The Greens show their true colours

As with any election campaign, successful or otherwise, it is important to step back once the dust has settled and consider what can be learned and what can be improved upon. The recent European Parliament elections are no different in that regard. In particular, the dynamic between the different parties campaigning for a People’s Vote, which became increasingly fractious as the campaign went on, is worth reflecting on, particularly as further cooperation with these parties is likely to be at the heart of the upcoming leadership election.

At the campaign’s outset, Vince Cable was no doubt right to seek to work with these parties, as it was important to appear united in the face of the Brexit Party threat. However, following the other parties’ initial reluctance and eventual outright hostility towards the Liberal Democrats, is this avenue one we should seek to follow again at future elections? I would argue no.

In the case of the Green Party in particular, they could not have been more clear in their feelings towards us, suggesting that at best a vote for us would be a “compromise”, and at worst that we “could be dangerous”, having previously supposedly “aided and abetted austerity” (rather than moderated it). It is obvious that the Green Party does not see us as friends and allies, and so I would suggest we stop treating them as such.

The best thing our party can do is not seek to give the Greens a leg-up by offering them electoral and non-aggression pacts, but instead ruthlessly target their vote share by not only being pro-Remain, but also having an equally strong message on tackling the climate crisis. Preferably without seeking to do damage to the economy as the Greens would do with their goals of ending economic growth and stopping international trade.

After all, it was not so long back that the Greens committed themselves to overtaking the Liberal Democrats in an aim to become England’s third party; is it really in our interests to be boosting their chances of doing so by giving them footholds in what are meant to be our strongest areas of the country? If the recent election results told us anything, it is that the Party does not need the helping hand of others to succeed. Instead, we need a bold, proud and distinctly liberal message to take to the country, with an army of inspired, committed activists to help deliver it. Those who wish to stand to be leader of the now resurgent Liberal Democrats would do well to consider that.

* Andy Briggs is Co-Chair of Liberal Reform, a pressure group for personal, political, social and economic liberalism.

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40 Comments

  • Paul Pettinger 29th May '19 - 5:27pm

    We need to facilitate and lead an internationalist alliance to save the country from disaster. Cooperation with others could take many forms, but it will need to occur if we are to succeed. We should examine why many liberal minded people vote Green and consider what we might do to attract them, but fostering discord between internationalists can surely wait until we have stopped Brexit

  • Katharine Pindar 29th May '19 - 5:42pm

    Well said, Paul. Sorry, Andy, but I think your prescription is not only wrong for us as a small party, but unfitting anyway in this time of political change when new possibilities will present themselves. Progressive forces surely need to talking together.

  • I think the answer here lies in local decision-making. I have no problem at all with our pact with the Greens in Brighton, which enables the excellent Caroline Lucas to get into parliament in a seat we couldn’t win anyway. But there is no way we could ever have a similar deal with the Greens in Scotland, where they are essentially an arm of the SNP and see Scottish independence as a greater objective than any environmental policy.

  • Callum Robertson 29th May '19 - 6:10pm

    Brilliant piece Andy.

    I must say, this piffle about “fostering discord between internationalists” would be all well and good…had they not spent many election campaigns trying (and entertainingly failing), to usurp us as the third party.

    I would pose this question to the green-enthusiasts, why do you insist on being anti-Tory rather than pro-Liberal Democrat?! It’s beggars belief, it really is…

  • I’m all for swallowing up Change UK and taking on their MPs wholesale. There is a great deal of common ground and arguing over things like ID cards is a lixury we can’t afford right now.

    However the Greens have backwards views on the economy and I’d even argue some of their green policies are backward thinking. The Greens for example wish to wage a relentless war on the motorist. Which is a sure fire vote loser and not even the best use of political capital. Why not wage a war on shipping instead? 150 ships in the world now do more damage to the environment than than every car in use today.

    I’m all for an alliance in some seats with the Greens. I don’t want us to go after Caroline Lucas’s seat and in the handful of seats they have the better chance of winning Id rather we went out and campaign with them for their candidate than against them. But this must be reciprocated in the hundreds of seats where we have the best chance. In other words if we stand down in 10 seats for them then I’d like them to avoid our top 60 target seats and get out and campaign for us.

  • John Martiott 29th May '19 - 6:31pm

    There used to be a saying; “Everyone wants to go back to nature; but nobody wants to go on foot. I have no doubt that the way we live has contributed to climate change, how much is the $64,000 question. To do what the many environmentalists, including the Green Party, want us to do would require the kind of change in many people’s lives that is just not possible without rubbing salt into already festering wounds. As in most aspects of life, compromise is tge best way forward.

    I think we should take the current posturing of the Green Party with a pitch of salt. Cooperation with them enabled Sarah Olney to win the Richmond Park By Election In 2016. The Lib Dems need to do it again and vice versa, if they really do want to make a positive impact.

  • Leekliberal 29th May '19 - 6:47pm

    I’m with Paul on this. We should be willing to work tactically with the Greens and Change UK to build up the forces to stop Brexit and bring in proportional representation. When we have done so there will be representation on a proportional basis in Parliament and that will be the time to set out our individual stalls in competition for voters at a General Election.

  • I agree that we need to be more vocal about our own environmental policies, and we should differentiate from the Greens by ensuring that our policies are evidence based, and not just whatever is fashionable this week, and we should be prepared to challenge the scare story of the week type thing that exists on the fringes of the less scientifically literate parts of the movement. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be any less serious about the environment, and that can mean being honest with ourselves and the voters about what is achievable and the need for us to take some bold measures. If the viability of the planet means that motorists aren’t always given preferential treatment, then so be it. If it means supporting business that operates with longer-term objectives at the expense of those that want to make a quick buck, ignoring the hidden costs to our planet – that’s what we should do.

    I agree we should be wary of some in the Green party who like to misrepresent what we do, and we should stand up against that and challenge as required, but there’s no need for us to shoot ourselves in the foot and refuse cross-party working when it’s in our interests too, and more importantly, the interests of the public.

    ChangeUK got a lot of criticism from floating voters for targeting ‘the same side’ and many voters will be equally angry at us if we treat the Greens as the opposition, when most of the time they are people we can work with, or simply rivals. We can insist they started it, but they’ll say the same of us, and that impresses no-one except the Tories or Brexit party.

  • Marian bore 29th May '19 - 7:13pm

    Please, let’s work with the green party in an accomodating way. They are our friends and have given way with us previously. Now is not the time to be posturing and railing against people with common goals. Now is the time to work and pull together.

  • Paul Barker 29th May '19 - 7:35pm

    NO.
    Sorry to shout but this article shows exactly the same sort of patronising attitude to The Greens that Labour traditionally display towards The Liberal Democrats. Of course The Greens want to reface us as the third Party, actually they want to replace The Tories as first Party, what’s wrong with that ?
    Yes, some people in The Greens have said some dishonest & unpleasant things about us in the Heat of the Campaign; do our people never do that ?
    It all comes down to ambition in the end. If the end point of your ambition for our Party is to be a successful third Party then this piece makes sense but my ambition goes a lot farther. I want to form the Next Government, or at least lead The Coalition that forms the next Government. We won’t do that on our own, there just aren’t enough Liberals.
    We need to build a Coalition/Alliance of Liberals , Greens, Social Democrats & Centrists. We can start by offering an Alliance to Change & The Greens (GPEW). Its up to us because we are the oldest & the largest Party of the Three.
    I don’t say that will be easy, all 3 Parties have reasonable & unreasonable suspicions of the others but we have to try.
    Scotland is a problem as the Scottish Greens have been heavily infected with Nationalism, any Alliance up there would have to be different.
    The UK faces an existential crisis that demands we think big & act generously, not retreat into our Tribal comfort zone.

  • Well said Andy…if, even after this election, people still believe the Greens are friends or allies then it really begs the question what do the Greens actually need to say or do for them to be seen not to be.

    I’m all for a local pact if we truly believe it’ll benefit us, especially if it means us standing down in a seat we’re going to struggle to save our deposit in (them standing aside for us in Lewes in return for us standing down in Brighton Pavilion for example I completely support) however I hope when we start thinking about selecting in Richmond for 2022 for example we remember the way the Greens treated us this campaign and also consider whether we want to be helping a party that thinks we “could be dangerous”.

  • Roland Postle 29th May '19 - 7:50pm

    I thought it was interesting the horrible traffic light graphics Greens put up on FB & Twitter on 13th May attacking us (“could be dangerous” etc) as well as Labour got a lot of negative feedback from their own members & supporters, and weren’t repeated. I don’t think we should be overreacting to an occasional post in the heat of an election campaign. Almost all of their material I saw didn’t mention other parties at all.

  • James Belchamber 29th May '19 - 8:38pm

    Greens are food, not friends.

    If they change their tune they know where we are.

  • Michael Sammon 29th May '19 - 9:45pm

    Work with them in parliament or in councils, same with anyone else on common goals. Going soft on them during election periods because we think they sound nice was proven to be very naive in the recent elections. Thanks Andy, this needed raising.

  • Greens have to be fought, otherwise they will use us. Do not underestimate their determination. They are very left wing.
    Change should merge with us.

  • Mick Taylor 29th May '19 - 9:56pm

    Spot on Andy. I once attended Greenish gathering where one of the speakers was a founder member of the Green Party. He spoke about how important it would be to complete the Green Party’s programme once they got into government. When pressed on this his response was ‘Of course we’d have to suspend elections until our programme was fully implemented’. When he realised he’d lost everyone in the room, he tried to backtrack., but the damage was done.
    There is a strong streak of authoritarianism about the Green Party that is totally at variance with Liberal Democracy. Local deals where it seems acceptable by all means, but no overall deal. Please remember that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend!

  • @Robert Johnston Re: “On climate change we can do better than them.”
    I will be interested in seeing a LibDem manifesto that out greens the greens…
    We effectively have 20 years to get on top of the “perfect storm” – if we are to achieve the climate and environmental targets for 2050, so that manifesto really needs to be out for discussion so that it is ready to be approved at this autumns party conference…

    However, I suspect if such a manifesto were to materialise, it would have many attributes in common with the green party’s, including the realisation that elections would probably have to be suspended during the transformation programme…

  • In my neck of the woods it is quite likely that we will have an informal arrangement with Greens and a couple of Independents. I think it is likely that trust in working cooperatively (which after all, has been a strong motivating force within the Lib Dems over the years) can be built locally before embarking on wider and more ambitious goals.

    As for Andy’s contention that in Coalition Lib Dems “moderated austerity”, I think you would be hard pressed to find a majority even within the party for that view. I think it would be right to soft pedal those views. We should be working to make reality of the Tory words that austerity is “coming to an end”. We have a unique situation where by pressure we can influence the Tory Leadership contest, and much more directly, our own, to get people who are favourably disposed to higher spending for both a Green New Deal and better services. The country and the wider world needs these things!

  • Jonathan Linin 29th May '19 - 11:23pm

    Numbers, numbers, numbers…..

    South East local authority areas, Brexit won 50, Lib Dem 11, Green 1, Labour 1. Combined Lib Dem + Green vote would have won 33.
    I know these aren’t parliamentary constituencies, but it is indicative of what might happen in a general election with first past the post. A general election tomorrow could see a Brexit Party government on one third of the vote.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th May '19 - 1:03am

    As a rule we should be open to get on with everyone reasonable. We can be friends with Daniel Hanan on individual liberty, or with David Davis, on detention without charge. And with Peter Tatchell on human, especially LGBT, rights. These are decent people. So too is Caroline Lucas.

    Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley seem like and probably are good people. Yet they like to rub us up, a lot, in an irritating, holier than thou way.

    Only one thing makes me reluctant to back them at all. On crime and punishment, areas where it is Liberal Refor who are bleeding hearts compared to me, so too are the Greens. They detest prison, even for the worst offenders they want conditions to be like bed and breakfast or hotels for local authority homeless. Not for me or true John Stuart Mill loving Liberals. Harm is not merely environmental or social, it is individual and criminal. As for their views on bureaucracy or defence or monarchy or……. don’t get me started….on those ………!

  • Ummmm. Unfortunately, the LibDems DID facilitate austerity measures under the coalition. LibDem ministers may have moderated the worst aspects of Tory cuts, but by remaining in the government, they DID facilitate them, and the electorate knows this and have punished us as a result. To deny the errors of the past will not help our recovery…

  • @ Mike Tribe. Agree. Andy Briggs shouldn’t complain about Greens saying ‘the Lib Dems “could be dangerous”, having previously supposedly “aided and abetted austerity” (rather than moderated it).’

    Don’t take just my word. The Deputy Leader Jo Swinson said virtually the same at Conference last year. The Guardian report 18 September last year :

    “The Liberal Democrats must “own the failures” of the coalition government, the party’s deputy leader, Jo Swinson, has said, citing the “hostile environment”, the bedroom tax and NHS changes as policies she particularly regretted.

    Swinson, a former business minister tipped as a future leader, said the party had inflicted too high a price on the poorest in society in an attempt to cut the deficit. “I’m proud of what we achieved, but I’m not naive or blinkered about it,” she told the Lib Dem conference in Brighton on Sunday.

    “If we are to claim the successes of our time in government, we need to own the failures of it too. We lost too many arguments. When they fought dirty, we were too nice.”

    “She said it was clear the Lib Dems should have done more to push back against some coalition policies. “Negotiating with the Conservatives meant compromise. And some of those compromises sucked,” she said. “We should have done more. More to stop Theresa May’s hostile environment, more to block Andrew Lansley’s disruptive NHS reforms, more to prevent Iain Duncan Smith’s punishing bedroom tax.”.

    The unfortunate thing about Mr Briggs’ ‘Liberal Reform’ is they appear to positively support Mr. Gladstone’s ‘Candle Ends’ austerity market driven philosophy. The world has moved on since then.

  • John Marriott 30th May '19 - 9:20am

    @Mike Tribe
    Sorry if I am going a bit ‘off piste’; but I see that some people are still banging on about austerity. They should remind themselves of why the incoming coalition government chose this route to try to balance the books back in 2010.

    Two years previously sections of the financial world were close to collapse and Labour’s love in with the bankers meant that our country was disproportionally affected. I remember saying at the time that the government could have tried the FDR approach; but I guess that this was never seriously considered. As ever, we seem nearly always to have to nationalise debt while, at the same time, being encouraged to privatise profit.

    As a member of one of the local government councils that was forced to take on the rôle of quasi human shield against the reaction from large sections of the public to the cuts that Central Government’s massive reduction in its grant forced on us, I know just how bloody awful they were. However, if enough councils had had the courage to turn down the series of what amounted to bribes from central government in the form of the Council Tax Freeze Grant and put up their Council Tax by 1.999% per year (over 2% and they had to go to referendum) we might be in a better financial position today.

    To give you an example, I worked out just before I left the Lincolnshire County Council in 2017 that, had we put our share of the Council Tax up by the legal amount in each of the years when we took the bribe not to increase it, the Council would have been better off by around £40 million.

    Of course I know that, when contemplating raising taxes, the dreaded Council Tax is about the crudest instrument you can find; but currently that’s all we’ve got locally to make a difference.

    So, please, can we worry less about being clobbered by the electorate on austerity. After all, many of them seemed happy to have gone along with Tony, Peter and Gordon’s Tory lite policies from 1997 onwards, which helped to get us in the mess in which we found ourselves. As the Germans often say about us “Die Briten leben auf Pump” (the British live on tick).

  • Neil Fawcett 30th May '19 - 9:49am

    Having just helped win 99 council seats for the Lib Dems and 9 or so for the Greens across Oxfordshire, I’m currently feeling quite positive about working cooperatively with them.

    And it seems to me to be a no-brainer that if it is at all possible to make a positive case for the coalition with the Tories, with whom we agreed on just about nothing, then it is pretty easy to make a case for working with the Greens, with whom we agree on quite a lot.

    Our vote is almost interchangeable with them on a local level for that very reason.

    Clearly we won’t agree on everything, and we were always going to be competing with each other in the European elections, but that doesn’t mean we can cooperate on some things, some of the time, where that helps us achieve our political objectives. Let’s concentrate on that.

  • Roland: Once you start saying that elections should be put on hold for Green issues to be dealt with, you open the floodgates for anyone to argue that they have the right to put elections on hold for their policies. For example a victorious Brexit Party could put elections on hold until it had taken us out of Europe, dismantled the NHS, abolished the welfare state and created a low tax regime for the uber rich. Happy about that? No? I didn’t think so.
    Having regular General elections is about democracy and can never be sacrificed whatever the cause. That’s why any national agreement with the Green Party is not on.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '19 - 11:13am

    @Michael Meadowcroft “the more successful it is electorally the more by definition it seduces those in other parties that are aware of the green imperative.”
    Could/would that mean that those other parties have to offer greener policies themselves in order to compete for voters and members, strengthening their “green content” rather than weakening it?

  • @Michael Meadowcroft

    Your analysis is actually seriously flawed IMHO even if superficially attractive. One needs to disentangle several different threads. Leave aside Climate Change for a minute. There has clearly been a rising political tradition of environmentalism in the UK & western societies. And as such it joins the traditions of Conservatism, Liberalism & Socialism.

    Clearly social liberalism – equality, legalisation of abortion, abolition of the death penalty etc. was a rising trend of the ’60s & ’70s & found its clearest expression in the Liberal Party. But was also adopted (at least to a degree) by other parties.

    The adoption of “Liberalism” by those parties did not mean that there was & is still much still to be done to build a Liberal society & a strong role for us to do that. Equally Socialism & Capitalism have been very strong & successful political traditions & both have been successful. The Conservatives have accepted trade unions & the welfare state are important parts of a successful capitalist economy. The Labour party have accepted that they need a wealth creating capitalist economy to pay for their socialist dreams. But they both try & push forward their competing boundaries & represent “their” voters.

    Environmentalism is an important 4th political tradition. And if climate change was solved tomorrow they would be pushing for a more ecological sound way of living. And they will continue to push their boundaries on it just as Socialists, Capitalists & Liberals do.

    I believe it is also an important part of our tradition of Liberalism but we are somewhat more practical about it. And I am not as such an ideological environmentalist & Green Party leaders have said they have ideological differences with all the parties including us.

    Clearly climate change gives “Greenism” a greater urgency & salience. And we should as a party be committing to a more aggressive carbon emissions target. And clearly to most advance that agenda is best served by us because we are electorally way ahead of the Greens & I invite all Greens to join us to advance their ideals more quickly.

    But the way forward is not really pacts. It is to demonstrate our action in our local areas – greening our towns & cities, making them more friendly for cycling & better public transport etc. etc. And also better national policies.

  • @ John Marriott “So, please, can we worry less about being clobbered by the electorate on austerity.”

    I’m more bothered about the impact on the poor and the vulnerable, John, than on any clobbering by the electorate.. Last night’s Panorama programme about events at Somerset Adult and Children’s Social Care Department more than made the point. It should be compulsory viewing for every new Lib Dem Councillor who will be now
    confronted by realpolitik.

    And I’m sorry to disagree with Michael Meadowcroft who says, “but a Green party has inherent flaws”. They’ve done pretty well as a radical opposition in Scotland, Michael…… and I would add opposing a second Indy Ref in Scotland has a few inherent contradictions when supporting a second EU Ref in the UK. Jonathan Sumption in this year’s Reith Lecture (BBC iplayer, BBC Radio 4) has a few choice comments on Referenda.

  • chris moore 30th May '19 - 1:42pm

    @ David Raw

    I think the programme gives a realistic glimpse of a vital and very difficult profession under chronic financial pressure. Individual social workers put in sterling and exhausting hours; and make an uplifting difference to people at difficult moments or in difficult lives.

    The party should increase spending across the board on the most vulnerable and problematic in society. Fund it with tax increases.

    Prioritise this over tuition fees!

    We’ve got to look after the worst off much better!

  • @ Chris Moore Thanks for the support, Chris.

    I repeat, all Lib Dem Councillors – as part of induction training – should watch the Panorama programme on Somerset Social Care Department on the BBC iplayer.

    I speak with first hand knowledge and experience as a former elected Convener of Social Work in Scotland – my wife was a Director of Social Work and one of my daughters is a Senior Social Worker in a deprived northern city. The programme was vividly correct about the UK Social Care crisis (particularly in severe in England).

    We still wait for a (UK) Government Green Paper promised over three years ago and many Local authorities are on the brink of meltdown. The current situation, ‘out of sight out of mind’, must be challenged. The 700 plus new Lib Dem Councillors should be briefed and led by our parliamentarians before they stumble into something beyond their previous experience and comprehension. The party spokesperson, Christine Jardine, and our new Leader should champion the case at UK level.

  • @Mick Taylor
    I didn’t say ‘should’, just alluding to a dilemma, where a multi-decade programme will require elections to be held and subsequent governments to continue with the programme, in which the people will be asked to effectively vote for more pain giving an opportunity for palliative merchants to sell their wares. A natural reaction in looking for solutions would be to consider suspending elections. I agree to suspend normal democratic process is something not to be undertaken lightly.

    Remember the purpose of the “climate emergency” is really to avoid ‘disaster’. So just like with the Y2K computer issue, where much effort was put in to avoid IT systems failures and which resulted in many (non-IT people) querying why so much effort was put in when nothing happened – “big fuss about nothing”. We can expect those who don’t appreciate the science to make similar complaints about the efforts being made and act accordingly. The challenge will be keeping them at the grumbling stage and not actively frustrating the green transformation.

  • Ultimately, infinite economic growth will always come at odds with a truly environmentally sustainable policy.

  • Neil Bradbury 31st May '19 - 8:25am

    I think we should accentuate the positive always. People don’t like knocking copy. Let others be the nasty party. Push our agenda and our green parties. At election time strategy issues can be considered. Until then lets be positive and think big

  • Jayne Mansfield 31st May '19 - 9:50am

    Having an independent Green Part worked well for us in the Yorkshire and Humber region EU elections.

    My family, friends and acquaintances followed the advice of Vote Remain , voted Green and in doing so deprived ‘Leave’ of another MEP.

    The Peterborough By -Election will be another test, not of party popularity, but the strength of feeling about Brexit. I suspect that many, or most of those who turn out, will once again put aside previous party loyalty because of this one issue.

    I don’t think that individual voters should have their choices restricted when it comes to making political decisions.

  • David Allen 2nd Jun '19 - 6:52pm

    “On climate change we can do better than them”

    That’s a strong candidate for the Tribalist of the Year Award!

  • Richard Underhill 7th Jun '19 - 4:17pm

    Parties in government or aspiring to government need to make choices.
    In Germany Die Grunen campaigned hard against nuclear energy.
    An outcome was more brown coal.

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