What are the Greens’ values?
John Denham has written an interesting piece on OurKingdom about today’s One Nation Labour and the New Labour of the 90s. In it, he wrestles with some of the same issues as Greens were discussing at their conference last weekend. Denham makes the point that New Labour wasn’t – at first – about a specific appeal to the voters of the centre ground. The project, he says was about defining a set of values that a broad range of people could get behind – including those in the political centre.
At this years’ Green Party conference too, there was much talk about values – with at least two major discussions on the subject, hosted respectively by Compass Greens and the Young Greens. John Denham’s case is first that Labour needs to talk more about values and less about policy – which was also the conclusion of both of these sessions at the Green conference and should be clear to anyone who understands political messaging. More interesting are his second and third points, that the make up of the British polity has changed, and therefore the values to which Labour should appeal should change.
These comments are, I think, particularly pertinent to Greens: “The ‘centre’ has” he says “neither moved to the left, nor to the right. But nor has it stayed where it was! It has become hollowed out as opinions have polarised. In the wake of the crisis and continuing low growth and austerity Britain’s voters have moved further and further away from each other.”
There is another way of putting this, and it’s an important point for Greens – particularly in the run up to a European election. A culture war is brewing. As lines are being drawn out, politicians will need to either take sides or fall into a vanished middle. So far, the biggest winners from this polarisation of politics is UKIP: as Peter McColl has argued, they were already a party of culture war, an English version of the Tea Party, and they have surfed the waves.
Some other groups too are on the rise in the wake of this new politics. It is becoming a cliché to say that feminism is in the middle of a remarkable resurgence. But it’s a cliché because it’s true. But apart from this, the other side of this culture war is notable for its organisational vacuum. If we look at public attitudes, we find a huge swathe of the population who think that benefits shouldn’t be cut. There is a significant portion of the population who believe that immigration bashing has gone too far. The important question, though, is this – who speaks for these people? And who will they vote for?
Once upon a time, the Lib Dems and Labour between them absorbed these supporters. But as they struggle to cope with the new political make up, as they try to stand on both stools as they move further and further apart, they will struggle to pull the two together.
Greens, on the other hand, have an advantage. We aren’t aiming to have 60% like us. We are aiming – in the Euro elections at least – to have 10-15% love us. And this group – those who are fed up with nasty immigrant bashing rhetoric, who don’t like politicians blaming jobless people for unemployment, who think politicians should stand up to UKIP not seek to replicate them – are looking for someone to love.
To win them, Greens need – as Denham says – to enshrine some basic values. And, as Denham does for Labour, here is my attempt to kick off a debate about what they might be. They have to be things that lots of people feel, not new, alien ideas. And they have to be things we can articulate which differentiate us from our opponents. Here goes:
1) Standing up for the underdog
There is a sense, among this group, that politicians are trying to shift the blame for their failures onto those who can’t so easily defend themselves. The most obvious examples are immigrants, those without jobs and disabled people. Green MEP Keith Taylor said at the Green conference this year “we stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants. That is our position, and we will not shirk from it”. He should say this at every opportunity between now and the next election. The most popular leaflet headline of new Oxfordshire Green councillor Sam Coates’ romping, against the trend, victory against Labour this May was ‘stand up to the immigrant bashers’. We should learn from his success.
Immigration – because our position on it is essentially unique, and because, with UKIP on the march and an immigration bill coming up – will be the major issue of the coming Euro election. As I have argued before, talking about it is crucial. Play our cards right, and we will be the only people on one side of this debate. But there are, of course, other important debates too which are best framed as standing up for the underdog.
When we talk about fracking, for example, we should be doing so in a way which is steeped in this basic idea: big companies trying to ride roughshod over local communities.
When we talk about tax dodging, it’s about your local coffee shop vs the big chain. When it’s the bedroom tax, it’s mansion dwellers trying to blame ordinary folks. Right now, it’s bonuses for bankers and stagnant wages for the rest of us. We know whose side we’re on. The notion of the underdog is powerful in the British psyche. Frame any policy like this, and people know which side they are on too.
2) We solve our problems through public co-operation, not brutal competition
In the last Green local election broadcast, Caroline Lucas said “step by step, we’ll return our energy, water and rail networks to public ownership”. The majority of British people support this statement, but no other major political party does. That we should talk about it all the time is, I assume, not contentious among Greens who are interested in success. There is no other major issue in British politics where so many so strongly agree with us and yet have no electoral expression other than us for their view.
But this value encompasses more than just privatisation. It speaks to the drive to ever more exams at schools, to a sense, with high unemployment rates, that each of us must not just keep up with the Joneses, but also overtake them.
This value, though, also requires us to think about another key element of communication – tone. And that’s why I chose the quote above. As Gary Dunion has explained, the director of that broadcast, Gail Parminter, said that it “takes the macho out of political advertising”. If we are arguing for co-operation, we should sound co-operative. The content must be controversial or it will be ignored. It should be angry, because people are. But it should be a statement of determined intent, not a red faced political chant.
3) Change vs more of the same
The current elite has failed like no other for a long time. Denham may argue that much of the population doesn’t want change, but the people to whom Greens must appeal do.
When we talk about this, though, we mustn’t continue our smug habit of saying “only Greens…” because this excludes all of those who aren’t currently Greens. The party isn’t a unique, reified unit, it must be the expression of a yearning of a significant portion of the population. We should talk about how we all want change, how the current elites have failed, how things need to get better. Don’t tell people we are the change. Talk about how much change is needed. The former looks like a smug call for us to be given power, the latter speaks to how people feel.
- Strong communities are diverse communities
With UKIP’s dog whistles trying to herd people into neat categories of ‘OK’, or ‘not OK’, it’s important to be a cheerful advocate for everyone who’s a little bit different. And, when we think about it, that’s almost everyone. Whether people are black, an immigrant, LBGT, disabled, single dads, single mums, have tattoos across their face or, in fact, have for any reason had the bigoted man at the bar make a derogatory remark, then they should see us as them. I don’t mean just that we should represent such people, I mean we should take the platform we have built, and help them onto it.
Ours is a pluralist society. Most people are a minority of one kind or another. Breaking up UKIP’s social boundaries isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also the road to electoral success.
I am sure that each of these could be improved upon, and I am very aware that these don’t incorporate in themselves a vision of ‘the good life’ (though I hope we could build that vision by expressing our ideas through these frames). What’s important for me is that a good chunk of the electorate finds in Greens a set of inclusive values they are hunting for and haven’t found elsewhere – and that we have a proper conversation to work out what these are.
そうじゃねーんだよなぁ なんかヨレヨレのYシャツの軽くハゲたおじさんで会社に呼んだんだけど入ってくるなりなんか コンビニのそうめんってつゆは袋に入ってるのが普通だろ
外国人が多いし士気も低いよ。メインは夜中の仕事だし。 ・SG競走優出回数 2回（女子歴代1位） まあしてるしてないは知らんけど
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Peter said: “Too often Green communication is about policy that has very opaque outcomes.”
Agree. Greens allied to the neoliberal agenda are arguably part of the problem because its hard to see how the environment can be turned around without addressing capitalism and its many ills. When it comes to serious change I prefer Green Left, the emphasis bring on the latter.
thanks for the comments.
On environmental questions, I suppose my aim is to find a way to talk about all issues, including environmental ones, in a frame which chimes with other messages. So, opposing fracking/standing up to the drivers of climate change are about standing up for the underdog, change is about building a better future rather than making things worse, landfill sites are about a failure to properly co-operate as a community – allowing private interests to dominate.
I think it’s important that we get away from talking about environmental issues as though they are separate. The lessons we needs to learn to solve them are the same ones as we learnt at our mothers’ knee – share nicely and don’t bully.
A good approach Adam, I plan to use it as a reference when writing.
But, like Mike, I’d like the ecological dimension to be more visible. It’s vital because, as Andrew Dobson said at one the conference sessions you mentioned, at root it’s our defining issue. That’s easy for “3) Change vs more of the same” since the resource/climate crisis is a main reason for needing to change. And, of course, we can always insert “sustainable” in various places.
Useful but I don’t think it’s enough.
So I’d like to suggest a fifth frame: “Caring for our grandchildren’s future”. That builds on the fact that the GP is the only party that thinks longterm. The reference to grandchildren should give it resonance with the people have for their families and the widespread understanding that short-termism is part of the problem.
Denham’s article is very good but its not about basic values it is about translating and lifting values so they have a positive resonance in tne present context of people’s lives.
Unlike most of Labour , Denham does have values and notions of “fairness” & the realisation of “human potential”.
To translate some of our Green Party values so that they strongly resonate with those who are willing to embrace change in a more “sustainable” , “egalitarian”, “democratic” & “realisation of both human and bio-diverse well-being” way is highly important. We could do with working on this as a party.
I have two criticsms of your attempt , Adam.
Firstly you seem to be only attempting to address the “social justice” area of Green Values and overlooking the “ecological” aspects.
Secondly the words and phrases used sound like talking to ourselves and not to the British public.
However thanks for drawing attention to a useful article and important potential project. It’s a dificult one ,needing lots of well informed collective endeavour. No individual can take this on alone and I’m certainly not going to have a go out of the blue. There is a massive amount of collective work behind John Denham’s well worked out slogans for resonating with the public.
I’d just like to offer my congratulations to Ben Samuel on his B.Sc (Hons) in something or other
Well done Ben
nothing about the desperate state of the resource base of the world or climate change or soil or arctic or rising energy costs. Fundamentally we are dependent on our eco-system – must be worth a shout
We’ve been talking about values, and how we frame them, in our local party (Mid & East Cornwall Green party) and we have noted that our local libdems are constantly repeating the two frames: strong economy, fair society. we came up with 5 simple frames that we could put into our communications that consistently promote values that possible electors might connect with. They are: Stonger Communities, Social Justice, Better Future, Real Democracy, Shared Responsibility.
Almost the most important policy that the Greens stand for, in every way, is the Citizens’ Income. It would genuinely challenge the power relations between every worker and every employer, between classes, to coin a phrase.
It’s transformative but also a really easy sell. Tell me one group of people who wouldn’t benefit from it, other than the rich? It draws a line in the sand which simultaneously creates an argument and expresses a humanity. Yet you hear SO little about it.
I know almost no-one who fundamentally associates it with the Greens. It should be the central platform and all else should be secondary. I hope you shout from the roof tops that you have an economic philosophy and policy that expresses a new kind of world. And this is it. Right now there’s way too much static.
But this article goes a long way towards a coherent narrative too so thanks.
As a Young Green who attended Tom Chance’s fringe on the Green Party’s “philosophical basis” I suggest that you check your facts. The fringe was not hosted by the “young greens”. A lot of my work over the past year has been about communicating our values and yes, University of York and yourself at convention took this up in a big way, but it’s been the whole party involved in this discussion at conference; From Medway in the South, to Enfield, and Martin Collins in the north..
Thanks, I think this is important.
I’d like to add another value:
Being on people’s side
The other thing I’d say is that we need to identify ourselves clearly as being on people’s side.
Too often Green communication is about policy that has very opaque outcomes. In Scotland we spent lots of time talking about Land Value Tax. Which is great. But it doesn’t seem to people to be the sort of thing that will make their lives better tomorrow. Or perhaps even ever.
We should make sure that all of our work has a direct positive impact on people’s lives. That would mean supporting policies like Living Wage, and new jobs in the green economy.