Sunday 8 August 2010

The Non-Existent Witch Hunt Of Caroline Lucas

Having reviewed her terrible book, I wouldn't normally go out of my way to read anything else from Tamsin Omond. For those who have never heard of her, she is the shameless self-publicist who notoriously posed for a Vogue photo-shoot outside the Bank of England in the midst of the G20 protests in 2009 and who created her own political party to stand in this year's general election - spending £51.44 for each of the 123 votes she received.

But when the left-wing Green Party deputy leadership candidate Derek Wall, who do I admire and whose blog I do read regularly, tweeted favourably about an article penned by the budding eco-celebrity, it had to be worth a look. After all, Wall has been far ruder about Omond in the past than I ever have.

Ms Omond has sprung to the defence of the Green Party's only MP and its leader, Caroline Lucas, who recently signed an Early Day Motion initiated by the Tory David Tredinnick in support of continued NHS funding for homoeopathic remedies. Responding to some mild criticism of this decision in left-Green circles (see here, here and here), all of which have also been generous in praising Lucas for her work as an MP in the short time since the general election, Omond doesn't try to argue with the concerns raised and admits there probably isn't a suitable comeback to them. Instead she suggests that anything other than slavish agreement with Lucas is providing succour to the enemy:

We saw in our latest election what happens when the Left splits the Left. A centre-right party co-opted our language, won our support and has now destroyed on of the Left’s many parties. If Lucas’s friends harry her for the times she does not impress them nor represent them, then she has no need for enemies.

Omond goes on to say her piece is not "a demand that she be beyond criticism" (although it clearly is) but rather "a request that we control our harping voice, especially when our voices are the only ones raised in outrage". Harping? How can the airing of disagreement about policy on prioritising scarce NHS resources, in a civilised way and with the evident intention of making the Greens more appealing to those who care about science, ever be characterised as something so negative?

Now I accept that Ms Omond is hardly regarded widely as a shrewd political tactician. There is also something rather amusing about an activist who in May stood against both the Green Party and an anti-war MP in Hampstead & Kilburn now giving advice to anyone about splitting the left. But for both reasons, I'm surprised that Derek Wall has chosen to praise Omond's contribution on what he calls the "homeopathy/Caroline Lucas witch hunt". Leaving aside both the issue of whether homoeopathy is pseudo-science (it is) or whether it was wise for Lucas to sign an EDM supporting it (it wasn't), the only reason to describe mild disappointment as a 'witch hunt' - and to quote from someone with a record of poor decision-making in order to do so - is to favour the closing down of debate in the dubious name of unity.

Nobody is perfect and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous. Caroline Lucas does carry a greater burden of expectation than others and I was one of those who tweeted my disappointment about her support for homoeopathy precisely because she is one of the few elected representative who is so genuinely impressive and so often right on so many issues.

Politicians have a greater access to power, including the power to be heard, than the rest of us. They therefore have to expect their actions to be scrutinised, by friends as much as enemies. I have expressed my frustration with the Green Party's Metropolitan Police Authority member Jenny Jones on policing issues but would still praise her to anyone who will listen for her support of the campaign to defend Queens Market in Upton Park. Would that constitute friendship when it suits and 'harping' when it doesn't? Does this blog post, critical as it is of a comrade on the left, constitute 'harping' too? I think the writer on the Bright Green blog who says that "one of the things that puts off non-Green voters is seeing the Party as full of woolly thinking" is right - but to melodramatically portray any gentle criticism of woolly thinking as a "crucifixion" (Omond) or a "witch hunt" (Wall) isn't likely to change many non-Green voters' minds, including my own.

As the Green Party grows and gains more councillors and MPs, it has to be prepared to be judged by what they say and do, not by whether they are lovely people or not. That applies to Lucas as much as anyone. It would be a shame if, having finally secured an excellent Member of Parliament and taken on some of the formal trappings of the mainstream political parties, like a leader and a smarter approach to communications, it also embraces the more tribal politics of Westminster and starts demanding absolute loyalty to its leadership - or seeing 'witch hunts' where there are none.


Adam Ramsay said...

Thanks for this. Yeah, I've been amused by the accusations of a witch hunt. I have great respect for Carolne, and think she's done a great job. What amuses me most is that it is people like Derek - who was opposed to having a leader - who are accusing anyone who criticises the leader for anything of a witch hunt, while I supported a leader, because I understand that leaders ought to be open to criticism...

Southpawpunch said...

Ive no idea why you think Lucas "so impressive". It certainly isn't because she is in anyway an anti-capitalist or socialist.

Look at her maiden speech, for example -

In this speech, after giving effusive praise to her predecessor she then witters on about “the quietly beautiful countryside of the south downs and the Sussex Weald” and then talks about Brighton “always had a tradition of independence, of doing things differently. It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve. We see that in the number of small businesses and freelancers in the constituency.”

She does no more than name check Trafigura in her maiden speech. She then makes some very generalist points and finishes with “I look forward to working with Members of all parties to advance these issues.”

Subtext: respected MPs, I’m not as radical as you may have been led to believe. Don’t worry, you can trust me (and any chance of a Quango place when I lose this seat?)

Meet the new MP, same as the old MP.

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