I have been following some email conversations these last couple of days about the success of the Respect Party in West Bradford By-Elections. Much hand wringing (understandably) within the North West Green Party about how and why Respect manage to win, and what the implications are for future elections and whether we Greens will be in competition with Respect. There is no doubt a properly founded worry that the Green agenda is seen still seen as a middle class concern.
One of the GG (Global Greens not George Galloway here) Congress sessions was on Democracy and included a very articulate input on how to define it, how to score it (not a case of you have it or you don't) and how to improve it. The speaker from Uganda (no list of names here) said that according to the Economist Intelligence Unit *only 30 of the worlds 167 countries have full democracy. In Africa, countries doing best include South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana but even some of the worst like Rwanda have fledgling Green parties, represented at the Congress.
What was striking was the stories almost everywhere of how the newer Green Parties across all (non- European) continents are growing out of environmental movements with strong civil support; no worries there about being seen as having middle class preoccupations that only the rich can afford. Issues of environmental protection, land- grabbing by the multinationals, deforestation, illegal mining, access to water and water conservation are real, visible threats to survival and peace, and are hitting poorest the hardest. It is recognised (and increasingly and openly by other political parties) that any hope for some level of prosperity for the masses has to address the green agenda.
Green Parties- across the world- have a coherent programme addressing the key social, environmental, and economic issues, AND which properly concerns itself with participatory democracy. I'm convinced now more than ever before that its only by addressing these 4 issues at the same time that we will get democracy working for the true and lasting benefit of the masses. Other small parties may manage to swing an election result or more on the basis of a 'charismatic' leader and some creative political messaging, but that's not the Green style. But at the same time a healthy democracy needs more than one small party with a similar progressive agenda. We have to welcome it !
* The Economist Intelligence Unit 2011 report. Democracy can be rated according to 4 levels (or ratings) from Full democracy, Flawed, Hybrid to Authoritarian regimes. These are based on assessments of indicators such as electoral processes, government functioning, political participation, political culture and civil liberties)