Defending the Green Party from Richard Seymour’s Darth Vader shtick
by Ian Sinclair
29 December 2014
Since January 2014 The Green Party of England and Wales has more than doubled its membership to over 30,000 and is now regularly polling above the Liberal Democrats. The party received over one million votes in the 2014 European elections gaining three MEPs and beating the Liberal Democrats, and came third in the 2012 London mayoral elections behind the Tories and Labour.
For a party campaigning in a political landscape where political party membership is plummeting, with relatively little financial backing and media exposure, these are impressive results, I think many would agree. The kind of results that would suggest the overall Green Party strategy is working. The British writer Richard Seymour, who runs the Lenin’s Tomb blog, strongly disagrees. “The problem with the Green party is that it is too nice”, Seymour explained in a recent Guardian Comment is Free blog. “They don’t hate, and if left-wing politics in this country needs anything it is a dose of rigorous hatred.” Perhaps excited by the recently released trailer for the new Star Wars film, Seymour ends his blog paraphrasing Darth Vader: “If they genuinely want to get ahead, they need to discover their dark side.”
Initially, I thought Seymour’s piece wasn’t entirely serious. However, a quick look at his tweets in defence of the blog show he was, indeed, being serious. For example, he bafflingly explained to one challenger that “any real compassion and concern must logically entail a rigorous hatred.”
Before I get into the detail of Seymour’s blog I think it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves whether we want to encourage a politics based on “hate”? Call me naïve, but I presumed that all progressives, all Leftists, would think such a suggestion to be morally repugnant, practically dangerous and completely the opposite of what should be done.
To begin, it’s worth pointing out the inaccuracies in Seymour’s argument.
According to Seymour the Green Party is “not prepared to get their hands dirty, too committed to the niceties of parliamentary politics.” In reality Green representatives are often very active outside parliament. Caroline Lucas MP was arrested at a protest against fracking in August 2013. Jenny Jones, the Green Party peer in the House of Lords, was arrested at an Occupy protest in October 2014. This direct action follows a long tradition of Green politicians working both inside and outside of electoral politics to push for progressive change. For example, Derek Wall, a prominent member of the Green Party, is a strong supporter of direct action.
Seymour goes on to argue:
“It is excellent, but not enough, for the Greens to say they won’t scapegoat immigrants and other folk-devils. If immigrants aren’t to blame, then we need to know who is to blame. Left-populist movements in Europe that succeed tend to know who the enemy is, and name it. For Syriza it is the troika; for Podemos, it is la casta or the caste, their term for the parliamentary elites, businessmen, media elites and bankers who dominate Spanish society.”
Perhaps Seymour hasn’t been paying attention but recent media appearances suggest the Green Party is very clear about “who is to blame” for the crisis we find ourselves in:
- ‘Stop attacks on welfare benefits and tackle bankers’ bonuses’ – Headline, Green Party website, February 2010
- “This legacy was not a result of Government spending, it was the result of the banks very nearly crashing and going down and us having to rescue the banks. And that is why we have to look at dealing with the banks.” – Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, BBC Question Time, April 2013
- “We have a chronic housing shortage, we have an NHS under strain, we have a culture of low pay. But the fault of that lies with the government not with migrants.” – Caroline Lucas MP, BBC Question Time, May 2014
- “Well I think there’s an awful lot of disillusioned voters out there, whether they’re Lib Dems who thought they were voting for a freeze on tuition fees, or indeed Lib Dems who thought they were voting against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, to Labour people who just are really fed up with a Labour Party that isn’t prepared to stand up to the bankers, to stand up to the multinational companies.” – Natalie Bennett, Left Foot Forward, May 2014
- “He’s [George Osborne] made the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the errors and fraud of the bankers for which they bear no responsibility at all.” – Natalie Bennett, Huffington Post, 3 December 2014
Seymour also argues the Greens have achieved a rise in popularity “while maintaining some unfashionable stances”, citing – without any evidence – “local bigotry against Travellers” in Brighton and national public opinion on immigration. In reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere, many of the Green Party’s major policy positions have majority support among the general public. This is confirmed by the website Vote For Policies, which shows the Green Party’s policies are the most popular out of all the parties when people choose blindly without knowing the political party they are connected to. These hopeful results are supported by the recent YouGov/Times poll which found that 26% of voters would vote Green if they “had a chance of winning” – making the Green Party the third most popular party under these conditions.
What these two polls suggest is that two of the key problems the Green Party has are the media landscape and the electoral system we have in the UK – both of which Seymour fails to mention, let alone grapple with.
On the electoral system, it’s widely understood – and made plain by the YouGov/Times poll – that the UK’s first past the post general voting system tends to disadvantage smaller parties. In contrast, Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza have become popular in nations where general elections are held under forms of proportional representation. Turning to the media, The Guardian’s Zoe Williams has noted, the Green Party tend to receive very little media coverage – especially compared to UKIP. This defacto media blackout was recently taken to a mind-boggling extreme when the BBC Daily Politics programme showed viewers a poll that excluded the Green Party even though they polled more than the Liberal Democrats, who were included in the poll.
Finally, there is a third problem for the Greens that is rarely discussed – again not mentioned by Seymour: the Left itself seems to have a blind spot for the party, as I discussed here. For example, I am not aware of any mention of the Green Party in Seymour’s impressive new book Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made, even though they are the only party of the five largest nationwide parties who are opposed to austerity.
Of course, no one knows whether the Green surge will continue. And if it does no doubt a number of factors will have caused it. But what we can say is the evidence above suggests Greens would do well to take Seymour’s diagnosis, prognosis and prescription with a large dose of salt.