Wotcha Pippa, Got an Old Motor?

So, Pippa Bartolotti drives a Jag!  That’s a little surprising given that she’s one of the four candidates for leader of the Green Party.  And though she expresses amazement it’s that fact that The Independent chose to lead its contest coverage on, frankly that’s hardly a surprise at all.

Journalists like nothing more than the whiff of hypocrisy especially when they smell it on one of our (would-be) elected representatives.  No matter that there’s a cogent case that a Prius is impractical, or that now Pippa has the Jag it’s more eco to run it than buy a new car.  Nope, the question is how someone who wants to front the Greens could have bought one in the first place.

Cards on the table time; I have a car.  I drive it more than I’d like to but, living in the sticks, and 2 miles from the nearest bus stop, and almost 5 from the nearest village, it’s not as easy as when I lived in London, there was a bus stop 50 yards away and I only used the car to drive back to the sticks every month or so.

I bought a second hand VW Golf 5 years ago.  It runs on diesel, and when I go past one of those rare outlets that sells the stuff, it runs on recycled biodiesel.  I like it.  I get variety.  I can smell of stir-fry, curry or fish and chips and as I go past I know I’m doing a little bit to boost sales of deep-fried food as people get a whiff.

Am I a saint?  The heck I am.  If I was saintly I’d cycle everywhere with my small son in a trailer on the back.  And if we got wiped out in the process by one of the psycho lorry drivers that uses the road between me and the station I might get an obit in Green World, while the non-green world would write me off as a selfish idiot for putting my child in harm’s way.  See; you can’t win.

But the point is this – if you espouse a principled position, as Greens try to – you can do too little and you can do too much.  Do too little and you sound like on of those old time SWP bores that used to tell women at my uni that liberation would come after the revolution.  The ones that believed them are still waiting,  It’s not good enough to say ‘well it’s not easy being green’ (though it sounds better if you sing it).  You have to make some sacrifices.

On the other hand if you really do live your ideals, as people like Brig Oubridge do – Brig who I also saw speak at university and who, as a result, I suspected was possibly the coolest person on the planet – the mainstream commentariat declare that you’re living in la-la land and couldn’t be trusted with high office.

So it’s a bit of a tightrope.  If you want guidance for how to walk that tightrope you might take a leaf out of the Caroline Lucas guide to how to do it.  Get a good haircut, choose simple, stylish but unostentatious clothes, avoid extravagance but don’t sound like you’re lecturing mum and dad Middle England to wear a hair shirt and radiate good vibes.

I’m afraid Pippa rather fell off the tightrope.

However her other point, that Greens have a rather uncomfortable relationship with business, is well made.

I became a Green, for among other reasons, because I agreed with the green critique of the consumer society.  It’s something we don’t talk about enough at the moment, but the endless cycle of creating unhappiness in order to create wants so that those wants can be filled is a cycle that has to be broken.  It’s a cycle that has enslaved us to needless labour and has turned us into a society that judges everything by its cost and values people by how much wealth they conspicuously display.

However even if we do manage to break these chains we’ll still need things and services and jobs and businesses provide all of those.

The big debate is really about two things – the scope of the state and the scope of private enterprise.

I believe strongly in limited government (as distinct from small government); that the state should be the instrument of action and not the repository of power.  It should be (with caveats) the embodiment of the popular will.  We want an NHS?  Then we mandate the state to create and run a public healthcare service free at the point of use as the most efficient way to realise our chosen collective endeavour.  Likewise all the other services we decide that we need to provide for all citizens in order to create a compassionate and civilised society.

What the state shouldn’t do is go freelancing – looking for ways to increase its scope beyond its doing what we want it to do.  I don’t want the state spending money infiltrating peaceful protest groups, or engaging in foreign wars that serve neither our interests nor the greater good of humanity.  I don’t want the state to poke its nose into my bedroom, allying itself with one religion or another or a host of other things.

Because there are about 60 million different opinions about what the state should and shouldn’t do we work out these differences through the ballot box.  It ain’t perfect but, as Churchill said, it’s the worst possible system except for all the others that human beings have tried.

So if you were to suggest that it’s the job of the state to design, build and sell us mp3 players, you might have some difficulty persuading your fellow citizens that we should take our government’s eye off the ball of more important tasks with such fripperies.

As for business, what is it’s scope?  For me the Greens’ real gripe with business is this: business has no place whatsoever co-opting power for itself.  In a democracy power belongs to all of us; one person, one vote.  Moreover if you believe in subsidiarity that power should be kept as close to the people as the people wish.  (Me, I’m happy to delegate organising rubbish collection to the council UNTIL they do something stupid and I want to stop them doing that stupid something).

But what we have now is the apparently inexorable leeching away of power from the institutions we delegate it to, to big business.  Note I don’t simply say business.

Small and medium sized businesses rarely have much, if any, power at all.  Greens are instinctively pretty sympathetic to smaller businesses and I reckon it’s because they provide goods, services and jobs without trying to set themselves up to make decisions for us for which they’re unaccountable.  Big business tries to do exactly that.

That is the big political issue of our age – the theft of power from the people (yes all the people – stockbrokers, company directors and the idle rich along with the rest of us – they all get one vote just like you and me) by big finance and big business.

If Greens used the power question as the litmus they’d be far less conflicted about their relationship with businesses.  It’s abuse of power by corporates – from bullying local authorities into approving megastores to leaning on government to drive down the minimum wage or holding a gun to our collective heads to bail them out after the financial crisis – that is at the root of it all.

If we got that power back and if we made decisions collectively, every person in this country over sixteen, in our best interests as both a whole and as a collection of 60 million individuals, we’d probably not be facing the global meltdown we all fear.

So Pippa, make smarter decisions next time you shop for a motor and start talking about the proper role of business in a greener society.


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