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!