Saturday, 9 July 2011

Accentuating the positive in Green politics!

The great paradox at the heart of green politics is that it sometimes seems as if we don't live our values. Even though we possess an inherently constructive philosophy, putting the longer term welfare and living standards of those who come after us first, we can be unfairly characterised as negative, restrictive and Cassandra-esque. Personally speaking, taking the sack-cloth and ashes route has never suited my approach to politics!

As a society, we are only a generation or two beyond want and poverty. Even now, asking people to go without the things they view as the yardstick of modern prosperity is a tough sell. We are advocating moderation and sacrifice in a world of excess and choice. It is one of the main reasons we can be seen as impractical and out of touch with the aspirations of voters. Unsurprisingly, it has left many voters with the perception that the Green Party is the preserve of those rich enough to have the means to adapt to a zero-carbon lifestyle.

Terrifying predictions of climate change, with the knock-on effects of water scarcity, food crises and forced migration of dispossessed people are pretty accurate reflections of what we might face if we don't get a handle on climate change. Yet this frightens people and seems beyond their individual capacity to change. The disconnect between these warnings and the practical response taken by our political elite leaves many wondering whether the problem really is that bad.

The Green's approach of honest truth-telling has taken us a certain distance forward, but we need to change gears now if we are to make further progress. We need to find new language and strategies to our campaigning that is aspirational. One that starts focussing upon the benefits to individuals as well as society of putting our policies into action. We need to make it attractive and not feel like hard work. This means beginning to sketch out the practical side of our vision as well as articulating how this transformed society would "feel" tangibly for people on the street. Frankly, we need to inject fun and nurture anticipation of what can achieved into our pitch to the electorate!

This week, Caroline Lucas spoke about the failures of the green movement in the Huffington Post UK in breaking through to the wider public. She argued that "fear isn't a great motivating influence" and her admission that we have been just as guilty of taking this stance will be challenging to rectify. Many Green Party activists are motivated by their passionate concern about climate change or injustice - and to be blunt, there can be a tendency amongst some to express this in black and white and uncompromising terms. We need to find ways to keep those objectives and concerns central to our political thinking, whilst introducing a step-change into how we bring that message out to the public.

For me, that means flipping opposition into opportunities. If we don't like something such as the central government cuts to Councils, we explain why our alternatives work better for the majority rather than carp from the sidelines. We don't wait for power to be handed to us before putting our ideas into action. Instead, we work in partnership with community organisations transforming their communities into the places we want to see, such as Transition Towns. Ensure that at the highest levels of the party, in the Green Party Executive and across our policy-making process, we continually ask ourselves the question of whether we are proposing legislation that is constructive, rather than negative. We bring civility and respect back into public debate, even when we firmly disagree with our opponents.

And finally, we make the attractiveness of social and environmental justice for the poorest and most vulnerable the litmus test of our policies, because this it is amongst those groups where inequality bites the hardest. Success for me means convincing these people that a Green society is a richer and more attractive place for them too.

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