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Why I’m leaving the Labour Party, and joining the Grüne in Germany

IMG_3772-smlI’m an intensely political person and it has been that way for a long time. I joined the Labour Party in the UK as a 16 year old, before I was even old enough to vote. This means I have spent more than half my life in the Labour Party, which is rather scary (background on why I joined can be found here).

But today is the last day, for now at least. I am leaving Labour, and joining the Grüne (Greens) in Germany. The Direct Debit to Labour has been cancelled, and the online form to join the Grüne has been sent off.

So why am I making this move?

Don’t burn your bridges” my mother said to me by e-mail when I told her, but that is most definitely not my intention. My decision is as a result of a combination of personal and political circumstances that I hope to be able to explain, and my decision was taken in the best of faith.

Firstly the personal level. I moved to live in Berlin three weeks ago. I do not know what the future will hold, and how long I will stay in Berlin. But I cannot see anything that is going to entice me back to live in the UK any time soon. Berlin is home for now, and home means being politically active where one lives. Unlike my time in Brussels where the expat / EU environment prevented engaging locally, and Copenhagen, where language did, in Berlin I can actually do local politics.

When it comes to the politics of it, I feel I have been steadily moving away from Labour for some time. It is not that I necessarily think the party is doing the wrong things strategically, but more that its direction and mine have parted. When it comes to EU matters, civil liberties and the surveillance state, the environment, and tax and spending, I feel my own positions are further away from Labour’s than they have ever been. “So fight to change it from within!” has always – rightly – been the refrain from friends in the party in the past. But from Berlin I cannot do that effectively, or even hope to do so.

To put it another way, the party now brings me less than it has ever done, and I conversely bring less to it than I have ever done either.

At an organisational level I have concerns about Labour too – not least in the way it selected its MEPs, and seeing a ghost of European Parliaments past at the very top of one list makes me deeply sad. The party talks the talk of being open and modern, but it is a long way from walking the walk.

I hope the dozens of friends I have in the Labour Party understand my decision. I am the same person, I have the same ethics which I hope are the reason these people are friends of mine, not that we just happen to have been in the same clan.

So why then am I joining the Grüne in Germany?

It is in part motivated by the circumstances outlined above – that I want to be able to be politically active in Berlin, my current home. Of course this would be possible without any sort of party political affiliation (and I suppose I could have stayed in Labour passively – paying my money but doing nothing like so many party members). But for me that is not an option. I want to nail my ideological colours to the mast, and also my remaining belief in the value of representative democracy necessitates a belief in vibrant and functional parties.

So which party should I join? Unfortunately I find the SPD, Labour’s sister party in Germany, to be retro and uninspiring. The SPD has not been able to adequately define itself for a decade, and rightly suffered at the recent Bundestagswahl. Its approach to negotiations to form a Grand Coalition with the CDU, with the same old faces back once again, does not motivate me at all. The party is also not at the cutting edge when it comes to transparency, openness, and online engagement.

The Grüne, by contrast, are better both politically and when it comes to how a party should work internally. They have more of the answers to vital environmental questions than any other party does, and for me that is a strong point in their favour. Hell, I am obsessive about trying to travel in a green way, so I am actually practising what they preach on that crucial issue anyway. The Grüne’s more open and transparent processes – most recently the #GreenPrimary at EU level – are better than the procedures in other parties. I also know some super people in the Grüne – from old friends like Jan Seifert to more recent acquaintances like Malte Spitz and Franziska Brantner. These are people I can work with.

I have no idea where my membership of the Grüne will take me – I have no specific aim, no plan. It feels like the right thing to do, here and now, and I am going to learn plenty of fascinating things if nothing else!


20 Comments

  • Paul Flynn |

    I’m with your mother on this. Cannot see why you cannot be in both parties. I was once in the Labour and Ecology Parties at the same time. Had to choose when they became the Green Party. Best hope for Green policies is to green the main parties – especially in the UK without PR.

  • Stuart Ingham |

    You have chosen your party affiliation on the basis of what is ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘inspiring.’ You’ll fit right in with the Green Party, who, like their British counter-parts, are a lifestyle choice rather than a serious political project.

    A party that willfully destroys its chances of seizing the power necessary to alter Germany’s disastrous economic policies in order to make a statement about vegetarianism deserves the kicking it got in the elections. It certainly deserves the contempt of the left.

  • AnneCbxl |

    I learned recently that Labour voters tend to be quite faithful to the party, so I guess you have done something rather unconventional here. I think it is similar with Socialdemokraterne in Denmark but I was never really attracted by them (lack of vision?). On the other hand we have so many small parties and a significant proportion of voters tend to shop around a lot from election to election, meaning eternal coalitions must be built, while promises will broken and compromises reached.

    Anyways, I don’t want to judge you for leaving your party, but rather applaud you for getting involved in local politics now that your language skills, location and views have found a political home, so to speak. It is always easier to put your energy into something you believe in, where you can see that your work pays off.

    After 5,5 years in the EU bubble I haven’t even managed to register as a voter for local elections. But frankly, the Belgian political circus sometimes makes the EU and its codecision, troikas and trilogues look so simple.

    Good luck. And welcome home?

  • Jon |

    @Paul – that you’re still in Labour was one of the things that made me pause before making this decision. Your point about the UK is very valid – if I ever return to the UK then chances are I will return to Labour. But at the moment I cannot possibly see a prospect of returning, and I want to be politically active where I am – and that means the Grüne in Berlin. And I cannot be a member of both due to EU politics – the Grüne and Labour are in different political groups in the European Parliament, and for me that matters.

    @Stuart – you take a typically smug outsider view of the Greens, and it’s wrong. Yes, they made errors in the election campaign, but unlike the SPD that seems determined to persist with the same are putting those errors right. And look at how the Grüne have governed in Baden-Württemberg. It is a serious political project. Also compromises need to be struck at two levels – within a party, and between parties in coalition negotiations. The UK has far too much of the former, and that’s one of the reasons UK political parties are so unpleasant.

    @Anne – it’s hard to work out how to do it in Belgium. And yes, somehow it feels like coming home – I am ideologically fine with the Grüne, and to not have to feel I am apologising for being of the wrong point of view all the time will sure be helpful…

  • Jason Knoll |

    Hi Jon,
    I recently made the decision to leave the Democratic Party here in the US and have begun taking a look at the Green Party. Unfortunately, third parties here are not taken very seriously and have little influence in politics. Like you, I’m “intensely political,” so now I’m trying to figure out the extent to which I want to get involved in the party. Good luck.

  • Jon |

    @Jason – I understand the complication, because in countries with few parties it’s damned hard. In Germany it’s a much easier task!

  • Paul Cohen |

    While I have no problems with you joining Die Grünen, in fact I support that wholeheartedly, it wasn’t just Die Grünen who supported the idea of the Green Primaries and made them a reality, it was all member organisations of the European Green Party, including the Green Party of England and Wales. All of the member organisations are increasingly international parties who work together for a better Europe, so don’t downplay the role collaboration had, and continues to have. Indeed, I’ve now been to German twice on the invitation of Grüne Jugend for various events, so working together is a major part of what we do.

    Before I sign off, on the Green Primaries I would highly recommend the Federation of Young European Greens candidate, Ska Keller. Just food for thought.

  • Jon |

    Paul – of course! :-) I hadn’t meant to imply that only the Grüne had backed the Green Primary, but more that things like that are a symbol of how green parties work.

    And I haven’t worked out how I’ll vote in the primary yet.

  • Paul Jeater |

    Jon : I understand your decision entirely. I made a similar journey in England, leaving Labour (I’d been a member for 30 years) and after a period of reflection decided to join the Green Party. Many of those who I knew in the Labour Party have drifted away and abandonned active politics. Some may pay an annual subscription but it really isn’t through any conviction.

    I like to think that Labour left me, they changed while my beliefs and the issues I regard as paramount have held fairly constant. All parties have unique cultures and traditions and it takes time to adjust but joining the Greens has rekindled my enthusiasm for political activity.

    Good luck in Germany !

  • Paul |

    On a personnel level I hope you’ve found your calling. However I think there are two aspects of this decision that I would question.

    The first one relates to the UK. I know that you shouldn’t be swayed by national loyalty yet I do think its a pity that there is one less voice making the case for the UK in the EU. As a centrist who wants a EU pragmatic position we need more people in all parties fighting the EU corner. It seems to me that the xenophobic populists are currently winning the argument in the UK. Worse when considering the broken nature of UK voting system. The next parliament is very likely to be a minority conservative or labour government and populists and fringe elements in either party could cause serious harm to UK interests (and by proxy EU interests).

    Secondly I don’t particularly rate the greens (or there sister party die Gruenen). My background is science and for me its very disappointing to see UK Greens tearing up GM crops (alongside reactionary luddite activists). Equally everything I’ve read about energy seems to indicate that if we are serious about cutting CO2 emissions we need to be open to the nuclear option (particularly in northern climates where don’t get enough sunlight at the right time). [I would strongly recommend reading “Without hot air” looks at green energy options – or more importantly the lack of them). Perhaps the green party will benefit from some pragmatic minds but I fear that they are reactionaries of the left that often on a par with UKIP!

    In any case these are my opinions and the one thing I’ve learnt from my short spell on twitter is that my opinions are pretty much irrelevant! If it make sense for you then its probably the right decision!

  • Oliver H |

    Jon, I respect your choice, but your reasoning is baffling me as a German.

    You write “The SPD has not been able to adequately define itself for a decade, and rightly suffered at the recent Bundestagswahl.”

    But it was the Greens, and not the SPD, which lost voter share – relegated now to fourth position. And the reason, according to analysts, was not the least a lack of definition as to what they stood for. You write “Its approach to negotiations to form a Grand Coalition with the CDU, with the same old faces back once again, does not motivate me at all.”

    But the Greens have hardly been any better on the federal level until the disaster they suffered at the election (and Cem Özdemir only offered to step down to immediately be elected again…). And with the post-election spats between Trittin and Fischer, one could almost think it’s 2001 all over again.

    As for your comment further on regarding Baden-Württemberg – I think you missed where the BaWü Greens were called “Waldschrate” by their colleagues in Berlin, and their success called a “historical coincidence” as opposed to the fruits of the work of the local Greens. So it seems that the Greens on the federal level do not hold their “colleagues” in BaWü in has high esteem as you do – and current polls suggest that rather than “consolidate the achievements”, in the second half of their term, as they state they want to do, they have to shift gears upwards, as they are trailing.

  • Jon |

    @Paul Jeater – thanks for the comment. Feels a bit like that for me too…

    @Paul – relation to the UK. Yes, you have a fair point there. But I also need to think of my own sanity. I have been trying (largely in vain) to influence UK-EU relations for years, through European Movement, Labour Movement for Europe, and through this blog, and my position on EU matters is just too far out in the UK.

    On GM – I am with you. I think outright opposition is foolish. Although that comes across the spectrum in Germany. On energy – I think the way things have worked out in Germany is good. OK, it’s not perfect, but the change in two decades is remarkable. And yes, I have considered the nuclear question (I even visited a closed nuclear power plant – Barsebäck – in Sweden last week). The way the UK’s decision to build new nuclear is going is awful – any new nuclear build, anywhere, would need to be much better than that!

    @Oliver H – that’s quite a remarkable reading of the SPD’s second worst election result in history! And yes, the Greens suffered, but Özdemir is not over the hill. People like Trittin are (and I’d be happy to see the back of Göring-Eckhardt too). But the party is trying in some way to put things right after the election. And yes, BaWü may have been lucky, but what they have done there deserves respect.

  • Sebastian |

    Welcome to the Greens :-)
    I think it´s really awesome that you chose the Greens to get engaged!

    Btw, did you take that photo at the Netzbegrünung? It seems kinda familiar to me…

  • Hugh |

    You are a force for good, Jon, and wherever you are most comfortable, you will be most forceful. Looking forward to further stages in your political journey ;)

  • David Schoibl |

    Good luck with your new venture. Enjoy Berlin and the comparative sanity of German politics.

  • Jon |

    @Sebastian – yes, it’s from Netzbegrünung. Didn’t at the time know how useful the pic would be! ;-)

    @Hugh / @David – thank you!

  • Oliver Vogt |

    Dear Jon,

    please make sure to stop by the “Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft Europa Berlin-Brandenburg”. It is the local working group on all EU matters. We are currently diskussion our programme for the EP elections in May 2014 and your input is welcome!

    Regards,

    Oliver

    (dr.o.vogt {at} gmail(.)com]

  • Anonymous X |

    My girlfriend happens to be a member of the SPD (living in the UK) and reading the monthly party newspaper, the SPD almost seems to be a radical left party by UK standards! How it presents itself in its material is more explicitly social-democratic than I can remember Labour being in my lifetime. It’s rather… strange.

  • Dominic B |

    “home means being politically active where one lives. ”
    Definitely agree with that- feel the same way in Scotland now

So, what do you think ?