Archive for April, 2010

How I joined the greens

April 25, 2010

I joined the green party when I was 16. We had just invaded Iraq, and I knew nothing about politics but that I felt confused and horrified by what our country had done. The papers were full of blood and the streets were full of angry people. I read Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men”, tied a white cloth around my arm and with my friend Jess, we hoisted a banner up the flagpole in the centre of Sheffield which said “No War”. The police left it up.

I’d never met a green before. My parents and almost everyone I knew were Labour – enraged Labour, but still Labour. The city greens had no councillors and seemed to have no members anywhere close in age to me. I came along to some meetings and was pounced on as a scarce “young activist”. But I’d only heard of climate change as a diagram in geography class marked “global warming”. To me “the environment” was an image from a kids book where the world’s endangered species fly away through a hole in the ozone layer never to return. So I began to read and the more I read about it, the more passionate I became. I tried to win my friends over to the green cause – to my surprise, they thought I was crazy.

This honeymoon with the green party lasted only a few months, until the spring council election when I campaigned for them and they once again failed to get a seat. A photo of the greens appeared in the local newspaper, looking scruffy and long-haired beside the smart-suited Labour and Lib Dem candidates. I felt they weren’t taking it seriously, and worse I began to suspect they cared more about closing down the local incinerator than fighting poverty. That autumn I moved to a small fjord in western Norway where the tentacles of British politics didn’t reach and the green party was left far behind. I battled my economics teacher because I thought I was a proper lefty and despised the market. Then I spent a year in one of the poorest parts of China, where it was clear how market reform was bringing millions of people out of destitution. When I started uni, I felt I was a gritty realist. I quit my politics course to study Economics and Chinese, and after a row about the greens’ stance on the Euro, I left the party.

At this time the greens were experiencing their brief magical high in Scotland, with 7 MSPs. Since I was involved in the activst group People and Planet (though always a bit of a malcontent) I knew lots of young greens as well as Mark Ballard the green MSP and uni rector. I agreed with them on many issues, and even helped campaign for them. But ultimately my attitude was that they weren’t quite right. They were too fluffy, with a noted tendency to get stuck in stereotype fixations.

But who else to choose? No other party was serious about the environment. No other party was as committed to peace. The greens were also strongest on transport and supporting developing countries. The biggest sticking point was the economy. The greens have radical views on sharply increasing government spending, and on pushing for a new, fair and progresssive economic model. It is bold and the aims are laudable, but to be frank, I wasn’t sold that it would work. The economy is immensely complicated, and the most important thing anyone can learn about it, is quite how ignorant we still are, and quite how easily we can screw it up. There are clearly serious problems to be fixed, but the treatment must not be worse than the disease itself.

Then came the 2007 Holyrood election, and the greens were slaughtered. As we downed our pints and cheered (in my case at least) for the SNP victory, the horror dawned that the greens were in for a massacre. Having seen first-hand the important role greens can play in shaping the national agenda with just a few seats, I was desperate for them to hang on. I turned to my friend Esmi and said that if they lost more than half their MSPs, I’d rejoin. They kept only two. I signed up again the next morning. But in retrospect, my decision was inevitable.

Because for many reasons, if you believe in even half of what the greens stand for, than you are better in than out. For there is no-one else but them. On the issues where the greens are weak, we already have the main parties, which totally dominate our politics anyway. The electoral system is unfair and the media is biased. There are many reasons why the greens do not have the vote or the support which they should have. Survey after survey shows that a far, far higher proportion of people agree with green policies than actually vote for them. This is because they think a green vote is a wasted vote, or because they didn’t know the policies until they did the survey. A small increase in the green vote matters. It makes their voice louder, and encourages creative debate on serious issues: it has shifted the main parties gradually in the direction of environmental sustainability. Proportionally, my energy supporting the greens is far more influential than it would be supporting a big party. And on many issues it is the most effective way to get heard and help bring change. Without bottling it on the biggest issues of all.

And as for the economics. Now is a fascinating time of debates across the economics profession. The neo-liberalism of the 80’s has taken a sound thrashing, though it is still strong. Research on environmental economics and happiness economics has exploded, and many of the world’s best thinkers are taking a new look at  the fundamental ideas about how the economy works. The greens are leading the way in spirit, but they lack resources. We need these resources. We need to work out how to organize our economy in the best possible way, only then can we see off the threats of climate change and oil running out, while ensuring that all people get the best possible opportunities in life. But these resources won’t come unless we fight for them. Therefore, imperfect as any party must be, for me the greens are the only alternative.

This wasn’t meant to be a plug for the election. I’ll be writing that soon 🙂 (Though check out this article on Caroline Lucas, the party leader and hopefully soon-to-be first green MP). Enough to say that this election really, really matters. We are the only major European country without a green rep in the national parliament, and for the first time, there is a very good chance of this changing in under a fortnight. History is being made. With this going on it might seem a bit self-important of little me to write a “my history of why I joined the green party”. But it’s not. I may not be prime minister, a paid politician, or even a candidate. But I am an individual with a heart and a brain, and I matter just as much. And so do you.


Not voting? Get over it.

April 13, 2010

This was a rant directed at my poor cousin who possibly hadn’t deserved it. But I’m sure you know people that do. Yes politicians have to engage people better. Our democracy can obviously be improved. But that’s a separate issue.

I have NO sympathy for people who choose to not vote out of principle. Having lived under the communist dictatorship in China for several years, and helped fight against the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, it really boils my blood that people are willing to wash their hands of our own political system. Of course it’s got problems, of course all the party leaders are wankers, of course the policies are often obscure and populist. What do people expect this isn’t utopia. The reason a lot of political campaigning is stupid is because voters behave stupidly. If people choose to vote for grinning, lobotomized leaders that’s what we’ll get. However the fact that our country is still ticking over and for example, most people can get an education, make a living, and not get arrested and tortured without trial, shows the process is still working at least reasonably well.

If you sit around at home waiting for parties to come out and “engage you” then you’re wasting your time. Why should THEY have the responsibility to engage YOU? THEY are run by ordinary individuals like everyone else. Most people who canvass and campaign for parties are randoms with 9-5 jobs who support the party out of their own salary. Sure lots of them are wankers, but lots are nice too, just like most people. And there’s some paid a salary with public funding, but that’s still only one for thousands of people. Or do you expect there to be a party with a message that fits just what you want? Feks sake there are 6 parties and 60 million people in this country. Clearly they are going to have generalized policies. Plus they have to appeal to a cross-section of political IQ’s, since most people have no clue how economic or political affairs actually work, and can’t be arsed to find out.

If you don’t like any of the mainstream parties, vote for a small party. For example I support the greens. (Who most people ignore because they’re like, “oooh it’s just a bunch of middle class hippies who want to chat about organic celery and live in wind-powered cottages” without even bothering to read their economic or social policies). They may not be perfect, but imo they’d be better than the alternatives.

But the greens don’t get elected. Why not? Because they don’t have the resources to buy billboards or adverts, nor the voter base to get taken seriously in the media, nor the cash to buy off business leaders or tabloid papers. And will the greens come out and engage you? No, they won’t. Because they’re run on a shoe-string by a handful of crazily busy people. And they simply don’t have time to stand on the doorstep of every disaffected bugger who will use them as a punchbag to take out their anger about life, the system, and everything. Though they do try.

You’re right though, clearly everyone does have a right to complain. Many people seem to get off on sitting on their ass whining away about “the system”, and how “none of the parties are right for me”. Well the world doesn’t revolve around you sunshine. If you want that individual attention, set up your own party. Screaming lord sutch did, and it was fucking brilliant. In the mean time though, complaining isn’t that much fun. It’s quite repetitive, and people tend to ignore you after a while – yeah I’d say it’s a bit shite. So how about taking a few mins to let the computer tell you which party you apparently want to vote for, and then go and engage with them. Or at the very least, use your fekkin vote. 🙂

Apathy: I thought it was cool when I was 12 too.

Economists – we have blood on our hands

April 4, 2010

From Soviet planning disaster through to IMF forced liberalization policies.

It is painful but unavoidable. Doctors have blood on their hands too. Thousands of people have died of preventable diseases or been hastened to their graves at the hand of medical practitioners.

The difference is, how do economists face responsibility when they get it wrong?

As for the rich countries. Watch what they did, not what they say.

Ha-Joon Chang.