This was the third Green Party Yorker column I wrote http://www.theyorker.co.uk/comment/politics/10908
It is impossible to escape stereotypes. Even if you know they are false, it is hard not to base your assumptions off them. Political parties are no different. One would expect a Tory conference to be full of suited affluence and intoxicated with the airs of the establishment, while Labour would once have been seen as a tough working class arena, but is now full of eerie professionalism. Thus on the eve of attending the conference of my party, the Greens, for the first time, I thought of bearded hippies without shoes arguing over animal rights and drug legalisation whilst lambasting those who dared consume meat or purchase non-biodegradable products.This common perception of green politics could not have been further from the truth, and simply highlights the great flaws that characterise mainstream political thinking.
Since New Labour's obsession with public image and spin, mainstream politics has become a world populated by increasingly similar politicos with slick, telegenic appearances and meaningless ideologies who give off pointless sound-bites and feel the need to kowtow to dominant trends of popular culture. This forced other parties to follow a similarly cringe-worthy pattern that has only served to dilute the very force of politics and alienate young and old alike.
The deification of appearances also entails worryingly anti-democratic inclinations. For anything that is not in alignment with the demands of stage-managed appearances is marginalised. The voices and concerns of ordinary members are pushed to the side, and the overall bent of the party is determined from the top down. Many grass-roots Labour and Liberal Democrats members remain significantly to the left of the leadership, while the superficial liberalisation of the Conservatives is hardly in line with the majority of members' views.
It therefore gave me a great sense of pride to see that my party had not given in to these currents. Though I stated that the stereotypes of Greens as aloof eccentrics was largely inaccurate, the fact that we are seen as so different to the dull chasm into which the mainstream parties have descended, should be worn as a badge of honour, not shame. Indeed the only Spin in my party conference was the name of the former chair of the university branch.
This was a party for ordinary people voicing real opinions and ideas, not the vacuous products from some monstrous PR machine. Every change to policy had to be voted on and anyone could speak out on any matter. The conflict over the questionable Brighton budget was indeed fiery and divisive, but it was a unique thing in modern British party politics. To question the very moral integrity of the central line would have been suicidal in a Labour or Tory conference.
As a result we produced policies that I'd like to think are far more reflective of ordinary British views that those produced from the politico-media establishment that controls popular perceptions. Proposals on economic democracy, defending the right to protest, decent housing for everyone and fair internships (many of which were badly worded, another sign of a vigorous democratic spirit) all represent the outcomes of true democratic processes. The very soul of the Green Party is an entity full of life and spirit, driven by the will of all its members, all of whom have an equal say.
And that is precisely why I joined the Green Party and why I feel it has so much to offer British, if not global, politics. For, above all else, it represents a vision of real democracy. Power lies in the hands of everyone by virtue of common humanity. Wealth, talent, prestige, charisma, control of information and so many other arbitrary influences that so corrupt our illusory democracy at the moment, that give far more influence to the few over the many, are disregarded completely. Yes, there was disagreement and division, and there were several decisions that I questioned. But for once I felt satisfied with the outcome, because I truly knew that it was achieved fairly and equally.
The great hope for the future is that this supreme democratic vitality, that is engrained to the very fibres of the Green party could be expanded to Britain as a whole, and maybe even beyond. Only our policies on pure proportional representation, media regulation so that no one has a monopoly of information, constitutional reform, and economic democracy, among so many others, are deserving of the title; “democratic”. Cynical attempts by our opponents to mock us as unprofessional or hippyish only serve to reinforce this ideal.
So if there was anything that I took away from conference it was a fuller understanding of what my party truly means. The next time I am asked what the Green Party stands for, I will not list our key policies, I will not give off the old cliché about combining social and environmental justice, and I will not make some over-used references to fairness or alternatives that are so prevalent in current affairs that they lose all meaning. I will simply say; “democracy”.