Defiance hurled in Montpelier

“Their banners all, on outer wall, they fearlessly unfurl”

Today was to be leaving-the-EU-day, but I had managed to sucessfully banish this from my mind. A million miles from this serious politcal stuff, I was walking up my street with the above words running through my head. It’s a line from Princess Ida, one of the lesser-known Gilbert and Sullivan operas. And what did I see but an actual unfurled banner:

Princess Ida is particularly saient for me at the moment because I seem to have got myself involved in a production of it.

Yes, add that to the list of Brexit evils: it’s driven me to light opera.

Arrgh!

The whole leaving-the EU-thing. Not only can I personally do nothing about the whole sorry mess unfolding daily, but I don’t even know what to be hoping for. There is no “good outcome”. The last two years have ripped off the surface to reveal that something in society has started to quietly rot. Now that we have seen it, it can’t just be patched over.

Therefore I ended up spending the last year thinking about entirely other matters … and which, in order to justify keeping a domain name, I’ll now start writing about.

Should I renew my Green Party membership?

It’s due in a week’s time and, on balance, I’m probably not going to renew. I thought I’d say why.

I’m not annoyed or exasperated or anything, because I suspected this might be the result when I re-joined in 2015, (after a brief spell of membership in 2001). I wanted to give it a go, to show support and maye even see if I wanted deeper involvement. It seems that, even though I enjoy observing some aspects of the political game (yes, it is a game – it’s just that games aren’t always trivial), actual participation in it is not really for me.

Shortly after I joined in 2015 I blogged “what is the point of the Green Party?” After some general comments about the nature of the political process and the difficulty of achieving what you want within it, I answered my own question:

the point of having a Green Party … is educational. [in the broadest sense]

The point of the Green Party’s existence is to remind people of the wider environmental context of our actions. […] The mere presence of a Green party in boring old mainstream politics […] has the effect of making it feel legitimate to take the environmental context seriously. […] Green ideas will sound louder because some of their proponents are willing to play the game of mainstream politics.

That might sound an insubstantial gain but I don’t think it is. I talked about the difficulty of getting anything done in politics, about the multiple pressures on one’s actions. One of those pressures is the surrounding ‘talk’, the environment of ideas. More Green politicians around changes the air, makes certain actions more possible, others less, makes some things more sayable”

Is that enough?

I certainly didn’t join the GP thinking “one day we’ll have a green government, everything will be lovely and I can help it happen”. No, I (re) joined thinking that the party could play a dull but important part in changing the zeitgeist, so that the things that need doing about the multiple environmental crises stand more chance of getting done. Party political activity is most certainly not the only thing worth doing: NGOs matter, academic research matters, business matters, the arts matter, grassroots projects matter, personal choices matters. They all interact and it’s usually hard to see any one thing as the clear sole cause of something else – so they’re all worth doing and as a part of that there needs to be a green party, just as a presence in party politics, if nothing else.

This may be a viable argument, but it is hardly the motivation of a passionate party hack! I rejoined because I kind of thought it was patronising not to – kind of as if I would be saying “you lot of naive wonks over there can go and do boring old party politics and I’ll do something a bit sexier like working for an NGO”. I think I wanted to show to myself that I was willing to do things that I consider boring, which have no guarantee of success, but which still need to be done.

And also I do consider many GP members to be thoroughly admirable – and not just the old warhorses like Clive Lord, Jonathan Porritt and the late David Fleming (who I shall be writing about shortly).

A provocative thought

After a year or so of fairly regular reading of the party’s internal members forum, it obvious to me that, although it is definitely worth having green MPs, MSPs, AMs and – most importantly – councillors (localisation and resilience eh?), a lot of “what there is to do” in the Green Party is busywork. It gives the enlarged membership something to do. Back in the day when it had a membership of scarcely 5,000 it punched well above it’s weight. Now, with ten times that number, it punches slightly below it.

Not to mention the fact that some of the current membership aren’t particularly green. For them the environment is just one good cause along with all the others. Yeah, I understand the arguments: everything is connected, intersectionality, etc etc. But that’s ineffective as strategy: ‘we have to have utopia all at once, everything’. It’s like attempting to hitch-hike with twelve of your best mates. No one is going to pick you up, even though each of you might have easily got a lift on their own, from twelve different people. The green party has to be about the environment. That is because, in the sphere of mainstream politics, no-one else is saying what needs to be said. Unfortunately, in their attempt to secure a foothold in that very mainstream, the green party seems to have stopped saying it as well.

Of course I do recognise that that there is a bit of a conflict in what I think is the exemplary, leavening, educational role of the GP and the fact that it is a political party. As a political party it has to play the game of appearing to want to be just like all the others – it has to don the uniform so to speak. All the tedious administrative stuff has to be done to get people elected, it has to have a reasonable policy spread.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this – as with most things in life, it’s a balancing act – but as it stands, I almost feel as if I don’t have enough opinions to be a member of the party in its current configuration. The whole conference-policy thing is an energy-sink. It spins on its own little axis and doesn’t have any impact on anything: the greens are never going to form a government (but that doesn’t matter) so why spend all this time arguing over fine detail of legislation which will never be enacted and which doesn’t have anything much to do with the environment anyway? And how did a party with a fair old squirt of anarchism in its mix end up sounding so bossy?

I did think (but I’ve sort of changed my mind on this), that one of the functions of the green party might be to act as a thinktank, to generate ideas – not necessarily ideas that become enacted but ideas that form part of the conversation, and maybe feed into other work. But the mechanisms of policy development seem to be too unfocused for this to happen usefully – and the connections – to academia, to NGOs, that I would have expected, don’t seem to be there either. But maybe there’s a reason for that – it is pretty much entirely self-funded and therefore maybe just a bit amateurish (which can be both good and bad). Dunno.

Might I renew despite all this?

Weeeeelllll possibly – though I wish I could remain as a local member only – I suppose that I don’t want to sever my connection entirely. I’ll slightly miss the …errr.. anthropological aspects of seeing inside green party culture (bit grand to call it ‘culture’ but you know what I mean). Dunno. Haven’t finally decided yet. Might be prepared to help out at next election. Genuinely undecided (that’s not an invitation to try and persuade me btw – in the unlikely event that anyone has read this far).

And yeah, I’ll still vote green. As Clive Lord put it, “Where Else Is there”?

Oh all right, if you insist

Yeah, ok, my election prediction. Which is:

Record low turnout.

(With possible exception of Bristol West, where I live, which might just possibly do a Brighton Pavilion and elect a Green).

Because we’re all fed up.

******

Update: 9:00 am Thursday

Well it seems my prediction could well be wrong.

*******

Update: a few days later

ok, never accept a political prediction from me. Maybe I just need more practice.

 

 

Quote

Individual and collective

As individual action, and why it’s worth doing, seems to be one of the themes of this blog, here are some apposite words from Kevin Anderson:

“I do not see the individual and collective (formal and informal institutions) as separate. They are unavoidably and intimately entwined, only drawn apart as a convenient reductionist tool of analysis to help make sense of complicated and complex issues. But we have to repeatedly remind ourselves that the separation is nothing but an epistemological construct – it is not ‘real’.[…]

When I focus on the individual, I’m seeing them, typically, as a symbolic but essential catalyst for collective (system) change.[…]

So individuals are solely an ignition source for the flames from which a Phoenix may arise – but only if others and ultimately institutions are mobilised.”

Is it safe to come out yet?

There are still a few rocks hitting the ground, but the wailing and rending of garments seems to be fading out. I really was intending to say not one damn word about you-know-what, and keep my thoughts entirely to myself, but I suppose I have at least to say something about why I felt like this. Anyway this blog does emit the occasional parp about politics, so here we go.

The first thing is, I live in the UK, I do not live in the flaming United States. Why the hell should I be expected to have an intense interest in the minutiae of their bloody election and follow all the day-to-day yelps and growls of the process? Yes, the result is relevant to the whole world, and hence to me, because one needs to have a good general idea of what is happening globally as one of the factors in making one’s own future plans. It would be foolish to be indifferent to the result but there was no point at all in getting all worked up about a process whose eventual result I have no possibility whatsoever of affecting. The sight of so many British citizens expressing forceful public opinions about the US election and then joining in the post-result keening and moaning led me to the dark suspicion that at least a few people might have been using it as mere emotional pornography. An election is not the cup final.

The second thing is that I have previously noticed that US citizens can get all shirty when us Brits start joining in with their elections. Back at the start of the eighties I recall a USian grad student of my acquaintance getting all pouty and upset at British people expressing dismay and fearfulness about Reagan’s election. I thought this was a bit oversensitive, but later it occurred to me that the President, as well as having an executive function, is also the head of state – basically they are the Queen, and really, you shouldn’t diss somebody’s queen. (Viewed purely as the symbolic embodiment of the state, Reagan was actually a good choice. Just a pity he had a bit of real power as well). I finally understood properly how she must have felt when I came across USians pompously “congratulating” us on our recent referendum result. Piss off, you know nothing about it!

Which brings me to the third thing. Of course this Trump fellow seems a ghastly prospect, but really, what do I know? What I have been following, is not so much the BBC and the guardian, but the comments on John Michael Greer’s blog, because they are from people with an actual vote in the election, and who are usually pretty articulate. Two points – neither of which I could have gleaned from the British media – became clear. The first is how much Hilary Clinton is hated – loathed is probably a better term – much more so than can be accounted for by misogyny alone. The commentariat was by no means one-sided and some cogent arguments were presented by those who were voting for her – but it was “voting” rather than “supporting” if you see what I mean. What was also enlightening were the reasons given for this negativity – most prominently that her record showed her to be dangerously hawkish and that she would continue business-as-usual – increasing foreign intervention, increasing wealth disparity, nice words about sustainability but no effective action, and so on.

The second point which I wouldn’t have picked up from the British media is that there was a non-stupid, non-racist, non-whateverist, case for voting for DT. In its simplest form this amounted to “better the devil you don’t know” – in other words, if HC has a record as a politician which you think bad, and DT has no record at all, then you have no real idea of what he’ll do, and at least there’s a a chance of things being different, and if they are different then there is a chance of them being better. That seems a fair enough argument to me – in desperate situations, gambling can be a rational choice. I note that Andrew Rawnsley has just said something similar but only after the fact:

A big chunk of the electorate in western democracies are, for various reasons, so discontented that they are willing to blow up conventional politics – if only to see what happens next. A lot of Trump voters told pollsters they didn’t think he was fit to be president, but put him there anyway.

A strange thing (among all the other strange things) is that the wailers and moaners seem to imagine that DT will necessarily do what he says. Isn’t it obvious that he was just saying whatever he thought would get a response? Some of his remarks contradicted each other and even amongst more reputable politicians, haven’t you noticed that they don’t (or can’t) always do what they said they were going to? There are a few articles out there arguing that some of the things DT is accused of were themselves simply made up (this one is widely cited, but there are others). Really, I’m not expressing a substantive opinion about the US election: I’m saying that I’m agnostic in the original sense, not only do I not know, but I cannot know what is going to happen. What I do know is that politics is a messy, incoherent, pragmatic and confused business: the ‘art of the possible’ as Harold Wilson put it. Therefore investing any emotion in the result is a complete waste of energy and probably some sort of displacement activity.

So my final point is that there is no point in being either pessimistic or optimistic because (again) we really do not know what will happen. To quote my earlier post:

Whatever nice plan you have (“we could meet all the worlds energy needs if only we spent enough money on …”) you can be sure it won’t work out quite as you thought. On the other hand, silk purses do sometimes emerge from the sows ears of apparently disastrous decisions

Clive Lord (revered elder of the Green Party) has a couple of recent posts speculating how a silk purse could emerge from this particular sows ear – whatever else DT may or may not be, he isn’t an ideological neoliberal.

Europe yet again – a passing thought

It has just occurred to me that part of my gut feeling about ‘remain’ was, I think, probably the same gut feeling as many of the ‘leavers’.

That feeling was distrust.

I don’t actually trust the typical UK government to have any sort of care for the natural environment and am pleased that there is some recourse elsewhere over such things as sewage-laden beaches and dangerous air. There is also a strange feeling of relief almost in having a supra-national court of human rights (why is it hated so much?). I don’t really trust UK central governments to get anything right – so much so that Brussels, for all its faults, seems like a safety net. This isn’t ‘hating my country’, it’s not being too keen on what our country has become.

I think some of the gut feeling behind some of the leavers was also distrust, which was why ‘take back control’ was a powerful slogan (and why it is unfair to assume it was nothing but a dog-whistle for latent racism – in fact I’d suggest that racism is the epiphenomenon of deeper feelings of disempowerment). The difference is that “Europe”, being more distant and ‘faceless’ (not to mention that a swathe of our press has never accepted our membership anyway and has been lieing about it since we joined) is a much more obvious target for that distrust, for that feeling that things always seem to be going wrong and we can’t seem to put them right.

Previous posts on this:

poor communication in the referendum#1

poor communication in the referendum#2

reasons to be (not un-)cheerful

Thoughts on communication #1

[This is a very slightly tweaked version of a comment I left on the COIN blog a few weeks ago. The post itself was about the euro ‘remain’ campaign which the author described as:]

an object case in bad communications

It sure was. An interesting question which isn’t really asked though, is why on earth such bad mistakes are made – mistakes which, to anyone interested in communication issues, are pretty obvious. A possible answer which occurs to me is as follows.

In order to even start thinking about how other people might view matters requires a certain humility because there is some sense in which you have to start imagining what it’s like to not be me. Attempting to put oneself in someone else headspace first requires that one steps outside onself by temporarily suspending ones own assumptions, beliefs and ways of thinking. This is scary to do because, if done properly, (1) one has to accept the possibility that one might change one’s mind and (2) it also involves, in imagination, suspension of ones elite status.

I would also argue that even if one tries to avoid this worrisome ‘stepping outside oneself’ by relying entirely on research (and thereby fancying oneself entirely ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’) then one will not understand how to apply the research, or even understand what it is suggesting.

[counter-argument: sociopaths are supposedly excellent at manipulating people’s behaviour, but they, by definition, don’t go in for this method-acting-y thinking-yourself-into-someone-elses-head business. Still, most of us aren’t sociopaths and I think there might be something in my comment]