By Damien Thomson.
The Green Party elected representatives agreed to enter formal talks with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail for a programme of government. Entering government requires the thumbs-up from two-thirds of the Greens’ party membership.
Here’s three of many reasons why the Irish Greens should not go into government with Fine Gael – Fianna Fail.
1) FFFG are explicitly neoliberal parties
At its national convention last July, the Green Party approved a motion to identify as an explicitly anti-neoliberal party – not a negligible statement. It’s quite difficult, you might think, to go into coalition with parties that support this ideology, implement it, and represent it in every way.
There may be merit in compromising to reach agreement, but what’s the halfway house between preserving the reign of neoliberalism and moving away from it? It’s falling flat on your face.
This is where the thresholds of compromise become evident. If there is no line drawn in the sand at that, then the Green Party reneges on its newly-renewed commitment to oppose neoliberalism – the source of the social and environmental destruction we are living through today.
In government, the Green Party would be plugging the gap of support to reinforce the capitalist state and deepen neoliberalism, rather than opposing it in any shape or form, as should be expected from its stated political principle. The neoliberal wing of the party will say that this commitment to oppose neoliberalism is “non-binding” – but can a basic principle be non-binding?
I viewed the motion adopted at the national convention as a chance for the Green Party to move to the left and distance itself from the brutal austerity it helped impose during its last stint in government.
But the honest truth is that the Irish Green Party is one of the most neoliberal green parties compared to its counterparts in the rest of Europe, mainly due to its neoliberal leadership, bent on getting a ministry. This is most evident through its lack of class consciousness and its cheerleading for demand-side environmental policies.
Climate activists know that mainstreaming climate policy isn’t about little tweaks and a splash of paint to existing government policy. It requires the politics of rupture and radically different policies.
The kind of green policies FFFG are interested in pursuing are restricted to those that can be implemented within the existing neoliberal framework – the kind full of climate contradictions that have the veneer of political will on climate while digging us deeper into this mess. Their solutions are “cost-effective”, market-driven incentives, through which the capitalist class (have to) accumulate even more wealth because of the logic of competition and the profit motive.
Coalition with the right wing cannot be other than a programme of green austerity, greenwashing and, ultimately, climate destruction. Such green-neoliberal coalitions act to help capitalism survive, as it tries to shift and reshape itself to override this crisis.
2) Climate cannot be siloed
Dealing with the climate crisis does not fit into a neat policy area. If we are to break it down as much as possible, it’s essentially about the whole economy, so it’s not easy to corner off into one department.
One, two, or three green ministries wouldn’t cut it. And even a programme for government that uses a “green lens” will not come close to achieving the far-reaching and necessary transformative change at the heart of each policy area. Real change is more than the colour of your lenses.
This point is particularly relevant as we stand at the precipice of an economic recession. The hopeful Greens looking to inject sustainable values at the heart of the recovery will be disappointed when they realise sustainability is not added by means of a footnote or an extra clause to a sentence that stamps down the full wrath of neoliberalism.
FFFG fully intend to rebuild the same old economy, to resurrect the carbon economy that they created. It may be tinged green to fool some people, but sustainability will not be at the core of any recovery programme that they’re behind. This is not me being a fortune-teller, that’s what their ideology dictates.
Agriculture is the obvious one here, where FFFG are both hellbent on chasing the never-ending growth model for meat and dairy exports, further intensifying production, and all the while promoting a rhetoric of efficiency in the sector. There’s no greening without uprooting what’s already there.
The uproar in response to the commitment by FFFG to the Greens to cut emissions by seven per cent per annum over the next decade and the parties’ responses to the Greens’ 17 questions prove this. Commitments from FFFG on the most unmeasurable and vague climate aspects don’t mean much at all and their plan is to corner the Greens off in a ministry where they can’t make gains, because climate action is about the economy as a whole.
If it’s really about sustainability-proofing, the Greens would have to pull the brakes on basically all policies that FFFG want to implement – and we know how that will go. Do a deal with the devil and the devil will win.
3) You owe it to the Left
It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems like it’s rusty in the memories of most already. The 2020 General Election was such a success because of a voting strategy where the Left cooperated. It’s thanks to #VoteLeftTransferLeft that many of the Greens got elected, and even where they didn’t get elected, you can see heavy transfers from other Left candidates.
These transfers weren’t won cheap, they came with the trust that the Greens wouldn’t repeat their last fiasco. It was a second chance for the Greens based on the expectation that they wouldn’t prop up the same neoliberal government. Going into government on this mandate would do serious damage to progressive movements and sabotage further cooperation with the Left, especially coming up to other elections.
Instead, there is an alternative – the Greens can be part of constructing a progressive alternative. This will require strong cooperation with the Left and no more flirting with the Right.
To insist that a seat in the government cabinet is the only way to shape policy over the next ten years is simply incorrect. Being the junior-junior partner in a government may have some blackmail authority, but it will come with trade-offs and sell-outs, destroying any chances of really speaking with principled authority. (We don’t need to look any further than the DUP and how they got shafted, after thinking they had Teresa May around their finger.)
Opposition is about more than accountability, it’s also a place of proposition. A place where deep cooperation can take place with serious partners who have common ideological ground, where realistic policies can be formulated and put to debate, properly challenge what’s coming from government and forcing it to shift to the left.
Neoliberal Greens who keep saying now is the time, now or never, only 10 years left, we have to take our chance to shape policy. Well, really it is. Those saying that the Greens need to be ready to go into whatever government that comes in order to have broad-based and inclusive climate action, are really not picking up the whole thing about organising.
The Green Party, as a party, is remarkably uninvolved in the actual organisation of people as part of a climate movement. This is an area where the party can improve hugely at this moment with a new team of councillors across the country and significant momentum behind the environmental movement. And what we need now is to build a credible, convincing, progressive alternative to climate politics. The Greens can be part of this mobilisation, or they can go into government with the same neoliberals who we have been resisting for decades.
It’s time to mobilise a robust climate movement and build a Left alternative. The Green Party firstly needs to purge itself of its own neoliberals and then start forming solid Left alliances by building partnerships, and getting out there – talk to people, get them on the streets, rally the movement (all after lockdown of course).
This strategy should not be based on improving “electability” in the next elect, but on building active and democratic politics, promoting community involvement in local action, being part of building the Irish broad left and creating an alternative that can truly and effectively oust neoliberal parties and their policies.
So much swooning and wooing with the neoliberal parties makes the whole thing confusing for the electorate and betrays the Left, especially after such a cooperative general election strategy (have you seen Dublin South Central?).
It’s time for the Irish Greens to anchor themselves. Good luck.
Damien Thomson is a contributing editor at Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.