Sunday, 17 April 2011

Why austerity poses a crucial challenge to the Greens

The scent of political change is in the air. The MP expenses scandal and loss of faith in the Liberal Democrats has dealt a further body blow to trust in politicians. There is a rapidly intensifying crush of voices denouncing the political “austerity” agenda.

Much of the difference between the three main political parties has focused upon the timing and severity of cuts. In that context, the Green Party pledge that “fairness is worth fighting for” and opposition to cuts in front-line services has enjoyed more resonance than initially expected. Voter alienation could find voice in single-issue campaigns opposing these policies, but I believe the Green Party has a generational opportunity to increase our credibility if we can demonstrate solidarity and earn a leadership role in these campaigns.

More than most, younger people are feeling the quality of their lives materially affected by the increase in taxes, cuts in essential services and the rising unemployment figures. They are seeing the ladders of social mobility, education and career opportunities being kicked away from beneath them.

The Green Party has a traditionally strong relationship with students, tending to engage more consistently with this group throughout the electoral cycle, not just during elections. The new economic consensus is shaping younger people’s expectations of what they will be able to achieve in their lives: prevalence of debt, marketisation of their education, inability to afford their own homes and a dismantling of public services upon which many will depend. It is our duty to give voice to how bleak this situation is becoming and work closely with those most affected to articulate constructive solutions.

How do we engage these newly energised individuals in our mission? I believe we need to dig deep for a positive vision for society, rooted in our core values of fairness, equity and sustainable growth. We need the conviction to move beyond uncritical opposition to financial austerity and sketch out a route-map towards an achievable and re-configured economy.

How do we start this process? The Young Greens are a key partner in giving voice to this new vision and I’m heartened to see the party looking at how best to invest in their work. We should resource their engagement in common cause with activists from across these struggles and facilitate a nuanced understanding of the impact of cuts back into our evolving policy development process.

Our challenge is also to make ourselves more accessible to newcomers. My local party, Brighton and Hove Greens, have enjoyed an influx of new members since the election of Caroline Lucas MP. We must guard against adopting command and control approaches to membership which concentrate exclusively on (admittedly important) leafleting and canvassing. I feel that political life should be about learning, influencing and enjoying being part of a collective endeavour to improve the world around us. To that end, we must work hard to harness the time and energy of those passionate enough to join, in ways that reflect their interests and skills.

This debate parallels my own evolution from environmental and LGBT activism, to embracing and becoming part of party political life. Over the coming months, I will be writing this blog to chart my experience of this journey and to identify the opportunities and challenges ahead for those of us passionately engaging in building a strong Green political movement. I hope you will continue to share it with me!


  1. Justin Sinclair17 April 2011 at 09:43

    I think the real challenge is finding a way for the Green Party to establish itself as a credible party with policies beyond those relating to the environment. For example at the moment, what is the position on the NHS reforms? The first Green MP is a great start but there is a really step change now to move from a 'single' issue party to a credible party with a broad, complex and robust agenda on sustainability and ethical government which is underpinned by hard business and economics.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Justin. I'd agree, shifting public perceptions about what the Greens stand for is a pretty daunting prospect, but it is something that we are beginning to make strides towards. Speaking about "fairness" and opposing the cuts to front-line services (including strenuous opposition to the proposed NHS reforms) seems to be gaining us traction with the public when they hear it. I think the trick will be to look at those "bread and butter" issues that elections stand and fall upon from a particularly green perspective, such as how in a climate of retrenchment do we create a new generation of green jobs for younger people coming into the job market.

    In answer to your particular question on the NHS, the following link details some of our most well-known health polices: