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P O L I T I C S

T H E G H O S T IN T H E M I R R O R

A N D R E W M A R R

L ik e socialism before i t , en v iro nm e n ta l ism is shaping the p o l i t ic a l agenda o f the fu tu re .

AS M O M E N T S O F r e v e la t io n g o , t h e s e t t in g was b a n a l e n o u g h . I n c e n t r a l L o n d o n , s h a r in g th e b ack o f a t a x i w i th a sh ad ow c a b in e t m em b e r , a f t e r a f r i e n d l y lu n c h , b a c k in th e m id - e ig h t ie s , I asked h im w h e n he t h o u g h t th e G re e n s ’ a g e n d a w o u ld b e p ic k e d u p b y c o n v e n t io n a l p o l i t i cal p a r t ie s . A r ic h s a lm o n - r e d h u e f lu s h e d across h is face a n d h e b eg a n a s u r p r i s i n g l y im p a s s io n e d t i r a d e a g a i n s t e n v i r o n m e n t a l i s t s . T h e y w e r e , th e M P said , o b je c t iv e ly r ig h t w in g . T h e y w e r e a g a in s t i n d u s t r y a n d t h e r e f o r e ag a in s t th e w o r k in g class. T h e y w is h e d to im p o s e a fa k e c o n s e rv a t iv e r u r a l id y l l o n th e p la in p e o p le o f th e cities. W h a t th e y ca l le d c o n s um e r is m was in fac t th e le g i t i m a t e d e s ir e o f o r d in a r y c it iz e n s to h a v e a s h a re in w e a l th c re a te d b y th e successive waves o f in d u s t r ia l r e v o lu t io n . T h e y w e r e a l l , in s h o r t , a m i d d le -c lass m en a c e .

T h e ru le s o f p o l i t i c a l r e p o r t i n g m e a n t h a t I c a n n o t re p e a t h is n am e , b u t h e re m a in s a t ru s te d m e m b e r o f t h e p a r t y ’s i n n e r c i r c le in g o v e r n m e n t . H is v iew s h a v e so f te n e d since, b u t th e h a t r e d o f m a in s t r e am p o l i t i c i a n s f o r s u s t a i n a b l e e c o n o m i c s s h o u l d n e v e r b e u n d e r e s t im a t e d . P o l i t ic a l co r re c tn e s s a n d a c au t io u s re s p e c t f o r th e r a g g e d c o a l i t io n o f e n v i r o n m e n t a l i s t s m e a n t h a t N e w L a b o u r w o u ld n o t d r e a m o f e x p re s s in g i t s e l f th is w ay in p u b lic ; a n d th e p a r t y is o f c o u rs e in f lu e n c e d b y a w i d e r s h i f t i n t h i n k i n g . B u t t h e b e l i e f a m o n g m a n y e n th u s ia s ts f o r s u s ta in a b le d e v e lo p m e n t t h a t t h e i r e n em ie s in p o w e r a r e m e r e ly ig n o r a n t , o r h a v e b e e n b r ib e d b y a g r i b u s in e s s , is b o t h d a n g e r o u s a n d w r o n g . T h e h o s t i l i t y I f i r s t c am e across f i f t e e n y e a rs a g o is s in c e r e a n d is also, in its ow n n a r r o w te rm s , q u i te lo g ic a l.

T h r o u g h o u t th e p o s t -w a r e r a we h a v e h a d a p o l i t ic a l system b ased o n th e o f f e r o f a b e t t e r m a t e r ia l l i fe f o r vo te rs , p a id f o r b y in d u s t r ia l g ro w t h a n d t h e s p r e a d o f m a r k e t s . P o l i t i c i a n s o f t h e r i g h t h a d o n e v i e w a b o u t w h o s h o u ld g a in a n d b y h ow m u c h . T h e l e f t h a d a n o t h e r v ie w . B u t b o th a g r e e d , in essence, a b o u t w h a t p ro g re s s m e a n t . I t was a b o u t te le v is io n s a n d v a r ie ty in f o o d , cars a n d fo r e ig n h o l id a y s . W h e n L a b o u r r e f o rm e r s a c c ep te d t h e p r im a c y o f th e m a r k e t -b a s e d , e n t e r p r is e e c o n o m y c h a m p io n e d b y th e T o r ie s , th e la s t s u b s ta n t ia l d i f f e r e n c e b e tw e e n t h e m a i n s t r e a m p a r t i e s c o l la p s e d . I n d e e d , in som e ways, N e w L a b o u r o r t h o d o x y has m o r e r e a s o n to b e suspicious o f e n v i r o n m e n ta l is t p o l i tics t h a n t h e C o n s e r v a t iv e s d o . I n th e r a d ic a l is m o f th e la n g u a g e a n d its t e n d e n c y to s p l i t i n t o fa c t io n s , g r e e n po l itic s can seem a n u n h a p p y r e m i n d e r o f th e “ o ld L a b o u r ” vices. W h e n b e s u i t e d , r e s p e c t a b l e N e w L a b o u r MPs c o n te m p la t e th e c lo thes, a n g e r a n d f u n d a m e n t a l is m o f m a n y e n v i r o n m e n ta l is ts , th e y fe e l a special p r i v a t e s h u d d e r . I t ’s t h e i r e a r l i e r selves, th e g host in th e m i r r o r . N o t o n ly d o th e y s till f e e l th a t “ g r e e n ” p o l i t ic a l p o s itio n s a r e e le c to ra l ly su ic i d a l , t h a t w h a t e v e r v o t e r s t h i n k th e y o u g h t to say to p o l ls te rs , th e y w i l l m a r k t h e i r crosses f o r g r o w t h a n d c o n s um e r is m ; b u t th e a t t i tu d e s a n d s ty le o f t h e g r e e n m o v e m e n t r e m i n d th e m o f t h e i r e a r l i e r p e r s o n a l f a i lu re s as p o l i t ic ia n s .

T h i s i n s t i n c t h a s b e e n g r e a t l y r e i n f o r c e d b y t h e B r i t i s h e le c t o r a l system w h ic h has k e p t g r e e n po l itic s as e f fe c t iv e ly m a r g in a l iz e d as fascism o r c o m m u n is m . T h e f i r s t - p a s t - th e p o s t h u r d l e has d o n e its f e l l w o r k w i th g r e a t e ff ic ie n cy , k e e p in g e n v i r o n m e n t a l e le c to ra l po l itic s in a state o f j u v e n i l e , a r r e s te d d e v e lo p m e n t , a p la y g r o u n d f o r e x t r e m i s m , p o s t u r in g a n d f a c t i o n - f o r m i n g , w h i c h I , l ik e m a n y o th e rs , h a v e w a tc h e d w i th a m i x o f h o r r o r a n d a m u s e m e n t f o r y e a r s . T h i s h as h a p p e n e d a lm o s t n o w h e r e e ls e i n E u r o p e a n d f o r g o o d re ason. S im i la r ly , th e e a r ly use o f d i r e c t a c t io n p o l i t ic s in B r i t a i n , w h e t h e r o n th e bypass re v o l ts o r th e G M mass trespass events , u s in g te c h n iq u e s l a t e r c o p ie d o n t h e C o n t i n e n t , is c o n n e c t e d d i r e c t l y to th e b lo c k in g o f p a r l i a m e n t a r y a d v a n c e b y th e v o t in g system . W e h a v e a syste m in w h ic h th e e n t r y costs f o r n ew p o l i t i c a l p a r t i e s a r e t o o h i g h — r a t h e r l ik e th e e n t r y cost o f s e t t in g u p n ew n a t io n a l n ew s p a p e rs .

T h e n th e r e a r e tw o f in a l a n d less t a n g ib le b a r r ie r s to sus ta in ab le p o l i tics. T h e f am o u s s h o r t - t e r m i s m o f d em o c r a c y caused p r o f o u n d d i f f i c u l t i e s i n c o n v e n t i o n a l e c o n o m i c s , e n c o u r a g in g g o v e r n m e n t s to s ta ck u p d e b t to d ay, in o r d e r to b r ib e v o t e rs w i t h w h a t w o u ld b e , in e f f e c t , t h e i r c h i l d r e n a n d g r a n d c h i l d r e n ’s m o n e y . T h i s im m o r a l a n d c y n ic a l use o f p u b l ic d e b t has b e e n e r o d e d p a r t l y because its in f la t io n a r y im p a c t s ta r te d to m a k e i t u n p o p u l a r even a m o n g t h e p o t e n t i a l b r ib e e s . B u t e x a c t l y t h e s a m e s h o r t - t e r m i s m m e an s th a t i t is n o to r io u s ly h a r d to in t e r e s t p o l i t ic ia n s in t h e case f o r t a k i n g u n p o p u l a r a c t i o n n o w in o r d e r to stop East A n g l ia d r o w n in g in , say, f i f t y y e a rs ’ t im e .

W e h a v e a system w h ic h ju d g e s th e ru le r s o n t h e i r actio ns m o n t h by m o n t h ( i f t h e v e r d i c t c o m e s b y s h a r e - p r i c e ) o r e v e r y f o u r to f iv e years ( i f it is g iv e n b y th e e le c to ra l system ). H is to r y , b y a n d la rg e , can w a i t .

A f in a l , a n d less-discussed, issue is th e sc ie n t ific i l l i te r a c y o f th e p o l i t ic a l class — b y w h ic h I m e a n th e m e d ia too . I n a w o r ld d o m in a te d b y h y s te r

Resurgence No. 201 July/August 2000 2 1

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