as in-breeding (of the intellectual kind).
The years ahead promise policy challenges on a scale we haven’t seen in a long time. Without the capacity to change and innovate, Labour could find itself sharing the fate of its European sister parties – it’s electoral base nibbled to death by new populist parties of right and left.
Past glories: 5/5
Current position: 4/5
Post 2015: 5/5
Long-term prospects: 3/5