The ice cap at the North Pole melted, and you were worrying about the budget deficit? Sea levels rose around the world and you were bothered about bankers’ bonuses? The world’s food supply failed to keep up with population growth and you were focused on immigration controls? How are future generations going to look back on our obsessions. Will our current pre-occupations seem as irrelevant to them as the medieval disputes over simony or transubstantiation?
If so, the people who will be in the history books as having been giving out the warnings that should have been heeded will the environmentalists that our current political system effectively silences. The Green Party gets so little media coverage that trying to work out what they are up to is a bit like playing that Where’s Wally game.
But the Greens are there if you can find them, and in fact have been around since the seventies. They managed a reasonable slate of candidates in the 1983 elections where they managed to just about rise above the background noise and get noticed a little – though most of their progress was lost in the excitement of the big parties’ dramas. They had something of a false dawn in 1989 when out of nowhere they took the third place in the UK’s European Parliament election. This turned out to be more due to the newly formed Liberal Democrats not yet having established themselves and the Greens faded from view again.
But despite the more or less total indifference of the media, in 2010 a Green candidate won in Brighton. If you know Brighton, this isn’t as big a surprise as it would be to someone who has never visited it. But even so, to achieve a breakthrough in the first past the post system was an astonishing achievement.
But the Greens have demonstrated a gritty determination in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles over the decades that is truly astonishing. Indeed, those obstacles have still not been surmounted and may never be. The Greens activism may give them nothing to show except chilblains and receipts for lost deposits. Whatever else motivates a Green politician – personal ambition cannot figure in it.
But this year we have had what has been described as the Green Surge. This is modest by the standards of surges, amounting to moving up from low single figures to high single figures in the opinion polls. It has been helped by the poor performance of the Liberal Democrats, enabling the Greens from time to time to appear to overtake them. That this is regarded as a break through for the Greens is more a question of not so much low expectations as no expectations.
But this brief moment in the Sun has shone some light on what the Greens are like, and a lot of us have quite liked what it has shown us. The Greens have a lot of very radical and progressive ideas. They will simplify the welfare state by abolishing most benefits and replacing them with a citizens’ income. It is hard to think of a policy that is more likely to promote equality than that. Many Labour voters would find that attractive. They are also in favour of renationalising the railways. That only sounds like a radical policy when looked at through the lens of the media and Westminster. Anyone who travels by train regularly will regard it as plain common sense.
Reading the Green Party’s policies is a refreshing and uplifting experience. These are the work of people who care about things. They think about issues. I imagine they argue about them. This is the politics of people with passion and ideas. Even though I don’t think for a minute that my vote will have any result at all, I am sorely tempted by that slot on the ballot paper.