As our national newspapers have noticed, the Green party held their Spring Conference in Liverpool this past weekend – the first since the “Green surge” which saw membership quadruple to 55,000 in 12 months. Suddenly, Green politics have become impossible to ignore; a fact which some political journalists – raised on a simple diet of two-party politics with the occasional side dish of liberalism and nationalism – are finding difficult to digest.
Predictably, the right-wing press have not reacted well. The Telegraph, in particular, has taken the puzzling editorial decision to base much of its reporting on parodies (which, to be fair, would be pretty funny in another context), presenting them as facts and then proceeding to offer a “serious” political analysis from this basis. This article is a fairly spectacular case in point and has prompted a fair bit of comment among the druid community already, for reasons which are too tiresomely obvious to state. Instead of taking umbrage at its slur on druids, however, I am going to enjoy the experience of demolishing the political argument point by point, simply because I can. So here we go.
The author of this piece claims to have been “told by party insiders that if the economy should dip into recession in 2016, they’ll get things moving again by sacrificing a goat to Sheba the Moon Goddess.” Hilarious! Of course, Sheba and goat-sacrifice are more likely to be found among the pages of the Bible than at any modern pagan ritual, just as interminable focus on recession and growth are more likely to be found at every political conference except the Greens’. I am choosing to believe that the author knows this already. But it is a sad day for British journalism when a paper of this calibre finds it easier to accept the idea of goat-sacrifice than an economic policy not predicated on growth. Dear Telegraph, when reporting on a movement which is changing political discourse, have a go at understanding that change. You will disagree, of course, but you will disagree much better when you have wrapped your mind around the main thrust of the argument.
The next point on the agenda is some fair criticism of the minority Green-led Brighton council, which merits a slightly more serious response. The council’s tenure in Brighton has not been the Green party’s finest moment, granted, but Brighton is not the only council with problems, and there are Green party councillors all over the country doing fantastic work. Of course it suits the author of this article to cherry-pick the bad examples, but the fact is the worst the Green council has done (so far) is mismanage a dispute with one of their departments and fail to prevent a building that was granted planning permission 4 years before they took leadership. Meanwhile, Labour led councils have been criticised for failing to prevent child abuse, and far worse accusations have been levelled at the Conservative party, yet both are implicitly a better option for our country. But at least they never put forward proposals for “gender-neutral toilets and the option of identifying oneself as Mr, Mrs or Mx on council forms.” Perish the thought! This country is built on gender-segregated toilets and strictly limited tick-box options on council forms.
And that brings me neatly to the next assertion: that “a true conservationist* wants to preserve the environment that they’ve inherited, along with its traditions, farming, heritage, old architecture and ancient ways of living.” – a favourite argument of the right, and a fallacious one. This country was built on a tradition of slavery and yet, somehow, nobody seems quite willing to argue that we should preserve that aspect of our inheritance. The Greens simply make the same case for coal-fired power stations (so much more beautiful to look at than windfarms, I know), excessive road-building, landfills and that quaint British tradition of selling off our infrastructure to foreign financiers who then cream off marvellous bonuses for themselves while investing as little as possible in return (very prudent).
“Hence,” the article continues, “their emphasis upon building 500,000 new council homes”. It is true, there is a depressing consensus on the need to build new homes, which gets reported almost daily in the media; the Telegraph is no exception. Presumably, therefore, the criticism is that they will be council homes, as opposed to private homes – which (as every good Telegraph reader knows) make a sound investment. In fact, the Greens are the only party I have encountered who have actively campaigned for building on brownfield sites, instead of the more lucrative and immeasurably more destructive greenfield sites preferred by the major housebuilding companies. I would love the author of this article to show me another political party this dedicated to preserving our green belt land.
But even if the Greens’ policies would save a much greater proportion of green belt land than the mainstream parties, we are still not safe from “their desire to cover [it] in wind farms”! I sympathise with the author here; I, too, find windmills so much uglier than coal-fired power stations, nuclear power stations and fracking sites. I long for an uninterrupted vista of smoking chimneys! Unfortunately, not everybody feels the same. How can such a contentious issue be decided, in a pluralist society? Perhaps voting in a democratic election is a good start. Incidentally, here is a picture of a proposed fracking site, up here in the desolate unloved North:
photo by Ronnie Hughes from the wonderful asenseofplaceblog.wordpress.com
But even if the Greens fail to cover every inch of the countryside in wind farms, they still have to answer for “their antipathy towards farmers and hunters”! The same antipathy, presumably, that led them to introduce the hunting ban. That was definitely the Greens, right? As for farmers, I confess an imperfect knowledge of the farms of Sevenoaks, which no doubt feel the sting of Green antipathy so deeply. The farms I grew up on were in West Wales, and the farms I have worked on since then have largely been in the South West of England. Having witnessed the terrible abuses of the worst, and joined in the invaluable and incessant hard work of some of the best, I have come to understand that organic farming is the best way to preserve the natural heritage of our British countryside. Organic farming is a difficult undertaking: it takes more investment, more effort, more labour. But it is possible. We did it for centuries – remember our “ancient ways of living”? – and it is promoted by Green policies.
Perhaps, however, the perceived antipathy towards farmers comes from the Green party’s support for “a progressive change from diets dominated by meat, dairy and other animal products to healthier diets based mainly on plant foods” – after all, that would be bad news for intensively-reared livestock (although low-yield, high-quality organic livestock farmers might actually welcome this cultural shift). Never mind that doctors and research scientists have been recommending just such a change for years and years; it was proposed by the Green party, so it must be “daft”.
To disclose my own bias: I am a Green party member. I joined because the British countryside means more to me than almost anything, and every other major political party has actively planned to despoil it for the purpose of “economic growth” (see: fracking, housebuilding). The British countryside means so much to me, in fact, that it is the basis of my spiritual life. You see, I am not only a Green party member but a druid. Like many other druids, you will find me, not “sacrificing a goat” to some invented moon goddess, but outside clearing litter from a patch of wilderness, or restoring a piece of wasteland to a state that supports wildlife. To use a metaphor that Telegraph journalists might understand, the land is my church and this is my communion. Not all druids are Green, and not all Greens are druids, but the concern for the plight of our countryside is common to both.
Why am I bothering with this response? Because I still believe in the old-fashioned notion of scrutiny. I actually think that a healthy rightwing press is an invaluable whetstone for leftwing ideas, and vice versa. If newspapers cannot offer a good critical commentary of a political party’s policies, what can they offer? I am not especially interested in consensus and conformity; I am interested in reading people who disagree with me intelligently. Perhaps, in future, Telegraph journalists might base their criticism of the Green party on actual policies and not on the “druid-trostskyist” bogeymen of their own invention. Here’s hoping.