Organic snake oil salesmen

The Greens have an easy answer for any question (well, almost any question)

“Woooooaaaaah!” In Bristol, the Green Party were launching their election campaign. This involved a lot of whooping and cheering. The four candidates reckoned to be in with a shout of actually winning seats were brought on stage like contestants in a game show. Carla Denyer, Bristol Central, COME ON DOWN!

Queueing up outside, the audience had seemed a pleasant crowd of retired Bristolians, taking a morning off from looking after the grandchildren or their Senior Zumba class. As the launch began, we realised they were the other kind of pensioner, who would, had they not been yelling their hearts out at this event, have been gluing themselves to the Severn Bridge in the name of Just Stop Oil. 

On stage at the front were Denyer and her “co-leader” of the Greens, Adrian Ramsay. Perhaps in your mind the Greens are bearded hippies with “Nuclear Power – No Thanks!” stickers on the back of their VW Campervans. Not these days. They have sharp suits, autocues and perfect teeth. The decision of the Lib Dems to enter coalition in 2010 created a gap in the market for a protest party that is For Good Things and Against Bad Things, and the Greens have stepped into it. 

Like the Lib Dems, they are all things to all people. In favour of renewable energy? So are they – they’re the Green Party, after all! Against the proposal for a solar farm on your favourite dog walk? Funnily enough, the Greens are too! Of course they like green things – it’s in the name, guys – but, you know, not in the back yards of people who might vote for them. 

They are the party of easy answers to complex problems, of telling their voters what they want to hear. Not in a nasty Tory way, obviously! In a sound, vegan, have-you-read-this-Twitter-thread-from-the-chap-in-France-with-a-neighbour-who-voted-for-Brexit-without-understanding-it-hahahaha-aren’t-other-people-idiots way. If scientists ever develop a way of converting smugness into electricity, we will be able to use Green Party meetings to power Birmingham. Although not if they get a vote on building the pylons. 

The idea of co-leadership is the party’s one remaining concession to hippiedom, but I wouldn’t bet on it surviving. Denyer, it rapidly became clear, is the Annie Lennox of this particular Eurythmics. The pair had a carefully scripted co-speech, finishing each other’s thoughts, if not sentences, but it was Denyer who got all the best lines. 

A two-handed speech is a tricky thing to deliver, and they didn’t quite manage it. In the awkward microgaps between one introducing an idea and the other developing it, we realised we were actually watching a recording of an episode of The Apprentice, one where Lord Sugar has asked the teams to launch a political party. After a complex powerplay earlier in the episode, subteam leader Adrian has been allowed to join the presentation. In the back of the room, another team member has been given the job of cheerleading, and is dementedly hooting at the end of every sentence. If the team loses the task, she will be the one on whom the other two try to pin failure in the boardroom.

The pitch was that Labour are going to win the election, but that four Green MPs will change the nature of Parliament, by being unbearably pious on every issue. This is also the pitch of the SNP and various independents standing after being purged from Labour. Think of it as a smug left caucus. 

“What we need, what our country is crying out for is change, real change,” said Ramsay. 

“But,” went on Denyer, coming in half a second too late, “the people that I and Adrian have been talking to on the doorsteps are clear that Labour just isn’t offering that change.” She listed the wicked compromises of Keir Starmer. “And now we have Wes Streeting telling us that more privatisation of the NHS is a good thing!” At the mention of the hated Blairite shadow health secretary, there was a low boo from the crowd. 

There was quite a lot on the NHS in the event, rather more than there was on what you might think of as traditional green issues. But this was what the crowd wanted to hear. Every denunciation of the various secret plans that all the other parties have to privatise the health service was greeted with yells and cheers that even Pentecostal congregations might have viewed as a bit over the top. The bits on clean rivers got polite, slightly delayed applause, as though the audience had suddenly remembered that nature stuff was their issue. 

As for housing, the Greens feel that the Conservatives have failed. Although… do they? “We will push for the right homes to be built at the right price in the right place,” said Denyer, “in consultation with the communities that need them.” It was a line that could have been taken from the leaflet of a Tory MP explaining that while they absolutely support housebuilding in principle, they sadly can’t support any development in their own constituency. 

Outside the event, there were boxes and boxes of leaflets for activists to deliver around the constituency, bundled up by street. Oddly, these were rather lighter on the hopey-changey message. Indeed there was nothing at all about carbon reduction, cycle lanes, or even the NHS. “An Important Letter To Bristol On Gaza”, it was headlined, in the colours of the Palestinian flag. “It has been just six months since Keir Starmer ordered his MPs not to vote for a ceasefire,” it began.  It was probably an oversight that this subject, on which the party is campaigning so hard locally, didn’t feature in the speeches for the TV cameras. 

But there was no opportunity to interrogate any of this, because it turned out the Green Party wasn’t taking questions. This is always the best way to make sure the answers are easy.

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