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It isn’t easy being Green

17 April 2015

THIS is a true confession: I once voted Green. It was out of a mixture of frustration with the two big parties, anxiety about the environment, and youthful idealism; a real longing for a better way of living. This was nearly 40 years ago.

The reasons for taking the min- ority parties seriously have never been stronger than they are today. Their current function is to channel the mix of public anxiety, frustration, and idealism which keeps mainstream politicians on their toes. Occasionally they also come up with some really good ideas.

I would not vote Green now, though I still find something attractive about their earnestness, and their faith in their message. They are relatively uncorrupted by spin and political salesmanship. This makes them gaffe-prone, and a bit amateurish, but, for some people, this is a positive plus. I am half-drawn, half-repelled by the enticing mix of paganism and puritanism which the Greens seem to offer. They challenge me to be more reflective about my relationship with the material world; to see the chore of recycling as a spiritual discipline; to question the assumption that economic growth is necessary, desirable, or even possible. And yet. . .

There is a balance to be found in scripture between idealism and pragmatism. The wisdom literature is full of the praise of God for the beauty and order of creation, but it also extols the practical wisdom of those who have sound judgement, discretion, and patience. If the Greens were to play a part in government, they would have to find compromises, do deals, and decide what they are really for (rather than the multiplicity of things they are against). Like the Lib Dems in the recently ended coalition government, they would have to lose their political virginity and muck in with those who have some experience of trying to balance the books, solve the problems of the NHS, raise appropriate taxes, minimise low pay, and get more people into work.

If they had a part in government they would gain experience, but at the expense of the innocence that makes them attractive. Politics is a messy business, and it exposes those of us who secretly want to believe that there could ever be a perfect form of government; or that there are solutions to our more intractable social problems, which can simply be imposed on us all. Before polling day, we should all examine our consciences as we contemplate how to vote. And, when we vote, we should have in mind not only our aspirations for social justice and order, but the fact that, as R. A.Butler once nearly said, politics is only the art of the possible. 

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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