Friday, 29 September 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Blueprint for a Green Economy by David Pearce et al (Earthscan, £9.99), Tribune, 29 September 1989

How much is a clean North Sea worth? What price would you put on the Brazilian rain forest? What is the cost of nuclear power in the light of Chernobyl? Such questions seem strange to us, even slightly mad. Indeed, to most people the idea of giving cash values to measures of environmental quality is not just unfamiliar but wrong. The quality of the environment is the kind of thing that money just can't buy.

Then again, there is plenty that we now habitually value in money terms that our forebears considered incapable of such treatment — most obviously work.

Many writers influenced by Marx's critique of commodity fetishism and alienation see the history of capitalism as a seemingly inexorable process of more and more things and activities in more and more places being treated as tradeable commodities. If they are right, it could be merely a matter of time before the idea of pricing the environment is. accepted "common sense".

Blueprint for a Green Economy, the "Pearce report" given so much publicity last month by Chris Patten, the environment minister, argues strongly that giving money values to costs of "environmental service?, in the context of a market economy, is the best way of ensuring "sustainable development".

"While there remains a. quite warranted suspicion that the process of money valuation is illicit in some contexts, the reality is that choices have to be made in contexts of scarce resources," the authors state blithely. "Money as a measuring rod is a satisfactory means of proceeding." With that minor obstacle cleared, the rest of the book is taken up with discussions of how environmental costs could be calculated and how they could be passed on to producers and consumers, in the form of tax incentives, to ensure that the preservation and enhancement of the environment is taken seriously into account in economic decision-making. The obvious alternative to such a market-based system of environmental regulation, the simple setting' and enforcing of environmental standards without the aid of market incentives, is given short shrift on grounds of its "inflexibility".

As Henry Neuburger explained in his economic commentary (Tribune, September 1), this is not exactly a free-market position;: decisions about the standards to be encouraged by the market would be essentially political. Nevertheless, Pearce et al sail far too close to the market wind.

When the air we breathe becomes a commodity, something must be seriously amiss in our relationship to the world.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 September 1989

The journalists in the bar at the Green Party conference in Wolverhampton last week, uneasy in their cheap suits and polished shoes, grumbled that the chaos made it impossible to report anything, and the weekend's papers were unanimous in bemoaning the Greens' lack of a "professional" hierarchical structure — but the Greens can afford to be just a little pleased with themselves this week.

With the exception of a procedural row that lost two hours of conference time on Thursday, nothing happened in the Wolverhampton Civic Hall to put the party in a particularly bad light. The Greens came across as somewhat anarchic and eccentric, but the rabid extremists warned about by right-wing leader-writers were nowhere to be seen.

The Greens applauded warmly when Sara Parkin, the party's number-one television star, warned that "parasites" might turn their attentions to the Greens; Jonathon Porritt, the nearest the Greens get to an intellectual figurehead, got a similar reception when he attacked those who accused the party of "authoritarianism".

The party's left, the Assocation of Socialist Greens, was routed in policy debates, and there was no sign of either right-wing romantics or hair-shirted Calvinists. The cleancut media professionals who believe the Greens to be "neither right or left but ahead" were in the driving seat, supported by members as reasonable, libertarian and middle class as the old Liberals.

The party's policies belie this refusal to be situated on the left-right continium. On most issues, the Greens are well to the left of Labour. The one area where the Greens do seem to have a good case for claiming to be "neither right nor left" is their opposition to industrialism; but so vague are the Greens' proposals that this is a matter less of policy than of attitude.

In the end, the Greens' insistence on not being "left" is a signal that they want neither to be associated with the grim realities of social democracy and Leninism in power — nor to be submerged by manipulative Trotskyist entrists.

It has worked so far. The Greens have reached parts of the affluent south that. other left parties cannot reach, and up to now Ms Parkin's "parasites" have steered clear. The party has an openness, enthusiasm and friendliness about it that few labour movement institutions can match, and there is none of the cloying deference before leaders that afflicts all the major parties.

The problem is what happens next. For the foreseeable future, the Greens have no hope, barring a by-election miracle, of winning seats, except in local government.

Labour will not offer them an electoral pact — which in any case the Greens decided at the weekend they did not want.

The media's cure for the Greens' ills is a "proper leader", but the evidence. of Wolverhampton is that having the party represented to the media by people with little or no executive power works perfectly well.

The Greens' problem is not their internal organisation, even if it could do with being tightened up, but the British electoral system – and there's nothing they can do to`change that. The Greens face a long, hard voyage and, although only a fool would write them off, the wrecked hulks of the Liberals and the SDP are a terrible warning.

Friday, 1 September 1989


Paul Anderson, Sanity column, September 1989

One of the three Czechoslovaks expelled from Britain for spying in May was Jan Sarkocy, a political secretary at the Czechoslovak em­bassy. The British authorities have not said ex­actly what he is supposed to have done. For all I know, he might be a top-level StB spook who has stolen Britain's most valuable secrets. I was hoping to ask him, but he called off a lunch date because he was busy packing. Somehow, though, I doubt he was much more than what he said he was – the junior diplomat responsi­ble for relations with peace movements in Bri­tain (and women, he would add sheepishly).

There was something about Sarkocy, despite his James Bond good looks, that made him an extremely improbable secret agent.

I first met him when I worked for European Nuclear Disarmament. He'd got in touch because he wanted to discuss a complaint END had made about treatment of Charter 77, the Czechoslovak dissident movement with which END had had a long and fruitful exchange of ideas. Because END had a policy of behaving in a civilised manner to the eastern European authorities – a policy not often reciprocated – a woman colleague invited Sarkocy to the office for a chat.

After that he kept inviting himself back. He didn't try to blackmail or extract information. In fact, his conversation was decidedly minimal. When he wasn't blushing and studying his shoes – they must run a blushing and shoe-studying course at the Czech diplomatic school – he just gazed starry-eyed at my col­league's long blond hair, wearing an inane grin.

Although the rest of the END staff found it very funny, she tired of it after a while and fobbed Sarkocy off on me.

By this time I was working at Tribune. Sarkocy came to see me five or six times in all, for the most part asking stupid questions about the peace movement that a cursory reading of its press would have answered. I responded politely, taking care never to tell him anything important. I wondered why on earth he was go­ing through the routine, which would always end in my saying that I didn't think that much of the way his government treated its dissi­dents and his blushing and studying his shoes.

Once, though, proceedings got a little hotter. Last summer, a Tribune contributor rang me in
a state of great excitement to say he'd just been thrown out of Czechoslovakia, along with other western peace movement activists. Their meeting with Charter 77 in Prague had been broken up by leather-jacketed secret police. I arranged that he should come round for lunch. Then, around 1 o'clock, Sarkocy walked through the door. I'd forgotten that I'd agreed to meet him. I hastily rang the contributor to put him off but he'd already left. So there was nothing for it  but to tell Sarkocy that I'd made a mess of arrangements and that if stayed he would no doubt be in for a verbal pasting.

“Ha! Ha!said Sarkocy, putting on his best in­ane grin, “We must talk about these problems.” But when the contributor arrived, there wasn't much of a chance for Sarkocy to get a word in edgeways. He just blushed and studied his shoes as the tirade went on and on: “What kind of government expels peace activists for hav­ing meetings with its citizens? A bloody dic­tatorship, that's the sort of government! Are you proud of the way your colleagues behave? Aren't you ashamed to serve such a govern­ment? I guess you're a secret policeman yourself, aren't you?”

Eventually, this was too much even for Sarkocy, who left, mumbling about in­vestigating complaints and sorting out pro­blems. I saw him only once after that, the day after Mikhail Gorbachev's speech to the United Nations. “The first we heard of it was on the television news,” he said disconsolately. “The Soviets don't tell us anything any more.”


Sanity, September 1989

All is not as rosy as it appears for Britain's environmentalist movement. It might be growing fast – but both the Green Party and the environmental pressure groups face hard political choices, writes Paul Anderson

Its over-rising concern is the environmental crisis threatening the globe – but the immediate problem faced by the British Green Party is the first-past-the-post electoral system.

Even if the Greens maintain or improve their current nine per cent standing in the opinion polls at the next general election, it is improbable that they will win even the small number of parliamentary seats that centre and nationalist parties have won on similarly small shares of the total vote. Unlike those parties, the Greens' support is fairly evenly spread throughout the country.

What the Greens need to stand a chance of parliamentary representation at the next election is at least one exceptional showing in a by-election during this parliament. This is by no means impossible. The electorate is as volatile and as disillusioned with the two major parties as it was in the early eighties, when the centre parties surged in the opinion polls and won a string of by-elections: and the centre parties appear to be in terminal crisis.

But the centre parties in the early eighties benefited both from their centrism and from a significant existing parliamentary base even before the creation of the SDP by defectors from the Labour right. The leading figures in the Liberal Party and SDP, for all their rhetoric of 'breaking the mould', were all safe, familiar politicians who had been at, or close to, the heart of government in the late seventies. And they had plenty of cash and powerful supporters in the media.

Their Ideology was essentially that of the post-war consensus that dominated British politics until the late seventies, which they believed had been abandoned by Labour and the Tories. The centre parties were advocates of the mixed economy, with state intervention to secure low unemployment and constant high growth, supporters of the welfare state, pro-American in defence policy and in favour of the European Community.

The Greens have none of these characteristics. They are not already in parliament, their politicians are not familiar, and their policies are anything but the stuff of the post-war consensus. They don't have much money, nor (today's support in the European elections notwithstanding) the sort of media support that the centre parties enjoyed.

Perhaps most important, the Greens are not quite sure of their political identity. The dominant group in the party is keen to avoid accusations of being left-wing, and emphasises that the Greens are "neither left nor right but ahead". It points, with justification, to the unpopularity of the hard left, to the environmental catastrophe of "actually existing socialism" in the Soviet bloc, and to the differences between Western social democracy and the Greens on industrial growth. The "Green Greens" believe they should be aiming to pick up votes from the centre and from hitherto apolitical "Green consumers", mostly middle-class; and they are anxious not to attract the attentions of far-left groups as the German Greens have done.

But there is a vocal minority of Greens arguing against this approach, even If they do not envisage a conventionally left-wing party. "Red Greens'", organised into the Association of Socialist Greens, point, also with justification, to the radical global redistributive measures at the heart of the Green programme, the Greens' necessary hostility to market capitalism and the party's leftist defence and foreign policies. They think that the Greens can best gain votes from disillusioned left-wing Labour voters. Many others in the party less committed to leftism (or indeed overtly hostile) are equally concerned that concentration on Green consumers runs the risk of diluting the fundamental Green message.

These groups can of course be reconciled in the short run by keeping everything vague. In the long term, however, the tension between green consumers and proponents of far-reaching political change are going to be hard to contain. Are the Greens simply a repository for the votes of rich muesli-eating professionals who don't want a Barratt estate in their village? Or are they a party that stand for massive tax increases to aid the Third World?

None of this means that the Greens have no hope of emulating the centre parties' early-eighties success; but it does mean that they face an uphill struggle. The tide of public opinion seems to be running in their favour. But in the absence of another Chernobyl or the defection to the Greens of disillusioned Liberal or Labour MPs, it could well be that the best the Greens can hope for is a steady increase in the Green vote both in parliamentary and local council elections, with a concomitant slow growth in membership and strengthening of organisation.

That could mean overtaking the centre parties' share of the vote at the next general election and a better chance of by-election upsets in the next parliament, and perhaps, in the very long run, the Greens emulating Labour's growth in the first 20 years of the century. But nothing can be guaranteed – and meanwhile the ecological crisis gets deeper. So what to do in the mean-time? One answer is to press for electoral reform to get Greens into parliament sooner rather than later. But to introduce proportional representation there has to be a majority in favour in the House of Commons. Barring an unlikely conversion to PR by the Labour Party, that won't happen.

It is thus hardly surprising that many environmentalists are not members of or even voters for the Greens, preferring instead to concentrate their efforts on the environmentalist pressure groups that are trying to influence the established opposition political parties, the government and the media. Indeed, it is the pressure groups, particularly Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, that have been largely responsible for the change in public perceptions of environmental issues that is behind the recent growth in the Green vote and the subsequent attempts of the established political parties to prove themselves environment-friendly.