Taking a lead

The race is on to be the first ever leader of the Green Party. Here candidate Caroline Lucas MEP set

I've applied for a new job, and next weekend the selection panel will deliver its judgement. I'm standing to be elected as the first ever leader of the Green Party, and on 6 September the result of a ballot of every party member will be announced at our autumn conference.

It would definitely be the biggest challenge I've ever taken on - but it’s also a vital opportunity to take the Green Party into the heart of British political debate.

So what are we proposing that is so radically different, and so urgently needed? Let me outline just a few of the issues.

With the impact of the credit crunch biting deeper every day, re-regulating our financial system has to be a priority, and not in a timid or piecemeal way. Successive governments have listened only to those arguing in favour of greater profits for the financial industry.

Greens believe the banking system should be regulated for the benefit of the consumer - not for maximum profits – and would ensure that ideas like the Tobin tax on currency speculation are actually pushed forward, and implemented for social as well as economic benefit.

But we don’t only face a financial crisis. In fact, it’s a triple crunch of financial meltdown, an accelerating climate crisis, and soaring energy prices underpinned by an encroaching peak in oil production, all of which have their origins firmly rooted in the current model of globalisation.

That means that we need not only a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, but also a massive and sustained programme to invest in energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.

We need a “carbon army”, trained and ready to take up the huge job opportunities that will come from a switch to a zero carbon economy. That means skilled jobs for a massive switch to micro, small scale and more localised power generation, a huge expansion in public transport provision and investment in energy efficient technology.

There is another crucial reason why Britain needs Green leadership now. Voter turnout at all elections has been falling. Fewer than one in four people vote in many local elections. Most people simply can't see any difference between politicians from any of the three main Westminster parties. Minor divergences in economic management emerge from time to time, but the paradigm of privatisation, liberalisation and free market dominance has killed off many progressive policies.

A lack of respect for the British people on European issues, with the government of the day promising a referendum on a constitution, but no referendum on an edited version which passes through Parliament as a Treaty, undermines the social contract between voters and politicians. Angry, and faced with such lack of choice, where are increasing numbers of voters heading? We've seen that the Greens have continued to make progress, but so have the BNP. Our politics of hope are being pitted against their politics of hate and ignorance.

In next year's European Elections, the race for fourth place really does matter, as Raphael Behr's recent Observer article makes clear. The proportional system of elections means that only in the very largest regions, have more than four parties won seats. In regions with eight seats or less, no fifth placed party has ever been elected.

Most political commentators seem to expect UKIP's vote to collapse, as it did in the London Assembly Elections. During this Parliament they have lost three of their 12 MEPs through financial scandal or internal bickering.

No one expects a repeat of UKIP's Kilroy-Silk fuelled protest vote in 2009.

That means the onus is on the Greens to grow faster and ensure positive politics and the opportunity for real change leaves the BNP where they should remain – out in the political cold. To do that, we will need to beat them in every region where they pose a threat, including London, where the BNP won an Assembly seat this year, and the North West region, where Nick Griffin has installed himself as the BNP's lead candidate.

But the politics of hope relies on activists willing to help us get our positive message out to every disillusioned, demoralised and desperately unhappy voter in the next two years. We need inspiration from the bottom up as well.

We need many of the 200,000 members who once supported the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, but have drifted away disillusioned with a lack of delivery, to re-engage with politics. The Green Party wants to renew the hope and the belief that politics can and will make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, something central to the record of Green councillors up and down the country. A professional, and progressive team are ready to take the Greens to the heart of British politics, not just at a local level, but also at Westminster. In both the Brighton Pavilion and Norwich South constituencies, local support for the Greens is stronger than for any other party, and we believe there will be Green MPs elected in two years time.

We need a Green vision at the heart of British politics. We need activists willing to become leaders in their own communities. Leaders who deliver warmer homes for pensioners, lower fuel bills for young families and who deliver real jobs for communities dependent on low paid service industry work that is evaporating as the British economy grinds to a halt.
 
I have to wait until 6 September until I know whether I get the job, but if you are persuaded about what we are trying to do, what are you waiting for?

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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In praise of the late developer

The success of late developers proves that our obsession with early achievement is wrong.

A fortnight ago, I fell into conversation with the head teacher of a local school. “You’ve got to create room for late developers,” he said. “The obsession with early attainment doesn’t suit most children.”

We were soon finishing each other’s sentences – talking about long-term confidence rather than short-term hothousing, how children don’t develop in a linear way, and the value of having transferable skills rather than a single focus from a young age.

What a shame, I reflected, that his message doesn’t reach a wider audience. We hear so much about prodigies and precociousness – Serena Williams and her pushy father, Tiger Woods and “tiger mothers” – and so little of the counter-argument: the high achievers who emerge at a slower pace in more balanced circumstances.

Our conversation ended when we both departed to watch England play Scotland in the Six Nations tournament. Only then did I learn that the head teacher’s son Huw Jones was playing in the centre for Scotland. He scored two tries, just as he did last autumn in his home debut against Australia.

Jones’s career is a tacit endorsement of his father’s philosophy. In his penultimate year at school, Huw was still playing mostly in the second XV. Five years on, he is a burgeoning talent on the world stage. The two facts are connected. Jones didn’t just overtake others; he also retained the naturalness that is often lost “in the system”.

As boys, he and his brother made up their own version of rugby practice: could the ­attacker sidestep and run past the defender without setting foot outside the five-metre line? They were just having fun, uncoached and unsupervised. But their one-on-one game was teaching the most valuable skill in rugby: the ability to beat defenders in confined spaces.

Jones had access to superb opportunities throughout – at home, at Canterbury rugby club and then at Millfield, the independent school in Somerset well known for producing sportsmen. But at Millfield, he was far from being a superstar. He seldom played “A-team” rugby. The message from home: just keep enjoying it and getting better and eventually your time will come.

There was a useful precedent. Matt Perry, who won 36 caps for England between 1997 and 2001, had been a “B-team” player at school. What matters is where you end up, not who leads the race at the age of 16. Jones also developed transferable skills by continuing to play other sports. “Don’t specialise too early,” was the mantra of Richard Ellison, the former England cricketer who taught at Millfield for many years.

When Jones was 18 and finally blossoming in the school’s first XV, rugby agents started to take an interest, promising to place him in the “academy” of a professional team. “But I’d seen so many kids take that route and seen how bored they got,” his father, Bill, reflects. So Bill advised his son to go abroad, to gain experience of new cultures and to keep playing rugby for fun instead of getting on the tracksuited professional treadmill.

So Jones took a teaching job in Cape Town, where he played men’s club rugby. Instead of entering the professional system, as one of a bland cohort of similar-aged “prospects”, he served his apprenticeship among players drawn from different backgrounds and ages. Sport was shown to be a matter of friendship and community, not just a career path.

The University of Cape Town spotted and recruited Jones, who helped it win the South African university competition. Only then, in 2014, did British professional rugby teams start to take a serious interest. Jones, however, was enjoying South Africa and stayed put, signing a contract with the Stormers in the Super Rugby tournament – the world’s leading club competition.

So, in the space of 18 months, Jones had gone from being a gap-year Brit with no formal ties to professional rugby to playing against the world’s best players each week. He had arrived on the big stage, following a trajectory that suited him.

The level of competition had escalated rapidly but the tries kept coming. Scotland, by now closely monitoring a player qualified by birth, gave him his spectacular home debut against Australia last autumn – remarkable but not surprising. Finding his feet ­instantly on each new stage is the pattern of his career.

Those two qualities – first, instinctive ­try-scoring; second, a lack of vertigo – are connected. Amid all the jargon of professional sport, perhaps the most important qualities – freshness, ingenuity and the gift of surprise – are undervalued. Yet all of these rely on skills honed over many years – honed, but not dulled.

Shoehorning all young players into rigid, quasi-professional systems long before they are ready comes with risks. First, we seldom hear from the child prodigies who faded away (often damaged psychologically). Many players who are pushed too hard miss their natural learning arc; the narrative of their ambition, or the ambition imposed on them by parents, is often out of step with their physical and psychological growth. Second, systems have a habit of overestimating their contribution: they become blind to outsiders.

In a quiet way, Jones is a case study in evolved education and not just sport: a talented performer who was given time and space to find his voice. The more we learn about talent, as David Epstein demonstrated in The Sports Gene, the clearer it becomes that focusing on champion 11-year-olds decreases the odds of producing champion adults. Modern science has reinforced less frantic and neurotic educational values; variety and fun have their virtues.

Over the long term, put your faith not in battery farming but instead, in Bill Jones’s phrase, in “free-range children”.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution