He talked of the current government subverting the democratic process by sneaking in laws that undo hard-won environmental legislation such as the Climate Change Act; subsidising shot gun licenses to the tune of £17 million a year to the taxpayer; capping of welfare benefits while in the same month preventing an EU imposed cap on subsidies given to wealthy land-owners. But far from being simply a list of gripes about a corrupt government, they represented a far greater problem: what he called a ‘socially constructed silence’. This is the idea that political discourse has such a narrow focus, often defined and constrained by vested interests, that huge issues are left in the shadows. Legislation that is accepted by politicians and the media – and therefore society – slips through the democtaric process as unquestionable truths that do not warrant discussion. As a result, journalists who highlight these issues are seen as marginal and political parties who confront them, radical. Monbiot saw these issues as ‘open goals’ that the opposition, the Labour Party may inherit. For the Green Party, however, fighting these injustices is fundamental to our values.
Monbiot also talked about the enormous intrinsic value that being in wild places has on children. He is engaged in occasional outdoor education and this has provided a fascinating insight that really struck a chord: in each class of inner city school children he encounters there is always one child who shines out as the brightest and most engaged. However, according to their teacher, that child is invariably an underachiever or troublemaker in the classroom. Taken out of the rigid, structured environment of a school building and into a wild place these children discover an enthusiasm for learning and inquisitiveness they would never have known within the confines of the current curriculum. How many of these youngsters will go back to Hackney or Peckham and within a few months forget about their experience and never realise their potential value to society? How many will be failed by a schooling system obsessed with exams and league tables? The sad truth is that most of theses children will grow up thinking of themselves as failures. The Green Party believes in a child-centred approach to learning which builds on the skills and interests of each individual child and instills in every child a love for the natural world that will produce a generation that values and fights for the environment.
Finally, during the Q&A session, Bristol West candidate Darren Hall had the chance to question Monbiot on how he thought members of the audience (and individuals in the wider society) could contribute to a positive green movement and in particular redefining the nature of the debate and questions in the media. In his answer George made reference to the Scottish Independence referendum, where there was a record turnout in voting and young people engaged in a passionate way with politics. To do this we all need to make use of social media – which Monbiot claimed to be a more important medium than newspapers and television – and word of mouth in galvanising real support for causes we believe in. We should be focusing on glass-half-full, positive politics to counter the fear and hate-mongering dialogue coming from the emerging far-right.
It was heartening to hear such an intellectual heavyweight talking passionately about issues that are fundamental to the green party’s ideology. All in all it was an eye-opening, interesting and inspiring, especially as George was unequivocal in his support for the vision and values of the Green Party. He even gave his own personal endorsement of Darren.