An Interview with Peter Tatchell

Friends, lefty bloggers, socialists, I’ve got a guilty secret. I’ve been actively campaigning for the Green Party in the upcoming European Elections on June 4th.  It’s been a difficult time for me politically. With the split in Respect, the failure of John McDonnell and the Labour left to leave a scratch on the New Labour hegemony and the absence of that new mass party of the working class that’s been promised for so long, I’ve found myself in search of a new political home. To a lot of people on the left, the Greens are, unfairly I think, still perceived as a soft option, a middle-class environmentalist party first with a few social policies tacked on. This is an image that many in the Green Party are seeking to shake off, and none more so than a certain human rights activist who stood for Labour in 1983, stood up to Mugabe in 1999 and wouldn’t stand for homophobia or hypocrisy when it came to The Pogues in 2007. In a Third Estate exclusive, I quizzed Peter Tatchell on what makes the Green Party much more than just a green party, their prospects for the future and why they are the only thing standing between Nick Griffin and the European Parliament.


The Third Estate:
You’ve traditionally been a supporter of a red-green alliance and helped launch Green Left. Many socialists, however, continue to view the Green Party as a largely middle-class environmentalist party. Do you think, in light of Labour’s shift to the centre and the failure of Respect, that the Greens can fill the vacuum in British politics left by the absence of a genuine working-class socialist party?

Peter Tatchell: As Labour has shifted to the right, the Greens have moved to the left. We are now the party of social justice, as well as environmental protection. On trade union rights, for example, the Greens are much stronger than Labour. We support the Trade Union Freedom Bill, Labour opposes it. We are more radical than Labour on every issue – from jobs to health, education, housing and pensions. Many Green Party members are left-wing socialists like myself. Many of us resigned from Labour, appalled by its pro-big business policies and its support for privatisation, war-mongering and its attacks on civil liberties, such as the draconian anti-terror laws. The Green Party’s Manifesto for a Sustainable Society sets out a radical agenda for fundamental social change, to benefit working class people, end the impoverishment of two-thirds of the world’s peoples and to save our planet from devastating climate chaos.

The Third Estate: In the current elections the Greens have been going out of their way to present themselves as much more than a single-issue party, highlighting in particular their social policies, whilst you yourself have a very strong record on human-rights. Do you feel the message is getting across and public perceptions are changing? What more do you think could be done?

Peter Tatchell: For more than two decades, the Greens have had a very progressive social agenda. Unfortunately, the media tend to cover us only when we campaign on environmental issues. That is beginning to change. As a result, more and more voters recognise that we have imaginative policies for a fairer society on a wide range of issues. That is why many of our new supporters are ex-Labour voters, left-wing independents and disillusioned voters who gave up voting years ago. They are fed up with the way Labour has ditched the working class and the trade unions. They saw Labour take us into an illegal war on false pretences and how Labour pandered to George Bush. Increasingly, people realise that the Greens offer a progressive alternative.

The Third Estate: In the past, Muslim voters have often tended to gravitate towards the Labour Party. The election of George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 was, perhaps, the clearest indication that Muslim voters are increasingly abandoning Labour in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With Respect not standing in the 2009 European Elections (and specifically endorsing the Green Party in the North West), do you feel the Greens can offer a natural political home to disenfranchised Muslim voters?

Peter Tatchell: The Greens took a strong, unambiguous stand against the Iraq war, right from the outset. Before the war began, I did a one-man protest; running out in front of Tony Blair’s motorcade, forcing his limousine to halt. It was a small symbolic gesture, but it was great to see Blair’s exasperated expression. For Muslim (and non-Muslim) voters who are disaffected with Labour’s pro-war policies the Greens offer a comfortable, welcoming, progressive political alternative. Many Muslims will, I think, also be attracted by the Green Party’s anti-consumerist, anti-materialist message. We emphasise quality of life, not quantity of possessions. Ours is a people-centred party that puts people’s needs first. Unlike the other parties, we are not obsessed with economic growth and GDP. We want everyone to have a decent standard of living – here in the UK and worldwide – but we also recognise that there are many other important things that are essential for happiness – a loving family and friends, good neighbours, clean air to breathe and a safe neighbourhood. Empowering people to support each other and sustain good community relations is part of the Green agenda.

The Third Estate: You’ve been campaigning in the North West where you’ve argued that a vote for the Greens is the surest way to stop the BNP. How is the campaign shaping up and what do you think the chances are of a red/green/anti-racist alliance succeeding in preventing Nick Griffin from winning a seat?

Peter Tatchell: A big vote for the Greens is the surest way to stop Nick Griffin and the BNP. The battle to win the last seat in the north west is between the Greens and the BNP. This means that a Green victory will keep Griffin out. The BNP is a divisive, bigoted, sectarian, nasty party. All that it offers is rage and hate. It has no practical solutions to the economic crisis, mass unemployment, climate chaos and the corruption of parliament. It has a sick history of scapegoating and vilifying black, Jewish, gay and Muslim people. Lots of people realise that the number one priority is to stop the BNP. When out canvassing, we have met many people who will be voting Green for the first time, partly to defeat Nick Griffin, partly to show their anger at the expenses scams by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, and partly because they have decided that the Greens have the best policies. Right now, the Greens are on 9% to 13% in the opinion polls. If this level of support holds up, and our supporters turn out to vote, Nick Griffin will be toast and the people of the north west will elect an anti-racist MEP, Peter Cranie of the Greens.

The Third Estate: By all polls and results, it would seem support for the Green Party has seen a steady increase in recent years. Can you envisage this support translating into MPs at the next General Election?

Peter Tatchell: In the wake of the banking and economic crises, a lot of people are realising that the Greens offer an alternative that is both credible and radical. Our support is rising. We have a good chance of electing MPs in Brighton and Norwich at the next general election. We would get many more MPs – perhaps 40 – if Britain had a fair voting system. That’s our biggest problem. The election method is rigged to favour the big three parties. We are pressing for major constitutional reform to enhance democracy and popular participation in politics. As well as proportional representation and fair votes, I want to see other reforms like an elected head of state, an elected second chamber, a written constitution, a Bill of Rights, the right of voters to recall their MP and the devolution of power to democratically elected regional parliaments. Changes like these will help make our political system more open, representative, accountable and fair.

www.petertatchell.net

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Reader Comments

Ben

I’d love to be able to vote Green, but there are some basic problems I can’t get past. They need a good injection of science. Their environmental policies represent the part of the environmental movement that seems to have divorced itself from the science that is the only rational basis it can have – so for instance while its priorities on climate change are great, its proposed solutions are powerfully influenced by things like a hysterical fear of nuclear power. Similar attitudes to GM – they can’t appreciate that just because the applications to which Monsanto et al have turned it are dodgy, that doesn’t mean that GM crops and animals don’t have great potential to improve lives and even protect the environment.

And take a look at their animal welfare policies. They don’t seem to understand that prohibition of animal experimentation would be the virtual end of progress in many fields of medical and veterinary science, resulting in untold suffering for both humans and animals.

#1 
Written By Ben on May 31st, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

I agree with you on all counts Ben. I’m in favour of the responsible use of nuclear power, alongside renewable energy, as one possible solution to climate change. I’m against the automatic fetishisation of the natural and have no scientific objections to GM – were it not controlled by Monsanto et al I believe it could be a great benefit to humanity, particularly in the third world where GM can be used to increase crop yields and nutritional value. And whilst I’m against all cosmetic testing on animals, I do recognise that it may, at present, be an unfortunate neccesity to employ animal testing to develop vital treatments. All that said, I’m still backing the Green Party, precisely because they are much more than just an environmentalist party, and their raft of social policies are every bit as vital.

#2 
Written By Salman Shaheen on May 31st, 2009 @ 8:07 pm
Ben

That’s true (and I’d probably vote Green for local elections and even give it some consideration for Parliament), but problems like this come to the fore for these European elections, because I’m not sure how much power MEPs really have to advance many left social policies, and the civil liberties-type stuff will be just as ably performed by the likes of the Lib Dems – but things like GM hysteria, energy policy and animal testing *are* ruled on by the European Parliament. For instance *this* is exactly the kind of thing I *don’t* want Green MEPs voting on – http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/policy_issues/european_regulation/uk_bioscience_sector_declaration

I also feel intensely uncomfortable with the idea of lending my support to a party which has such a strong anti-science vibe as a general principle.

#3 
Written By Ben on May 31st, 2009 @ 8:35 pm
DavidR

You don’t have to be anti-science to ask how you safely deal with nuclear waste. I think there’s a stereotype about the Greens’ attitudes which unfortunately is repeated here. Yet, most of the Greens I know have a positive attitude to science coupled with a serious attitude to sustainability, which those of us who come from the traditional Left cottoned on to many years too late.

I’ve voted Green in pretty much every election in the last 15 years – and will be voting for them, not just as a protest vote, on Thursday. I was a member from 1997-2002 – though unfortunately my local branch meetings were very, very dull. But am thinking of rejoining and working beyond the local level, especially as there is now a functioning Green Left faction with people like Tatchell and Derek Wall that I respect.

I’ve no great desire to get involved with Respect while the ultra-slippery Galloway still calls the shots and investors in the public school system for her daughter like Yvonne Ridley, are still prominent within it – not to mention contiunuing to play with fire in terms of alliances with fundamentalists. Though I’m glad that Respect saw the sense of not contesting the Greens in the North West.

Other left wing groups are likely to fare pretty badly this week – but let’s hope that out of this situation, with New Labour losing even more of its credibility and the Greens set to gain, that socialists and greens are going to start building a real Red-Green alternative for the years to come.

#4 
Written By DavidR on May 31st, 2009 @ 11:28 pm
Ben

DavidR, it’s not a stereotype about Green attitudes – I’m objecting to specific policies. When I’m inferring attitudes it’s on the basis that those policies are strongly suggestive of the wider trend of environmental thinking that roots itself in gut reactions, nature fetishisation and hysteria rather than the clear, evidence-based thinking that is our only hope of getting through the crisis humanity has created for itself without a lot more people dying.

My main problem is not that the Greens aren’t sufficiently Left for me. It’s that they’re not sufficiently green!

Check out this article – http://southernfriedscience.com/2009/04/21/what-the-hell-happened-to-the-environmental-movement/ – it’s about America but applies equally well to a lot of the environmentalism in this country.

“You don’t have to be anti-science to ask how you safely deal with nuclear waste.”
Actually I reckon the scientific question to ask would be “How can you least unsafely deal with nuclear waste?” followed by “Is that risk worse than the risks incurred by alternative *feasible* strategies?”. Safety as a factor in our decision-making is worthless unless it’s considered in relative terms. Nuclear waste is not 100% safe, no. But nothing really is. A proper appreciation of risk and probability is lacking in this society’s decision-making processes.

#5 
Written By Ben on June 1st, 2009 @ 10:23 am

Susan Boyle may not be a very good looking woman but she has an angelic voice. :

#6 
Written By Katie Patel on April 28th, 2010 @ 10:47 am

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