Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where do you draw the line?

Well, for the Green Party it appears to be when you support nuclear power. The Independent says;

Chris Goodall, prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, upset many party members with his assertion in yesterday’s Independent that atomic energy has a role to play in the fight against climate change. Mr Goodall was one of four prominent environmentalists disclosed as having had a change of heart about the nuclear issue, having moved from an anti-nuclear stance to believing that atomic power is a necessary part of the energy mix in the struggle to cut carbon emissions and halt global warming.

The others are Lord Smith of Finsbury, the former Labour cabinet minister who now chairs the Environment Agency; Stephen Tindale, a former executive director of Greenpeace, and Mark Lynas, the author of two studies of climate change. But while the others are in essence free agents, Mr Good-all’s case is distinctive in that his views are now formally at odds with one of his own party’s key policy positions.

Resolute opposition to nuclear power has been a cornerstone of Green party policy for years, as is made clear in the party’s principal policy document, Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, which states unambiguously that a Green government, on taking office, would set a deadline for phasing out all nuclear power.

Mr Goodall’s remarks had left many party members “seriously concerned”, the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, MEP, said last night. “It is of great concern to me that a candidate should be promoting a policy which is at odds with the party manifesto, and I shall be taking that forward,” she said. “In any party, you have a range of different views, but once selected as a parliamentary candidate, you have a particular responsibility.”

The matter would be dealt with by the party’s regional council, after speaking to Mr Goodall directly, she said. Asked if this would include disciplinary action and possibly even de-selection as a candidate, Ms Lucas would only say: “We will be taking appropriate measures.”

That's rather interesting.

My understanding is that the Green Party is a decentralised organisation and that elected members often differ from the party policy in one way or another. One example would be on Sir Ian Blair where one Green Assembly Member voted against sacking him whilst the other Assembly Member voted for and the national party was issuing press releases to the effect that he should go. I was never for that first member to be expelled despite being very frustrated by the whole thing.

Neither members rights nor nuclear power are mentioned in the primary document of the party and the constitution isn't particularly clear on this either so it's not obvious to me where the line should be drawn at all. The policy is clear that the party opposes nuclear power and one section states;
"Elected members and other representatives have a responsibility to promote the policies of the national and local green parties, as expressed in the MfSS and national, regional and local manifestos. Where they do not agree with Party policy and publicly state their own position, they should at the same time state and explain the position of the Green Party."
As a PPC Chris is clearly a representative of the party and has clearly stepped over that line. He talks at length on the issue here and here and does not discuss the fact that he is at odds with party policy. But then the implications of this appear to be that any disagreement with the large number of policy documents is forbidden, except where you have the opportunity to explain your position in the context of the full party policy. That seems a bit much to me, and it's certainly a rule that many Greens break.

I don't agree with Chris on nuclear power - it's expensive, dangerous and will take too long to come on line anyway - but there is a genuine debate taking place in the environmental movement on this and I'd be concerned that he could not express himself freely on the issue. Mind you an open letter in The Independent is quite a high profile form of expression and I'm sure he expected some fall out from it.


Matt Sellwood said...

Damn you, Jim, you've stolen my blog topic for the day.

I too find this quite mystifying. I have lost count of the number of times that I have been told about the importance of decentralisation to our organisation - particularly, for example, when the Leeds Greens were in coalition with the Tories. In the piece I wrote for Caucus, I explicitly said that the 'lines in the sand' for the GPEW were unclear, and that I suspected that councillors would still be able to get away with things like supporting cuts/privatisations, whereas anyone who supported an incinerator or nuclear power would suddenly find outrage turned on them.

That's what we see here, surely? Chris is a good candidate, who agrees with 95% of the policy platform of the party. Sure, his formulations have been incorrect and foolish, and if he won't say "while the Green Party says this for good reasons, I personally think this" then he deserves further action. However, why on earth is *this* the issue that finally gets our 'decentralised' party moving, while other issues (often by people who actually have power as elected representatives, not just candidates) have just caused a shrug of the shoulders?

I find it very frustrating, and an indication of how far we have go to in examining the core basis of the party.


Matt Sellwood said...

Lest the above comment leave any confusion, by the way, I am totally against nuclear power - and if Chris won't use his high profile position responsibly, I think action by the party is entirely justified. My problem is with the patchy and inconsistent application of that action. Why this? Why now? Why do we ignore other stuff?


scott redding said...

Our stance on nuclear and renewables is a key part of our credibility as a party (i.e. how are we going to keep the lights on and keep people warm in houses). On a personal level, it's why I joined the party (after reading some Petra Kelly). If you want to disagree with that, fine, but don't be a PPC, and don't write articles for national newspapers contradicting the MfSS. And, the comparison with Leeds and the Tory alliance is misplaced. Leeds didn't write articles in the Indy saying that all local Green parties should make alliances with the Tories.

scott redding said...

As for Matt's "why not other things", I think the debate around nuclear vs renewables has more long-lasting consequences for society than if PPCs are in favour of fluoridation (a party jihad that I've never gotten my head around).

Matt Sellwood said...


So you're saying that if someone disagrees with our stance on nuclear, but nothing else, they can't even be a PPC?

The GPEW really is seriously confused around these issues. Half of our members proudly proclaim that we don't even have a whip, while the other half think that someone shouldn't even be a *candidate* (let alone an elected representative) if they hold a single view in opposition to party policy?

My position is certainly not the former - but I do think that we need to have an honest debate about all of this, and we have been avoiding it for quite some time in the hopes that difficult issues might go away.

I think the reason that I am perturbed is that I have seen an utter lack of consternation when, for example, elected Greens have voted for service cuts, academy schools, PFI hospitals etc etc - but a sudden outburst of fury at Chris' action. Is this purely because his action is more high profile, or is it because he is questioning an *environmental* sacred cow, as opposed to a social policy?

I hope the former, and if so - fair point. I can't help questioning if it's the latter though...maybe I'm being unfair.

Best wishes,


scott redding said...

Again, it's this idea that "nuclear vs renewables/efficiency" is just another issue, a "single view in opposition to party policy." Should local councils, like Kirklees, prioritise decentralised renewables? Should we be trying to replicate Kirklees elsewhere at all? Why should we, if the real effort should be centralised nuclear? This is a touchstone for everything we do.

scott redding said...
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Matt Sellwood said...

"This is a touchstone for everything we do."


As someone who has spent my entire working life thus far in the field of climate change campaigning, you definitely don't have to persuade me about the importance of the issue!

HOWEVER - isn't opposition to the privatisation model of neoliberal capital also a touchstone for everything we do? If so, why is it an environmental issue that has caused this kind of outrage and discussion, and not some of the compromises that our elected representatives have made over the last few years?

Don't get me wrong - there might well be good reasons for those compromises - and nuclear power/renewables/energy mix is definitely an extremely important policy for our party. I just query why the silence on the former, and the outburst of discussion on the latter. It seems as if we are perfectly happy to get worked up about what a PPC who isn't elected is saying about what we would do if we got into government (not, I'm sure, something that is likely in the next GE) - but completely ignore what our elected representatives are actually doing on the ground on issues that effect issues like education, health and local democracy. Why no discussion?

I'm not saying it's an either/or. I'm saying it should be an and/and!

Right, I'll stop posting now!


Douglas Coker said...

My guess is that as nuclear is currently seen by us Greens and others as a very hot issue then very publicly contradicting GP nuclear policy is not so clever.

Recall that not so long ago Caroline Lucas gave Mark Lynas (ex GP?) a vigorous riposte when he wrote in favour of nuclear in the New Statesman. And boy has the debate been pursued at great length on his blog with very lengthy posts from Greenpeace and other contributors. So the issue is right up there and I'm sure Chris G knows this.

What I'm not so sure of is the accuracy of the press reporting. Neither am I sure of the protocol and consistency thereof pursued by the GP in instances like this. I do think local autonomy can be taken too far.

Maybe James Humphreys could have helped by issuing a more low key statement and having a few behind the scenes words.

Douglas Coker
Enfield Green Party

Jim Jay said...

Having slept on it I think there are a few more aspects to this.

Firstly Chris is not just a PPC he is an author and writes for the national press in his own right. There is a tension between those things where we can't simply shackle our "day jobs" to party policy - even or especially when our day job is in the media with a profile.

You don't hear Paul Mason on Newsnight spouting Trotsky or demanding workers militias to sort out the banking crisis - even if it would make great telly.

Add to this the fact that the nuclear debate is one that is not just a hot one - it is a debate that is taking place within the environmental movement itself. If the GP wont tolerate a view that genuine environmentalists have within its ranks then we're in Stalin country.

Look at it this way. The Labour government has MPs who vote against their wars, their privatisations, their vile attacks on civil liberties, their smoking bans et al. Probably every manifesto commitment has had Labour MPs vote against it and they are not disciplined for it. They may lose out on promotion - but they remain Labour MPs and usually are not even deselected.

Do we want to be more centralised than the Labour Party - who we make fun of for their pagers and identikit New Labour speak?

Any party that is to become successful has to represent a wide spectrum of opinion or it is doomed to languish on the sidelines. That includes incorporating those who really annoy us or who go against things we think are completely central to our beliefs.

There are exceptions to this. Supporting rival parties for one. Race hate for another. I'd also argue that a climate denier would not be a suitable PPC.

But nuclear power? Speaking as someone who has devoted many hours to (successful) anti-nuclear campaigns it hurts me to say this but I don't think so. Not because I don't disagree but because we can't have a healthy party and authoritarian control going beyond New Labour even.

We need to win the debate within the movement and within society - we can't do that and treat opposing views as apostasy.

scott redding said...

"Isn't opposition to the privatisation model of neoliberal capital also a touchstone for everything we do?"

That's how you and I see it.

If you stop 100 people on the street, and ask them what the Green Party means to them, they aren't going to say that, let alone in those words.

If you do ask them what the party stands for, one of the three phrases people will use will be either "renewable energy" or "anti-nuclear." I'd guess the other two would be "peace" and "activism" - rather than left-wing language.

A debate like this muddies how the general public sees us.

scott redding said...

Another way of looking at this is would Chris have become a PPC if he had said this at his selection meeting?

Jim Jay said...

Scott - I think he's a recent convert to the pro-nuclear lobby so he may well have been opposed when he was selected.

It's a shame he's changed his mind on this, and annoying for us, but unless his local party want to deselect him I'd be concerned that we were putting down a marker that we do not tolerate dissent.

Matt Sellwood said...

As an ex Elections Co-ordinator o Oxfordshire Green Party, I am 95% certain that Chris would have been selected even if he had held these views at the time. He is a well known, effective and eloquent campaigner in North Oxford on a variety of issues.

Matt Sellwood said...

P.S. A partisan but apposite post from an Oxford Labour councillor:


ModernityBlog said...


maybe this is a good time to launch, or re-launch, the Greens campaign against Nuclear Power?

why not quickly get together a road-show, tour the country and explain why Nuclear Power is the wrong option?

nip this rubbish in the bud!

Benjamin Solah said...

My first thought at this was that any support or consideration of nuclear automatically denies you the right to call yourself left-wing.

Anything to do with nukes is not left-wing at all. Anti-Nuclear is a staple of our politics I'd bloody well hope.

Green Gordon said...
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Green Gordon said...
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Green Gordon said...

At least when we get into government it may be under PR where whipping would probably be less important.

I'm not sure if I'm not favour of us having a whip, but candidates and elected officials should know our core policies, their responsibilties, and that action may be taken against them for serious breaches.

It's difficult to liken this with most of the major parties as it seems very few of them have core philosophies. I wonder if there's any unionists in the SNP?

Jim Jay said...

Matt - I think Antonia's post rather proves my point, although I wonder if people both sides of that discussion will think that.

Mod - well, I think it deserves a detailed response. We have less than 100 days until the Euro elections and I suspect nuclear will not be a core policy in that so it may be difficult to have a full scale campaign launch right now - however, I think you're right that if we don't have a robust response we leave the ground to the opposition.

Ben - you can make a left wing argument for nuclear power - it's just wrong is all :)

Gordon - I bet there are people in the SNP and Plaid who actually aren't that bothered about independence. It's not a direct comparison though because Chris is an environmentalist and supports the majority of Green Party policy. His argument is that climate change justifies the use of nuclear so it's in our ball park.

I think whipping is a bigger issue for smaller parties. If you only have two MEP's and one of them is off message (or both even!) you have problems - if you have 30 it's less of an issue.

Of course Chris wont be an MP anytime soon :(

Joe Otten said...

If Chris had spoken against renewables or efficiency, an uproar would be justified. But he hasn't.
"Nuclear vs renewables" is just framing; designed to bolster a weak argument.

Let's take as read support for renewables and efficiency. Then what?

Realistically, what nuclear is up against is CCS. If you are convinced that CCS will work, then you can probably afford to be anti-nuclear.

So does that mean it is left-wing to think that CCS will work? Rubbish. Political values will not tell you whether one technology or another will actually work.

That Chris has dared to speak out at some likely cost to himself should be taken as a sign not of a loss of faith, but of a dose of reason.

ModernityBlog said...


from outside of the Green Party, it seems to me, that nuclear power or not, is a defining issue

and as the other major parties are largely pro-Nuclear (anyone remember Weddie Benn as Technology Minister?) so either the Greens make it VERY clear that there are SO, so many arguments against nuclear power and weapons (they go hand in hand) or there will be confusion and the GP will be forced onto the back foot.

it is really for the GP to decide, take up the issue or not, use it to bring up other issues

as for a road-show, it could be quickly put together, a few graphic artists, some well written leaftets and it bring up other issues that play to the GP's strengthens

I think something simple, like Derek Wall's post at SU blog is required:

"The vast majority of the green movement remain staunchly opposed to nuclear power.

FIrstly, it will take more than a decade for these plants to come on stream, which removes one plank of their argument about nuclear power stations to be ready in time to deal with climate change. Renewables are quicker to build.

Secondly, the large companies ready to profit from this bonanza historically ask for huge government subsidies. Were the renewable energy sector to be subsidised on the same scale, the unit cost of the new technologies would plummet.

Thirdly, very few jobs are created in giant nuclear plants, a central concern today as we stare at the abyss of an economic depression.

Fourthly, nuclear power will generate around 8% of our energy needs despite all the projected capital expenditure.

Instead, we propose the immediate implementation of energy efficiency projects up and down the country. We can save many times more energy than that generated by Nuclear. Moreover, we can put tens of thousands of people back into jobs by retooling houses and businesses.

Finally, we should be subsidising UK technology companies to use their talents for solar, wind and tidal energy. We are already falling behind Germany, Denmark and even Portugal in the introduction of renewables.

Instead of the red herring of nuclear energy, the green movement calls for investment in modern, robust, renewable energy."