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Should you vote Green?

March 2, 2010

With Caroline Lucas set to stand in Brighton this May, many workers tired with the Labour-Tory status quo may be tempted. But is voting the path to change?

Elections rarely offer much choice between the mainstream parties, whose policies are closer to each other than members of the cabinet if the reports of internal feuding are to be believed. After 13 years of Labour government, many people want a change. The economy on which Gordon Brown staked his reputation as Chancellor has nosedived on his watch as Prime Minister.

It’s true that Labour can’t be singled out for blame for the recession. Its underlying causes stem from the very nature of capitalism and its tendency to swing from bubble to crisis. However having boasted of ‘no more boom and bust’, Brown certainly has egg on his face.

Nationally, Labour’s only serious rivals are David Cameron’s Conservatives. Much like Blair’s New Labour project the Tories – like all opposition parties – are promoting themselves as the party of change. However the main difference between Labour and Conservatives is the technicalities of when and not if to take the axe to public services, impose pay freezes and cut benefits for the unemployed and vulnerable.

Faced with such ‘choice’, the opportunity to vote for Caroline Lucas – in a town where the Greens have previously polled 23% against a national average of 1% – seems at first glance appealing. The Greens are perhaps the only left-wing party with a chance of getting an MP, and Lucas herself enjoys a certain respect amongst local activists and trade unionists.

However, we should sound a note of caution. It is true that Caroline Lucas shows her face at campaign meetings for more than just a photoshoot and some self-promotion (yes, we’re looking at you Nancy Platt), but history shows that wherever the Greens have got into power they have behaved just like any other capitalist party.

In Germany, the Green Party in government sent riot police against protesters trying to stop nuclear waste being transported through their communities – precisely the kind of green activism they had once supported. In 2001 they supported the invasion of Afghanistan as part of a coalition government. In Ireland too the Green Party went from vocal supporters of the ‘Shell to Sea’ movement against the Corrib gas project to actually implementing it. Green minister Eamon Ryan is now in charge of the project, the Greens having dropped their election promises in order to enter a coalition government.

Much the same can be said of the new Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. We all know what happened the last time a party of union bureaucrats got into power: the Labour Party. And we should dispel any nostalgia for ‘Old Labour’ from the off – they supported imperialist wars, opposed strikes and imposed austerity measures on the working class from their very inception: just like every other party that finds itself trying to balance the budget of the capitalist state.

The closer politicians get to power, the more like the rest they become, however well-intentioned and full of integrity they may start out. If Caroline Lucas does get in, she’ll be a lone voice of dissent. This will do her credibility on the left a lot of good, but will mean she’s not able to actually deliver any of her election promises. That would require a larger contingent of Green MPs… and if we got that, we’re back to the ‘power corrupts’ German/Irish scenario.

This takes us to the heart of the matter. The cuts will not be defeated at the ballot box, but on the picket lines and in the streets. Precisely because voting doesn’t really make any difference, we aren’t calling for a boycott. But if you are thinking of voting, don’t have any illusions in the political process. It’s a circus designed to give us the illusion control over those who rule us, when in reality the change we are promised is forever delayed.

If you want to make your voice heard don’t vote for a different ruler, vote to strike with your fellow workers. That’s the way we’ll beat the cuts, and start creating the basis for a world without politicians and rulers altogether.

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