Stories win elections. A successful party must lay out a narrative that describes where we've come from, why we are where we are now, and, with a bit of luck, where we are going. The Green Party manifesto offers a bold and compelling narrative of just what has led us to rampant inequality, a rapidly deteriorating planet and a completely aloof political system, and what we can do to fix it.
What do we get from Labour? In the words of George Monbiot: "the longest till receipt in history". UKIP's is more like a sci-fi novel, with Schrodinger's immigrants and AID's carrying Communists. The Conservatives opt for a predictably traditional style, peddling age old economic myths as if they were fact, the creationists of British politics. Like any good story, this election has its heroes, its villains, and it's bumbling idiots too.
In the forward of the Greens manifesto, Natalie Bennett mentions an oft repeated but little comprehended point. You are, I'm sure, by now familiar with the juxtaposition of Britain being the 6th largest economy on the planet and yet still having just shy of a million people in need of food banks. We hear this blurted out so often but it is worth taking a moment to consider what this is actually telling us: economic growth isn't all it's cracked up to be.
This really sets the scene for the rest of the manifesto. It is a crucial point to grasp, one that the main parties seem utterly unable to do, and it is this fact that will define politics for the rest of the century. It will see wide spread civil unrest, food prices soar, sea levels rise, displacing millions, and uncountable species extinction. Unless, of course, a bold alternative were suggested, just in the nick of time to pluck us from the jaws of extinction.
The Greens clearly state that it is the rich that have set us on this path, consistently placing their wants above everyone else's needs. The Greens tell a story that highlights the consolidation of power into the hands of a few that has directly led to enormous poverty and inequality, a lonely consumerist society slowly destroying its own environment, and a political system divorced from the interests of its citizens. We talk often of these 'three crises'', but really there is just one fuelling all the rest. If you want to solve practically any political issue, really solve it, you have to start by breaking the power of the 1%.
This is why the Greens are unashamedly at war with the mega rich. A 60p top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000, a wealth tax, a financial transactions tax, a living wage, wage ratios... How will the Greens fund the solutions to our problems? By taking the money from those that caused them in the first place. This is not class jealousy or economic illiteracy either, it is born out of an understanding of what works best for an economy, and that's wealth distributed more equally.
In their ground breaking book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett showed us how crime rates, mental health problems, social cohesion, drug abuse, education and social mobility and levels of trust were all worse in more unequal countries, of which we're one of the most unequal in the Western world. It has been estimated that our economy would have grown an extra 20% had inequality not been at the record highs that it is: wealth distributed between the many leads to a far better and more vibrant economy than it does when jealously guarded by a handful at the top.
The counter narrative to the Greens tale is one of interfering big government, recklessly spending and annoyingly intervening, creating a culture of lazy scroungers and lax borders that look set to see Britain sink under its own weight. It is a narrative that prescribes one thing: nothing. It tells us that to get where we need to go, our government needs to do an awful lot less than it has. We leave it to the market, we praise selfishness and greed, and hope it all turns out alright. Behind each of these narratives lies assumptions about human nature.
From very early on in our evolutionary history altruism is believed to have conferred a survival advantage. Memetic theory (memes are the cultural equivalent of genes, ideas and behaviours that replicate in the human mind) posits that altruism makes for a better 'replicator' because altruism is more likely to lead you to interact with and be liked by others, making it easier to pass on not only the altruism meme, but any other memes you happen to have. This means that our culture, from very early on, has quite literally been built upon ideas of altruism and reciprocity, not ruthless self-interest as many would have you believe.
When seen in this light, it highlights just how bizarre and counter-intuitive our current economic paradigm really is. We have been lied to, from Hayek to Friedman to Boris Johnson- ruthless competition (and by extension rampant inequality) really is not 'natural' or 'inevitable', and it is certainly not the only way to run a society. We are not, by privatising everything in sight and encouraging some of the worst aspects of our personalities doing what is 'natural'- we are forcing everyone into a race with a few of the richest in society already half-way around the track when the gong goes. Ours is a system, as documented in Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine', that has been crafted by the rich and ushered in under misdirection and lies.
Our society really is in dire straits, but it's not because of pesky immigrants, Brussels bureaucrats, lazy scroungers or excessive spending: it's because of the rich. As our Deputy Leader Shahrar Ali put it in his inaugural speech, the Greens are showing us what the 'politics of imagination' looks like, daring to break from a painfully broken system and challenge the vested power and privilege that has wrought so much suffering.
This is something that the right wing press, with their rotating stock of 5 basic headlines are utterly unprepared for. The only way to stop the meme spreading, the powerful and coherent and true narrative the Greens are laying out, is to rebuke the central message- something the Establishment is unable to do. You'll see them cracking jokes about plywood and tree huggers over the next few weeks, but they won't come close to tackling the central message of the Greens because they can't. The rich have brought people and planet to their knees, and only the Greens want them to find their feet again.