The Irish Green Party has melted down at the polls, at both local level (where they won almost nothing) and at national level (where they won nothing and were even beaten by an independent who left the party a few months ago. But what’s at the core of the party’s problems?
The two viewsÂ I have heard about the Party’s medium-term prospects (from very different sources) are:
View 1. The Green Party was doing the right thing when it focused on Green issues within government. They could have kept a clear line around themselves on these issues and been measured on success in these areas. They did not do this, and now they are blamed for everything that has gone wrong for the government. The natural continuation of this line will be to leave government. If they do this, they will lose everything at the next election, whether this is sooner or later. This is what happened to the PDs. What happened to them will now happen to the Greens.
View 2. The Green Party had an opportunity to define itself as something greater than its old self and tried to do this in the run up to the election. It has failed in this. Fianna Fail now has a great deal of power over the Green Party. They can precipitate a crisis, and put the Green Party in a position where its supporters feel they have to leave government. The members of the party can force this to happen through the democratic structures, even if the TD’s don’t want it. The electorate will blame the Green Party for causing instability and an election. Fianna Fail (and everybody else) will embrace green issues like never before going into a general election. The Green Party will be destroyed.
Neither of these views looks too good for the Green Party. What happens may in fact be determined by the ‘pension before principles’ system that gives ministers a very good reason to stick around for at least three years before having doubts about their cabinet colleagues.
I think the core problem is that the Green Party does not have a strong ideological position to defend and that is part of its weakness. Aside from being against corruption in the planning process and in favour of low energy lightbulbs, what exactly is the distinctive policy?
The Green Party is fundamentally a consumerist party, the same as all the other parties. It believes that what matters is what we consume and that by somehow moderating consumption, or by consuming different kinds of things, that we can solve the world’s problems, which ultimately boil down to resource shortages. As people, we are identified in terms of what we consume – what kinds of cars we drive, what clothes we wear and so on. In fact, this will not work. At best it will slow down the world’s problems. It will not stop or reverse them.
The line the Green Party should have taken is to look at productivity. How do we add more value, consuming less, but producing more? Producing in the sense of creating new things that somehow make life better or achieve some set of goals.
For example, switching to long-life lightbulbs will not achieve any benefit for the environment if we construct buildings that require more lighting (for example, buildings with walls of glass) or if the people coming to the building to work under the light don’t actually produce something that they couldn’t have produced just as well at home.
Outputs, not inputs.