Thursday, 14 December 2006

Coffee Morning ... and a little bit of Politics

The life of a PhD student isn't a constant round of seminars, pub visits and moaning. We do find the time to fit in the occasional coffee morning too.

And so it was yesterday. For unfathomable bureaucratic reasons PhD'ers in Keele's Institute of Law, Politics and Justice are concentrated in two locations. The first is the top floor of a delightful structure called Hornbeam building, a cold and leaky hole with growling radiators situated in the centre of campus. The other is on a lane named The Covert (pourquoi?). This is a converted student house and really is as snug as a bug in a rug. The only thing wrong with it it's bloody miles from anywhere. Well when I say miles I really mean 500 yards off the beaten track. But it might as well be the other side of the Earth for all the visits they receive from Hornbeam'ers and lecturers. So to overcome their isolation and encrouage some fraternisation these good people arranged a coffee morning and invited all the other postgrads around. Never one to pass up a freebie this writer made sure he was there bright and early.

Well it all went swimmingly. I schmoozed with people looking at the problems Cyprus poses for EU enlargement, the relationship between social justice and sustainability, crime amongst Crewe's burgeoning Polish community and the illegal trade in antiquities. It was a strange relief to learn I'm still the only sociologist in this postgraduate village.

There was one conversation worth talking about in depth. Daniel, one of the Marie Curie research fellows is looking at whether the liberal democratic state can force capitalism to adopt environmentally sustainable practices. His answer is a big no. When the state does promote green measures it never challenges the fundamental logics of the system. For example the government's big initatives generally revolve around persuading consumers to be more environmetally friendly. Instead of tackling the market taproot of these problems they're using it as an opportunity to generate new "green" markets.

Such observations shouldn't be news to socialists but neither is it for increasing numbers of green activists. Red-Green convergence is happening. Socialists and environmentalists have realised social justice and environmental justice are intertwined. Looking at the revolutionary press barely an issue goes by without reference to green issues. Similarly the programme of the Green Party is to all intents and purposes a left reformist document, and given the growth of the left in the party signified by Derek Wall's election as male co-speaker I believe the party will continue to evolve in the right (left!) direction.

However convergence is only really taking place at present at the level of ideas. Socialists and Greens may cooperate in the Campaign Against Climate Change, chat to each other on internet forums and agree to electoral non-aggression pacts but our practice still stays true to our roots. For example here in Stoke the Socialist Party has for the last year concentrated on NHS work, the Greens on the widening of the M6. Activists from both parties have attended meetings held by each campaign but the focus remains on the areas with which they are familiar. Speaking for the SP I would say lack of activists prevented us from engaging with the M6 campaign, and for the Greens who have less active members I would imagine a similar calculation was made. But nevertheless our choices reflect our political DNA.

I don't think dilemma would have been overcome if either group simply had more activists. It goes a lot deep than that. There are serious differences in the way socialists and greens approach politics but the main problem is how to get millions of people to take up our ideas. There in lies the rub.

I'll revisit this in a future post.

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