Many people are frustrated with the three mainstream political parties and would like to see a left wing alternative to their pro-business agenda. The Green Party is widely touted as an organisation that could fill this role.
It is certainly true that the Green Party includes many individual activists on the left. The Green MEP Caroline Lucas, for instance, has played a solid role in the anti-war movement.
Yet despite this, the Greens do not present themselves as a left wing party, nor do they as an organisation play any kind of systematic role in left wing movements against war, racism and neoliberalism.
This distancing is quite deliberate. “If we positioned ourselves as explicitly left it would be dangerous, with no guarantee of success,” says Chris Rose, the Green Party’s national election agent.
And however “left” they may appear on paper, in power the Greens can act very differently. Jenny Jones, a Green member of the London assembly, strongly backed Metropolitan police chief Ian Blair over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Sian Berry, the Green candidate for London mayor, echoes the mainstream parties in calling for more police officers (albeit of the “community” variety).
In Leeds the Greens even went into coalition with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats on the city’s council for two years.
This was justified by Chris Rose as follows: “We say none of the mainstream parties are worth anything. So, if the situation demands it, it doesn’t really matter which one we work with, just what the outcome is.”
Elsewhere in Europe, where Green parties are more established, their record is similarly chequered. In France the Green Party lined up with the establishment in supporting the neoliberal European Union constitution.
In Germany, Green MPs have given unstinting support to the war in Afghanistan – despite a party congress decision to oppose German troops being sent to join Nato forces there.
The tendency of Green parties to drift to the right and their penchant for remaining aloof from mass movements have a common foundation.
They reflect the fact that the Greens are essentially a middle class party with some left wing opinions, rather than being a political organisation rooted in the working class.
This means that while Greens may hold “progressive” views on many issues, they have little to say about the class struggle between the majority of people who work for a living and the minority that rules the world.
It means that the Greens look to individualist solutions to issues such as climate change and world poverty, such as adopting a “green lifestyle” or promoting “ethical consumerism”.
Ultimately it means that while individual Greens can play a left wing role on certain issues, the party as a whole will never become a serious working class alternative to the pro-business parties.
They cannot connect with the swathes of ordinary people who are hit by low pay, poor housing and cuts to public services – and who want to fight back.
That radical political alternative must be built from below, by activists who campaign in trade unions and the mass movements against privatisation and war – and who look to the power of workers to transform society.