Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Who's In Charge?

I publish this, if a tad belatedly, in full: Caroline Lucas: The greens need a clear voice – and a leader

Published: 23 August 2007
At Heathrow and around the country, last weekend, the climate camp deservedly hit the headlines, with its urgent message on the action needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Now, it's time for the follow-up. The green movement needs to gain some of the levers of power, in order to transform protest into policy implementation.

The Green Party needs to rise to that challenge. Despite the steady osmosis of its policies and ideas into the political mainstream and an increase in support at the ballot box, the urgency of climate change suggests that we should be far bigger players than we currently are.

A look at the way political commentators describe the state of the parties' popularity tells us what the problem is, straight away: Brown "bounces" while Cameron "wobbles".

But not a single column inch has told the story of the Greens' near-doubling in support over a number of polls taken during the past two years – and why? Partly at least because the party doesn't have a figurehead that can represent our ideas.

The truth is that the media – and most voters – don't relate to abstract concepts: rather they relate to the people who espouse and embody them.

After 30-odd years of trying to ignore that reality, we are running out of time. The need for Green political influence has never been so urgent, and never has there been so much at stake.

Scientists tell us that the next eight to 10 years will be critical in terms of whether we have any chance of avoiding the worst of climate change.

It is still the case that only the Green Party has both the radical policies and the political commitment that are so desperately needed to make sure we do.

For example, the cosy Westminster consensus has brought us a Climate Change Bill with hopelessly inadequate targets. According to scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, rather than constraining warming to less than two degrees which is essential to our chances of being able to stabilise the climate, the Bill's targets are more likely to contribute to a world that's four or five degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times.

This isn't just a terrifying prospect – it's a political scandal, and the Greens have to be in Parliament, challenging it and exposing it.

The trouble is Government advisers only give advice that they deem to be "politically realistic" – in other words, advice that won't require any major transformation of the economy or business as usual.

Greens have to be heard saying what others refuse to say: that the definition of what is "politically realistic" has to be, first and foremost, that which guarantees a habitable planet, not that which guarantees the greatest possible financial returns to companies and to their shareholders.

The real irony, of course, is that a radical transformation of the way we live our lives and do business will actually create a whole series of social win-wins: warmer homes, stronger communities, tastier food, less time spent stuck in traffic jams – even an end to the "status anxiety" which makes so many of us unhappy or even depressed.

But as the public debate over cutting emissions moves on, politicians, businesses and the media remain focussed on the costs and hardships of moving to a low-carbon economy. Rare are the voices talking about the benefits. We're not talking about huddling around a candle in a cave; rather, about chatting over a sumptuous meal of locally produced food, in a warm, well-insulated house, with friends and neighbours, having arrived by bike (easy, along uncongested streets), on foot or by public transport.

So our message is urgent, our skills and approach are needed now more than ever, and our electoral support is rising. Yet without an identifiable leadership team, we're just not getting the media attention and political success we deserve.

That's why the Green Party is looking at its internal structures: holding a referendum of all of its party members on whether to build on the set-up of having two "principal speakers" to the vital next stage: having a leader and a deputy leader (or two co-leaders) to act as recognisable, inspiring, leading voices for the thousands of dedicated party activists who collectively make the party what it is. Such a leadership wouldn't have the authority, so beloved of Brown and Cameron, to ignore party members' wishes and draw power to the centre.

They would be a very "green" leadership, elected by members every two years and remaining entirely accountable to the Greens' supreme policy-making body, our biannual conferences, and subject to recall.

Leadership doesn't have to be top down and authoritarian. Green leadership is about empowering and enabling voters to act, a leadership that inspires and motivates rather than one which dictates.

We think that the time is right to take radical Green policies and radical Green politics into the mainstream – and that by voting for identifiable and accountable leadership party members will be taking a vitally important step towards being able to do just that.

The author is the Green Party's MEP for South-east England. The article was written with the
assistance of Darren Johnson, Leader of the Green Group on Lewisham Council

The first thing that struck me was that I hadn't actually realised the Green's didn't have a leader (and I'm guessing our Caroline has her hat ready). And that this might explain a lot about how I feel about them as a viable political entity. They just seem like a bit of a nice bunch who oppose a lot of stuff. Would a leader bring them and what they are seeking to do into voter focus? No idea.

But looking at the alternatives, the presence of a leader doesn't seem to help much. We have Mr. Cameron who seems to stand for everything and nothing. Meanwhile Mr. Brown seems to be proving that the best way to stay on top is to stay out of the way and remain invisible. How long this will succeed who knows, but if polls (that's two 'l's') are to believed he has got away with the last 10 years plus the last few months pretty well on this basis. And surrounding himself with the most colourless collection on non-people I have ever had the misfortune to shake my head in disbelief at has not hurt either.

Maybe we do get who we deserve.

Greens decry lack of Government action on climate change

I am grateful to Dave of Solarventi for this link - Green party pragmatics - which adds further to this discussion in some detail. Sadly, I think it still rather confirms the feeling of some that the lack of a leader makes it hard to 'place' them in this media age, no matter how g*d-awful all the other leaders with their 'please all the people all the time' antics are in serving their parties and the country. Maybe the Greens have a point, though it seems to serve them poorly at the polls if one comment is to be believed.


Anonymous said...

You've summed up the internal party argument in a nutshell. It can be a blessing as well as a curse to have a party leader. Whatever the party decides, it will not be a leader who is powerful in a conventional sense, with executive power - that will remain with party conference, the leader being more of a spokesperson and figurehead if the proposal is accepted.

One more thing - if you want to know more about what the party stands for (it certainly doesn't just "oppose things" and has a full programme), you can read their entire policy positions in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail on the national party's website.

Peter said...

I stand corrected on fact, though perhaps not so much on personal perception.

To be fair to all sides, there have of course been some decent, proactive, positive initiatives by the Green Party, and I hope I have managed to quote them here when informed of them. Note that I tend to respond more keenly when told. As do most of us, I think. A fact not lost on those who engage many and varied systems to tell us stuff when we are more likely to be receptive to hearing or seeing it. And the Greens more than most, I might add. Maybe I had had just a few too many 'critical responses' of late in the back of my mind when I wrote.

With some frustration as one hoping to make a living out of a website, I fear it's not just enough to say 'it's on the website', though those who care should certainly take it upon themselves to visit and compare what can only be deemed the most objective outline of what a party stands for and seeks to do in the future.

Sadly many, and I count myself amongst them, seldom have the time (if that is a poor excuse when it comes to the pretty significant issue of selecting our leaders - we should of course make time for such issues) or inclination (a subjective commentary on the skill with which political issues are often portrayed in communication and persuasive terms) to do so at all, let alone on the regular basis necessary to stay abreast of the fast moving world of politics.

But as I feel a measure of responsibility by having a blog that is read by others (and tries to be as balanced as possible), I apologise for the odd future slip of sloppiness in matters of fact, and will try and be more considered when popping out the odd flip remark.