There are two key paragraphs from Rupert Read’s recent article, which addresses the impressive growth of the Green party membership and its implications, I wish to highlight:
“We need to review our policy commitments to ensure that there is nothing there to embarrass us, because our policy commitments are going to come under more scrutiny than ever before, now that we have an MP casting votes on every bill that comes before Parliament.

We need also to ensure that we have the research capacity and intellectual strength to be ready and able to explain and justify flagship policies that are open to misunderstanding or spinful denunciation. Among the policy areas that require such attentions are: our policies on migration, on population, on decriminalisation of various currently illegal activities, and on citizen’s income”

Whilst I agree factual accuracy and intellectual competence is a must if any policy is to be withheld and justified, this must not signal a mainstream assault on any of our, let’s say, controversial policies. These do include the policies that Read listed, but there are many more.

For example, our economic policies are also vulnerable to scrutiny as the current ideological and dogmatic economic bandwagon is that the only way to deal with the deficit is through cuts, and that the deficit is so ‘immorally’ unjust, it needs drastic immediate action. This is where Read is right, there needs to be a collection of the already broad and conclusive pieces of evidence that clearly cast doubts on the current economic practice.

However, regardless of the amount of justification given for key policies, there will always be moral panics created, especially by the right wing press, around policies such as decriminalisation of Class A drugs. There are many evidence based led campaigns, such as the Vienna Declaration, which competently illustrates the need for a science evidence based policy towards drugs. However, regardless of information, for some reason or another the mentioning of certain drug names sends sections of the public into a frenzy.

Therefore, my worry is that in desperately attempting to fend off any misunderstanding, we may undermine our very roots of success: our principled distinctiveness. We are arguably the most mainstream truly lefty-socialist progressive party, and the only mainstream party that has a radical approach to many of the social inequalities that exist in society. Our socially justice approach is what makes us unique.

There is a famous sociologist/political theorist, Robert Michels, who had begun his career as a socialist/Marxist but after a while, became rather disillusioned with the so-called ‘democratic’ process. His ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ reflects this, as he gradually came to believe that it was impossible for an organisation, even if it starts off with revolutionary and democratic principles, to ever be truly governed by the mass and represent a truly democratic movement.

Whilst I sadly agree with his, and the others within the ‘Realist’ tradition of his time, that we can never have a truly democratic mass organisation as there will always be some form of political leadership; I think that his work raises interesting questions for the Greens.

He talks about revolutionary ideas being replaced through this process, which is exactly what I am concerned with now. As the Greens grow in membership, their structures change, their basis and vote attraction mentality changes. We have to make sure that as a membership, as political activists – our radical edge never loses its potential. We have to try to defy the odds of political reality; we only have to look at what happened to the LibDems to see the problems with political power and structures on party’s principles and radical potential.

I think there are many things that the Greens need to discuss, and yes, intellectual justification for our key policies should be strengthened. But this unfortunate tendency for political elitism and consequently, policy mainstream dominance, well that needs to be stopped. The Greens need to maintain their radical cutting edge if they are to continue to rise.

Jane Watkinson blogs at Jane’s Political Ramblings and co-edits the pluralist Broad Left Blogging.