The Green party leader is failing to deliver a coherent and convincing message on national television and undermining the cause. Is it time for seasoned media commentator Russell Brand to stand in for her to articulate the vision of a fairer society and hit back at the cynics?
Once again, the Green party leader Natalie Bennett appeared on a political television show, this time the BBC’s Question Time, and once again, despite her best intentions, she failed to articulate her vision in a convincing way. Thankfully for her, perhaps, there was another member of the panel who stumbled more than she did, the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who has in the past struggled with alcohol and by the sounds of his answers and the view of many commentators online, appeared to be continuing to struggle. It was awkward to watch, and social media people have of course been relentless in joking about his performance, cruelly in the opinion of many others.
But while Charles Kennedy’s monosyllabic, slightly slurred answers prompted the online “is he, or isn’t he?” social media gags, it directed attention away from Natalie’s usual problem, that of a lack of confidence in her delivery, and the substance of her answers under sceptical questioning as they pertained to the Green party ethos. The continuing narrative as it is beginning to solidify once again among journalists and presenters, is that the Green party are hippy wackos who will destroy society if they are ever allowed to get anywhere near to power. The irony that this view ends up preserving and protecting a political establishment that is doing just that cannot be lost on astute observers.
Natalie Bennett gamely attempted to present the ideas and indeed the ideals of a party that represents the hopes of environmentalists, civil and human rights advocates and progressives of good conscience the world over, with potential policies that would offer the most radical departure from conventional political life since real socialism was part of the mainstream political discourse. The need for a radical world plan to tackle widescale environmental degradation is accepted by ecological activists and serious thinkers as absolutely necessary to ensure our survival as a species on this planet and prevent inevitable societal collapse. What industrial civilisation and the debt-based economic system is doing to society and the biosphere is a continuing catastrophe. The failure of mainstream politicians to tackle this is beyond scandalous.
There is a logical disengagement in the political process from so many people, so many opposed to UK involvement in the Middle East wars and beyond, the continuing corruption of big business, and to surveillance techniques used to suppress dissent under the guise of protecting us from terrorism. Many of us know what’s wrong, but so often the pragmatists demand to know from the progressives: “how are you going to make things better? What exactly are you going to do?” It is at this point, and in the face of such harsh and direct questioning, where many of us struggle to articulate what the vision might look like in real time. Natalie gets to do it on live TV and I can understand how difficult it might be. But if she cannot do it successfully (and so far she has not managed to do so) then it risks relegating the Green party to the role of a national joke, when the basic ideal of a fairer society is rooted in many practical solutions to real world problems.
Unfortunately, I do not believe unilateral nuclear disarmament is one of those solutions. It is based on an ideal (a world without nuclear weapons), but it turns into a policy (unilateral disarmament, the UK gets rid of its weapons), that cannot be seen as anything other than naive and dangerous by the public. Of course there are other countries that do not have nuclear weapons, but that does not mean if the UK unilaterally disarmed it would also be safe. Those countries are safe because their allies are armed. Of course it is insane to even contemplate a nuclear war and it would lead to utter devastation. But a defenceless Japan was brought to its knees because of a nuclear attack and the result was horrendous.
Military strategy is a fact of life. It may be an ugly fact of life, and we may (and indeed must) seek to lessen the need for weapons of war, and certainly end wars of corporate greed. But such a strategy has to be thought out and articulated in a way that engenders confidence in people that they will be protected, to enshrine in military strategy Bruce Lee’s philosophy of the art of “fighting without fighting” in such a way that the public can feel safe. Empathy cannot be enacted without qualities of strength and strategy. On matters of war and national security, Natalie failed to articulate the vision or to convince that the Green party would be able to protect its citizens for long enough to enact that vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It’s a tall order for any peacemaker.
On questions of the economy, once again people look to figures and once again Natalie is not able to present the overall strategy, to tackle the debt-based banking system and its systemic corruption, in any way that the public can engage with. She is tinkering around the edges with talk of corporations paying their tax. As important as this is to begin with, it is small fry next to the real problem in finance. Banks have hundreds of billions of pounds of invented public money underwritten by the state and that is before we even talk about corruption, interest rate rigging and all manner of structural failings that prevent investment in public services, infrastructure and well-paid jobs for all. Again, pragmatists will ask for the exact figures, but it is here where a charismatic leader, one who has some fire about them, can challenge the critics and impress upon them the urgency of the crisis facing society and environment and to persuade those who feel disengaged that this is a party that will fight for their rights and tackle these problems urgently.
And it is a fight, make no mistake, We are up against systems of belief so ingrained that even those of us who know how absurd the beliefs that are put forward as the only serious solutions are, find ourselves complying. Most of us are in some way accepting that politics can only be done this way by either a tacit or explicit compliance. This is why I have so much sympathy with the views expressed by Russell Brand, that politics is a rigged game and that we should reject it outright, that the very nature of the process corrupts and distorts so that the true aims are destroyed. That within this system, the political and spiritual message of harmony and community, an ideal that urges us to look within and find that part of us that can engage with our own humanity and find empathy in others, ultimately with even our harshest critic or our most vicious enemy, cannot be heard above the braying of smug, overfed bullies and corporate shills who offer us scraps from the table. Fuck ’em all, he says, and many willfully disenfranchised people agree with him.
And though I too believe that it is a rigged game, and that perhaps things will have to get worse before they get better, I still can’t help wishing each time I switch on that blasted television set and watch those frustrating, agenda-set political debates, that for every appearance that Natalie has been on, that Russell had been on there in her place to face the cynical, sneering questioners and give ’em what for. And though what’s past is past, I continue to wish that somehow he would stand in for her in the upcoming debates, which will not doubt intensify in their verbal brutality, covering for her in the manner of knight in shining armour, and leave her to the business of political strategy and electioneering for which she is no doubt well equipped.
I am sure that Natalie is a competent politician and knows the ins and outs of specific environmental policy. But a vision needs to be articulated first. People have to become engaged and inspired, and Russell Brand is simply the most charismatic, articulate, bravest and sharpest public figure of recent times, able to express those basic ideals that ordinary people feel in their hearts and speak about constantly, that you get when you go into a cafe or pub and chat with regular, open-minded folk, of which there are many more in this country than the political and mainstream media peer group would have us believe.
I don’t think Russell needs to be a leader of the Green party and I’m sure he isn’t cut out to be a bureaucratic leader of a political party and neither would he want to be one. But he can at least be a spokesman over these next few weeks, since the Green party is not about a definite leader but about a collaborative vision. If David Cameron won’t go face-to-face with his closest rival, then why should Natalie have to be submerged in the dog-pissing contest that would surely ensue if the seven leaders all faced up in one televised debate? For one thing, if he were to become the main spokesman, joining the Green party and urging the disengaged to vote this one time, it would shut those people up who say he is against voting outright, that he is a threat to the sanctified democratic process. I know he agrees with some of the Green party ideals. I do too. But I also object to some of the specific ideas, unilateral disarmament being just one (though I see no need to waste money on Trident). But that should not stop either of us supporting the Green through the rigged game of electoral ballot box politics just for this one last time, if only to offer some alternative to the blandness and utter idiocy and corruption of the rest of the flogged horses and the dreary pretence of serious mainstream media scrutiny of the election.
At least with the Greens, if they were to get a few MPs voted in at the next election, could present specific policy in the House of Commons. And perhaps more radical ideas, those of dismantling the banking cartels, renationalising and syndicalising public services so that people from the ground up have a say, could begin to be discussed seriously. Creating open-source networks, allowing radical ideas from all cultures and faiths to be expressed without fear of being branded an extremist, for the express purposes of not pushing people towards extremism by stifling free expression, as happens now, will encourage open dialogue and create a political narrative that is inclusive, and long overdue. If only that the narrative could become real and impressed into public life. This surely is the last chance to do so in the traditional way via the ballot box. Russell could even walk away after the election if the Green party get all bureaucratic and the walking away could be another measure of his integrity and commitment to his own revolutionary spiritual vision.
The important thing would be that in these debates, through the visual medium and the intense scrutiny of a cynical audience which Russell has negotiated and mastered like no other present public figure, some of those real debates about how we want to live in this country and in the world and how best to tackle the serious problems we are facing, would all be able to be aired in the serious context of political news, rather than as an anarchic celebrity sideshow, which is how Russell Brand is being presented by those same people, despite him being very obviously more than that to many people. The likes of Andrew Neill, David Dimbleby, Nick Ferrari and the rest of the establishment mob would face a sterner and more engaged response from the working class boy from Grays, Essex than any previous Green party politician and that in itself would be news. Maybe he doesn’t need the extra scrutiny. Maybe his celebrity status would obscure the Green vision and detract from the message. Maybe Natalie and the Green support would be so affronted by my suggestion were they to hear about it, that it would embarrass all concerned and make the possibility less likely, rather than more likely, as I would hope.
But I feel that unless such a thing happens, unless Russell in some way becomes the main spokesman for the Green party over the next few weeks, that Natalie will continue to stumble and stutter over the debates. Despite the fact that Natalie undoubtedly knows what the vision is and can articulate it to party members, despite there being 50,000+ members putting out the vision for radical change, urging progressive, ecologically minded people to vote, there will not be that media surge that has been predicted and the Greens will be lucky to get another couple of MPs alongside Caroline Lucas, who may not even retain her MP’s status. And in 2015, with the state of the world as it is and the reactionary right hovering with their fear agenda and corporate backing, that just isn’t good enough.
If it doesn’t happen, if Russ stays in non-voting, revolutionary mode, I may not even bother to vote either, for the first time since I can remember, as disillusioned as I will continue to be every time I hear Natalie speak on one of these political shows, as I know in my constituency the only real possibility is that either the nice but ineffectual Lib Dem gets in again or the posh ex-forces Tory boy gets in to push his touted “free market” agenda. What price enraged apathy? Maybe I’ll just have to switch off the TV, trust in the vision and enact the ecological ideal with those I meet in my daily life. Be the change I wish to see. And maybe I’ll see the debacle of the 2015 election and recognise that the breakdown of the established social order that must surely come is not far away. We will all in some way be a part of the revolution, whether we desire it or not. I only wish I could believe it will be a peaceful one. Surely there must be a way we can engage the public now in a positive vision before things get a bit messier. If not now, then when?