Caroline Penn writes:
Following her arrest at the anti-fracking protest in Balcombe, Caroline Lucas won praise for her principled stand. Labour members have even gone as far as suggesting there should be a place for Caroline Lucas in any future Labour Coalition.
Caroline Lucas has managed to achieve a status few MPs can claim; she is a popular politician. Her deft selection of high profile campaigns has meant as single MP, representing a party with only 11,000 members, she has punched well above her weight.
However, for many Labour activists who have campaigned against the Greens, the prospect of any alliance is an unwelcome one. A coalition would require three things: mutual trust, party discipline and shared values.
The Green Party have never shied away from targeting Labour seats. Indeed, Caroline Lucas, an MEP from Oxford, won her seat in Brighton Pavilion from Labour. Capitalising on Lucas’s popularity, the Green Party took control of Brighton & Hove City Council the following year.
Their victory was again secured by a ruthless campaign against Labour, a campaign that continues today. Despite having two Tory MPs in the city, Labour remains the target of their enmity.
In the 2011 local elections, the Green Party in Brighton offered a positive manifesto, a seemly attractive alternative to austerity. Their core message was a promise to “resist all cuts” and a commitment to “to do politics differently”.
This has been the first time Green polices faced scrutiny and they have failed to deliver.Like the Lib Dems, they have found it impossible to translate opposition politics to being in power. Worse, their hostility towards Labour has meant cooperation and consensus building has been near impossible.
Recycling rates in the city have fallen and bus routes have been cut. An inability to engage with communities has meant policies such as the introduction of 20mph zones have met with resistance. The council appears incapable of meeting the challenges the city faces: inequality, child poverty and an acute housing shortage.
When door knocking, it’s hard to avoid the animosity towards the Greens in traditional Labour areas. While claiming to stand for social justice, the very people the Greens aspire to represent feel alienated, ignored and even patronised by the pursuit of a very narrow, middle class agenda.
Dominated by white middle class university graduates and former public school pupils, the party looks as unrepresentative to ordinary people.
The Green’s failure to deliver can be attributed in part to their reluctance to operate on traditional party lines. With no whip or structure, the local party is divided by infighting and disagreements. This culminated in an attempted coup against the council leader. One Green blogger described the councillors as pursuing a “Thatcherite individualism”. There has been no attempt to address the fundamental issue of indiscipline.
Caroline Lucas admirably attacked sexism in Parliament. Yet when a female Labour candidate for a recent by-election was subjected to what Lucas herself described as “misogynistic blogging” by a Green Party member, he faced no sanction.
Rather than leading a bold new political movement, Caroline Lucas is a lone voice in the Green Party. In response to the unpopularity of the Green council, she has increasingly attempted to distance herself from them.
Nowhere was that more apparent than during the City Clean dispute. Following a Green/Tory vote, council bin men were faced with up to a £4,000 pay cut. Lucas found herself on the GMB picket, protesting against her own council.
While members and half the Green councillors joined her, the rest of their councillors supported the council line and even took to attacking the union’s position.
But Brighton isn’t an isolated case. An unwillingness to respond to the City Clean strike highlighted the lack of leadership from Natalie Bennett and the Green Party Executive.
Each local Green Party operates in a near autonomous state. Green councillors take contradictory positions on everything from housing and budget cuts to last year’s PCC elections.
Tensions in Brighton are mirrored in the wider party where factions, some very critical of the Brighton Greens, battle for the heart of the party. In reality, Caroline Lucas is not an MP of a national party, but a loose collective of local pressure groups and competing interests.
After 2015, Labour will face huge challenges. Issues that will decide the next election: the cost of living, rising housing prices, the future of the NHS, fuel poverty and the environment.
Providing an effective opposition isn’t enough. We need to be able to deliver and to do that, Brighton Pavilion needs a Labour MP – an MP that can influence Labour policy and debate, an MP that reflects Labour values and an MP that provides a voice for those that the Greens and Tories have alienated and ignored.