I got my very first general election leaflet through my door the other day and, as I live in Islington South, the leaflet was, perhaps predictably, from the Green Party. It set out a list of policies designed to appeal to those disillusioned by the Labour Party’s lurch to the Right. No, really: the leaflet specifically compares the Greens to Labour on a variety of position.
As can be guessed, the policies were both vague – the Greens are “anti-austerity” for example, but what does that mean? Will they raise public spending to 2010 levels, reverse every cut? Who knows – and there was no indication whatsoever as to how they would be paid for.
The Greens see Islington South as a seat they could do well in, and why not? The incumbent MP is Emily Thornberry, who hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory recently. Moreover, Ms Thornberry was run extremely close by a Left-wing Liberal Democrat challenge in 2005 (although she won comfortably in 2010).
The Greens will be hoping that their array of Left-wing promises will appeal to the disillusioned Labour voters in their million-pound Barnsbury homes. And local issues are at play too: the Lib Dem vote in Islington has collapsed spectacularly and their candidate in Islington South is the former council leader Terry Stacey – something of a busted flush now.
Some within the Labour Party think that we should hug the Greens close. Let’s not be beastly to the Greens, runs the thinking: they are just disaffected Labour voters. If we tweak the odd policy here and there, and hold off from treating them as we would any other political party, then they may return to the fold.
This is nonsense. The Greens may have a tick-list of mad policies (is it really the right time to be considering leaving Nato?) but they are a party with a growing membership and are a growing threat to Labour’s Leftish vote. They may not win any more seats this election (and they may struggle to hold Brighton Pavilion, thanks to the incompetence of the Green-run Brighton and Hove Council), but who knows what threat they could pose in 2020. Labour should hammer them now, not wait until it’s too late.
Oddly enough, the Greens also offer an opportunity for Ed Miliband, particularly if they do take part in any TV debate (which they deserve to be included in). Derided as “Red Ed” and seen as too Left-wing for many voters, Miliband will look positively Blairite next to the Greens. You want mad socialist policies, Miliband will be able to say, well look at the Greens. Those Greens, they’re the reds. Labour, on the other hand, will have to make “tough choices” while still being less heartless than those awful Tories.
Back in Islington, the Greens are the official opposition on the council (they hold the one seat that Labour lost). Instead of going out of his way to help this one lone councillor, the Labour council leader has stuck to protocol and given nothing more than the rules demand. This is absolutely right. The Greens are not just a cuddly offshoot of the Labour Party: they are a very different, often quite mad political party themselves. Labour should make sure we treat them like one.