Progressive politics and the Green Party: home and abroad. April 9, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
An interesting snippet in the current edition of Prospect raises some uncomfortable questions as regards Green parties across Europe, and these questions have a direct relevance to the sort of projects being championed here and at Dublin Opinion, Notes on the Front and the Irish Left Review.
Because in piece on ‘the rise of the Green Conservatives’ we are informed that:
Green conservatism is in the air. Cameron’s Tories are out-greening new Labour; in the US, former Bush speechwriter David Frum has outlined an eco-friendly agenda to help renew Republicanism. But it is in Germany, writes Hans Kundnani, that a right-green alliance is actually taking root. In the city-state of Hamburg, the Christian Democrats and Greens are negotiating a “black-green” coalition that could redraw Germany’s political map much as the “red-green” experiment of the 1980s and 1990s did.
It’s certainly true that this wave of green thinking is being surfed by some unexpected people. The depth of their commitment is, of course, a rather different matter. Whether Cameron has a visceral attachment to such politics is a very very open question. That it has softened his image is beyond doubt. The late arrival of US conservatism at the feast is even more questionable, although intriguingly the US evangelical movement is fracturing to some degree around just this issue with a considerable number of evangelicals seeing it as central to their faith.
But, as ever, such matters are symptomatic of broader political processes:
This development is largely a consequence of the new arithmetic of power in Germany. Since Oskar Lafontaine’s left-wing party merged with the PDS (the former East German communists) last year, a five-party system has emerged in which it is increasingly difficult for either of the two traditional blocs—the Christian Democrats/Free Democrats on the right and the Social Democrats/Greens on the left—to form a stable coalition.
So, the logic of democratic, and in particular proportional representational, politics is such that it crushes forces together, even those which appear seemingly disparate. That this is partially due to the further left in the shape of the Left Party is fascinating in itself (worth noting the Green currents within that party). The piece continues that:
The Greens are keen to reduce their dependence on the Social Democrats—and they have more in common with the Christian Democrats than one might think. When the German environmental movement emerged out of “citizens’ initiatives” against nuclear power in the late 1970s, it included Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, and drew heavily on a right-wing, anti-modernist tradition going back to the German Romantics.
And one might suggest that the Greens see an opportunity to wield the sort of power once held by the Free Democrats. But, the fact that there are philosophical convergences should hardly be news to those of us interested in Green thinking. But a crucial point is raised later:
One influential figure who now straddles this divide is Thomas Schmid, a former comrade of Joschka Fischer, and now editor of the conservative daily Die Welt. Moreover, the Greens, unlike the Social Democrats, have always been a middle-class party with a liberal economic wing. Until recently, a major stumbling block to a black-green alliance was the Christian Democrats’ anti-immigrant rhetoric. But that now seems to be in retreat. If so, the new alliance could have a future beyond Hamburg.
I think the class basis of the Green parties is significant, and its importance is reflected in the recent tactics of the Irish Green party. I don’t want to suggest for a moment that there was a lack of sincerity in GP members when it came to campaigning issues, indeed quite the opposite. That was how the GP developed a public profile and began the long march towards some degree of state power. But, in that march the party itself changed while the perception of it remained quite similar. It doesn’t entirely strike me as odd that the poll ratings have increased. Consider this, up until very recently the discourse in politics about the Green party from Fianna Fáil and others was one where they were portrayed as near extremist or lunatic on a range of issues. That their public outings such as chaining themselves to trees on O’Connell Street fitted directly into this discourse only serves to demonstrate how important that was to them. However, as they have assumed power that rather precious side of their public image has been downplayed in favour of a much more sober presentation. To the point indeed that a grim looking John Gormley stood just behind Bertie Ahern during the latter’s resignation statement. That’s quite some distance to travel, whatever ones thoughts on the issues.
But it also seems to point to a sense that while the campaigning activity was important, as power came within grasp it became less important. Now, in the dynamic pointed to earlier, the reality of a global political environment becoming more open and accepting of Green issues and their reification to issues of ‘high’ state consideration the campaigning side could be jettisoned, at least in part, or seen as as lesser to what is being described as a potential planetary crisis.
And in that context the attraction of linking up with parties of left or right, but most important of government, because enormously important. And for the Green parties there is sufficient wriggle room ideologically. They can indeed be business friendly, or socially conscious, or both simultaneously.
This is not to say that somehow they’re a cuckoo in the nest of the left. Their instincts are broadly centre left, but it is to suggest that bringing them into future alliances of the left may be more difficult than it seemed even twelve months ago. And returning to the poll rating, what is fascinating is how it continues to slide upwards. Self-evidently people like the Green Party in government, and the more they see them there the more they like it. Where is this new found (and possibly entirely ephemeral) support coming from? I don’t know, but of course even small increments in their overall support are useful for them considering the relatively low base they start from. Is it a sense of a sort of ‘tamed’ radicalism that appeals to an electorate tired after a decade of FF/PD? Or is it a sense that Green thinking is part of a wave, and therefore they might actually be right. It’s all very puzzling, not least I suspect to the GP itself. Because by the yardstick of previous political dynamics they should have eviscerated their support by going into government and being forced to oversee a raft of contentious decisions. And yet, remarkably they haven’t. Which suggests to me that their base is somewhat more conservative than was once thought, or that they are attracting a new and rather less radical base than before, and in sufficient numbers to avoid attrition from their more radical fractions. Interesting.