LETTER : Greenpeace and the politics of honesty

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The Independent Online
From Mr Oliver Kamm

Sir: In commending Greenpeace's "integrity" for acknowledging that it misinformed the public during the Brent Spar affair (leading article; "Better to blunder than to lie", 6 September) you fail to address the main charge against that organisation's conduct.

No one disputes the integrity of Greenpeace's members, nor believes them guilty of disseminating deliberate falsehoods. Many people, however - and not all of them government ministers - are disturbed by the influence that a single-issue advocacy group now appears to have on public policy in a liberal democracy. This would still be a concern, and one that a liberal newspaper ought in principle to share, even if Greenpeace's research were of a higher quality than we now know it to have been.

Suppose, for example, that the Supreme Court of the United States, impressed by the sincerity and passion motivating the militant and increasingly violent demonstrations that habitually take place outside abortion clinics, were to revoke its earlier rulings and deem the termination of pregnancy an unconstitutional and unlawful act. You, I suspect, would be more likely in such circumstances to regret the abdication of judicial responsibility to provide a disinterested consideration of the public good than you would be to romanticise the actions and demands of a pressure group.

Pressure groups are inimical to democracy because they are unaccountable to those whose lives would be affected by their policy prescriptions. They represent sectional interests but dress them in the language of social concern. In doing so they evade the responsibility of those who form public policy to consider how best to reconcile conflicting values or competing claims to scarce resources in a peaceful and consensual manner, and how the costs of alternative policies may be equitably distributed. Whoever ultimately bears the cost of the Brent Spar fiasco, it will not be the membership of Greenpeace.

Yours faithfully,

Oliver Kamm


6 September