Politics

What does Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader mean for Greens, in Britain and across the EU?

Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn… What a superb achievement. What a tonic, to have a Labour Party Leader who actually believes in the Left and in the Labour Party. After the long era of ‘new Labour’, what a turn-up for the books!

Some might think that it is worrisome for the Green Party to be facing a Labour Party led by an anti-austerity, anti-nuke socialist. Has Corbyn stolen our clothes, stolen our thunder? Will the ‘Corbyn surge’ eclipse the #GreenSurge?

Hardly. Rather, it adds to our credibility and believability, that Labour will now be led by someone who backs some of our causes…

But only, of course, some. I’ve already signalled the big clue about how the Green Party is going to thrive in the era of Corbyn. By being Green, as opposed to trying to be Labour. . .

In recent years, Greens in many parts of Europe, and especially in Britain, have become interested in being identified as being Left, as social democratic parties etc have vacated that space on that political spectrum, and as the cruel cuts of austerity have risen in importance up the political agenda. In Britain, many ‘Left’ voters were tempted by the Green Party at this year’s General Election, feeling that Labour had given up on them. But the Left-Right spectrum has never been the only political spectrum, nor even the most important one, for Greens: that is, for we who have a clear view of the ever-rising importance of issues of our dangerous impacts on our collective life-support system. The ecology spectrum, the grey vs green spectrum, is crucial. On this spectrum, unreconstructed socialist industrial productivism is no better than plain right-wing neoliberalism.

Green/Ecology and where you stand on the central issue of how to facilitate a flourishing civilisation that exists safely within planetary boundaries has to be the main point of definition for us. There can be many shades of green of – red-greens, blue-greens, pale-greens etc – but if you accept the defining centrality of ecology – the maintenance of the web of life itself – then ‘Green’ will always be the defining noun and the others the prefixes or the adjectives. For this reason eco-socialism, Green Left, and so forth always run the risk of not being seriously Green enough. They don’t appear, from the name, to accept how much more important ecology – life itself – is than the other principles we seek to bring about, yes, even than social justice. Green for them is an adjective, a shade of Left.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course, most Greens nowadays would say – and I would certainly be the first to say so – that social justice and ecology go hand in hand. Most crucially, because ‘growth’ is an excuse for not redistributing, and so because, once one accepts the non-negotiable nature of limits to growth (You can’t argue with the atmosphere!), and so accepts that the ‘pie’ can’t keep growing, then one must accept that a fairer deal for the poorest simply has to involve a more equal society. But it must also be noted that ecology is foundational for the possibility of social justice, and indeed of anything else. Without a viable life-support system, one doesn’t have justice or injustice: one simply has death.

Another way of putting this is in terms of Polanyi’s ‘fictitious commodities’: money, labour, and land. Production is not possible without Land – a piece of ground, even a upstairs floor in a high rise block of flats. Without access to Land, Capital and Labour don’t work. The pretence that Land is a commodity (that land is just Capital) is one of the key drivers of ecological collapse. Land/Ecology is the source of life and needs to be seen as separate to – complementary to – Capital and Labour. In reality we are not dealing with a two-dimensional Capital-Labour, Right-Left spectrum, but with at least a three dimensional one that has Land going through the middle of it. Greens take land seriously, in just this sense (e.g. through our commitment to Land Value Taxation and Land Reform); Labour does not. The clue is in the name…

The best way, in this sense, of understanding party positioning is to plot a vertical green-grey line/spectrum down the centre of the page and to then intersect it with a horizontal left-right line. Political parties can then be positioned according to their greenness as well as their left-right-ness…

And the point here is this: Corbyn has won because he is Left. But, while he makes some good noises from time to time about being green, he doesn’t show any consistency in being green. Such consistency, such seriousness, is vital, from a Green perspective; from the perspective, that is, of those of us humans who are truly bothered about the inheritance we are leaving our children.

Thus, to take a couple of totemic examples: Corbyn wants to re-start coal-mining in South Wales; and he want to expand London’s airport capacity. These are the antipathy of being green: they are outdated grey politics.

It isn’t really so surprising in particular that Corbyn’s is backing growth in air travel, when one recollects that Corbyn is strongly backed by Britain’s biggest trades unions, including UNITE, which strongly favours expansion of runway-provision in the London area. I’m a trades-unionist myself, and trades unions are of course as vital as ever, in terms of being protections for workers; but some of them are still yet to wake up to the ecological crisis. Their power in relation to the Corbyn wing of Labour is thus not without a worrisome dimension.

The bottom line is that Corbyn’s unquestioning commitment to growth as his primary economic objective systematically undermines his would-be green credentials.

And this is why the election of Corbyn, while giving hope for the revival of Left politics in Britain, which is a really good thing, doesn’t much worry me, from a partisan Green point of view. There is every reason to hope for co-operation between the Labour of Jeremy Corbyn et al and the Greens of Caroline Lucas et al; but what I have argued here is that there is no good reason to think that Corbyn as Labour Leader eclipses the case for the Greens, which remains as compelling as ever.

A final thought. What does Corbyn’s election mean for Europe? One thing that’s for sure is that Corbyn is going to be tougher on a pro-corporate Europe than his rivals would have been. Corbyn is dismayed, and rightly so, at the attempts by a number of European leaders (not just Britain’s David Cameron) to undermine ‘social Europe’. Corbyn will thus not automatically line up to vote ‘Yes’ in the EU referendum. And this gives some of Britain’s Greens pause for thought. Are we really going to let a Corbyn-led Labour do a better job of criticising what has gone wrong with the EU — look at TTIP, look at the dominance of business-lobbyists — than we do?

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