Natalie’s Train Ride: The Potency of Eco-Individualism
Adam Ramsay writes on why the Evening Standard’s attack piece on Natalie Bennett taking a train across Europe is a good thing for Greens.
“Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spent £350 on trains across Europe because she was opposed to catching £90 flight”. That was the fascinating attack piece from the London Evening Standard on Natalie Bennett yesterday. There’s a Labour MP quoted in the story, though I don’t know whether the piece came from them, or from the Standard itself. But either way, it’s been placed by someone who wants to attack Greens.
These sorts of pieces offer an opportunity for Greens to see ourselves as others see us. And generally, I think this is a very good sign for the Greens. Firstly, for the obvious reason that it shows that people care. The Green surge isn’t just being noticed by Greens. And secondly, perhaps more importantly, it shows that they now have to attack us in this way, which implies we’ve stopped shooting ourselves in the foot by inflicting this wound on ourselves.
The basic narrative of the story is a familiar one. Greens are annoying, preachy smug types who tell you what to do in your life and how to behave. It also implies Greens are middle class, can afford expensive things like long distance train journeys, and everyone else is shit because they can’t. And so on.
Vitally, the implication of all of these stories is that Greens think it is the average person, individually, as a consumer, who is responsible for the climate crisis. “When they talk about climate change” the Standard is telling people “they are blaming you”. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the capitalists who think climate change will be solved if we all just change what we buy. It’s the right who are implicitly blaming individuals for their consumer habits. Greens blame the system. We believe in change through democracy, not change through consumerism. Greens understand that the way in which we beat billionaires is not, primarily, with the pound in our pocket, because they have more of them.
But the thing about narratives is that once they’ve been established in someone’s head, you don’t need to tell them the ending for them to know it. So, you don’t need to say “they’re judging you for not doing this” in order for someone to think that that’s what you’re doing. It’s why, despite the fact that almost no vegan I know has ever told me, or anyone else, off for not being vegan, they have almost all frequently been accused of being preachy.
This is a narrative which is astonishingly damaging to Greens. Because it frames everything else we say. It means people hear our comments in a tone of preachy-ness. It makes people feel we’re being judgemental in everything we do, rather than standing with them in their struggles in life, it makes them feel like we’re always pointing out the ways in which they are failing. Most perniciously of all, it makes people think that we are blaming them for the problems of the world, when in fact we need to be organising them to overthrow a system which extracts the life and wealth out of both our planet and out of each of us.
So, here’s the thing about this story. In the past, our enemies wouldn’t have to run it. Because we’d do it to ourselves all the time. We’d talk about how our candidates aren’t hypocrites and do live green lifestyles. And so on. And, while, of course, that’s a good thing in itself, it would poison everything else we said.
The presence of this story implies to me is that Greens have stopped repeatedly smashing our faces into the brick wall of an eco-individualism which alienated millions from us. So, instead, now our enemies are trying to do it for us. If we were ever in any doubt about the damage we did to ourselves by repeatedly telling this story, we only need to ask why, as Greens Surge, this is the first attack our opponents reach for.