Reflections from outside Parliament: The political class and the crises we face

I spent yesterday ‘on point’ for Green Party Deputy Leader (and my fellow Norwich Councillor) Adrian Ramsay, in a series of interviews on College Green just outside the Houses of Parliament. Adrian spent the afternoon speaking live to Sky and the BBC, and doing pre-records with numerous other media outlets (from across the world), as the great and the good of politics-as-usual came and went, doing much the same: Peter Mandelson, Alan Duncan, Michael Howard, Ming Campbell, Ben Bradshaw, Ed Balls, David Miliband, Frank Dobson, etc etc.

We spoke with Peter Kellner about our prospects of victory in Norwich South; we spent some time chewing the fat with Martin Bell (who I got along to Green Party Conference a couple of years ago); we had an off-the-record briefing with Iain Dale. The weather was nice, everyone was pleasant, the day went well.

And the thing that strikes me as so peculiar about the whole thing is this: The beginning of the election campaign takes place in an atmosphere of some excitement among the political class, with the very real prospect of a hung Parliament, and indeed all the one-off chances of influence from the smaller Parties and from independents that that may bring; but there is a terrible disconnect between this political class and the vast crises that our country and our world confront:

  • There is a political crisis, a really deep crisis of confidence and trust in our political institutions and our politicians: and yet the people who I was rubbing shoulders with yesterday are fully expecting still to be basically in charge, after May 6. Labour may hold on; or the Conservatives may win; or (even if there is a hung Parliament) we might even get a change in the voting system. But what we will not get is a Green government, or a government of independents, or a truly radical participatory democracy emerging. Our system needs more than a mini-shake-up; it needs a revolution, it needs a reboot. But it is apparently simply not going to get one. The ‘Our Kingdom’ (and Power 2010, and 38 degrees, etc.) agendas are needed more than ever. But what I felt yesterday was our political class, nervous about the discontent that they know their subjects feel, but at the end of the day supremely confident that there will be no true game-changer. They will still be there, after May 6, in their suits, addressing the cameras, in charge.
  • There is an ongoing financial and economic crisis; we have experienced a true system-failure to rival that of 1929 onward: and yet the people holding court on College Green yesterday are only tinkering. There is no Keynesian revolution; there is no programme to rival the New Deal (the Green New Deal plans put forward by Caroline Lucas et al have not been adopted in any serious way, except in a few far-sighted countries such as South Korea); there is no political will to take the banks into lasting public ownership, as we ought to; the great moment of opportunity that a once-in-a-lifetime crisis represents has basically been squandered. I wondered around yesterday almost in a state of disbelief: can it really be that we as a people may be about to put in power a Party (the Conservatives) who are beholden to capital and who believe (most especially, Osborne believes) in deregulation, a small state, and the essential wisdom of ‘the market’? How is it possible that this crisis which has demonstrated an epic ‘market-failure’ has not led us to reconsider (to abandon) the model of neo-liberalism? Once again, this is a symptom of deep political failure: our political system has not risen to the challenge of times requiring massive changes, rather than tinkering. Basically, our system has been ‘captured’ by monied interests in a more profound way than was the case even before the Great Depression.
  • There is an unprecedented ecological crisis gripping our planet, our civilisation: and yet there was simply hardly any talk, in the constant media chatter and interviews yesterday, of this. Our democracy seems incapable of facing up to this, the greatest crisis of all. Our chronic short-termism is of course significantly to blame. We as a people cannot bear to question consumerism and to bracket ‘growth’ – and so our ecosystem is inevitably degraded. We are thus the brilliant allies of our own gravediggers.

These three inter-linked crises haunt me today, as I reflect on what was missing from yesterday’s opening of the election campaign. We must do what we can to change this state of affairs, this state of decay, this state, in these next four weeks. It is inadequate – it is intolerable – to have an election campaign that so desperately fails to measure up to where the citizens are at … and to where the world is at.

Rupert Read is a Green party councillor. We will be asking for reports from the front line from other parties.

About the author

Rupert Read was a Green Party councillor in Norwich and a candidate in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections. He is Chair of the Green House thinktank.