We need more shades of green: Jonathon Porritt is in disgrace with his party, but unrepentant: they are failing to grasp the new politics

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The Independent Online
THE 1992 general election was not a happy one for the Greens. The environment as an issue was off the boil and votes were as hard to win as ever. But there was one golden breakthrough: the election of Cynog Dafis as the Plaid Cymru/Green MP in Ceredigion and Pembroke North. It is indirectly because of that breakthrough that my membership of the Green Party has recently been suspended.

I happened to play a minute part in that historic result when I was invited by the Ceredigion Greens to speak at one of Cynog's election meetings. It was an electrifying occasion, packed to the rafters with people who knew they were trying something special. Old scores between the two parties were buried (requiring a rather deeper grave than might be imagined), and new relationships forged.

The improbable moving force behind this pact was Cynog Dafis himself. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people like him just do not go into politics. He is thoughtful, unassuming, utterly honest, passionate in his beliefs and a lot more besides. He loves people, feels for the land and revels in new ideas and new ways of getting things done. Give us a Parliament full of the likes of Cynog Dafis, and we would be halfway to something like a green and pleasant land.

Those qualities, and the interest caused by the deal between Plaid Cymru and the Greens, somehow got through to the voters of Ceredigion. The Liberal Democrats did not know what had hit them, and Cynog Dafis was duly elected. For several weeks I went around hugging myself for the sheer joy of this unexpected triumph.

I am only recalling these distant memories because I rather doubt that I would have endorsed the Plaid Cymru Euro candidate in Mid and West Wales earlier this year if I had not felt that buzz for myself or shared that delight with the local Green Party.

That means I would not have aroused the wrath of the Green Euro candidate or the Welsh Green Party (which, unlike the local party in Ceredigion, sadly wants nowt to do with Plaid Cymru), and would still be trucking along as a semi-detached, more or less loyal, Green Party member.

But I would not have been any happier about the way the Green Party now defines its role. Since I joined the party nearly 20 years ago, circumstances have changed dramatically. Green ideas are now mainstream. People are not indifferent to those concerns; they really care. Disaffection with the leading parties is at an all- time high, providing opportunities for the unorthodox. Community politics is starting to mean something again, and 'quality of life' to be seen as more than a substitute for getting rich.

One thing alone has not changed in that time: a crass and cruel electoral system that reinforces archaic tribal loyalties, and either disempowers or alienates millions of people. Until that system changes, the Greens will never get elected in a national or a European election - and in not that many local elections either.

Which brings me back to Cynog Dafis. Somehow, the joint Plaid Cymru/Green campaign beat that system, or at least circumnavigated it. My hunch is (I have no evidence to back this up) that it did so because he and his colleagues from both parties were talking a different language.

It was the language of co-operation rather than ritualised conflict. Of small-scale local solutions rather than blueprints from on high. Of tapping into the community energy and individual skills that are systematically ignored by our market-driven, competitive-at-all-costs economy. Of the beauty and cultural wealth of that part of Wales. Of solidarity and social justice practised unassumingly in the way we live rather than parodied in the rhetoric we preach.

That may be well over the top for some people, and was certainly far better expressed by Cynog Dafis himself in his election speech. But despite the sterile cynicism of so many political commentators, I cannot help believing that there is a 'new politics' emerging somewhere out there.

It involves people of all parties and of none, and keeps popping up in 101 different ways (from road protests to ethical investment, from organic farming to telecommuting) that all but defy analysis.

That is the natural territory for the Green Party. But to tap into it requires a transformation at least as profound as that which the Labour Party has undergone. Deprived of power, neglected or ridiculed by the media, the easy way out for what is left of the national Green Party has been to take on the task of Keeper of the Holy Green Grail, defining with involuntary arrogance what is or is not truly green. By a process of remorseless exclusion, just about the only thing that is left is its own navel.

Need it be this way? The contrast with the campaign to enact the Energy Conservation Bill (drafted by the Green Party's campaigns co-ordinator, introduced into Parliament by Cynog Dafis, taken up by the Liberal Democrats, and backed by more than 400 MPs, dozens of local authorities and countless campaigning groups) could not be more telling. Courtesy of some rebarbatively stupid Conservatives, it did not quite become law. But it will in time, and much of the credit will be the Green Party's.

That credit will be due precisely because the party let go, eschewing the monopoly it usually seeks over green ideas. By the same token, the local Green Party triumphed in Ceredigion because it, too, let go, stopped worrying whether Plaid Cymru was as green as it should be, and got on with winning an election and doing something useful for local people.

It is early days for these pioneers. In May next year, all being well, there will be a joint Plaid Cymru/Green slate of candidates to contest the local elections in Ceredigion. And who is to say that this might not presage similar local arrangements between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, or the Greens and Labour, garlanded as it is now with Chris Smith's sparkling new policy document?

Wishful thinking? Probably. But a great deal more uplifting than the prospect of another 20 years in political purdah, with or without my Green Party membership card.

The writer was chairman of the Green Party in 1979-80 and 1982-84.

(Photograph omitted)

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