An election reflection by Dirk Campbell
|It wasn’t much of a shock. The Conservatives now have a narrow majority in the House of Commons, as opposed to being the majority party in a government coalition with the Lib Dems. So not really much change there. More shockingly for us in Lewes, Norman Baker is out and a Conservative is representing Lewes District for the first time in 18 years. He had it coming though. Lewes consituents in general like him, but he blew his credibility by voting with the Conservatives on such policies as increased tuition fees and woodland sell-offs, and famously opposed blocking the importation of Canadian tar sands oil into Europe. Eventually, after some persuading, he resigned from the government but not in time to restore his popularity in Lewes District.
It is arguable that it was the increase in Green votes locally that did for Norman, because his former supporters (like myself) decided to vote with their conscience instead of for the least worst practical option. But then you have to explain why the increase in UKIP votes did not damage the Conservative cause at the same time. Splitting the Conservative vote should have benefited the Lib Dems, which it didn’t. A friend in Hove was quite adamant about tactical voting: ‘A vote for the Greens is a vote for the Conservatives’. Hove managed to kick the Conservatives out and install a Labour MP, which proved his point. But from the Green standpoint, getting a Labour candidate in instead of a Tory merely exchanges one economic growth enthusiast for another, and in the long term we know what that is going to mean. Resource depletion, economic collapse and runaway gobal warming. It is a limited and self-limiting tactic because if everyone refuses to vote Green on the basis that they don’t want a Conservative, how will we ever get a strong Green party? Will they just come riding over the hill one day to save us like the US cavalry in a B Western? Er, no, they won’t.
The reason that the Labour party originally became a force in politics was because people voted from conviction. If Labour supporters in the 19th century had voted tactically we might still have a parliament composed of Whigs and Tories. But as we know, the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and the Jarrow March forced a change of heart in the voting population, which was vastly increased by working class and women’s suffrage after the first World War, and made compassion, universal health care and working class rights part of British politics. As they still are, notwithstanding the apparent sudden demise of the party that introduced them.
In my view the narrow Conservative majority on May 7th is the result of national confusion; a return to a sort of default position in which the Conservatives at least can be trusted with the economy. But the confusion is only on the surface. Underlying it is a seismic shift in attitudes equivalent to the rise of the Labour movement, though of much greater importance, because the stakes are far higher. Lewes’s 50% Green town council is clear evidence of this shift. What we should not do is take it that, because a Conservative won the Lewes seat, things are going backwards. It’s not as simple as that. We turned the town council half Green because we felt free to do so; if none of the Green candidates had won it wouldn’t have mattered, because we know the town council has no power. No tactical vote was necessary so we voted how we really wanted to. The district council has power, however, so tactical voting begins at that level and goes on up to national level. It is the the town council that is the true expression of the town’s political feelings. That’s why it’s a tremendously important and encouraging result. Lewes is incubating, as it has so many times in the past, a conscientious empowerment. It is as if in Lewes a fairly large number of us (affluent and well-educated, admittedly) see a stark conflict between economic growth and a viable ecosphere. And we increasingly support the only movement that offers political solutions to that conflict: the Greens.
As Green politics become ever more acceptable and relevant, and the Greens are no longer seen as a sort of wacky flakey bunch of impractical idealists, they will be able to start saying what they really think in public. Instead of reheating old Labour ideas like renationalising public transport and caps on executive wages, they can start talking about resource depletion and the impossibility of perpetual growth in a closed system. How to supply ourselves locally with food, energy and materials. How to reintroduce lost skills into the economy. How to make ourselves resilient to the effects of climate change and what to do about the flood of immigration from the third world that the developed world is already experiencing, but which will become an unstoppable torrent as the third world becomes less and less habitable. The Green party will talk about international energy supply agreements, international reduction in oil dependence and, perhaps most importantly, a radical change to international law making ecocide a crime against humanity. Why? Because business law is based on property rights. Every business leader has as his or her legal obligation, the maximisation of profits to shareholders within current regulatory frameworks. An oil company which is responsible to millions of shareholders, including pension fund owners, cannot be guided by an ethical standard that tells it not to extract oil because of the long term effect on the environment. The oil company must carry on doing what it is already doing, otherwise its directors are legally culpable (not withstanding the fact that they make £5 million a year each). That is why there must be a change in business regulation from property law to trust law, as is proposed by Polly Higgins. Then there will be a dramatic change in the way business operates. But we won’t see that happening unless there is political will, which means we must have a strong political party that reflects that agenda, and that party is the Green party. The Transition movement is meant to be outside politics; it is not a campaigning organisation. Most if not all of us I suspect are political Greens, but have not voted Green nationally for the usual reason: they won’t get in.
However if we take the long view and trust in the process that we know must happen assuming global growth projections are correct, the Green agenda is destined to win out. Unless of course the world descends into resource wars and national fortress-building, which is quite likely given what we are already seeing. There won’t be any democratic elections then and no point in hoarding or building your underground bunker, it’ll only get requisitioned. The best thing now is to put our shoulders to the Green wheel. Which is easier than it was, as it’s already picking up momentum. Maybe Norman Baker will even rejoin the Green party!