Sian Berry was on BBC Radio 4 Any Questions last night, having been recently elected as joint leader of the Green Party.
As I expected she gave a competent performance, already being no stranger to the media. But the main question at the back of my mind was given this exposure to those politically interested nation wide, what, if anything, could she do to repair the vote collapse at the last general election? Could she reassure the kind of people who voted Green in 1989 – 15% of the total, mainly in Conservative heartlands – enough to do so again?
The underlying strategy would be to give pointers that might resonate with (ex) Conservatives worried about eco-destruction, whilst reasserting the Green commitment to social justice, which I know is important to Sian. This is asking a lot,but by this criterion the Green Party is not making enough progress if the same result is not to happen again if there is a snap election.
To be fair, the questions did not give her much scope, but she did manage to put an ecological slant on the possible nationalization of the water industry. My favourite example (which Sian could have used) is energy. Privatization is wrong in principle because the object has to be to sell as little as possible. The Basic (Citizens’) Income will include a component which everyone gets, which will allow the pricing mechanism to incentivise saving. This is as unrealistic with private management as Sian’s examples of eco-management of water.
This point is forcibly brought home by my Ecotricity account. I do not blame Dale Vince for increasing standing charges – he is subject to the logic of selling energy at a profit.
I was taken aback by Margot James, Conservative MP’s assertion that historically nationalized industries were subsidized rather than profitable. As this more nuanced link shows, the truth is more complex. Sian could not be expected to realize on the spot that nationalized industries achieved results other than raw profit.
But as Venezuela starkly demonstrates, elected individuals running a business is not likely to be the best strategy. Again, I am deliberately asking too much, but if the Green Party is to recover, a new ethos needs to be hinted at. I wonder if the ‘failure’ of nationalized industries is at least in part due to the fact that those most able to run a business were not offered the highest salaries. Could Dale Vince (Ecotricity) be the shape of things to come? Is he an entrepreneur who moderates his financial expectations because he also believes in social justice? This is probably unrealistic as long as economic growth is the normal expectation, but not once ecological sustainabilty is paramount.
As the new kid on the block, I wondered how Sian might use the ‘Brexit’ question. I thought Margot James’ criticism of Boris Johnson gave Sian the opportunity to oppose the whole concept much more forcefully, but she did come down on the side of a People’s vote, and my impression was that this particular audience was firmly in favour of that.
On the first hearing I got the impression that Sian got less than her share of the air time, so I timed it again on i-player. That was indeed the case, but most of the difference was due to Jonathan Dimbleby arguing with other panellists, but never with Sian. Perhaps he agreed with her every word.