Return of the politics
It’s that time of the year when the postman has to work even harder than normal. Not Christmas, this time there’s an election looming in front of us. One in which 16 year olds can vote. Which is scary when you have a sixteen year old. Ours wants to understand what the different parties believe in. The various pieces of paper that arrive on a daily basis don’t really help much. Some of them don’t even make any grammatical sense.
Last year, Caroline Lucas, still the only Green MP in the Westminster parliament, came to the Edinburgh Book Festival. I had a ticket for the event, then a dance event came up that a certain daughter was desperate to go to. Unfortunately it was one that we both probably thought afterwards was not as good as a political talk would have been. I did, however, read Caroline Lucas’s book, which is about her experiences of being an MP since the 2010 election and her thinking on a range of subjects.
One of the conversations we have been having at home is what you do when you don’t agree with everything a party or a person seeking election stands for. Which will always be the case to some extent. And what to do when the views that you most identify with are those of a party which might never win a seat. The proportional representation of the Scottish parliament is helpful there because there is a reasonable chance that at least one person from that party will end up being in the parliament. Caroline Lucas is one example of what can be done with only one voice in a parliament. And what cannot.
Here are some of the things I found myself agreeing with her on:
If we are to meet these more ambitious [climate] targets, we need a clear and comprehensive framework for action, based on a massive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency; and carbon taxes (replacing the current policy of subsidising coal, oil and gas) to help take account of the benefits of preventing climate change and the costs of pollution, so that low and zero-carbon energy sources can be developed on a large enough scale to become commercially viable. We also need the right infrastructure to create a circular economy, based on reusing, repairing and recycling.
Just today, I saw a washing machine by the side of the road, destined for some landfill. Apple, we found out last week, expects our expensive devices to last three to four years before needing to be replaced. There has to be a better way to use the planet’s resources. I am often struck by one small example of what we could do differently. In Germany, most bottles are not just recycled but reused. There is a deposit on each bottle to encourage their return (creating also a small income source for some of the homeless who find a good number of bottles left lying around the cities to bring in a little money), but the culture is that bottles are returned to the shops, put back in crates and sent back to the brewers. It’s just what everyone does. Here, we at best smash them up to be melted down and the glass reused. In Germany, even plastic bottles are reused. These are small things which we could do differently. We used to think that requiring people to wear a seatbelt was impractical. Who now would not automatically belt up as soon as they get into a car?
One of the main drivers of climate change is consumerism: or as Professor Tim Jackson memorably summarised it, buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to create impressions that don’t last with people we don’t care about. We know this. We want, as individuals and as a society, to live more natural lives, and spend more time on the things that matter: family, friendship, community.
The Greens are sometimes accused of being naive and idealistic. There were certainly elements of their 2015 manifesto that made little sense to me (I did think, however, that it was the best written by a long way), but there is also a lot in what Caroline Lucas says that is sensible, practical and entirely realistic. Just not as short-term as some of the other parties. There is also an understanding of human nature in her thinking which doesn’t always come across in the larger parties’ approaches to difficult issues:
In politics, when you strip away the rhetoric and dogma, the media-driven anxieties, the artificial divisions and the rest of it, you are left with people’s essential decency. Our world is so large and complex. It can be hard for individuals to find the right way to their own truths. The natural reaction is to deal with abstracts – ‘asylum-seekers’, or ‘scroungers’, or ‘addicts’. But when people actually meet a refugee, hear their stories, their ambitions, their gratitude to Britain for providing a place of refuge, they no longer want them out. They are more likely – in that typical British way – to start a petition to allow them to stay. When your own job is at risk, when you know people who want to work but can’t find any, or who are sick or disabled and trying to lead a decent life on the meanest pittance the state can devise – then the myth of the army of scroungers soon evaporates.
Some of the stories of the dysfunctionality of the British parliament were truly staggering to an outsider. The refusal to use electronic voting which would save hours of wasted time, MPs being shoved into the ‘right’ lobby by their party’s whips, not even knowing what it was they were voting on, not to mention the archaic conventions which seem to matter so much to some MPs. But if change happens one person at a time, some of it is starting with Caroline Lucas. She can be my MP any time. I might not agree with her on everything, but I know she would have thought about the issue. And that she would stand up for what she believes in.