I made what is, for me, a fairly momentous decision over Christmas. For the first time in my life I’ve joined a political party – the Greens. Furthermore, equally unusually for me, as I was clearly a trendsetter (ahem), I’ve decided to explain my reasons for doing so in public.
First, a bit about me. I seem to be a relative rarity: someone who moves leftward with age. I have always voted either Labour or (tactically) Lib Dem – I could never envisage voting Tory. In the past though, I guess I was probably a rather centrist social democrat. However, the more I’ve read about our current economic, financial and political systems, about history and about some underlying principles of political thought, psychology and ethics (these are some of the books that have been shaping my thoughts over the last couple of years), the more I think that centrism just doesn’t cut it any more.
I think we need fundamental change: in democratic and governing structures and means of representation; in dramatically reducing inequality and the undue political influence of the very rich; in the form of capitalism that we choose (and the economic doctrines we accept – “Washington Consensus” neo-liberal economics being, in my view, dangerous bunk and a proven failure); in land and property tenure and ownership; in the regulation of finance; in media ownership; in the way that longterm issues like climate change are addressed. And so on and so on and so on.
There were really three decisions flowing from this:
Which party best fits my beliefs?
How should I vote at the election (bearing in mind tactical considerations as well as principle)?
Should I join a party?
Deciding which party best fits my beliefs
There are three ‘vote matching’ websites that I’m aware of:
All three need an update ahead of the 2015 General Election but I’ve done them all anyway.
On votematch, using their 2014 European Elections test, I get a solid match with the Greens, disagreeing with them on 6 points. I’m not too distant from Labour or the Lib Dems though.
On voteforpolicies, I’m again closest to the Greens – and if I restrict it to the policy areas I’m most passionate about, I get an even closer match.
On the Political Compass test I come out as -9.0 on the economic left/right scale and -6.92 on the social libertarian/authoritarian scale. So, very left wing by their reckoning, although I find that rather surprising as I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of militant socialist or anarchist. In any case the Greens -4 on economic; -5 on social libertarian/authoritarian – far closer than any of the other UK parties.
As a result of this, I had a look at the Green Party policy website. I’ve not read it all by any means (there’s a huge amount of it) but what I have read, I’m mostly aligned with.
There’s some stuff in there which, being in the realm of (very, very) longterm aspirations looks idealistic to the point of being bizarre. For example, a statement of principle that ultimately the Greens would want the idea of nationality to become irrelevant. This makes sense if you read the context and supporting material, but it’s easy to mischaracterise (and no doubt if the Greens start to get more media coverage, it will be).
There’s also some stuff that I’m not yet sure what I think about. The Citizen’s Income is a radical departure. I know there’s some sound economic theory behind it, but I’m still pondering. It’s a hell of a shift and, as has already become apparent, the scale of funding required gives the media a big stick with which to beat the Greens.
Finally, there’s some stuff that I definitely don’t agree with: chiefly anti-nuclear and anti-GM positions and too wishy-washy a commitment to evidence-based medicine. I’ll come back to those in a minute.
Overall though, it’s a platform I broadly agree with even if I do have a number of qualms and questions. My friend Emma makes the point that small parties like the Greens seem to face a higher bar on whether potential voters understand and agree with every last item of their platform, where the Tories and Labour get more of a free pass on this: it’s accepted that their voters may just be plumping for something that fits their general worldview, even if they don’t accept all the details. I’m happy that the Green agenda is one that chimes with mine.
How should I vote at the 2015 General Election?
Of course, given First Past The Post in a multi-party environment, supporting a party doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to vote for them.
I live in Putney (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/2015guide/putney/). It’s been Labour in the fairly recent past: Tony Colman ousted David Mellor in 1997 with a 2,976 majority (that result was memorable because another candidate was Sir James Goldsmith for the Referendum Party, and Mellor’s concession speech saw Goldsmith chanting maniacally in the background). Colman held Putney with a slightly reduced majority in 2001, but then in 2005 Justine Greening took it for the Tories, and held it in 2010 with an increased majority of 10,053 over Labour. With the polls where they are, with a number of large, swish, pricey new apartment blocks having been built and occupied since 2010, and with Justine Greening a relatively popular MP (personally, having met her more than once, I like and respect her a great deal), I can’t see the Tories losing the seat. To my mind, having that level of certainty frees me from having to worry about tactical voting. I appreciate that others don’t have that luxury.
I felt I wanted to know more about my local Green candidate before I decided on my vote. I found him via twitter – he’s a local guy (well you’d hope so really wouldn’t you!) called Chris Poole – and I contacted him to quiz him about the Green policies I was most worried about. Chris got back to me commendably quickly, and it was good news:
I am pro-nuclear, pro-GM, pro-scientific method and agree that technology has huge contributions to make. I’m a supporter of Sense About Science and have been persuaded by Monbiot on the nuclear issue and am a huge fan of Ben Goldacre’s books regarding medicine and pharmaceuticals.
This is the position I take as a candidate, and I hope to promote these points of view during my campaign.
This was immensely reassuring and I decided there and then that Chris would be getting my vote. As I say above, he will not win the seat unless something very unusual happens, but I would hope that he will make a decent showing which helps, as part of a wider national trend, push Green issues up the agenda. Armando Ianucci notes in this excellent piece that even though the Yes campaign lost in Scotland, it’s still in many respects setting the agenda, because it made a very good showing, on a high turnout. That has to be the hope for the Greens: get properly into the fight and move the terms of debate to the left.
Why join the party?
All of the above persuaded me that the Greens are ‘my party’, for the time being at least. I have joined in addition to planning to give them my vote (and as opposed to simply making a donation) for a number of reasons.
If I’m going to support the party, I want a voice in changing those policies that I don’t like. I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this. Come the next party conference, I expect to see – for example – a vote on putting in a firmer commitment to evidence-based medicine, rather than the mealy-mouthed support for alternative medicine. And if the new influx of members all vote, I think that such a vote could be won.
I wanted to be part of the ‘green surge’, because I think that’s a good media hook and helps move the focus from UKIP. It seems I’ve already been vindicated in that idea. The momentum of the rise in membership helped get Natalie Bennett into the debates (if they ever do happen) and has forced reluctant media outlets to cover the Greens. That increased exposure is also apparently leading to higher polling.
After the election, I want the results, and the electoral situation, to make it obvious that Proportional Representation is a necessity. I have a feeling that what may happen is that UKIP and Green votes, not translating into seats, will create irresistible pressure for change. My fervent hope is that we get a Constitutional Convention which looks at everything: the electoral system, voting age, party funding, lobbying, the Lords, the constitutional role of the Monarchy – the lot.
But I also want Green electoral success to make it clear to the other parties, the media and the public that there are mainstream leftwing voters out there. I want it to remind people that there other economic models than the particular version of capitalism we’re currently operating. I want all this to help re-balance public discourse.
Overall, I’m supporting the Greens because when we think about change, I think we need to think big. Our democracy, our economy, our legal system, our media, our environment, our polity – all have deep-seated problems that aren’t going to be fixed by tinkering in the margins. And when, in the future, I look back on this period of change, I don’t want to be ashamed about the side I took.