What’s the difference between the Greens and the Lib Dems?

17 June 2019

Colin NobleColin Noble (right), a member in Chapel Allerton, explains the difference between the two big "Remain" parties.

In the aftermath of the Euro elections on 23 May, when both the Green Party the Liberal Democrats made substantial gains at the expense of the Tories and Labour, some people have been asking about the differences between the two parties, noting that both are firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp and both have a ‘liberal’ approach to social issues. Would it not make sense, they ask, if the two were to combine in some way?

Tempting as it is to find some quick wins after decades of seemingly fruitless campaigning, there are unfortunately some fundamental differences between the two parties which make any really close union problematic.

The two main issues are Austerity and Climate Change.

The Lib Dems are wedded to a neo-liberal economic philosophy, as are the Conservatives, which means that they have a post-Keynesian understanding of macro-economics and national book-keeping (not very different in outcome and policy from a pre-Keynesian understanding). This understanding allowed them to become the junior partner in the 2010-15 Coalition government and impose austerity and swingeing public service cuts on large swathes of the population. The country, their argument goes, simply couldn’t afford previous levels of spending on education, health, welfare and social services. A more enlightened and informed view would be that the country simply couldn’t afford to cut these services. The irony of all this is that the Liberals, now ferociously breast beating their Remain credentials to the point where they need to be admitted to the A&E services they’ve previously cut, are in fact the joint authors of the disastrous referendum result. It’s true that they were against holding the referendum, but why do they think so many voted to leave the EU? When people have had five years of cuts to schools, health and housing – and they’re told by the press and right wing politicians that it’s all the fault of the EU migrants, why would they vote for more pain? And if you think that the embarrassment of 2010-15 is a thing of the past, with the imminent change of Lib Dem leadership, you’d be mistaken. Jo Swinson was a junior employment minister in the Coalition government; not as senior as the departing Vince Cable, but still a member of the government.

The Liberals accept the science of climate change but it’s just one more issue to them. They simply don’t get it. They don’t get that climate change dwarfs all other issues. Brexit, the NHS, the equality gap(s), proportional representation, transport and education - all important in their own right – are mere footnotes in history compared to the enormity and immediacy of climate change. Bill Clinton’s campaign catchphrase from 1992 ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ now looks dated and irrelevant in the face of the growing number of ‘natural’ disasters, shrinking ice packs and rising sea levels.

So, despite some superficial similarities – a propensity to be ‘nice’, beards and a belief in pavement politics – the Lib Dems and the Green Party are some way apart. One can only hope that, as with continental shelves, they develop a capacity to drift.