At a dinner party the other day, a leftie friend was in despair. With Labour all over the place and the Liberal Democrats branded as traitors, who was she to vote for? To me, the answer was obvious. I'm not a leftie, far from it. But if I was, I'd be vociferously campaigning for the Green Party. And even though I won't be voting for them, I think the Greens' exclusion from the TV debates is a scandal.
Being on the political left should mean opposing inequality. It should mean wanting to protect valuable recourses (whether the environment or public services) from the rigours of the market. Realistically, you have to accept lower economic growth if the payoff is greater fairness. Above all, it means valuing the common good over the individual.
Socialists used to believe that theirs was a superior way of generating wealth. They thought that capitalism was inefficient as well as unfair. Putting the main engines of the economy under the control of the state was supposed to make them work better. Today, no one thinks that. The idea that iPhones, coriander and mortgages would be better provided by the government than by Apple, Tesco or HSBC respectively is laughable. The ambition of the Labour Party is not to improve capitalism, but merely to mitigate a few of its harsher effects by redistributing some of the money it generates. Sadly, the money has run out and any Labour government would be faced by the same heinous choices as the current Coalition. With a man as weak as Ed Miliband in charge, Labour should be praying they lose next May.
Greens don't have that problem. As the Post Growth project shows, they don't believe in more economic growth at all. In any case, the Green Party is not going to form the next Government so its ideals and those of their voters are safe from becoming a train wreak after a collision with reality. But that does not mean ideals don't matter. If your principles are precious to you, they have to be proclaimed from the rooftops, not stirred into a grubby compromise.
A lesson of modern politics is that ideas go from the unthinkable to mainstream with alarming rapidity. Back in 2001, even the Tories, like everyone else, specifically ruled out any changes to immigration policy. Now, regrettably, it's the only thing anyone can talk about. The UK had no minimum wage until 1997 but no one is suggesting we get rid of it. It is not hard to imagine that the Green campaign for a Living Wage will have the same success. Likewise, their policy of a 20 mph urban speed limit could quickly become a no-brainer. And if (unlike me), you think climate change is an existential threat, only the Greens are actually willing to do anything significant about it. Some of their radical tax and welfare ideas such as a land value tax and a basic income also deserve a hearing.
If you believe in drastic reform, you have to vote for it. The disengagement espoused by Russell Brand won't change anything. The Greens scoring ten or fifteen percent in a general election, together with a scatter of seats in the university towns, would make the established parties take notice. Even if mainstream politicians would, rightly, reject most Green policies as unworkable or worse, they'd have to ensure that their own programmes really did improve fairness. Just look at the way UKIP polling fifteen percent has forced the Tories to co-opt the kippers' agenda.
There is one further reason to vote Green: it is hard to imagine that anyone is involved in the Green Party for personal advantage. I have a higher opinion of politicians than most people. But even I have been appalled at the way corrupt MPs like Chris Huhne and Denis MacShane have been so shameless even after being jailed for their crimes. A few more uncompromising idealists, like Baroness Jenny Jones, in Parliament might even help enhance the stature of the honest majority of politicians.