What is Behind the 'Green Surge'?

Peter Barnett
Tuesday, 24th February 2015

The Green Party in Britain has shifted from the political edge to centre stage in just one year. We asked Peter Barnett what their message is and why is it attracting so many new members?

In May 2014 the Green Party of England & Wales had  just 15,000 members. Today they have 54,000 (not including members in Scotland or Northern Ireland). Bigger than UKIP and the Liberal Democracts, the Green Party still struggles to get serious media coverage and is often left out of BBC political reports. So what is driving the #GreenSurge? Are the Greens just about the environment, what are its underlying philosophies and what are its key policies in our age of austerity?

Single issue party?

The common misapprehension, still held by a large section of the population, is that that Green Politics is about environmentalism. That the principal objective is to get more effective legislation in place to combat pollution, encourage recycling, protect the countryside from excessive development and so on. In effect, to achieve a more environmentally friendly version of the current system.

This reformist approach is the remit of most environmental charities and campaigning groups, but not of the Green Party. From very early on, the Greens recognised that the system under which we live was the root cause of all the problems, and no amount of reforms could change that. The environmental movement has, and continues to play a valuable role in damage limitation, but it's fighting a losing battle.

For decades the Green Party has been perceived by most people as a single issue party. Whenever it was approached by the media for comment it was always with respect to an environmental issue. Few people were aware of the fact that the party has a comprehensive set of detailed policies covering every aspect of life. A radical programme advocating a total transformation of the social, economic and political systems which currently prevail.

In a way people are right -  the Green Party is a single issue party - if that issue is to safeguard the environment to preserve a planet that continues to provide a decent home for the human race and the complex and amazing web of life of which it is a part of, and dependent upon. The first rule of Green Politics is that you cannot divorce the economic system and human values from the destruction of the planet.   

How it all started 

The Green Party was founded by a group of people in 1973 who were deeply concerned at the alarming rate of environmental degradation happening on a  global scale resulting from human activity. A couple of major reports resulting from detailed studies of the situation particularly inspired them, namely The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome 1972) and A Blueprint for Survival (The Ecologist 1972).

From these and other scientific evidence of increasing ecological disruption, the interdependence of a wide range of problems became apparent. No longer can economics, military spending, inequality, agriculture, biodiversity loss, mental health, crime, poverty and so on be treated as separate, independent issues. Humanity - if it is to survive, must be guided by a philosophy based on the complex interaction between itself and its fellow creatures. This is the essence of the politics of ecology - Green Politics - and what distinguishes it from all other political ideologies whether from the left, right or centre, whose belief in the possibility of indefinite growth from finite resources is a principal driver of the environmental predicament.

Green Politics aims to reconstruct the patterns of human activities and relationships so that they come to respect and value the natural systems on which they depend. This goal is unachievable until equity and social justice are woven into the fabric of society. Equitable societies are healthier, happier and more likely to undertake the large-scale changes required to create a sustainable society. Why would someone on the minimum wage in a dead-end job worry about the social and environmental consequences of his choice of mode of transport if there was no decent public transport available, whilst being fed a doctrine that accumulation of sufficient wealth to buy the latest car is the measure of success? 

Philosophical Basis of the Green Party

The Philosophical Basis of the Green Party of England & Wales sets down the aims and beliefs of the party, and is the basis on which all its policies are founded. It outlines a radical Green agenda to achieve the changes both in values and lifestyles, as well as the social, economic and political structures, that are required to create a fair and sustainable society, based on cooperation and democracy rather than inequality and exploitation.

It advocates: 

Diversity in the human and natural environment, where human activities contribute to, rather than destroy, the richness of life. 

Social change based on real democracy, equality (zero discrimination whether based on race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, social origin or any other prejudice), Human Rights and freedom. 

Valuing real wealth -  natural resources, clean air, rainfall, solar energy and the planet's biodiversity. Wealth to be shared so everyone has a guarantee of economic security.

Conservation -  recognising limits to growth. Land management combining sustainable human development with safeguarding biodiversity. Prioritise technologies  promoting reuse and recycling. Built environment to maximise resource conservation and energy efficiency.

Empowerment - Participatory and democratic politics with accountable leadership, consensus-driven and moral.

Property - Common goods accountably managed by community stakeholders. 

Work - Access to creative, rewarding work as a fundamental human right.

Strategy - Work with the wider green movement to change through a variety of means including non-violent direct action.

Green Party Policy

Some other Green Parties employ the Four Pillars of Green Politics to illustrate their platform.

These are: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and non-violence.

These cover essentially the same issues contained in the Philosophical Basis (PB), and similarly form the basis on which Green policies are based. Unlike the policies of conventional parties, Green policies all interlink and complement one another, such that they all conform to the aims of the party arising from the PB.  

For example, Green Party transport policy includes measures to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. This impacts on health policy, with a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year; less traffic noise that affects stress and sleep quality and a safer road environment leading to more people cycling and walking. This means more people getting regular exercise, who are less likely to be overweight and depressed, leading to a reduction in numerous associated health care problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS. 

A reduction in private car use reduces carbon emissions, tackling the major concern of climate change, offering further positive spin offs like helping to wean the world off fossil fuels. It's a typical Green win-win situation where changes to dramatically cut emissions also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people.1

In contrast to the Green Party’s joined-up thinking, the headline policy of the three parties is more austerity - a massive £55b of more cuts announced in the Autumn Statement. These measures will deliver an endless stream of negative, counter-productive results, including increased levels of inequality, which exacerbate  a whole range of problems from social mobility to mental health, drug use and dependency on food banks.

Green Politics is fundamentally different from other political ideologies because it is concerned with the relations between people and planet, as well as between people and people. Given the enormity of the planetary crisis, the effect of human activity on the planet should be the central political question today. However, in times of recession (or forced austerity), peoples' attention are more focussed on their immediate problems. Fortunately we have real, workable solutions. We just need to get out there and convince people that there is a positive way ahead.

1 Ian Sinclair https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ian-sinclair/joinedup-policies-...

Peter Barnett is the Internal Communications Co-ordinator for the Green Part of England and Wales internalcommunications[at]greenparty.org.uk

To find out more about more about The Green Party visit their website.

10 Changes the Green Party Needs to Make to Get Votes

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