The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
June 24, 2019

Greens should stick to their unique selling point of saving the world

You could sum up the one recurring negative comment about the ‘Green Wave’ thus: “Oh, the Greens are going to come after us and take our cars from us and make us get up on our bikes or go on public transport.” 

It was said in a heavily jocular way, but it was said, nonetheless.

Repeatedly, it was said. Not by politicians, even though politicians whose parties didn’t do well might have been motivated to denigrate the Greens, even in a small way. It was said by hacks.

Only journalists let on to be scared of the consequences of electing the likes of Ciaran Cuffe to the European Parliament, or electing Hazel Chu to her local council.

The same journalists also tended to buy in to the age/youth myth about the Greens. 

It goes thus: “The young people of Ireland/Europe/the world have been protesting about the possibility that they might literally have no future and — God love them — the grannies and grandads went along with the grandkids out of affection.”

No, they didn’t. Today’s grandparents, no matter what their political persuasion or their views on other issues, have, all by their highly educated selves, come to face a real fear that if we don’t radically change the things we’re doing that are screwing with the climate, the world may come to an end.

Older people didn’t need David Attenborough to tell them that the polar bear is not happy about living in smaller spaces than your average prison cell.

Those older people have lived through the escalation of problems like flooding, have sent money to help when Bangladesh goes underwater, and were bothered about plastic before plastic botheration was cool. 

Park close to any of the bottle and can banks in any supermarket car park and you’ll witness “woke” older people recycling. Arguably more of them than of any other age group.

Those older people never believed that tossing bottles into a big metal tank would solve the problems of the world, but they knew it was something they should do, anyway. 

They never thought they’d say to each other, as pensioners, that they were glad they’d be gone before the worst happened, but they were terrified for following generations that climate change would bring flood, fire, disease and disaster on epic and perhaps final scale. 

They wanted action on climate change and they went down the long ballot sheet to select candidates who would give it to them.

They voted for candidates they’d never heard of, some of them, in a triumph of hope over experience. They voted for global survival at the cost of changing their own lifestyle. 

They voted for the unproven because the unproven are also the innocent, or at worst they are the unconvicted.

When the scale of the vote for the Greens became apparent, courtesy of exit polls, other parties either pointed to what they were doing on the environmental front already or indicated the intention to pull their green socks up. 

Richard Boyd-Barrett, always the exception, pinned down the reason behind one of the apparent contradictions of the green vote: the fact that within the last decade, large sections of our capital city took to the streets on two obviously anti-environmental issues. 

Whatever you say about Irish Water’s miscommunication of its truth, water charges would have been profoundly good for the environment. 

The protesters managed to destroy that possibility. They didn’t manage to scotch bin charges, which, again, have a significant environmental benefit, but they tried.

Richard Boyd-Barrett
Richard Boyd-Barrett

If Boyd-Barrett’s analysis is correct, those protesters, most of them from the ranks of the disaffected, simply didn’t come out to vote on Friday. 

Typically, they would, had they exercised their rights, have voted for left-of-centre, rather than wide-blue-yonder, candidates.

But because they stayed home, People Before Profit and Sinn Féin did unusually badly and Labour did badly enough for Aodhan O’Riordan to plead for parties of the left to join up rather than eat each other’s lunch. 

Or, in this case, deliver all their lunches to the Greens.

Of course, we know how this story ends, and it ends in tears. But on the way to party political tears, wonders can be made to happen. 

The tears will happen when the voters, getting to know the individual Greens, decide they’re just another pontificating aspect of the Establishment and vote them out, as happened last time.

On Saturday morning, Eamon Ryan, on his ear with delight over a) the ‘Green Wave’ and b) winning at the bookies by betting on one of his candidates at odds of 50/1, nonetheless hammered this home. 

Not that Eamon Ryan ever hammers anything. He did a muffled forcefulness, though, and his point was that, unlike other political parties, the Greens never grow to semi-permanent dominance, nor do they seek to. 

They just come in like a wave, knowing they will go back out as a wave. In their serenity in the face of a cyclical presence in the body politic, they are unique.

It may be said that Ryan, because he’s been on an incoming green wave before and as a result spent some time heading up a government department in the horror months of the economic collapse, may not be matched by the rest of his party on this, but the indications are that he’s not on his own.

When was asked if she harboured any fears about other, larger parties, taking the Green policies and using them as their own, Saoirse McHugh’s response was that this would be a good outcome and that ultimately, the disappearance of the Green Party had to be the objective: do right by the planet and who would need them?

That’s the Greens for you. Unrealistic, because they don’t believe realism and pragmatism will save our current domicile. 

And with other traits that contributed to the paucity of attack from other political parties. 

Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil may need to go into government with the Greens as partners after the next election, so would necessarily be measured in their response, but, in addition, each would prefer the Greens in coalition instead of trying to manage the sack of cats that constitutes an alliance of Independents.

Fianna Fáil have experience of the Greens around the cabinet table, and it left remarkably few scars on the soldiers of destiny. 

Of course, the Greens went out like a retreating tide after that session in government, but didn’t get permanently tattooed as anathema thereafter. 

They were shown the door, but that was it, unlike Fianna Fáil, who were shown the door and told the door would forever carry a mark barring their re-entry.

The big speed bump in front of the Greens is their desire to prove that they’re competent at more than the natural environment. 

They need to watch that. Their Unique Selling Point is saving the world. They should stick to it.

Every one of them should have a screensaver reading: “It’s the environment, stupid.”