What matters in (Green) politics?

I joined the UK Green Party recently. There’s a lot to fix with its internal organisation, media presentation and other peripheral aspects. There are bits of policy that need serious work. But the core thinking on the ecological, economic and social levels is broadly good and coherent.

There is an internal discussion (post mortem) going on after a ‘car-crash’ interview the Greens leader, Natalie Bennett gave on LBC, a radio station this last week. I posted the following on the internal discussion about the car crash by way of reaction. It might be of interest to some readers here (note: below, ‘GP’ = Green Party, not general practitioner!).

I’m another new member of just a few weeks. I’ve read this thread, and will offer some comments. For what it’s worth, I suggest that comments of new members are quite valuable in the sense that they are something like reactions that the general public might have; the difference is that they (we) have made a conscious decision to join, and are already personally engaged with green thinking. I.e. new members’ reactions can probably be interpreted as being at the most accepting / forgiving end of general public reaction. We must assume that the rest of the spectrum contains more hostility and/or indifference.

Now, as to the new member reactions here, they are largely not positive. That tells us where the rest of the public are likely to situated. Conclusion: there is serious work to do.

A lot of posters here have made comments along the lines of ‘car crash interviews are unforgivable’, ‘deeply worrying’, ’embarrassing’ and so on. I happen to agree with most of them. However I would suggest that we see this kind of non-performance as not acceptable for a political party as a collective entity, rather than at a personal level of the leader. Personal failures are always possible and explainable, we’re all human after all. But at the level of the team they’re not, and the team needs to do something about it. It may be that the best batter isn’t the best captain (English cricket, anyone?).

Collective decision-making processes need to get to work and get the right people into the right places in the GP, and support those they put in tough positions properly. Noone should feel bad about that. Politics is about competition for mindshare. I suspect a lot of people think about the mindshare part a lot, but less about the competition part.

I am somewhat amazed I have to say that anyone would a) go into an interview without being completely versed in the current policy on the topics in question (normally this requires a dedicated briefing team) and b) that the policy doesn’t appear to have been worked out very well (i.e. in terms of realistic costs, basic economic realities, e.g. houses don’t earn rental income until they are built etc).

I’m not going to sit here and criticise with the mindset that ‘someone else should sort it out or I’m leaving’. I’m very happy to get right into policy review and formulation, and am prepared to go through policy documents conceptually and line by line and provide as much useful input as I can. As soon as I get my bearings I intend to join the relevant policy groups and start contributing.

Now, I’m just one person. I believe there are now something like 50,000 members. Clearly, there must be enough professionally competent people among us to get policy sorted out. The main challenge is self-organisation. Here new members are obviously pretty reliant on the old-timers for some period, but I think we may have useful new thoughts on how to work together efficiently as well.

On that point, I think improvements are likely to be needed to the IT infrastructure / tools in use here – a lot of interaction and collaboration will necessarily be online, not face to face. People are busy, so we need to use technology properly. I am involved in various communities involving IT professionals and also healthcare professionals (clinicians) – none of whom ever have any free time – and we’ve learned a lot over the last 15 years on how to work efficiently online. I’m sure others have similarly useful experience.

With a community of 50,000 (thinking) people, if we organise right, we can probably change the world. There is work to do here as well. If there is not already a dedicated community-building / strategy group, one is needed.

A few last points of importance to me (I’m sure I’m reiterating things somebody said 10 years ago, but I’ll say them anyway;-)

  • if the GP has as a primary mission to engage in the mainstream political process, i.e. getting votes and putting members in parliament, it must make successful voter ‘conversions’. Therefore the main deliverable to achieve is the outward facing message, not the internal conversation.
    • another mission has to be to find a way to rectify the abysmal FPTP voting system here. I don’t know how that can be done, but it’s clearly a separate process.
  • A voter conversion means converting a person who would not have voted Green to a Green vote. We can probably ignore people who ‘think green’ (deep or otherwise); they already know their own mind, and may already be members. So we’re talking about the broad public here.
  • The outwardly projected messages therefore have to appear relevant to the average citizen who doesn’t (yet) think within a green / sustainability mental framework (which was all of us at some point in our own personal histories).
  • The priorities of the individual citizen tend to start from the personal, and traverse the various levels of community, society, country, arriving at the planetary only in occasional moments of contemplation. High priorities are likely to be housing, university fees, employment. There is no avoiding this, and it’s perfectly reasonable. If heating the house is an issue, heating the planet probably isn’t.
  • Green thinking has a priority list that tends to be the other way round, i.e. planetary => humanity => bloc => nation => region => village / town => family => individual (note that ‘local’ and decentralised economies and governance are a global concept here).
  • Green policies are designed to achieve ethically, ecologically and economically sound outcomes for everyone….
  • They need to be designed on the ‘green framework’ basis…
  • But communicated outward on an ‘average citizen’ basis.

If the GP wants new votes but projects outward messages primarily about climate change or global financial meltdown, it will lose most ‘convertible’ voters from the outset. They will just switch off. A single issue party that happens to understand the truth about global warming but doesn’t have rock-solid policy on university fees (for example) is not voter-relevant, for the non-green thinking majority. The not-yet-green-thinking person will not vote for a party that can take care of the climate but can’t deal with the mundane and close-to-home issues. I’m assuming everyone here knows this.

I’m aware that these comments are likely to be re-iterating some sort of existential debate within the GP for the last 10 – 20 years, and articulated in no end of books by the Porrits, Dalys, Brands and the rest. I’m making them to make the point that I see them as being as relevant as ever, and I am sure at least some other newcomers do as well.

So in summary, we need to get our act together in terms of the community we are now. With a talent pool of 50,000 (100,000 soon?), the human resource is there. We should have high expectations and expect professionalism as well as compassion, and offer it as well (and by ‘professional’, I primarily mean an attitude, not university degrees. I was somewhat horrified by the fractious discussion on working class/egalitarianism.).

Community building and self-organisation will be the greatest internal challenge right now I think, with numbers like these. We can potentially do something magical. The big parties have much larger ‘memberships’, but they are largely not treated as a talent pool, they’re treated as worker bees at election time.

If the mission is political engagement within the system then getting the external messages right, and out there, in the form and structure that resonates with currently non-green voters is the main deliverable. The inward facing conversations are fun, but don’t in and of themselves achieve the deliverable.

Finally, the concept that summarises where the Greens should be at for me is ‘party for a sustainable future’, rather than specifically about the environment, climate, socialism (I read that thread with some amusement as well) or any other narrower viewpoint. The New Economics Forum website home page lists its work as Economy / Environment / Society. I think that’s about right. What the other parties offer is clearly not sustainable on any of these dimensions.

Post-finally… 1. a community of 50,000 people is three or four average universities. We have a huge ‘school’ here for mutual education – we need to find ways to exploit this; 2. 50,000 members is a more than sufficient base for conducting certain kinds of statistical studies. Richard Doll, the man who proved the link between cigarettes and cancer used his medical colleagues – GPs and hospital docs – as the study cohort. We can study ourselves too.

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