Back in November I blogged about my increasing reluctance to hold my nose and vote Labour in May. A couple of weeks I made my decision and signed up for the Green Party, becoming one of the Green Surge that we’re all talking so much about. Then this morning I saw the party leader, Natalie Bennett, fielding questions from Andrew Neil on BBC Sunday Politics.
How did she hold up against Neil’s probing? Frankly, risibly.
Granted, Neil was always going to give her a hard time. That’s his style – attack and probe, and look for weaknesses in politicians’ promises. But then that’s what journalists are for; they’re not supposed to make it easy for people who hold or seek power. She responded with a lot of bluster, avoiding questions about how the proposed wealth tax would be costed by suggesting viewers “check out the Green Party website”. Which begged the question, why couldn’t she just give him the figures there and then? It doesn’t bode well for the upcoming TV debates, unless she either rapidly ups her debating game or hands over the podium to the far more impressive Caroline Lucas MP.
That got me thinking, not only about Green Surge, but about that other soundbite which we’ve heard so much of recently with regard to the Greens – the UKIP of the Left. When any party starts gaining popularity, they’re going to have to expect far greater scrutiny – both of their policies and of their more, shall we say, eccentric members. That’s a perfectly normal and healthy thing in democracy. As Nick Clegg found out over Tuition Fees, it’s very easy to promise what Al Murray delightfully called a British Moon on a British stick when you’re a small repository for protest votes. The closer you get to actual power, the more you’re going to get asked tricky questions on how you’re actually going to achieve these things.
Arguably, the Greens are roughly where UKIP were back at the 2010 election. Their manifesto that year was laughable. They promised sweeping tax cuts alongside a massive increase in defence and prison spending, with no explanation of how to square the circle of how that would be paid for. In amongst the uncosted spending plans were a scattering of recycled Daily Express editorials. Banning Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in schools. Scrapping nursing degrees in favour of an apprenticeship scheme (good luck selling that one to the Royal College of Nursing). Bringing back asylums for people with learning disabilities. These days even Nigel Farage admits it was “drivel”.
What’s a poor progressive to do, eh? Vote for a Labour Party whose sole redeeming feature is that they aren’t the Tories? Or switch to Green and put up with some of their uncosted and/or silly policy proposals? Overall, I’m still inclined to stick with the Greens, because there’s plenty in their manifesto for me to agree with. I want Trident gone. It seems clear that we need dramatic action on climate change to avoid a global disaster. I’m appalled at the degrading of our public services under austerity. I can’t stand the ongoing demonisation of immigrants and benefit claimants. I even agree with some of what are seen as their more eccentric policies. I think prohibition of both drug use and sex work has been a monumental failure, and it would be far safer for all involved to decriminalise and regulate both. And yes, I’d be more than happy to see the Queen relocated to a council house.
Even so, I also suspect that the Greens still have some maturing to do as a party, where their increased profile will result in getting a tougher ride in the media. This is probably quite a natural thing for an emerging party, and UKIP have had to go through the same process in recent years. The UKIP of the Left tag may be quite an apt one indeed.