Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why are they voting Green?

I'll take Angus' question here "We need to know why people vote Green and what we can do to get them to support us instead." as a personal challenge.

I was a member of the Green Party for 12 years, a candidate in local and European elections, a member of the party executive and so on. I left it some 5 years ago, disagreeing with many of the policies, and spent some years allowing my head to clear of the party's culture before thinking about politics afresh or considering joining another party.

My principal disagreements with it are:

  • It is essentially socialist, albeit not "central planning" but "local planning". Solutions to almost everything involve more government spending and more regulation. Appropriately for a socialist party, it is very middle class and anxious about it. Who noticed all the working class accents in the latest broadcast?

  • Hostility to trade, and in particular an impractical vision for third world development that would achieve very little. (The desire to support development is genuine.) The evidence is that trade and prosperity go together, and evidence beats dogma in my book.

  • Opposition to medical research on animals. I am clear that benefits to humans, and for that matter to other animals in the long run make this research a morally good thing.

  • A lack of perspective where environmental problems may conflict with other problems, a woolly understanding of what makes a problem an environmental problem, a poor grasp of the science involved (much declined since 1990 or so). This is probably true of much of the wider movement, and to some extent of other parties too.

At the heart of Green thinking there are more problems. Ambition for spending on public goods and redistribution is not reconciled with a shrinking pie as the private sector is squeezed. There is considerable hostility to science, from various philosophical perspectives. Yet it is science that makes environmental problems comprehensible, and scientists who have led the way. "Conventional" progress is rejected, but there is little clarity as to what to replace the idea with - giving a somewhat directionless culture to an appropriately leaderless party.

So why do people vote Green? Here are some reasons:
  • to send a clear message that the environment should have more priority
  • if you are a socialist.
  • as a protest vote
  • in response to good local campaigning
  • if you actually know and agree with the policies

And what do we do about it?

Well I think it is only fair that socialists have someone to vote for. And similarly if mice have a moral significance to you equal to or greater than other people, it may be a fair choice. Tactical considerations aside, these people are voting correctly, leave them to it.

As for the rest - we need clarity. Clear and effective green policies, not one snippet per page of the manifesto, but few, simple, substantial commitments. We need to make the case for trade - that millions of lives are at stake worldwide if development is impeded by anti-traders. We need an optimistic vision of the future.



Liberal Neil said...

Their hostility to any animal research played extremely badly in Oxford this year.

Lib Dem blogger Richard Huzzey won the Holywell ward, where the new animal research lab is sited, by landslide. The Greens won it two years ago.

The Greens also failed to win their target of St Margaret's ward by a mile. This a ward full of students and academics.

Paul McAlenan said...

Let's be careful about the animal rights issue!
Like Joe I too was a member of the then ecology party but became a liberal democrat for similar reasons.
However, I have serious concerns about animal research and would not want the Liberal Democrats to latch onto an issue that is very contentious and touches on many peoples consciences who are not green party supporters.

Joe Otten said...


My conscience tells me I should support medical research on animals - if I don't people, and in the long run more animals, will die unnecessarily.

This is not an issue of "conscience versus moral indifference" however much the antis want to suggest it is.

As for latching on to it, it isn't that big an issue for nearly everybody. All I would expect from us is an honest and principled position, and to point out the moral shortcomings of the Green position.