A question of credibility: building the Green economic case

When I started writing my blog post “Great effort, but no bounce: why Greens flunked the party conference season” earlier this week, I agonized for a while over the choice of language I was using. I’ve always endeavoured to be a critical friend to colleagues within the Green party, but felt that our recent leadership change represented a rupture with the past that we need to grasp with both hands and exploit to start doing things differently. I therefore went for a deliberately more eye-catching stance in my choice of language. It got noticed.

The post prompted quite a flurry of responses, many of them quite critical. Some points, including the fact that I under-estimated the importance of a poll bounce received after the conference were fair, because whilst it was transitory, it’s existence pointed to an electorate that isn’t completely hardened to our appeal.

I’m less convinced by those that pointed to a perceived naivety in (what they viewed as) my willingness to buy into the current political consensus around austerity, as well as an argument that we should not be putting our energies into a costed and credible policy platform whilst standing shoulder to shoulder with protestors against the austerity measures.

Whilst I usually respond to those readers who make comments on my posts within the body of each individual piece, I really wanted to make a more substantial response on this occasion, as I feel this debate touches upon some of the difficulties I have with a current body of thought within the Green Party.

Crucially, I don’t actually disagree with the substantive analysis that my critics made of the current financial crisis.  I see myself as broadly on the socialist end of the green political spectrum and regular readers will know that passion for social justice and reducing inequality infuse my activism, both within the Green Party and my activities without.  My frustration in those to blame for the parlous state of the British economy is no different from those who responded, although I do feel at times we need to lose the vitriolic anger and engage more constructively with our opponents. The diagnosis of how we respond to this is the nub of the problem though.

Tom Chance wrote a really excellent analysis of the Green Party’s historical weakness in selling our economic policy coherently, which is very closely aligned with my thinking. I’d really recommend you take a look as it is very compelling.  What both he and other prominent Green activists such as Caroline Allen have consistently argued for, is that we sharpen our policy-making process and expect those who strive to leadership within the party to invest more of their political capital in championing paradigm-shifting policies that can be sold to the party membership and then beyond to the electorate. Whether we disagree fundamentally with the rationale and assumptions on which the current public debate is being fought, we need to address it in the terms that  dominate voter perceptions of the crisis.

Unfortunately, there are those within the Green Party who see this as a distraction, arguing instead that creating such a credible platform is “… a genuine diversion from the job at hand and a complete waste of time”, pointing to engagement in anti-austerity protest and reforming an unorganised activist base that is needs engaging in their communities as more of a priority.  The latter points have some validity: I’ve always advocated listening to and embedding ourselves in the work of civil society organisations within our constituencies and strongly believe we need to improve our coherence and effectiveness as an organisation (progress in which I’m confident that Natalie Bennett will bring).

The truth is that we need to value and respect the benefits that both approaches begin to our success.  Getting across our passion and distinctive critique of the partisan political narratives nurtured by political leaders and the media is essential. But presuming that we can project a credible voice in our activism and electoral battles that isn’t predicated on a carefully thought-out political narrative is the sort of dangerous thinking that leaves us marooned in low polling numbers and the destination for the minority of protest votes that I’ve argued against in the past. I’m not claiming this isn’t going to be difficult and require more strategic planning, but it is more essential than ever.

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