Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

THE MOVEMENT

and w o m e n ’s m ovem en ts . For m e , that was the start o f a far greater political awareness and, in particular, a strong pacifist c o n v ic t io n and a c om m i tm en t to CND. But it w a sn ’ t until 19 8 6 , w h en I stum b led across Jonathon Porritt’s b o o k Seeing Green, that I realised that all m y deepest c on c e rn s — peace, social ju stice and p r o te c t in g ou r fragile envir o nm e n t —were in te r tw in ed and c o n n e c t e d th r o u g h the dam age b e in g d o n e b y the g lo ba l spread o f 20 thcen tu ry -s ty le capitalism , and that there was a p o l i t ic a l party — albeit, as Petra Kelly put it, an “ anti-party party” — w h i c h shared them .

I pu t m y l i fe o n h o ld and rushed to j o i n the G reen Party, and fo r several years w o r k e d as its Press O f f ice r , d e t e rm in e d to try to in crease m ed ia coverage o f its radical and in sp ir in g — and in creasin g ly urgent —message.

T h ose years saw p io n e e r in g Green parties e le c ted to national parliaments in Austria, Italy, Luxem bou rg , Portugal and Sweden. Further afield, tw o Green senators w o n seats in the Australian pa r l iam en t . At th e sam e t im e , a g rou nd sw e ll o f Greens was m o v in g in t o lo ca l g overnm en t in alm ost every W e s te rn European c oun try , and arou nd the w o r ld n o t o n ly w e re local G reen g rou p s m u lt ip ly in g in num ber but their activities w e re also b e c om in g m o r e in fluential.

In 1 9 8 9 , the British Greens saw their greatest ever electoral success, secu r in g a lm ost 15% o f the v ote in the European E lection — t rum p in g the Liberals in to fou rth place. But the UK’s a r ch a ic f i r s t -p a s t - th e -p o s t system m eant w e w e re d en ie d even a single MEP. The d e s p o n d e n c y this caused, t o g e th e r w i th a lack o f re sou rces w h i c h left the party unprepared to deal w ith a su dden (bu t a l l - to o b r ie f ) u p su rge o f n ew m em b e r s and interest, w o u l d p r o v e catalysts f o r in ternal argum ents, m anagem ent crises and, ultimately, a haem orrhage o f support.

The G reen Party p ic k e d up the p ie c e s in the 19 9 0 s and underw en t an e le c to r a l ly f o c u s e d tra n s fo rm a t io n w h i c h saw a m od e s t rise in its e le c toral fortunes. I had a small share o f it, b e in g e le c ted in 1993 — after three attem pts — to O x fo r d sh ir e C ounty C ouncil.

As a c o u n c i l lo r I d e v e lo p ed m y person a l lin ks w i th cam p a ig n e r s and NGOs, and w e shared a fee lin g o f p o l i t i c a l o p t im i sm . By 1 9 9 8 the Greens w e re c o a l it io n partners in the g overnm en ts o f G erm any and Finland, and in 1 9 99 1 was e le cted as o n e o f the UK ’s first tw o Green Party MEPs, after secu r in g m o r e than 8% o f the v o te across South-East England — a result im p o s s ib le w ith ou t the im p l ic it su p p o r t o f the w id e r green m o v em en t , b o th lo ca lly and internationally.

In te rn a t io n a l ly , t o a c h ie v e th e s p e c t a c u la r h i g h o f tw e n t y - f i v e G reen Parties, r ep re s en ted in e lev en parliam en ts , in less than ten years w as n o sm a ll a ch ie vem en t . N o t o n ly that, b u t b y the en d o f th e 1 9 9 0 s there w e r e Greens in f iv e c o a l i t io n g o v e rnm e n t s in the EU, m a k in g it the fa s te s t -g r ow in g p o l i t ic a l m o v em e n t ever.

THOSE WERE HEADY days in d e e d but they w e re destined n o t to last. As w e in the UK w e re learn in g to w o rk m o r e c lo se ly w ith greens ou ts id e the party, Greens in Germ any w e re grapp l in g w ith the pressure o f having to w o rk m o r e c lo se ly w ith g overnm en t

A r e w e m o r e e f f e c t i v e w o r k i n g i n s i d e g o v e r n m e n t s o r o u t s i d e ? Is i t m o r e e f f e c t i v e t o s h o u t o p p o s i t i o n a l l y f r o m t h e r o o f t o p s , o r q u i e t l y t i n k e r w i t h p o l i c i e s f r o m w i t h i n ?

partners ou ts id e the party. The party ’s support fo r the A fghan War in 2001 spelt the b e g in n in g o f the en d fo r the G erm an ‘ Red-G reen A l lia n ce ’ — and o f Greens in co a l it io n g overnm en ts in Europe.

From having representatives in five EU governm ents in 2 0 0 1 , the Greens n o w boast n on e , m ost having been fo r c e d fr om o f f ic e after lo s in g the supp o r t o f a w id e r green m ovem en t and bearing responsibility fo r the unsustainable p o l ic ie s and d e c is io n s o f their larger c o a l it io n partners (the Finns having honourably resigned f r om g o v ernm ent in protest over nuclear p o w e r ) .

This has le d to a fractured debate w ith in G reen parties and the w id e r green m ov em en t : are w e m o r e e f fe c tive w o rk in g in side governm en ts or ou tsid e? W h a t le v e l o f s u p p o r t is a p r e c o n d i t i o n f o r o p e r a t in g w i th in c o a l i t io n s ? Is it m o r e e f f e c t iv e to s h o u t o p p o s i t i o n a l l y f r o m th e r o o f t o p s , o r q u i e t ly t in k e r w i t h p o l i c i e s f r o m w i th in ? Ironically, it is th ose parties w ith better roots in the cam p a ig n in g and NGO c om m u n itie s , in France and Germany, w h i c h have ten ded to em b ra ce c o a l it io n as a route t o im m ed ia te in f lu en c e - and have b e e n punish ed fo r it b y greens feelin g betrayed b y their c om p r om is e s .

SO WHILE I put m y h op e s fo r the fu ture firm ly w ith the w o r l d ’s Green parties —since n o n e o f the mainstream parties are c om in g r em o te ly c lo se to an understanding o f the p o l i c y agenda that w e so urgently n e e d — it is clear that w e must learn the lessons o f the past fo r ty years. In particular, that w e must engage and synthesise w ith the w id e r in ternational g reen m ov em en t , and avoid c oa lit io n s w i th larger parties until w e are strong e n o u g h to resist unacceptable com p r om is e s .

It has b e en said b y som e that e le c toral success cam e t o o early and t o o easily to som e o f the European Green parties: that having to learn o n the jo b is n o t always the best way o f p r o d u c in g the best p o l i c ie s and strategies. H ow ever, w e d o n ’t have the lu xu ry o f a l o n g a p p ren t ic e sh ip . As greater awareness o f the fa st-a pproaching c o l lapse o f the w o r l d ’s e c o sy s tem grow s , it brin gs w ith it n o t o n ly the u rg en cy fo r action , but the h o p e that g r ow in g c on c e rn s w i l l translate in to a th o r o u g h g o in g r evolu t ion in attitudes and in politica l support. Greens n eed to seize every o p p o r tu n i ty to d e s cr ib e the p o s i t iv e b e n e f it s o f a l o w - c a r b o n future, and p r om o t e the real, everyday benefits o f l iv in g in a Green society.

The in ternational g reen m ovem en t , and m o r e specifically, the G reen parties w h i c h have sp rung up a round the w o r ld to represent it, have achieved m u ch : attracting m i l l io n s o f votes and retu rn in g Greens to shape p o l i c y in parliam ents and to w n and c ity halls across the w o r ld .

But there is so m u c h m o r e to d o — i f m y dream o f the w o r ld in 2 0 4 6 is to b e any m o r e than a dream , w e n eed Greens in g overnm en t n o w to ensure its sm o o th delivery.

As m o r e and m o r e p e o p l e realise that w e face g lo ba l devastation, and that Green so lu t ion s deliver n o t hair shirts and d ry m uesli but stronger c om m u n it ie s , w a rm e r h om e s , better jo b s , and greater h o p e fo r the future, m o r e and m o r e Greens w i l l b e elected, and w i l l achieve m a jo r itie s — and w e w i l l fu lfil o u r r o le as the politica l w in g o f a w id e r g reen m o v em en t that w i l l b e sp reading ever m o r e rapidly w o r ld w id e . •

1 4 Resurgence No. 23S September/October 2006

Skip to main content