Despite the exasperation of many on the far left, next year’s electoral debates will be far better events without the Green Party’s participation. The arguments for the party’s inclusion are a collection of irrelevant statistics, and indignant pleas, that do little of alter the reality that The Greens have little relevance to a population that cares overwhelmingly about immigration, and the economic fortunes of the country. However, regardless of the legitimacy of their exclusion, the actual debates will be far better for not having the Green Party there. A Green-free debate narrows the field, to a small enough contingent which creates an adversarial environment, in which policy proposals can be keenly scrutinised. Furthermore, the absence of the party’s inapt and naïve set of policy proposals, will only help the debate steer clear of such unworkable irrelevancies as a maximum salary and the banning of GM foods.
Televised electoral debates, where leaders present a set of policy proposals, are relevant insofar as the parties in the debate, have a reasonable chance of constituting at least a part of the post-election government. The arguments for The Green Party’s inclusion fail to acknowledge that the other four parties can rightfully claim that their podium is justified, on the grounds that they could all conceivably be in at-least coalition government come next May – It should be noted that bookmakers find the possibility of a UKIP outright majority more plausible than the Greens being part of any coalition government. It follows that the public should be as informed as possible, about the national-level policies, and leaders of the four parties who could form the next government and be the next prime-minister or leader of a coalition party. The inclusion of parties who either do not aspire to this: the nationalist parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the parties with little groundswell, are irrelevant given that they do not fulfil this crucial criterion. Furthermore, the broadening of debates is harmful to the overall quality of the debate, and the level of scrutiny afforded to each realistic ruling party’s policies.
Willard Foxton tries, in a piece for the New Statesman to defend the inclusion of the Green, but ends up relying on some extremely dubious claims. Most obvious among these, is the idea that debates with a large number of candidates work well – the evidence he provides is of primaries in the US. Anyone who has watched a Presidential primary – particularly for the Republican Party’s presidential race – will know that a stage saturated with candidates leads to awful debates. Rather than adversarial and informative debates between a few realistic candidates, the cornucopia of politicians vying for dominance leads necessarily to populism, and slogan heavy rhetoric, in an attempt to stand out from among the masses. Whilst other, more narrow debates surely suffer similar afflictions, the greater the size of the panel, the more likely populist pronouncements can go unchallenged, as candidates have little time to critique others as their individual airtime is squeezed. On top of the low quality of debate driven by the format, the level of scrutiny of relevant participants is harmed. Every second taken up by Herman Cain discussing his ridiculous ‘9-9-9’ taxation policy, is a second in which the relevant, and potentially realisable policies of serious candidates are ignored. Whilst The Green Party cannot quite match Herman Cain for lowest-common-denominator populism, time spent discussing their plans for future bank regulation, is not only irrelevant, as they will have no influence, nor be part on the next government, but reduces the level of in-debate scrutiny we have over the four parties who could actually be deciding crucial areas of Policy come 8th May 2015. It is not just the case that the Green Party are irrelevant in national level politics, but their inclusion would be actively harmful to the debates themselves.
Despite Foxton’s faux-pas in using a wholly inappropriate example to support the widening of electoral debates, he does cotton on to something important, and when drawn out, really quite profound. He remarks:
“I’m sure the Greens don’t agree with the way the media works – but campaigners and politicians need to either accept that it works like that and manipulate it to their advantage or decide they don’t like it and try to change it. They can’t just do what they want and then ask why the media isn’t doing what they think it should be doing.”
This is highly indicative of Green Party policy and the wider Green movement. That the Greens fail to engage with something that is sub-optimal in order to improve it, is a dangerous political precedent. The Green Party’s manifestos – both for the 2014 European elections, and the 2010 general election – continually reject global capitalism. However, their policies, rather than attempting to engage with the problems they perceive are the fault of capitalism, indicate a desire to crack down heavily on individual autonomy, and replace it with a fantastical vision of huge government expansion, paid for by massive rises in taxation. These changes are clearly impossible, given the deficit of support from the electorate for such policies. The Greens would be better served if they were to engage with the elements of neoliberalism that rankle with them, rather than posturing from the sidelines about perceived injustices, and making themselves unelectable through a set of irrealisable and often irrelevant policies. In the context of next year’s debates, the fact that the Greens are still far from providing a set of policies that would be even partially achievable in government, shows that they are unsuitable for policy making, and a distraction, in what should be a discussion among serious politicians, and potential leaders. To UKIP’s credit – the party whose inclusion has riled the Green’s – they have realised that the constraints of forming part of the national dialogue of politics necessitates compromise. Gone are the flat rate of income tax, and anti-NHS rhetoric, in favour of policy proposals that could form part of a government agenda, rather than the series of activist-appeasing barbs that constitutes The Green Party’s manifestos.
The Green Party should not be denied a voice. That 250K voters picked them in the last election, and more chose them than The Liberal Democrats in this year’s European election is not to be ignored. However, the qualifications for being part of next year’s electoral debates are decided not on overall popularity (the Greens poll similar figures to the Liberal Democrats) but on having a realistic chance of forming part of a government – something the Greens do not possess. That aside, the smaller, adversarial debates, free from The Green Party’s irrealisable set of policies, will be much the better for their exclusion.
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