Posted Under: Afghanistan,Elections,Environment,European Union,Green Party,Human Rights,Interviews,Iraq,Minorities,Socialism
Friends, lefty bloggers, socialists, I’ve got a guilty secret. I’ve been actively campaigning for the Green Party in the upcoming European Elections on June 4th. It’s been a difficult time for me politically. With the split in Respect, the failure of John McDonnell and the Labour left to leave a scratch on the New Labour hegemony and the absence of that new mass party of the working class that’s been promised for so long, I’ve found myself in search of a new political home. To a lot of people on the left, the Greens are, unfairly I think, still perceived as a soft option, a middle-class environmentalist party first with a few social policies tacked on. This is an image that many in the Green Party are seeking to shake off, and none more so than a certain human rights activist who stood for Labour in 1983, stood up to Mugabe in 1999 and wouldn’t stand for homophobia or hypocrisy when it came to The Pogues in 2007. In a Third Estate exclusive, I quizzed Peter Tatchell on what makes the Green Party much more than just a green party, their prospects for the future and why they are the only thing standing between Nick Griffin and the European Parliament.
The Third Estate: You’ve traditionally been a supporter of a red-green alliance and helped launch Green Left. Many socialists, however, continue to view the Green Party as a largely middle-class environmentalist party. Do you think, in light of Labour’s shift to the centre and the failure of Respect, that the Greens can fill the vacuum in British politics left by the absence of a genuine working-class socialist party?
Peter Tatchell: As Labour has shifted to the right, the Greens have moved to the left. We are now the party of social justice, as well as environmental protection. On trade union rights, for example, the Greens are much stronger than Labour. We support the Trade Union Freedom Bill, Labour opposes it. We are more radical than Labour on every issue – from jobs to health, education, housing and pensions. Many Green Party members are left-wing socialists like myself. Many of us resigned from Labour, appalled by its pro-big business policies and its support for privatisation, war-mongering and its attacks on civil liberties, such as the draconian anti-terror laws. The Green Party’s Manifesto for a Sustainable Society sets out a radical agenda for fundamental social change, to benefit working class people, end the impoverishment of two-thirds of the world’s peoples and to save our planet from devastating climate chaos.
The Third Estate: In the current elections the Greens have been going out of their way to present themselves as much more than a single-issue party, highlighting in particular their social policies, whilst you yourself have a very strong record on human-rights. Do you feel the message is getting across and public perceptions are changing? What more do you think could be done?
Peter Tatchell: For more than two decades, the Greens have had a very progressive social agenda. Unfortunately, the media tend to cover us only when we campaign on environmental issues. That is beginning to change. As a result, more and more voters recognise that we have imaginative policies for a fairer society on a wide range of issues. That is why many of our new supporters are ex-Labour voters, left-wing independents and disillusioned voters who gave up voting years ago. They are fed up with the way Labour has ditched the working class and the trade unions. They saw Labour take us into an illegal war on false pretences and how Labour pandered to George Bush. Increasingly, people realise that the Greens offer a progressive alternative.
The Third Estate: In the past, Muslim voters have often tended to gravitate towards the Labour Party. The election of George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 was, perhaps, the clearest indication that Muslim voters are increasingly abandoning Labour in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With Respect not standing in the 2009 European Elections (and specifically endorsing the Green Party in the North West), do you feel the Greens can offer a natural political home to disenfranchised Muslim voters?
Peter Tatchell: The Greens took a strong, unambiguous stand against the Iraq war, right from the outset. Before the war began, I did a one-man protest; running out in front of Tony Blair’s motorcade, forcing his limousine to halt. It was a small symbolic gesture, but it was great to see Blair’s exasperated expression. For Muslim (and non-Muslim) voters who are disaffected with Labour’s pro-war policies the Greens offer a comfortable, welcoming, progressive political alternative. Many Muslims will, I think, also be attracted by the Green Party’s anti-consumerist, anti-materialist message. We emphasise quality of life, not quantity of possessions. Ours is a people-centred party that puts people’s needs first. Unlike the other parties, we are not obsessed with economic growth and GDP. We want everyone to have a decent standard of living – here in the UK and worldwide – but we also recognise that there are many other important things that are essential for happiness – a loving family and friends, good neighbours, clean air to breathe and a safe neighbourhood. Empowering people to support each other and sustain good community relations is part of the Green agenda.
The Third Estate: You’ve been campaigning in the North West where you’ve argued that a vote for the Greens is the surest way to stop the BNP. How is the campaign shaping up and what do you think the chances are of a red/green/anti-racist alliance succeeding in preventing Nick Griffin from winning a seat?
Peter Tatchell: A big vote for the Greens is the surest way to stop Nick Griffin and the BNP. The battle to win the last seat in the north west is between the Greens and the BNP. This means that a Green victory will keep Griffin out. The BNP is a divisive, bigoted, sectarian, nasty party. All that it offers is rage and hate. It has no practical solutions to the economic crisis, mass unemployment, climate chaos and the corruption of parliament. It has a sick history of scapegoating and vilifying black, Jewish, gay and Muslim people. Lots of people realise that the number one priority is to stop the BNP. When out canvassing, we have met many people who will be voting Green for the first time, partly to defeat Nick Griffin, partly to show their anger at the expenses scams by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, and partly because they have decided that the Greens have the best policies. Right now, the Greens are on 9% to 13% in the opinion polls. If this level of support holds up, and our supporters turn out to vote, Nick Griffin will be toast and the people of the north west will elect an anti-racist MEP, Peter Cranie of the Greens.
The Third Estate: By all polls and results, it would seem support for the Green Party has seen a steady increase in recent years. Can you envisage this support translating into MPs at the next General Election?
Peter Tatchell: In the wake of the banking and economic crises, a lot of people are realising that the Greens offer an alternative that is both credible and radical. Our support is rising. We have a good chance of electing MPs in Brighton and Norwich at the next general election. We would get many more MPs – perhaps 40 – if Britain had a fair voting system. That’s our biggest problem. The election method is rigged to favour the big three parties. We are pressing for major constitutional reform to enhance democracy and popular participation in politics. As well as proportional representation and fair votes, I want to see other reforms like an elected head of state, an elected second chamber, a written constitution, a Bill of Rights, the right of voters to recall their MP and the devolution of power to democratically elected regional parliaments. Changes like these will help make our political system more open, representative, accountable and fair.