As a supporter of the Green Party, the results of the Local and European elections have rather been like receiving the same birthday present for the second year running, with the exception of getting a nicer card to go with it; it’s an indication that one is more well regarded, but the overall utility of what one receives hasn’t altered. Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert have been returned to their posts. Brighton and Oxford are apparently daubed in shades of the brightest Green. The wider European result is also reasonably positive: there are now 50 Green MEPs, 9 more than last time. This is good, but it isn’t having Rupert Read in Brussels, nor is it, regrettably, the triumph that would have accompanied the Green Party defeating the BNP in the North West region.
My initial thought as to why we didn’t do better harks back to the eternal contest between spinach and ice cream. Spinach is preferable to ice cream in nearly every way: it contains more minerals, vitamins and fibre. It’s healthy, wholesome and good for you. If you pan fry it lightly in olive oil and with a pinch of cumin or black pepper, it’s delicious too. However the average person, given the choice, will generally pick ice cream over even the best prepared leafy vegetable.
Similarly, the Green Party is filled with wholesome, decent, ethical people who believe in caring for the planet and others. There are likely more PhDs as a proportion of membership than in any other political party in the land. The policies put forward by the Green Party are well thought out, written clearly, and presented calmly. This is the Green Party’s greatest strength; however it’s the political equivalent of spinach, and it looks like in some regions that there was a greater appetite for the BNP’s greasy doner kebab which will now fester in the bowels of the body politic for 5 years.
As unenviable as this situation may sound, it is far worse for the Labour Party. It’s one thing to lose a straight fight with the Conservatives. It’s quite another to lose to the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party. It’s still another thing to lose Wales, something which hasn’t happened since 1918. At this point one should pause and take in the significance of this loss: Wales, with its heritage of coal mines, unions and Anuerin Bevan, the father of the National Health Service, is the receptacle of the Labour Party’s soul. Furthermore, it was not lost to say, Plaid Cymru, which was what had been expected, it was lost to a political party which carries the stain of being alien to Wales and responsible for its coal industry being destroyed.
Votes bled away even in places like Sunderland; if Labour couldn’t win there, they may as well collectively disappear into the proverbial quiet office with a loaded revolver and a bottle of whiskey. That said, in some places, Labour died altogether: they came in fifth place in the South East, and behind Mebyon Kernow (in 6th position) in Cornwall. If the voters felt the Green Party was altogether too nice and correct and thus did not take the party to their hearts, their emotion insofar as Labour is concerned is apparently raw hatred. They have kicked and beaten Labour, and left a flaming bag of dog excrement on their front step. I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who actively works for them; this must be the political equivalent of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, with the strains of “Siegfrieds Tod” rising in the background as Gordon Brown, ever more grey and worn, soldiers on. Worse, Peter Mandelson, now bloated with power, appears to be pulling the strings.
Indeed, for the average Labour activist, a few lines from Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” seem apropos:
Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Thinkst thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
In 1997, the Labour Party said “Things can only get better” and swept to victory on a wave of popular support. I recall the May evening in which Tory seats tumbled like dominoes, taking out long-term irritants like Michael Portillo and Neil Hamilton. Pictures beamed in from throughout the country showing rallies in which smiling young people were touched by that most precious of emotions, hope. Surely from the perspective of Labour activists, this was heaven, filled with joys that seemed eternal at the time. Now in such bitter circumstances, hell is not confined to a particular place, it is all around them; it manifests itself in unpopularity, derision, anger.
“Doctor Faustus” perhaps is also apropos in another way. When I look at Peter Mandelson, I can’t help but think of Mephistophilis, the demon who tempts Faustus to sign away his soul. Like Faustus, Gordon Brown has apparently become very dependent upon his dark arts-versed companion; according to the Jackie Ashley in the Guardian:
Most of these friends, however, complain that he (Brown) just refuses to listen to anyone now except Mandelson.
For the idle pleasure of 24 years of Mephistophilis’ service, Faustus sold his soul to Satan. Brown seems content to sign away his for much less: at best, 11 months of continuance in Downing Street. It is as if he is echoing Faustus in the final scenes, awaiting being dragged off to Hell:
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still you ever moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day, or let this hour be but a year,
A month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent, and save his soul.
O lente, lente, currite noctis equi:
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike.
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
I can imagine Brown staring at the clock in his office, watching its black hands move slowly across its white face. It’s easy to envisage him begging the seconds not to tick, the minutes not to pass, the hours not to turn, and the sun not to set, so that he can relish and luxuriate in the joy of being where he is. But time does move on, and Brown marches towards a fate perhaps worse than to die and go to hell: he may gain a reputation as a failure. Should this scenario occur, he will not be able do anything in the public sphere without the taint following him; for a man who sunk so much of his life into the achievement of ambition, this is a terrible destiny. However, this is almost inevitable now; perhaps this is the reason why he fights so desperately, a panic which again finds an echo in Faustus:
Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God.
No no, then will I headlong run into the earth;
Earth gape! O no, it will not harbour me.
You stars that reigned at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist,
Into the entrails of yon laboring cloud,
That when you vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven.
But plead as he might, Faustus is torn limb from limb; it is a morality play. Similarly, the dismemberment of the Labour Party continues apace, but the question of what next remains: it has been rent from Derbyshire and Staffordshire, severed from power in Lancashire, thoroughly humiliated in Scotland. At what point, Labour activists are entitled to ask, do we allow ourselves to be bound to Gordon Brown’s fate? It is a question that should echo in the country more widely. We are likely to see panicked policy intent on avoiding the yawning gap that lay before the Government, which cannot be good for the nation; when the country needs spinach, they may be about to serve another helping of populist ice cream in the hope that sugary taste of cheap policies will make them loved again. But the love like that they had in 1997 is not destined to return; it has disappeared underneath the steamroller of a bossy, nannying, bullying, bureaucratic government. Both Mephistophilis and Faustus went to hell and did not come out of it. The best Labour can do for us is to end this perdition as soon as possible.