It’s said that the older you get, the more conservative in your outlook you become. You may theoretically acquire the wisdom of years, but with it there often goes a certain world-weary, seen-it-all, been-many-times around-the block cynicism; a jaundiced view of youthful naivety, idealism or change. Comfortably-off pensioners are more likely to vote Republican in America and Conservative, or even, spare us, UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party (from the European Union)) in Britain. And consequently they are bribed – sorry, cultivated – by the right-wing parties.
Well I must be in a minority then.
If anything, at my grand old age of seventy-one, I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I’ve always been left-leaning in my political views, but over the years I’ve become steadily more radical (not, I hasten to add, extremist; that’s a different sort of animal, occupying the very ends of the political spectrum). My shift leftwards away from the established and towards the progressive has been directly proportional to the realigning of the British Labour Party as a centrist one, with any whisper of the dreaded word socialism carefully avoided during the reign of Tony Blair’s New Labour.
I’ve also, since the 1970s, been interested in environmental concerns, and for a time was involved in the then-fledgling Green Party (at that time called the Ecology Party). At the 2010 election, although no longer a member, I ‘wasted’ my vote, voted for what I believed in and gave it to the Green Party.
Now, five years on, after a coalition government in Britain which to people of my persuasion has imposed brutal austerity, making the poorest people in society pay for the greed and recklessness of the wealthy elite, the political landscape is very different. The two-party duopoly seems to be on its last legs, with neither Labour nor Conservatives likely to be able to gain an overall majority under Britain’s archaic first-past-the-post voting system.
So again, some sort of collaboration seems highly likely; either as another formal coalition or a looser arrangement with small parties propping up larger ones. Yippee, I say! Britain is becoming (say it quietly in front of UKIP) more like mainland Europe, with a plethora of parties reflecting a rainbow of opinion. The only difference is that over there, they’re given a fair chance of representation by the European’s more sophisticated and intelligent proportional voting systems.
But anyway, this time, more than ever, I feel inclined to vote for the Green Party. Here are five reasons why:
1 Because the Greens are visionary. Any social improvement always needs the catalyst of fresh, imaginative thought. Otherwise there would never be any progress; there’d be a perpetual status quo. And to effect significant change, suggestions for it need to be as radical as possible, even if a bit unworkable and naive. Then, when the inevitable modification, drawing back comes, the final compromise position is still further along the spectrum towards the radical end than it would otherwise have been. It’s like the ratchet principle: move a long way but then fall back a little to lock, but you’ve still moved forward.
Take the NHS for example of that. When it was first introduced, in the teeth of fierce opposition from vested interests, it was a tremendously bold concept and it was entirely free at the point of delivery. But the demand was so great and the cost was so in danger of escalating out of control that compromises were quickly brought in. Modest charges for those who could reasonably be expected to pay were introduced: a contribution to prescription charges (other than for essential life-saving or necessary long-term drug needs), a contribution to dentistry and one to ophthalmic services. So the NHS was modified in the direction of ‘realism’ a little, but it was still an excellent, greatly valued service and no later Conservative government dared abolish it. Because it had started out as a very radical, visionary proposal, the subsequent more realistic version was still much better than if it had started out ‘pragmatically’ timid in the first place.
2 Because we should vote for what we believe in. This is to state the blindingly obvious, of course. But many, perhaps most, of the electorate don’t. Many vote purely out of self-interest (although you can’t blame those at the bottom of the economic pile or in any other way disadvantaged for doing so). Wealthy voters tend to support Conservatives because they know they’ll be able to keep more of their excess. Many better-off pensioners do the same. Most people vote on the basis of ‘what’s in it for me?’ That’s why politicians bribe with the promise of tax cuts.
Or sometimes people vote tactically, simply to try to keep the political party they most dislike out of power, rather than in a positive way, out of belief. Yes, I know, the crude, unrepresentative British voting system, which until 2010 was weighted to give a permanent duality of big parties a disproportionate degree of power, discourages voting out of something as altruistic as belief. But democracy is supposed to be about having the ability to vote for any party that you consider likely to create a good, fair, equitable society, not just the big two.
The Green Party, rightly, offers nothing in material terms to those who already have far more than they need. It doesn’t bribe with tax cuts or promises to ‘take the lowest paid out of tax altogether.’ Those people (like me; personally I’d rather they kept my tax and put it into the NHS) pay very little tax anyway. Rather, the Green Party proposes to give everyone a decent, liveable-on income to begin with.
3 Because Green philosophy most resonates with me. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion in the last parliament, has said that Green values most closely chime with her own. That’s how I feel too. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that I agree slavishly with every last word of Green Party policy, any more than I do with that of the Labour Party. (For example: I disagree with the Labour-run Welsh government’s policy of wastefully dishing out free NHS prescriptions to all and sundry, regardless of whether the patient could easily afford to pay. Making it means tested like in England would free up millions of pounds that could be better spent on care.) But that’s as it should be in a democracy; there should be shades of opinion and dissent.
But by and large, I do instinctively find Green policy a good fit. Such as the renewing-Trident question. I’ve never quite understood why, apart perhaps for reasons of national prestige – ‘Great’ Britain and all that – it’s considered essential that my country must own weapons of mass destruction that could never be used, for some spurious notion of ‘deterrence’. Deterrence against what? Terrorism? Bioterrorism? Cyber-terrorism? How is it then that countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia, not to mention most of the rest of the world, get along perfectly well and feel as safe as can be reasonably expected in this troubled world without such expensive, ghastly, unusable toys?
4 Because the Greens aren’t only about the environment. No, they most certainly aren’t. Greens expound a complete, fully rounded political philosophy of care about the wellbeing of both the planet, human beings and all the other species that share with us our beautiful blue, fragile world.
Greens do place more emphasis than right wing parties (although UKIP totally ignores it) on working towards, along with Europe and the rest of the world, significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and a goal of not exceeding two degrees of atmospheric warming, to avoid the devastating results climatologists predict if it goes above that, such as sea levels rising and flooding low-lying countries, draught and other extreme weather events.
But they also have a lot to say about general social policy, in areas such as education, health, women’s politics, welfare, decentralisation, community, housing (more about which in reason 5), transport, the economy and international affairs.
The Green Party, unlike UKIP, certainly isn’t single-issue.
5 Because Greens support the underdog. Yes, I know that other parties – particularly the Labour party – claim to look out for the poor and dispossessed too. The Labour Party and the social pioneers who came before it were a tremendous force for reform (using the word in the correct sense, not as the last coalition government used it) in the twentieth century. But in its last three governments, after starting well with so many good intentions (and many of them realised), Labour gradually drifted to the centre, becoming less and less distinguishable from the Conservatives.
Whereas the Green Party, which admittedly has the luxury of not needing to temper idealism with the pragmatism of actually governing, or of proving that it could run an economy without racking up unacceptable debt, presents the best policies, I feel, to protect the poorest, the disadvantaged and minorities.
For instance, the Greens have interesting and innovative ideas for helping those trapped at the bottom of the housing pile, none of which involve the Thatcherite ‘right to buy’, which erodes the stock of social housing. One clever idea is encourage councils to, apart from actually build some social housing, buy up the houses of house buyers who are unfortunate enough to face the heartache of repossession. The council would then allow the people to remain in their home on an assured tenancy, paying an affordable rent, with the opportunity to repurchase it if or when their finances improved. I think that’s a brilliant, humane idea.
These are five reasons I can think of for voting Green, anyway!