The Morning After The Night Before
It’s going to be one of those bittersweet days. The Greens made a few decent gains around the country. I suspect Jenny Jones will have performed creditably. But elsewhere we’ve seen good people get up and leave the party of late; Charlotte Dingle, Adam Pogonowski and several others. What’s most discouraging is that those who have left have tended to be young and energetic. There are several veteran moaners I’d not have missed but they, a little like haemorrhoids, seem to be with us for ever.
People say that if the Lib Dems continue to lose seats at the current rate they’ll all but cease to exist in a decade. I say if Greens continue to add seats at this rate the planet will cease to exist before we’re in a position to do much about it.
Of all the challenges the Green Party faces there are two we should tackle as a matter of urgency.
Firstly the party needs to find the right balance between the traditional green agenda and our commitment to social justice and translate that into a message that goes beyond the ‘Green New Deal’.
Yes we’re in a period of economic change as radical as the Agricultural Revolution in the early C18th, the Industrial Revolution of the early C19th and the birth of the oil economy of the early C20th. Yes the switch to Green clean tech is a part of that change, but it’s not the whole of it. However much we talk about a Green New Deal few people will buy the idea that we will pull ourselves out of an economic crisis through extensive loft insulation and building wind turbines alone.
We need an encompassing social and economic message that captures the wider Green vision. That means not just a shift away from pollution and unsustainable consumption. It means a shift towards something more positive – an economy powered by the liberal, free thinking culture that we enjoy in Britain (and I’d argue that we’re far more diverse and free thinking than almost any other country on earth) and educational resources that could, if properly tended to, be the best in the world.
I’m talking about a high value, low waste economy focused not on want creation but on meeting people’s needs. I’m talking about replacing a system that fabricates unhappiness in order to fill the void with consumer crap with one that cuts to the chase by setting out to create happiness in the first place.
We need to be talking about the politics of happiness. When Thomas Jefferson added to America’s Declaration of Independence certain self-evident truths; “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he had grasped that our happiness, singularly and collectively is what it’s all about. People want to be happy. They want their families to be happy. They want their children to be happy. The pursuit of happiness for our nation and those our nation touches should be our goal.
But as the old saw says, you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. There needs be detail beneath the message. We need to be both radical and strategic in our approach to the economy – that which gives us the means to pay for the healthcare, education and other services that are the bedrock of a civilised society.
A higher percentage of GDP in Britain comes from the creative industries than does in any other economy anywhere. Likewise Britain should build up its research base, whether that be in biomedical research, clean technology, IT or high-end engineering and create the infrastructure needed to turn the fruits of that research into products that reach the market. We need to recognise that we won’t compete with the emerging economies on labour cost and create jobs that add value and thus pay decent wages. That means realising the potential of all our fellow citizens and seeing their talents as a resource we’d be as loathe to waste as water or oil or steel. And we need to treat that talent as a renewable resource that, properly deployed, can help reduce the use of resources that are finite and/or damaging to the environment.
That inevitably leads us to the issue of social justice. In America people have a dream. They dream that anyone can grow up to be President. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have shown that you can face huge disadvantages and still occupy the Oval Office and lead your nation (of course the deals they had to do to get there and whether they did any good while sitting behind that desk are other points entirely).
This country is still the prisoner of its history. Here you get to the top because you were born at the top. Our head of state isn’t chosen. He or she just needs to be conceived in the right womb. A vast proportion of the nation’s wealth belongs not to people to helped create it but to people who inherited it from ancestors who took it at the point of a sword or won it by sucking up to a monarch.
Not only does this translate into a society where power is not evenly shared, it sets the tone for a society in which achievement and effort are decoupled. The people at the top, from the monarch down, aren’t there by virtue but by accident. What sort of signal does that send to a 15 year old preparing to set off towards the adult world? What is the British dream? That if you are born in the right year and you’re pretty enough you might be able to apply to a university where one of our princes or princesses is studying and marry them? That’s great in the world of Barbie and Ken. Out here in the real world it’s a recipe for discontent and disillusion.
We need to marry a vision of a diverse, clean, high quality economy with a nation where education can take anyone from beginnings however humble and liberate them to contribute the whole of their talents to the making of a happier nation. We need to value people by what they give and not what they take and we need to recalibrate people’s idea of worth. People know instinctively that good teachers, nurses and emergency workers are as valuable as bankers. It’s not an argument we have any trouble winning.
That takes me to a second challenge – broadening the front along which we communicate with people. As things stand the Green Party created just two elected leadership posts. That serves to build on the perception that we’re all about one person.
The Greens need a mechanism for showcasing the talent in depth and the diversity of views that the party undoubtedly has. The last time people asked where would a major Britiish party be without their leader it was with reference to the Tories and Margaret Thatcher. Her dominance meant that an entire generation of future Conservative leaders was blighted by having grown up in her shadow.
The problem with Caroline Lucas isn’t that she’s overbearing or megalomaniacal. Rather the problem is that her very effectiveness as a politician combined with lack of seats alongside her contrives to present us as a one woman show.
Not only can one woman not do everything and not be everything, I very much doubt whether Caroline wants to be in that position.
It’s time the Green Party started to think more seriously about broadening the franchise beyond two elected leadership posts to allow a proper team, chosen by the party, the chance to show that the Greens are a movement and not a fan club.
Two years ago I tried to offer a solution to that problem. This autumn I suggest we mandate the leadership, GPEx and GPRC to overhaul the Green Party’s administration and shift the centre of gravity within the party from those given a mandate to administer and deal with internal politics, to giving a mandate to those charged with communicating a Green vision to people outside the party.
The time for navel gazing is done. We need an outward looking party focused on winning over people to our ideas, and leave the administration to people who want to get that job done. It might also give those talented, often younger members with so much to offer, something to aspire to and a vision of a future within the party, not of a dead end.
Thanks for answer. I mostly agree with you but don’t think we can rely on being ahead of technology as enabling us to provide meaningful employment for the majority of us. Apart from anything else I don’t think it will be long before India and China and other countries have at least our technical expertise and inventive capacity. I do realise it is not easy but never the less think it should be possible to monitor goods imported in large quantities to determine wether they are inhumanely produced. We have to do that with foodstuffs and cosmetics etc for health and animal husbandry reasons, don’t we, or if we do’nt we should. I think we should be building and manufacturing the majority of products we need for our own use, which goes for all other nations too. The US pretty quickly put up barriors for steel imports when their industry was threatened without the free trade world collapsing, though of course it can never be free if labour is not allowed to travel to their most advantageous places to work.I agree with Molly Scott Cato’ blog article “the Paradox of Thrift” http://gaianeconomics.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/green-paradox-of-thrift.html#comment-form
I also think it would be a popular policy to pursue and we need useful work to stop our society disintergrating into ghettos imv not crap non jobs people are forced into for spite.
Most people I have spoke to believe we are not manufacturing enough anymore. I think BBC’s Made in Britain program was promoting an awful dystopian vision of our future way forward for manufacturing, ie advanced technology , mostly military hardware, expensive drugs and luxury playthings for the rich. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0125v5k Horrible imo
if you were the sort of member I had in mind when I flippantly us the term ‘veteran moaner’ then the Green Party would be a vertitable earthly paradise. There’s a gulf between constructive disagreement and the purely oppositional.
I tried consulting as widely as I could and putting forward suggestions. The point of throwing this over to GPEx and GPRC is that wis what conference actually ended up voting for in autumn 2010 anyway it’s simply that either SOC failed to direct those bodies towards the motion’s result or for some reason it wasn’t legit or they simply chose to see it as such.
In any case when you say I might be disappointed in the results your quite right – I might be. I’d be equally disappointed to put specific proposals before conference and see those rejected.
However I suspect we might do better to seek a solution where the project is made official, there is wider consultation and there’s a mandate to seek consensus and a solution.
I think the biggest obstacle is that many Greens are suspicious of change and anything that makes the party less democratic. My feeling is that having out entire speaker team appointed after being selected by our equivalent of Alistair Campbell or Andy Coulson (albeit they’re typically someone with morals and principles – but they’re still our comms person) is both deeply undemocratic and undermines the roles.
Rob makes the point that no one pays much heed to anyone other than Caroline. Caroline has long had the advantage of being an elected politician and speaker/leader. My suspicion is that if we vote for a ‘front bench’ people will tend to back people who have got elected to something. It’s a good discipline both for the party and for the candidates.
The media meanwhile are drawn to good communicators. They also need a reason to speak to someone (they don’t like appointees – at the moment we’re arguably offering an ‘expert’ list rather than a true team of spokespeople). But even with Labour and the Tories journalists favour people who have mastered their brief, who have helf and who communicate. They like Ken Clarke. They like William Hague (as foreign secretary anyway). They like Ed Balls (though it pains me to say it) and they really like Vince Cable – he’s elected, he’s authoratative, he’s personable…
As Jay Leno once said ‘politics is showbiz for ugly people’. The skills it takes to win over the party to elect you to a Green front bench are much closer to the ones you’ll need to be an effective spokesperson than the skills you need to win over the external comms coordinator – one person. Those are backroom skills (the training ground of Mandelsons), not effective spokespeople.
As for Britain being unable to compete with China and India on cost with regard to unskilled wages – that is not a neo Liberal myth. You remember how things were in the 70s – sure – that’s when India was still running a command economy unable to export and antipathetical to importing and was before China started it’s process of “opening up” and reform under Deng Xiaoping in 1978.
Of course we do make use of unskilled labour here. We have cleaners and fruit pickers and people who pack seafood in Scottish factories and so forth but the wages are dismal.
Put simply we’re not reaping the benefits of mechanisation and the IT revolution evenly. Some people are benefitting hugely, others have been completely been left behind socially and economically. I am really not convinced that turning the clock back is an option.
Nor should one blythely advocate keeping out sweatshop goods without at least offering the mechanism by which this might be done. As things stand Britain is unlikely to be granted the right not just to monitor factories in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Phillipines, India and Brazil but also to determine working conditions and institute sanctions. We could try but the likely response would be action under the WTO and/or import bans on our goods by countries we have offended. (Shaming Western companies who use sweatshops HAS been pretty effective but typically only one or two major players are shamed at a time and the rest continue regardless. And the consequences can also be unforseen – such as a report by a BBC journalist into ‘sweatshops’ in Cambodia leading to the closure of several Cambodian factories – making trainers I think – factories that weren’t bad by local standards, which paid at least twice the average national wage. I was in Cambodia reporting on the textile industry three or four years after that and there weas considerable anger over that from both owners and workers – the jobs just went to China where consitions were probably worse and where access was far harder).
We could of course put up blanket import bans and accept export bans in response and become a closed loop economy – but that would mean substantial reskilling and serious problems when we needed to import raw materials.
None of these problems are insuperable, but just as it’s easy for a US president to wave a hand over a map of Iraq and feel in command, it’s easy to reel of simple solutions to complex economic issues and quickly find one is facing unexpected consequences.
We do need a proper strategic view. I see no shame in trying to encourage all our fellow citizens to improve their skills, their ambition, their pride in what they do as part of trying to create a flatter economy and a more equitable, less divided society.
Making better stuff that lasts longer where we need that stuff doesn’t seen un-Green to me.
Think it may be worth having a kind of shadow cabinet where people specialise in certain subjects. Aren’t there already people who do that such as Molly Scott Cato who speaks on the economy. Is the problem that the national media shows little interest in people not well known so goes to Caroline, or in Respects case to Gallaway.
>We need to recognise that we won’t compete with the emerging economies on labour cost and create jobs that add value and thus pay decent wages.<
Isn't this a neo liberal myth. I remember well the 70's when I was in my early 20's late teens when we made nearly everything, clothes, ships, batteries, steel etc. I worked in several factories doing this kind of work and though they were not particularly pleasant they were not sweatshops . I worked around 40 hours a week and earned a reasonable income.
I do not understand how we can produce just niche products based on high prices for patented goods and have an inclusive and thriving economy where everyone is producing something of worth. It also sounds a bit supremist to me. Doesn't it rely on continued technological gadgetary and obsolescence. I am an enthusiast for new technology that improves our lives and reduces our environmental impact but think much simply replaces one perfectly good product with another promoted as more fashionable, therefore better.
I think it would be good to manufacture much of what we use again, and I think most people would agree with that. We can't compete on sweat shop wages it is true but we could ban importing goods from inhumanely run sweatshops. I think we should invest in manufacturing basic goods as well as the green deal and insist that imported products have to have been produced in an ethical manner, ie with minimal pollution and the workers having reasonable wages and conditions
Nice blog piece, well articulated. This issue of leader vs shadow ministers seems to be coming up a lot on this blog so will be interesting to see what happens at the next green conference. For me, two other huge issues are spreading appeal and finance – UKIP (13% of the popular vote where they stood) and Respect seem to be making breakthroughs as small parties whose message resonates with their voters. And then finance – still don’t see why the unions are continually supporting labour when Ed Miliband said he wouldn’t end all the cuts, or doesn’t support their strikes. If just one union defected to the green party, or there were successful grassroot projects that would allow the green party to continue to be financially independent, then we’d be able to field more candidates and spread appeal.
Can I suggest you don’t mandate someone else to do something and then being disappointed in the result? I think you should put your specific proposals and own them rather than making others do it for you. – Veteran moaner.