With Labour’s stance on social issues becoming less clear by the day, are progressives finding a new political home in the Green Party?
Historically, the Green Party has been a bit of a radical choice for voters. Under first past the post, it’s pretty much guaranteed that nobody has ever opted for the Greens and seriously thought that there was a real chance of them forming a majority government – instead, a Green vote has traditionally been regarded as more of a ‘protest’ vote, almost akin to spoiling your ballot. But radical times call for radical measures, and as the countdown to climate catastrophe ticks on, Green policies start looking more and more like common sense.
As a result, the Green Party is slowly becoming less of a niche choice for progressives, and more of a sensible, viable option. Stats show that they’re attracting a wave of new members who are tired of the same old two-party politics: between the 2017 and 2019 general elections, their vote share increased by nearly 65 per cent – the largest increase of any party. Notably, following local elections in May this year, the party now leads two authorities, Brighton and Hove and Lancaster, and is in coalitions across 13 other authorities.
One new party member blazing the Green trail is Councillor Maleiki Haybe. “I actually grew up in a Labour household by default. What I mean by that is many immigrants moving to the UK are working class, and the only party that is popular enough and remotely supported them was Labour,” he explains.
But Labour’s failure to represent his community’s interests pushed him to stand for Green councillor. “Labour were comfortable in their local seat. My community’s vote, which is predominantly Somali, Caribbean and Yemeni, has been taken for granted.”
“Once the Green Party began winning seats in the local elections, especially in Sheffield Central where I live, there was suddenly room for people such as Kaltum Rivers, the first African woman to hold a councillor seat in Sheffield – a big inspiration of mine – and the first Somali and youngest ever Lord Mayor, Magid Magid,” Haybe says. “In 50 years, Labour selected 0 candidates in the local elections that represented the people of colour in my community, whilst it took the Green party just six years to produce three, including me.”
While the Green Party still only has one MP in Parliament, the increasing urgency of climate breakdown has caused them to gain more support. This summer witnessed record-breaking heatwaves, with the UK experiencing temperatures of over 40 degrees for the first time ever.
As Busayo, a 22-year-old student, tells Dazed: “we are living in a climate crisis and the Labour Party doesn’t seem to care about issues of sustainability”. In April, Labour called for a nationwide injunction banning demonstrations outside oil infrastructure or on roads, with Keir Starmer recently calling protest group Just Stop Oil “arrogant” and promising to hand out tougher prison sentences for protestors who glue themselves to roads.
“A just society must have ecological sustainability as a prerequisite” – Maleiki Haybe
Maleiki feels that the Green Party have shown genuine dedication to action on climate change, while Labour has done nothing but pay lip service. “Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing humanity in recent history,” he says. “Young people know they will have to deal with the consequences and want to hear solid and actionable decisions.”
The party is not only recognised for its environmentalism, but its focus on social justice too. Under Starmer, Labour’s stance on issues like transphobia and Islamophobia has become more ambiguous, marking a vast contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist leadership. Sapphire, a 27-year-old climate justice consultant for Amnesty International, tells Dazed that this is a large reason why she’s become disillusioned with Labour. “Under the new leadership, I just have no idea the party’s position on the most prevalent issues of our time – climate change, trans issues, racism – and Starmer has said some sketchy things on those issues as well, like saying Black Lives Matter was ‘a moment’.”
It’s clear that the momentum gained by Corbyn among young people has dwindled, largely as a result of Starmer’s weak stance on the issues that matter most. In 2021, Labour lost almost 100,000 members, reflecting its increasingly weak position on the issues that matter most to its voters. “When Corbyn was leading the party, there was such renewed energy within the younger generation. People who had never voted before were voting for Labour, and I know that enthusiasm has now gone,” says Sapphire.
“I feel like the Greens are so much clearer on their stance on key issues, like the Green New Deal and centring antiracism and trans rights,” she says. “They’re much more inspiring to the younger generation.”
Maleiki believes that Labour no longer represents the interests of most young people, who have grown up feeling the impacts of austerity and the climate crisis. “The Green Party is not just about climate change, it’s for social justice too,” he says. “Greens realise that if Earth is not habitable, there is no purpose in advocating for social justice, in contrast to the old left’s superficial environmentalism. A just society must have ecological sustainability as a prerequisite.”
The intersectional nature of climate breakdown is well-documented. Black African and Caribbean people are exposed to higher levels of illegal air pollution than any other ethnic group in the UK. In 2013, nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah died, making her the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate. Her death revealed how racial and class inequalities intersect and mean that people of colour are at a disproportionate risk of experiencing harm from climate change.
Last month, Al Jazeera released a documentary exposing allegations of institutional racism and rampant corruption within the Labour Party, which has led to progressives questioning their loyalty to the party. “The Labour Files was extremely disgusting to watch and I can’t support a party that doesn’t seem to have black people’s interest at heart,” says Busayo. While the Green Party received some backlash last year for appointing a white person to co-lead their Greens of Colour group, some believe that the Green Party are working harder to rule out institutional racism compared to the Labour Party.
Maleiki, himself a person of colour (POC) within the Green Party, says he has seen active efforts to include people of colour within the party that go beyond tokenism. “I used to think the Green Party catered towards white, middle-aged people. But that’s because we weren’t signing up,” he says. “Once I did, the amount of mentorship and support I received, as well as the encouragement to empower POC – especially young POC – to get into politics, showed that it did not intend on staying white.”
Despite all this support for the party, they do still have some obstacles to overcome. The first-past-the-post system is a major problem for smaller parties like the Greens, and larger parties are aware of this advantage. In 2015, the Conservative Party won with only 36.9 per cent of voters choosing them, whilst 63.1 per cent voted for other parties (so much for Boris Johnson’s supposed massive “mandate”).
Despite this bleak reality, this hasn’t stopped people from prioritising voting based on party values over the possibility of being elected. “Obviously, I’m aware of the first past the post system, and how often the left can split up into factions, whereas the Tories vote Tory and therefore always win,” Sapphire says. “But I just think, where is Labour under Starmer going to take us?”
A shift towards proportional representation – where the share of seats a party wins matches the share it receives – would allow for smaller parties like the Greens to get more seats in parliament, and give them more power. And at this point, proportional representation isn’t a pipe dream either: a recent poll found that the majority of the public now supports electoral reform, so there’s clearly an appetite for change.
Despite this disillusionment with two-party politics, young people are still dedicated to changing things for the better. The waves of youth activism we have seen in recent years, from the climate strikes to the Black Lives Matter movement, have demonstrated that despite the setbacks, young people are arguably more passionate than ever. So while Labour’s ambiguities and U-turns have caused thousands of their supporters to jump ship, perhaps the Greens could become a much-needed life raft.