These are interesting times in which to be a Green Party member. Having secured its largest ever vote share in last year's General Election (but, ludicrously, only one seat in the House of Commons), we find ourselves in that period of introspection, heaving under the weight of an unprecedented surge in support and the fully justified increased scrutiny. On a broader level, the 'left' is collectively licking its wounds after arguably the most resounding public endorsement of neoliberal politics in over 20 years - or at least the most successful exercise in media manipulation.
Nothing exemplifies the crisis in British left-wing politics more than last year's Labour leadership contest. On the one hand, three of the candidates fought for dominance on the Blairite end of the spectrum, courting the business world with the kind of apologetic rhetoric that has driven so many from the fold. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, represents the Labour Party mourned by so many. Labour activists find themselves split between those hankering after a truly socialist force and those who believe there can be no shift to the left if the party is ever to return to power.
Corbyn's disciples have clearly learned nothing from the events of the last five years. Many expected the election of 'Red' Ed Miliband as Labour leader in 2010 to usher in a new era of 'true' socialist policy and the concomitant death of neo-Thatcherite Blairism, which had longstanding party devotees shuffling uncomfortably for many years. Ultimately, Miliband proved unable to singlehandedly combat the centrist forces so dominant in his party. Instead, he found himself cutting a defensive, apologetic figure, always bleating in a corner, bullied into tacitly conceding that Labour had been profligate, irresponsible, too lax on issues such as welfare and immigration.
Fast forward to July 2015 and the Commons debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Corbyn's party's stance on a bill that threatened to force even more children into abject poverty illustrated perfectly the uphill battle he would likely face as Labour leader. Just 48 Labour MPs voted against the bill, Corbyn included, admittedly. Sadly, Corbyn is just one man. Ultimately, the reputation of a party depends upon the collective actions of its representatives. In the case of the Parliamentary Labour Party, its shift to the right now seems so entrenched that it is nigh on impossible to envisage a meaningful change of direction.
The Labour Party is extinct as a socialist opposition to the politics of neoliberal capitalism and austerity. It has repeatedly betrayed its founding principles. In my view, however, the problem is more organic than this.
The plain truth of the matter is that even the socialism espoused by the Labour Party's founding fathers is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century. A vastly different global context dictates that eco-socialism provides the brightest leftist hope for humanity as the world heaves under the weight of an impending climate catastrophe and the cataclysmic environmental impact of human selfishness in recent decades. Corbyn himself stubbornly pursues an unsustainable growthist agenda that is at odds within the context of a planet that drastically needs to learn to live within its means.
Whilst some level the spurious accusation that Green politics is essentially a 'middle-class' concern, the truth is that ecological activism underpins the very fight for human survival. A more equal society can only be created on a habitable planet. What's more, it is an irrefutable reality that those most adversely affected by environmental degradation are overwhelmingly the very poorest and most vulnerable. Nothing illustrates this more potently than the thousands of impoverished citizens of countries such as India, forced to bathe in highly polluted rivers due to the dumping of waste at sea by heartless multinationals. The recent floods here in the UK have served as a timely reminder of who suffers most at the hands of an environmentally incompetent Establishment. Eco-socialism recognises the intrinsic link between environmental stability and human equality and harmony in a way that 'traditional' socialism finds awkward at best. Proof if it were needed can be found in the leaders of Britain's largest unions speaking out in favour of the renewal of Trident or in Corbyn's flirtation with reopening coal mines.
Anyone who became au fait with the Green Party's General Election manifesto will have been struck by the holistic alternative vision therein. The notion that big business is equally as culpable of economic irresponsibility as it is of environmental recklessness is at the heart of the manifesto. The urgent need for a fundamental paradigm shift away from an obsession with a form of economic growth that benefits only the richest while causing irreparable damage to the environment underpins Green Party policy. After all, it is no coincidence that millions languish in fuel poverty while our government continues to pursue an energy policy stubbornly rooted in the fossil fuel industry. Environmental activism is no middle-class indulgence; it is a crucial strand in the fight for social justice.
Green Party policies such as Universal Basic Income, once dismissed as excessively radical, are gaining traction all over the world. The tide of public opinion is turning against the narrative of infinite growth and austerity-driven ecological vandalism. We are unambiguous in our aspiration to create a fairer, more equal society. For this reason, the Green Party should no longer seek to avoid being placed on either end of the political spectrum. Instead, it should rebrand itself as a proudly, unambiguously eco-socialist party, in line with its stated core principles and its most recent manifesto.
Ever more frequent extreme weather events and the conclusions of COP21 make ecological responsibility and human stability the world's most pressing concerns. The Green Party needs to evolve to become the leftist force for the common good - there is far too much at stake to do otherwise.