Why The Green Party Does Not Yet Have The Answer

Why The Green Party Does Not Yet Have The Answer

In the spirit of genuine debate, we sincerely hope our view, that the Greens seem to have taken a wrong turn will be received and engaged with in the spirit in which it is intended.If like us, you are, or have been, a Green supporter please bear with us while we make our case.

We argue that environmental policies apart, the greens have been heading in exactly the wrong direction for all the right reasons and it is time to discard the old style secular, london-centric, liberal red herring for a truly holistic platform. Only when the greens are able and willing to address their shadow – which is the shadow of liberalism and secularism – can they heal the political divide and become a party that everyone can vote for.

There is a saying that a good myth is more powerful than any set of facts

But clearly the Greens do not wish to be confused by the fact, that despite their best efforts, the majority of people, in Jonathon Porritt’s words “… are still firmly wedded to a model of economic progress that the evidence tells us will pitch humankind, sooner or later, into the abyss of ecological collapse.”

Why do the majority of people remain unconvinced? To suggest that it is natural that people should be in denial is just another way of avoiding responsibility. Perhaps advertising and religion would have been less successful if they too had relied upon rationalist empirical science as a basis for communication. Feelings are at least as powerful as rational thought.

Myth, metaphor and story are a medium that no matter how civilized and rational we would like to think of ourselves as being, somehow go deeper than mere facts in influencing our commitments

A love poem translated into rationalist empirical data becomes a subject for humour! As Paulo Friere suggested – whose literacy  schemes in Brazil famously resulted in the poor taking action to improve their lot –  touching people beneath the heart through engagement with generative themes is a powerful spur to action.

In trying to counter the majority of peoples view that the environment is a secondary issue in their lives, the greens have tried to address progressive voters by emphasizing fairness. Whilst this is of course commendable they are still largely seen as a single issue party by the majority simply because they are called “the Green party”. If they were not called the green party how would they distinguish themselves? This is an important question because ‘sustainability’ will not be achieved by focusing on the environment and making people feel guilty and hopeless.

Our point is that apart from environmental issues, few people would be able to say how the Green party are different from any other party. Unfortunately our answer is that they are not –  because philosophically and politically they do not have a holistic platform – rather a liberal secular one with a green agenda tagged on at the front seemingly in the hope that they themselves and voters will not notice.

Sir John Kay has written about how “If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another.”(i) The secular, agenda led, righteous empiricism that still characterizes the Green Party can only appeal to a minority – to those who think oppositionally and empirically and are willing to engage  with unwelcome facts. But a one- dimensional, re-active political strategy based on a righteous belief that one day people will realize the empirical truth about environmental issues is unlikely to prevail and is one we cannot afford. Studies have shown that people do not change their behavior until they are absolutely certain  that danger will affect them in the short term future and it will not help to offer more facts to prove the short term is getting shorter and shorter.

People are not looking for facts but for vision, hope, inspiration and for values led leadership

A truly holistic approach based on values can potentially offer a powerful mythic and meaningful universal vision that is capable of appealing to the broadest section of the electorate at a time when people are longing for real vision, real change and evocative leadership.

In Resurgence Magazine ( October 2011), Satish Kumar writes: “If the green movement wishes to be radical and effective and wants to embrace a new paradigm of the future, then our work has to be based in harmony and wholeness incorporating spiritual well-being, artistic imagination, social cohesion and reverence for the whole of life… through reverence and restraint, simplicity and frugality, reflection and meditation, synthesis and spirituality, dialogue and philosophy we learn to live in harmony with the universe and with ourselves…… But much of the environmental movement is missing out on this holistic approach.”

We wholeheartedly agree. In the same issue of Resurgence, Jonathan Porritt argues that we need to combine science and spirituality when we argue for change.

He writes “I worry that it may be too late to turn things around. … That the quality of leadership available to us today – to help shift whole societies into a radically different way of living – just isn’t up to the task. And that the one social movement that I know and love more than any other – the green movement – may also not be up to that particular task… The majority of people are still not persuaded of the need for radical change…..”. Importantly he argues that :

The green movement seems to be addicted to empirical, secular rationalism and science based advocacy and has unwisely put all its eggs in this particular basket

He observes that unfortunately..”a chronic form of dualism persists: you either take a secular, empirical approach to contemporary environmental problems, or you seek to address those problems with a more values-based and spiritual orientation. It’s a real either/or world, not both/and – often characterized by a rather brittle intolerance of those on the ‘wrong’ side of the either/or dichotomy.”

Once again we wholeheartedly agree. A holistic approach is not either/or, but both. We argue for just such an integration – for a values based approach together with an empirical approach. Neither alone is sufficient. Indeed at this time, when so many people have been alienated by the lack of integrity by those in positions of power and authority, the inclusion of such a values based approach will surely have more appeal.

Whilst it is harsh for political commentators to suggest that from the outside, the Greens are perceived as left wing, moralistic and bland, to us the greens decision to focus only on what is effectively a liberal agenda is as disastrous as shooting oneself in the foot.

It leads down a road which can go nowhere electorally because it excludes half of the world and like all the other parties places the Greens within the old one sided paradigm. The reason why so many people are disillusioned about politics is because none of the political parties stand for the interests of the whole but only their own parts of the whole.

At a mythic level the Hero’s journey cannot be about saving himself – it is about saving the whole world not just his own part of it. If our interpretation of the world is essentially a materialistic one and we only stand for half the world – the liberal and secular half for example – the question arises how heroic is our gesture and the journey we are inviting people to join us on?

A thoroughgoing holistic agenda requires the re-balancing and taking on board of the philosophical limitations of both liberalism and conservatism rather than siding with one or the other.

Our fear is that by strategically positioning themselves as a greener version of the Lib Dems, the Green Party have made themselves unelectable.

To dismiss this by suggesting it is part of the age old debate between purists and marketeers or bridge builders completely misses the point. The last thing we need is yet another form of righteous tribalism. Their environmental policies apart, culturally and philosophically the Greens remain outside the scope of a truly integrative, holistic political paradigm. It seems as though, they have been infiltrated and seduced by secular, London-centric liberal fundamentalism that is a major strand within liberalism and the media. Because of their apparent identification with secularism and a liberal world view which is limited and outdated they fail to address the “whole” at a time when it is precisely what is missing and what green politics should be about.

Ironically the wisdom of crowds has delivered precisely such an integration with the UK Coalition government. Fortunately, our politicians in all the main parties have still not understood why. So all the parties continue in the old paradigm, the Liberals and Conservatives within a separatist alliance, ploughing their own separatist furrows within their old small world views, not understanding what people are looking for. Unfortunately so it seems, neither do the Greens.

Therefore some new creative impulse is needed in a debate about a new politics that is consistent with an inclusive, holistic worldview that is accessible and inspiring for a majority of people.

We hope that a reorientation of the Green Party that is values led, which incorporates Spirit and integrates personal responsibility and traditional values of right and wrong with economic democracy and a progressive and radical community oriented,  centre-right agenda, as suggested by Phillip Blond, can evolve to take the middle ground. If not, and we keep on as we are, the Greens as presently constituted will inevitably fail and others will have to take on the environmental mantle – possibly  a completely new party that integrates a radical agenda of cooperative capitalism within a protective, traditionalist cultural and holistic approach.

Whichever is the case it will likely be both a more radical and more traditional integration than any existing party is currently capable of.

However, because of the tendency towards tribal identity, it would take tremendous courage for any existing political party including the Greens to develop a truly integrative social agenda that can appeal to a broader base. But we think it is not only possible but essential if we are to develop a politics that can elect a government truly committed to sustainability.

It might be that it can only be done by those who have nothing to lose – namely those who are currently unattached to any political identity and perhaps only such an initiative can bring the Greens to their political senses.

The strategic task is to construct an integrative holistic platform that can appeal to significant sections of the population and split existing parties. Asking ourselves what are the major interest groups inside and outside Parliament that can commit to such an agenda is not rocket science but any answer must be neither oppositional nor righteous and it will certainly not be purely secular and liberal.

Traditional values and some form of faith still count in the personal lives of the majority of people in the UK ( despite the London-centric media’s views to the contrary) and need to be represented within a green agenda.

In our view the Greens have discarded half the world in favour of political correctness. At an archetypal level their secular liberalism is the impotent energy of the rebellious teenager. It can only be the energy of the protective Father in support of the Feminine  ( faith or some higher purpose)  that can unite the nation behind a mythic vision.

Liberalism, though it at one time had much to offer, is beyond its sell by date because the concept of the Commons requires the gift of self restraint as an act of moral courage, maturity and imagination that reconciles individual and collective purpose. Individual responsibility is therefore central to the new paradigm and ironically sits easier in a conservative philosphical world view than a liberal one.

It is unfashionable to speak of nurturing personal virtue. But the new paradigm needs to include personal honour, personal integrity and personal responsibility in an ethical, values led political renaissance within an integrative agenda that by definition extends beyond the limited domain of liberalism.

The Greens do not have to repeat the same old formulas and play the same old political games by being right or left and righteous – they could instead change the field of play – but if they do they will have to change their whole orientation to a truly holistic one. It is time for the Greens to wake up to the responsibility and possibility of becoming a party worthy of governing – which means taking risks. Environmental policies apart, the greens have been heading in exactly the wrong direction for all the right reasons.  It is time to discard the old style, london-centric, liberal red herring for a truly holistic platform.

This means bringing people together in a radical and traditionalist, holistic agenda around a universal purpose that renews faith in the future and in our collective purpose in the Universe.

Such an integration has to include spiritual values and include the majority of people who believe in personal responsibility, traditional values of right and wrong and want to believe in something greater than themselves. Along with the rest of the electorate we are waiting to be inspired but we are not holding our breath.

J.P. Malkin
(i) Obliquity; How Complex Goals Are Best Pursued Indirectly : John Kay

J.P. Malkin is a convenor of The Civil Society Forum UK and a director of Transformation Strategies ltd

One comment on "Why The Green Party Does Not Yet Have The Answer"

  • If I were to distill the case down to its essences without dumbing it down to something it is not I might say something like:
    * Scaring folks with ecological facts of the consequences of human consumerism without offering an alternative vision of who they might ‘become’ in a transformed sustainable lifestyle is unlikely to have any political impact
    * Assuming the moral high-ground and therefor by implication loading guilt on supporters of other parties in respect of the negative ecological impact will not attract support but rather encourage self-justification
    * Creating a platform that accepts accountability for our human and planetary condition by all and then offering transformed vision of who we might become that both honours and embraces our deepest traditional values could be a generative and inspiring theme for new political collaboration.

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