The Green Party and Natalie Bennett: amateurish disorganisation disguising a dangerous political con
To say that Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has had a catastrophic twenty-four hours somehow doesn’t quite convey how disastrous her performances have been. Were the election TV debates ever likely to happen, the prep teams for the other political party leaders would be rubbing their hands with glee.
February 24th was the day that the Green Party launched their election campaign. No doubt she and her colleagues were looking forward to taking advantage of the publicity they have gained by attempting to convince the media that having one MP in one part of the United Kingdom (and control of a council in the same part of the world that they regularly seem to disown), makes them a national political force to be reckoned with.
Exposure also brings scrutiny, however. Natalie Bennett’s appalling interviews yesterday, combined with the bizarre attempts to prevent reporters asking questions about their policies at yesterday’s campaign launch, should make any sensible, intelligent person think twice before voting for the Green Party – particularly if they care about the environment. For what was exposed yesterday was Bennett and the Green Party’s very cynical and deliberate attempts to mislead the public and deceive voters into giving them their vote.
The morning began with an interview on the Today programme in which Bennett effectively called for Britain to appease a dangerous Russian leader ahead of maintaining its commitments to international law and human rights.
No matter that there is widespread concern that he is seeking to destabilise a sovereign country. No matter that he may have his eyes set on other countries who had to shake off the yoke of Communism in order to exercise the democratic freedoms that Bennett appears to take for granted. Like Farage in the European Election debates with Nick Clegg, Bennett appeared to become an apologist for a regime that abuses human rights, that is supremely intolerant of members of the LGBT+ communities, that has casual and alarming disregard for the rules of international law, and which uses oil and gas as tools to subvert the energy security of other countries.
From the BBC, Bennett went on to LBC and an interview with veteran interviewer Nick Ferrari. This was an opportunity for the Green Party to showcase their central pledge of providing 500,000 homes by 2020. The appeal of this should be obvious to anyone. There is a crisis of availability of affordable homes and any political party seeking to address the concerns of the electorate, and particularly younger voters, needs to have serious and credible policies on housing.
Bennett’s performance is being widely credited as among the worst in political history. If that is an exaggeration it is not much of one, as this excerpt on housing policy reveals.
It is extraordinary that the leader of a political party should go into a major broadcast interview so spectacularly unprepared. It was also a shame the interview wasn’t allowed to run on. Policies on housing, as a key concern of voters, deserves the highest levels of scrutiny to ensure credibility. Having demonstrated that Bennett (and presumably the Green Party) has no clue about the costs of building a house, couldn’t show how their 500,000 houses would be paid for, and couldn’t even manage basic arithmetic, Ferrari asked about how the land would be paid for. The idea that these homes would actually need to be built somewhere clearly hadn’t even occurred to Bennett.
It is not unreasonable for us to ask where the Green Party intends to build these homes. In five years’ time, under a Green Party government, there would be 500,000 new homes. The issue of affordability is greatest in the South, South East and South West of England where land is scarcer and battles often hard fought by local community groups trying to protect small ‘green lungs’ that are threatened by central government directives on housing. Will land be compulsorily purchased and homeowners evicted so that denser housing can be provided (as happened with the New Town developments of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s)? Will councils be made to use environmentally sensitive sites where other supplies of land are exhausted? Will targets to achieve 500,000 homes be set centrally or locally?
There are other questions, too, beyond how the Green Party pay for this house-building programme, where they are going to be built and how they acquire the land. How do they intend to mitigate the massive environmental cost of building so rapidly on such a scale? How have they quantified and assessed the likely lorry movements, carbon emissions, materials etc? In so far as anyone can make any sense of Bennett’s figures, the Green Party are not intending to spend much on each house. So what environmental standards are they going to be built to, in terms of materials and emissions?
None of these questions are reasons to not build houses. They are, however, the sorts of questions that voters should feel able to ask of a party that claims to want to protect our environment, whilst promising spectacular house-building figures. They are also the sorts of questions that need answers if a policy is going to have any sort of credibility in a political debate.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the launch of a political party’s general election campaign might be a good place to start asking those questions. However, bizarrely, it seems that the last thing the Green Party want to do is answer questions on their policies. The various newspaper reports reveal either an alarming level of incompetence, which would lead you to ask fundamental questions about the Green Party’s fitness for government, or a determined and deliberate attempt to prevent scrutiny of their policies for fear of voters beginning to understand their real implications. The extraordinary attempts of Jenny Jones to prevent Bennett from answering questions on her radio interviews were bad enough, as if attempting to airbrush them from recent political history like some functionary of a former East European regime. But opening your press conference by saying ‘ You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them’ is frankly insulting. It shows a patronising disregard for the intelligence of voters who deserve more respect and less contempt.
Earlier this month, the respected political commentator Phil Cowley published a thought-provoking article entitled What’s more important to voters? Coherent policy or the chance to ‘send a message’. His broad conclusion is that UKIP voters and Green Party voters are more interested in sending a message than coherent policy. That may well be true, but I would appeal to Green Party voters to apply themselves to looking at what they are really voting for.
The events of yesterday suggest that the Green Party is far more dangerous than UKIP. Programmes like Meet The Ukippers leave no room for doubt about the nasty, small-minded politics of UKIP. The Green Party however attempts to present itself as a reasonable political party. They pretend to have a magic wand to wave to address the very real concerns of people who are disenchanted with the three main political parties. Ironically, the way they are conducting themselves they are guilty of more cynical deception than any of them.
February 24th revealed that there is no substance to the Green Party’s policies. Instead, Bennett and co fling promises about like so much political fly paper, hoping voters will stick. Scratch the respectable veneer of environmental concerns and you discover that the Greens are inconsistent and authoritarian fantasists who pay lip service to terms like ‘costed manifesto’ and ‘human rights’. In reality they play fast and loose with the very real concerns of people who are seeking to balance the various demands of their lives with ensuring we live in a world in which we protect our natural environment and use our resources sustainably.
In an election where there is so much uncertainty and so much is at risk, particularly the country’s economic stability and recovery, the cynicism with British voters regard their political classes needs to extend to ensuring the Green Party’s vacuous and potentially dangerous policies receive much-needed scrutiny.
Thoughtful blog piece here that rightly argues that supporters of the European Union need to start making the case for membership in positive terms. The negative effects of withdrawing of course need highlighting, but proponents have spent far too long trying to scare people instead of persuade them of the benefits of working together. At a time of renewed Russian expansionism, when there are fast-growing and volatile global markets emerging, and at a time when environmental concerns are back at the top of the political agenda, it should not be a hard case to make.
In terms of the UKIP documentary, I suspect that most of the complaints were from UKIP supporters. I suspect they don’t like the flashlight of public exposure being shone on a lot of the unpleasantness that is otherwise disguised by trying to use the same political lingua franca of the three main parties.
Earlier this week Channel Four screened UKIP – The first 100 days, a mockumentary looking at what might possibly happen in the (somewhat unlikely) event of Nigel Farage becoming Prime Minister in May.
Not surprisingly, it generated a lot of controversy, although I suspect that many of the complaints will have come from UKIP members. Personally, I was disappointed with the programme. I felt that the odd mix of satire (Neil Hamilton as Deputy PM!) and drama simply didn’t work and that the whole thing felt like it had been thrown together quickly without too much thought.
It does however raise the question of UK membership of the European Union and the fact that we seem destined to have a referendum on the issue at some point over the next couple of years. Most business and political leaders seem to feel that uncertainty over our EU membership…
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Very funny spoof. Though only very funny if you don’t think too much about it and realise how true much of it is true.
The Huffington Post has published another satirical piece on the Kippers. This time it’s the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, describing the weather as announced by UKIP. It’s called ‘Rain, Moderate Or Gay’: Listen To The All-New Ukip Shipping Forecast, and it’s at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/17/ukip-shipping-forecast_n_6696828.html?utm_hp_ref=tw.
Climate-change deniers are rattled. Thank goodness.
They’ve lost their loony cheerleader James Delingpole from the mainstream Daily Mail to Breitbart, a rightwing news feed which, hopefully, doesn’t have quite the same public reach.
In reaction to the IPCC’s report Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, the Mail’s reaction was so hysterical as to be absurd, highlighting how British scientist Professor Richard Tol had refused to put his name to the report. It was only at the very end of the article that it made clear that there was a serious dispute between Professor Tol and others over the way in which the report had been put together, including a suggestion (which he denies) that Tol circumvented the IPCC clearance process to publicise his own work. (So of the four hundred and ten contributors to the report, he was the only person to not append his name. Four hundred and nine were happy to be associated with it. One contributor dissented, not disowning his own work, not disowning the idea of human agency, but quite possibly in an editorial dispute about which parts of the report were included where.)
And on the day that the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee published its report on ‘Communicating climate science’, both The Daily Mail and The Telegraph were strangely reserved on a topic which usually has them shrieking ‘conspiracy’ from the rooftops – or at least the front pages.
Perhaps we now know why. In the evidence that both the Mail and the Telegraph offered to the committee, in complete contrast to the shrill and nasty way in which they usually approach the debate on climate change, both papers have finally acknowledged that human agency is a factor.
Yes, you read that correctly.
In written evidence to the committee, offered voluntarily, not under cross-examination, both papers addressed the question of causality and both accepted that human activity plays a part. The statements were published as part of the written evidence bundle and make for fascinating reading.
The Telegraph said:
We don’t have a working definition of climate change. We report on it rather than define it. In terms of our editorial policy, it is broadly that we believe that the climate is changing, that the reason for that change includes human activity, but that human ingenuity and adaptability should not be ignored in favour of economically damaging prescriptions.
The Daily Mail said:
The climate is always changing and the vast majority of climate scientists believe there is a significant human impact on it although they disagree about the pace and effects.
Perhaps they’ve noticed that, in the wake of devastating floods and some of the most unusual global weather patterns for years, our bullshit detectors are set to max. Perhaps it is simply becoming harder and harder to tilt at windmills (those with planning permission that is) and rail against the increasing weight of evidence – both scientific and anecdotal.
What is clear is that the standard sixth-form debating society tactic, of argument by assertion, isn’t working any more.
This is a debate that needs to be fought on the facts. We are perfectly entitled to stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing is happening, and that we make no contribution to global climate change, but we can’t do so and pretend that there isn’t an increasingly compelling case that requires us to make changes to the way we do business, the way we make things, the way we grow things and the way we live. To that end, all of those who take part in the debate have a responsibility to communicate honestly.
If four hundred and nine scientists told me that the medicine I was taking was likely to kill me and only one dissented, I think I would place my trust in the the four hundred and nine. Rightly or wrongly, the weight of opinion would be with them, regardless of the fact they worked for Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline. To be honest, I would probably take comfort from the fact that guys working for Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline would know their shit on medicines, compared to scientists working for car companies or telescope manufacturers.
Why don’t we apply the same rationale to climate change? Perhaps because it seems less immediate. Or, at least, it did until this last winter.
The House of Commons Select Committee Report is important because it is about the way in which we debate these issues. It is about the quality of debate and the way in which the principal channels of communication – particularly those that are tax-payer funded – present it. It is about separating out scientific conclusion from unscientific opinion and recognising that honesty is not just about presenting both sides of an argument, but also the balance of that argument amongst those who are actively engaged in assessing the science.
The considered nature of the report, and its careful language, makes Ben Webster’s piece in The Times sound all the more ludicrous. Headlined ‘Crackdown ordered on climate-change sceptics’, he wrote:
Ministers who question the majority view among scientists about climate change should “shut up” and instead repeat the Government line on the issue, according to MPs. The BBC should also give less airtime to climate sceptics and its editors should seek special clearance to interview them.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, rather than a clarion call against the so-called climate-change industry, he sounds more like the climate-change deniers’ emperor fishing around in his wardrobe for something – anything – to wear. No doubt Delingpole can lend him a thong or two.
If you do nothing else, read the summary of the Science and Technology Committee’s Eighth Report. It’s not poetic, but it is powerful, and politicians attempting to lead public opinion should pay attention:
Government policy on climate change has been consistent for many years based on a wide scientific consensus about the causes of climate change. The mandate for the Government to address the issue is apparent in polls showing that a significant majority of people in the UK think the climate is changing and that human activity is at least partly responsible for this. Most recent polls however have indicated a clear drop in the public support for climate change and therefore, if Government wishes to retain its mandate for action it needs to improve public understanding of the scientific basis for climate change policy.
The main source of information for the public on science (including climate change) is news media, specifically the BBC. Media reporting thrives on the new or controversial. We heard that it was difficult to justify news time maintaining coverage of climate science where basic facts are established and the central story remains the same. Reporting on climate therefore rarely spends any time reflecting on the large areas of scientific agreement and easily becomes, instead, a political discussion on disputes over minutiae of the science or the policy response to possible impacts of climate.
We found the role of the BBC, as the leading public service broadcaster, to be central to public understanding but were disappointed to find it lacked a clear understanding of the information needs of its audience with regards to climate science. We do not consider the ability of individual editors to determine the level of expertise of contributors to debates to be acceptable. Broadcasters need to develop clear editorial guidelines that ensure programmes present an accurate picture of the current state of the science. Commentators and presenters should be encouraged to challenge statements that stray too far from scientific fact.
We found little evidence of any significant co-ordination amongst Government, government agencies and bodies at national and local levels to communicate the science to the public, despite these bodies working to facilitate communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This may be due to the fact that the Government is not regarded as a primary, or even a reliable, source of information on climate science by the general public.
A lack of a clear, consistent messages on the science has a detrimental impact on the public’s trust in climate science. The Government and other bodies, such as the Royal Society and the Met Office, are currently failing to make effective use of internet or social media to engage with the public and to become an authoritative source of accurate scientific information about climate change. The Government must work with the learned societies, national academies and other experts to develop a source of information on climate science that is discrete from policy delivery, comprehensible to the general public and responsive to both current developments and uncertainties in the science.
The Government’s current approach to communicating conflates the scientific basis of climate change and the proposed solutions to its impacts and places a heavy reliance on individual scientists communicating about the science to justify the policy response. Efforts to create a clear narrative that is coherent, constructive and results in proper public engagement have been disappointing. As a matter of urgency, the Government needs to draw up a climate change communication strategy and implement this consistently across all Departments.