Letter: Forces behind the decline of the Greens

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The Independent Online
Sir: The self-imposed political winter of the Green Party requires some further explanation. For the decline since the 1989 electoral success is the result of two significant, yet unnamed, forces - one structural and one psychological.

The 1989 vote of 2.3 million changed the party from rank outsiders in the political process into a threat to the status quo. Political opponents and media alike demanded a quality response on every subject from Budget details to policies on clay pigeon shooting. For a party staffed primarily by volunteers, with a patchy policy base, scant resources and no means of funding rapid expansion through deficit finance, the inevitable result was failure to satisfy these demands.

For a minority party to survive in our system demands either MPs with expenses or a mass high-subscribing membership base. Unlike its French and German counterparts, which rely on public funding, the Green Party has none of these sources of financial stability. To equip a national organisation in such circumstances necessitates relying on volunteers from among the independently wealthy or those happy to exist on the margins of society. Neither group suggests a grounding in the external realities of one's audience, nor do they bring consistency.

Psychologically, too, the threat posed by success was onerous. For many 'old-timers' who for years had by necessity lived as mavericks, their views being 'too exotic', the external pressure to leave that shelter to become a mainstream organisation was too great. Loss of Cassandra-like posturing for the unknown hard work of making change happen was deeply frightening for some, particularly given no camaraderie from the wider green movement and total hostility from political opponents.

This fear, coupled with the massive paranoia about leadership in the post-Thatcherite period, was a heady brew indeed - as Jonathon Porritt and Sara Parkin have found to their cost.

The Green 2000 initiative attempted structural and, more important, cultural change, but despite its pyrrhic victory was defeated by the party's processes. Organisational change raced unsuccessfully against membership decline and financial weakening, as the 'pragmatists' left in disillusionment.

For those of us who want green politics to be political reality, and who have looked long and hard at the other parties, the future is uncertain. The need for a green political voice grows ever greater as our economic and social decline escalates. Our current problem is to find a vehicle that will withstand the pressures that brought winter so soon after spring.



London, N8

The writer was co-chair, external affairs, during the 1989 European election campaign.