European elections - will Brussels go Green?

It probably isn’t too much of an exaggeration to suggest that most people are hard pushed to name a politician they really admire. In Britain, however, one name will come up time and again.

The leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, is consistently appearing on lists of politicians people recognise, like and consider ethical. For good reason: Caroline can often seem like a lone voice marching the grey corridors of power on our behalf, wrangling with the intricacies of energy policy or trying to clamp down on the aviation industry’s free-for-all.

Caroline is in fact just one of 43 Green members of the European Parliament who can take credit for pushing through some of the best environmental protections anywhere in the world. Take the recent Renewable Energy Directive – perhaps Europe’s most important green law – which commits the whole of Europe to generating at least 20 per cent of its energy (heat, transport and electricity) from renewable sources by 2020. It was drafted by Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, who together with his colleagues took on huge coal and nuclear special interests and ensured they failed in their attempts to water it down every step of the way. Equally, every European check on the aviation industry has Caroline’s prints all over it.

In 1989, 15 per cent of the vote in Britain went to the Green Party. Yet despite breaking the grip of the monolithic parties and overtaking the Liberal Democrats as the third-largest party at that election, not a single Green MEP was handed power because of the unfair and disproportional electoral system. It’s ironic to consider that even without a proportional system, without a clear and recognisable leadership – instead six people spoke for the party and some 30 people ran the party by committee – the Greens still became the story of those elections.

Jonathon Porritt described the emergence of a serious and effective green movement at the time as ‘the most radical and important political and cultural force since the birth of socialism’. Yet now, when more than ever we need Green voices in Brussels, instead we find it swamped with UKIP racists and climate sceptics. With proportional representation and a more professional Green Party, there’s just no excuse for letting that happen any more.

It’s nothing less than a tragedy that in the eastern region, where seven European seats are up for grabs, two have been held by UKIP since 2004. This time, the smart and committed campaigner Rupert Read needs just one in 10 votes to take one of those seats for the Greens. Equally in the south-east region, seven or eight per cent of the vote would see Caroline re-elected, and every extra Green vote would put momentum behind the party’s Westminster ambitions.

With huge swathes of society completely unrepresented in Westminster, it’s clear mainstream politics in Britain is so broken and distorted by the current electoral system as to create a bizarre tyranny whereby electoral power is held in a handful of Daily Mail constituencies that dictate the terms of the debate. That’s unlikely to change until the electoral system changes. But on 4 June you have the opportunity to vote for more Carolines and Claudes in Brussels, people who can reinsert our movement’s principles of sustainability and fairness directly into the political conversation.

Joss Garman is an environmental campaigner and journalist

This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2009

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