Friday, 3 August 2012

A Tale of Two Green Parties

We are the 1%. No, not the world's rich capitalist elite but sadly the mere 1% of people who care about the Green Party's leadership and executive elections. Since Caroline Lucas announced she was to step down as leader earlier this year, it was clear that the party was to face its first truly competitive leadership election (when Lucas was elected originally it was by a massive landslide and she became the first actual leader of a party that used to advocate not having an official figurehead at all). This is thus something of uncharted territory for our party. On one hand it presents the opportunities to reflect and debate our position and ideology whilst also threatening us with the dangers of division and internal friction. There are four candidates in all, as well as a collection of deputy leadership and administrative hopefuls.

However in reality the party faces a simple choice between two versions of itself, reflected in different candidates. There is the party of old; the stereotype of hippies, hemp and homoeopathy. An image of a party that many within it fought so hard to change. The image that perhaps many non-members still have of us, as well meaning but ultimately naïve. The image that leads internet commentators to see us as “a bunch of hopeless gap-years”, “an undergraduate party” or just “a f****** joke party”. Policy based on emotion rather than a coherent vision of both ideology and the practical means of putting that ideology into action. This party has a plethora of well meaning positions on a variety of issues but no overall coherence joining the dots together. By failing to prioritise the most impacting and effective of issues it traps itself in the political wilderness. It values the most important of green issues, such as how to transform the economy and how to unite social and environmental sustainability, on the same level as issues such as animal welfare, that are ultimately side issues. For example; a more sustainable economic transformation is much more likely to reduce the maltreatment of animals in laboratories, whereas focusing on animal rights has very little chance of contributing to the wider socio-economic platform. All in all this is, and must remain, the green party of old, confined to the dustbin of history.

Instead the party must embrace its new self that it has begun to embody in recent times. Still a party of values, ideology and principle, yet also one of coherence and clarity. It has an ecosocialist (or eco-social democrat depending on your preference) ideology that underpins its policies and links everything together, whilst at the same time being complemented by hard facts. If anything the modern green party, not the Tories, are the the party of empiricism. We base our policies on what are often the consensus opinions of experts and scientists. On climate change we have effective backing of 97% of peer reviewed science. On the economy only our policy is in line with that of practically minded organisations such as Positive Money, Land Value Tax, the New Economics Foundation, and many more. The sheer detail and length of our policy statements on such matters are far more in-depth than that of the major parties. At the very least our policies on tighter financial regulation, a tougher stance on tax avoidance and havens and the breaking up of banking monopolies are all supported by most practically minded economists such as Ha Joon Chang, yet are all opposed by the political establishment. The facts are on our side; benefit fraud costs the economy barely £1 billion whereas tax avoidance by the rich costs well over £70 billion, yet only green party policy seems to reflect this fact by focusing more on the latter. In contrast the Tories reject any of these proposals for fear of interfering with the current state of the economy that their ideology is so attached to, while Labour ignores their true ramifications out of a fear of shouts of “socialist” from the right wing press. Crucially this new Green Party understands that the environmental and socioeconomic difficulties are in fact the same problems, and thus require the same solutions. Hence its ideology combines both an ecological and leftist heritage. This party can also win elections and make a real difference to British, if not global, politics. This is the party that can take us of the dark night of obscurity and lead us into the day.

So what candidates represent the old and new parties? Well firstly, and most obviously, Pippa Bartolotti represents the old. Her attitude to the whole election has been troubling from the start. Pledging to be the “unreasonable green” and boasting of her combative approach to the media is exactly the wrong approach. Her obsession with the quote “don't raise your voice, improve your argument” is downright bizarre and annoying and finally, her very character is perhaps too hippyish to be part of the new wave in the party. Equally Natalie Bennett, who would probably dispute this herself, also forms part of the old ideal. By claiming to be the “post-watermelon candidate” she paradoxically traps herself in the past while trying to position herself in the future. “Watermelon” essentially means left wing and green. It has been used as an insult, but we should embrace it, for this is who we are. Being left wing comes with being environmentally conscious and vice versa. To oppose the watermelon ideology is to divorce the socioeconomic and ecological aspects of party ideology and thus be part of the defunct version of the Green Party.

In contrast, Peter Cranie and Romayne Phoenix, as well as several other candidates for the administrative and deputy posts, understand the new direction the party needs to go in. They understand the need to unite socioeconomic leftism with environmentalism, as well as the need to bring together ideology with a coherent and practical array of policies. Moreover such candidates are also capable of getting these ideas across to the public. That is something that is often overlooked. As a party of the left we should mourn the place appearance has in today's politics, yet at the same time our leadership posts were created simply to be a conduit for the media and public. This is partly why Pippa is so unsuitable because of her stereotypical 'old school green' image. Many of the 'experts' and organisations I listed above still see us as naïve and silly despite our shared ideas. Equally a whole host of charities and respected NGOs have beliefs and proposals highly similar to ours yet cannot make the link. We have the ideology and policies in the bag more or less, and now we simply need to focus on getting them into action and showing them to the public. Unlike Blair and New Labour however, this focus on presentation does not involve a shedding of ideals and principles. This is because the leader is only for the media and voters, real change in the party comes from all the members at conference. Ergo, this is why I feel the election is more about the different visions and depictions of the party presented by each candidate rather than the specifics of their ideology or policy. When the Tories choose a leader, they also know they are effectively choosing their party's ideology and policy platform for the next few years. When we choose a leader we just choose a different face. Of course this is still important, but it means we need to view the election from an alternative perspective.

At such a critical juncture in human history, the Green Party must make the right choice. All of us as members must embrace the currents of reformation and choose to be part of a party that offers a real alternative, one that is practically feasible for the concerns of many ordinary voters. For want of a better vocabulary, this election is the perfect chance for the green party to enter political maturity and grow up.