I like the Green Party. I voted for them in May, on all three ballots, and I would vote for them again if there were a General Election tomorrow. But, as with most friends, they often disappoint me. While I was severely depressed by their pledge to offer homeopathic “medicine” on the NHS, and their plans to implement a health service for pets, the recent news about their opposition to genetically modified crops has been the most disappointing thing of all.
On Sunday, Jenny Jones, the Green Mayoral candidate, appeared at Take the Flour Back, a protest against experiments with genetically modified wheat. I say “protest”, but really it was vandalism. The “protesters” attempted (and failed) to “decontaminate” the countryside by destroying the scientists’ plants. And the Green Party, fools that they are, mentioned the event on their website.
I’m all in favour of vandalism as a form of protest, but the protest must be legitimate – and destroying scientists’ work is about as illegitimate as it gets. It reeks of the Catholic Church against Galileo, or Evangelical Christians’ hatred of Evolution. The Take the Flour Back logo is a loaf of bread with the head and legs of a cow. The whole affair is scare-mongering with no basis in fact, and a depressing sight for anyone who previously thought of Jenny Jones as the most science-friendly London candidate.
But official Green Party policy on the matter is entirely in favour of the experiment. “While the Green party is more sceptical about the way GM crops and gene patenting has been applied by multinational corporations like Monsanto, we are not opposed to GM research itself,” according to Green Party press officer Scott Redding. So that’s nice.
Jenny Jones, on the other hand, is a fool. Genetic modification of crops is, along with the worldwide emancipation of women, the only solution to famine and constant poverty in the developing world. Opposing it amounts to a kind of pre-emptive murder, a bourgeois luxury that only those with no chance of starvation could endorse.
That said, the protesters do have something that vaguely resembles a point. The research is publicly funded, but the resulting strain will be sold to an agro-chemicals company, and few things are worse for social justice than large, powerful companies. There are, after all, no profits in helping penniless East Africans.
It follows that protesting against growing the crops is ridiculous, and instead the group should campaign to prevent the sale of the crop to a corporation. Of course, this is a very difficult thing to protest against, but such is life; destroying research is a cardinal sin, and for scientists like myself (the Green Party’s natural voter base) it is a huge turn-off.
I have even heard a large number of scientists and students claim that they will never vote Green again, which, though understandable, is actually quite a curious position. I suspect that had Ken Livingstone attended the event, we wouldn’t hear the same people thoroughly denounce the entire Labour party.
Some scientists and students said they would vote Liberal Democrat. That is remarkable, because (as I explain in this week’s Feature) no UK Government has ever done more to diminish academic independence than the current one. Compared with the increase of tuition fees, the privatisation of parts of the NHS, and the aggressively pro-business position of the Research Councils since the 2010 review, the Green Party’s opposition to GM seems minuscule.
Others said they would vote Labour. That is also remarkable, because no UK Government has done more to promote privatisation in science and academia than that of Tony Blair, the same man who surged ahead with the Private Finance Initiative and introduced tuition fees in the first place. Also remember that, when asked, all Labour MPs refuse to answer the question of whether they will reduce tuition fees once in office. So they won’t.
Small, left-wing parties are held to impossibly high standards: one mistake and people will dismiss them instantly. One student told me he’d never vote for the Respect Party because George Galloway was an apologist for totalitarianism, but he was happy to vote for Labour or the Liberal Democrats. I pointed out that Labour’s David Miliband had engaged in business deals with Gaddaffi in full knowledge of his use of torture and suppression of democracy. I told him that the Lib Dem Vince Cable had spent years working for Shell, a company with a dreadful record of human rights abuses in Nigeria.
By this point he had stopped listening, but I like to think I won the argument. If, as all these students and scientists suggest, we can dismiss a whole party on the behaviour of just one of its members, then is there any party worth voting for?
The fact is, with all three main parties firmly in the right-authoritarian quarter of the political compass, the Greens offer the only genuine option for bringing any kind of socialism to Britain, short of a revolution. For a left-wing person to vote Lib Dem or Labour at this point in history (to use a horrible cliché) amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Until people stop dismissing the Greens off-hand because of single-issue qualms, I can see no way out of this neoliberal mess. Yes, they’re not perfect, but of four evils the Green Party is the least by a long, long way.