29/05/2014 11:46 BST | Updated 28/07/2014 06:59 BST

Unhappy Voters Need to Be Offered a New Way of Life, Not Just a New Brand of Politics


This week politicians and commentators are poring over the broken pieces left after the UKIP bull stormed the electoral china shop. We know that many voters are fed-up - it's just that no one is quite sure why or how to deal with it. Most of the solutions put forward so far are all about the political system: cleaning it up, communicating what Europe does that's good for us and, above all, a novel idea: doing more to listen to the concerns of the voting public.

I'm not convinced by the belated promises. We need root and branch reform if the vote, largely seen as one of protest, in last week's European Elections isn't going to be a harbinger of things to come. But it's not politics (small 'p' or big) that needs changing; it's our entire economic and social system. Small messaging tweaks (even big messaging tweaks) from the established political elite can't change that.

Capitalism is based on the tenets of competition and individualism. Social status is conferred by ones income - a measure that can be flaunted by the amount of stuff we can accumulate. This spending helps us to feed the monster economy and contribute to the overall goal of economic policy: endless growth. Workers must work harder and longer all at the expense of our personal lives and relationships. We learn to treat others as a competitors in the market. Anyone who is less well-off is seen to have failed and as being undeserving of our compassion.

The impact that this is having on our sense of identity and community is profound. Research by the Mental Health Foundation has found that, despite the increase in the different communication technologies available to us, loneliness is on the rise. Facebook likes cannot replace real, friendly interactions with neighbours, friends and family - something that is at a premium in a society that bases social esteem on the number of hours we put in at the office. The effects of this are not just being felt amongst adults. The proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years.

Under such pressures it seems hardly surprising that UKIP's message should have struck a chord. By promising to cut our ties from Europe they're giving us an easy response to the challenges of living in an interconnected world: batten down the hatches. Their vision is of a return to the fabled "good old days" when you could say anything, smoke anywhere, and hunt what you liked without interference from foreigners or the PC police. We no longer interact as frequently and positively with one another as we once did - making it easier for UKIP to spread their anti-immigrant rhetoric. Lies about "the other" are easier to propagate if people rarely have any interaction with the communities being targeted and victimised. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise therefore that, according to NatCen's recent findings, racial prejudice is on the rise in the UK.

The idea that we need to completely recalibrate the goals and function of our economic system in order to promote increased social happiness and stem the tide of loneliness and depression is not a new one. The likes of Richard Layard, Tim Jackson, and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have already gone to great lengths to show how more sustainable and equal societies are also happier and healthier. The problem, as George Monbiot has recently pointed out, is that we have no idea how to wean ourselves off our current economic model. We're all addicted to the drug of growth - a drug that is destroying our planet and our social fabric.

I believe that by instead voting for progressive parties like the Greens we will be able to start to build this new way of life through our political system. The party has a vision that goes beyond a set of individual policy choices bound-up in a manifesto. Policies such as making the minimum wage a Living Wage, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, promoting sustainable transport and ethical supply chains, increasing the availability of flexible working hours and emphasising quality jobs over just any job are all part of the party's proposal for creating a more fulfilling and sustainable culture and society. It is about living the change, as well as voting for it. After last week's elections the party is in an even better position to start making this vision a reality. We now have three MEPs and 162 councillors on 52 councils - an increase of 23 seats. We want as many people as possible to join our MEPs, councillors, MP, and members and supporters on that road and change not just politics but our economics and society as well.

Voting UKIP and battening down the hatches isn't going to provide the social and economic security we all desire - that way only further mistrust and isolation lies. By voting Green we can restructure the economy and reframe our societal values. That's so much more than a protest vote.