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Flashback: A Coversation with Lindsay Whitcroft

Election Coverage

There is not a little bit of cancer or a little bit of malnutrition or a little bit of death or a little bit of social injustice or a little bit of torture. It does not help us in any way if we begin accepting lower and safer levels of, for example, radioactivity or lower and safer levels of ... lead or dioxin. We must speak out clearly, loudly and courageously, if we know that there are no safe levels.
- Petra Kelly

Anthony McIntyre • 27 April 2005

Since the 1980s when Petra Kelly and her dungaree and sandals clad colleagues of the German Greens carved out a place in the public consciousness for environmentalist politics, the phenomenon has become a permanent feature of the European political landscape. Green streams have flowed throughout the European body politic. Despite success in some countries they have never yet converged into a tidal wave that would wash away the dominant political blocs. Yet the Green surge has not been dissipated nor its voice silenced.

Given Ireland's long association with the colour, it would be ironic if the Greens were to have no presence here. At the last general election in the Republic the Green Party led by Trevor Sargent took 6 seats. At the time it was also in possession of two seats in the European parliament, both of which now have incumbents from alternative parties. Much of the Green upsurge was due to the party broadening its appeal beyond politics of the environment and addressing a range of social concerns, which has helped it acquire a radical image. When George Bush visited Ireland last year and other radical leaders ducked and dived for fear of offending the great white war lord, the leader of the Greens drew up a symbolic arrest warrant for him.

Most of the media focus on the upcoming election, not surprisingly, is on those who are contesting them; on those seeking to stay in or get into elected office; the men and women that make the news today. Those from yesteryear attract the spotlight because of something controversial like the support given to the current South Belfast DUP candidate by former UUP leader, Jim Molyneaux. But one face that would have sprinkled fresh water on our barren political desert is regrettably absent from the electoral scene this year. Lindsay Whitcroft was the Green Party candidate in last year's European election. Shortly after that contest I joined her for coffee and we surveyed the potential for green politics. I had intended to write about my exchange with her but after a few false writing starts other things kicked in and the moment had passed. It happens sometimes and invariably leaves the writer feeling a bit guilty at having taken up someone's time only to produce zilch in terms of ink on paper. Given that this time out there are more interesting people not contesting elections than are, a venture into that other world can see my non-writing mishap redeemed somewhat.

Browsing through some of the media coverage on this year's election I was taken aback to read that the female co-leader of the Green Party was Kelly Andrews. I wrongly assumed it was still Lindsay who held down the brief last time we met. By all accounts Kelly Andrews is from the same stable as Lindsay, and is driven by the same concerns. My observation of the Greens was just not close enough to spot the changeover. When I met Lindsay I assumed she was a personality that would be on the electoral circuit for some time to come. But other things intervened. When I joined her for coffee she had just secured her degree. No mean feat for a mother of three young children, two girls and a boy. The education bug obviously had its bite and this time round Lindsay Whitcroft has opted to forego the electoral fray in favour of a return to full time study.

People are free to make their choices and while it maybe none of our business, it does not prevent us feeling a twinge of regret that the choice made does not dovetail with our own preferences. It was so refreshing to talk to Lindsay Whitcroft. There seemed such an absence of political ambition, ambiguity or opportunism; worthy traits in the modern world of cutthroat politics. Her passion for activism - seeing in it a means to change the quality of people's lives rather than the naked pursuit of power - and the energy she exuded led me to feel that I was interacting with something called hope. Not that hope has an easy time in the dreary North. Every tentative step it seeks to make is met by growlers and gougers quite determined to hobble any initiative that might marginalise them and allow fresh faces to appear.

The hope that Lindsay Whitcroft offered took a severe battering at the polls last year. She came away with less than 5000 votes. Not good in a European election. Her honesty in describing the result as a disappointment was disarming. It is so commonplace to hear politicians describe all their failures as great leaps forward that when someone tells you it as it is, the shock waves take a little time to subside. In spite of her dismay she is still a member of the Greens and is supporting the party's attempts this time round to increase its electoral mandate. She is also responsible for publishing and promoting the party website.

I am not a Green, preferring a more eclectic approach to the political menu; more in tune with the earlier free flow of Petra Kelly than the current control politics of Joschka Fischer. Like Christopher Hitchens, 'I feel emancipated by the lack of any party or ideological allegiance.' But I had hoped that voices like Lindsay Whitcroft's would have been better rewarded at the polls. Nor was hers a lone voice. Her colleague Raymond Blaney stormed the bastion of inequitable health services with his persistent hospital campaigning in South Down. The current party co-leader John Barry never failed to impress me at conferences or in discussion. His perspective of class-plus led me to conclude that within the Greens lay a radical streak that was not only descriptive but could be prescriptive as well, able as it was to avoid being hamstrung by wooden formulae and crude economic determinism. I also appreciated his stated vision of a democratic republicanism which would be relevant to the 21st Century. 'The Green Party is organising on an all Ireland basis. And we want to offer a very definite alternative to Sinn Fein in terms of green radicalism.'

It was so energising listening to him speak once at a conference in Derry, when many from the Left were visibly wincing at the thought of people suggesting democratic centralism might not be so democratic after all. His vision and breadth of ideas caused consternation amongst some on the Left - always a good sign when they are shaken out of their dialectical stupor. But even his performance wasn't enough to draw me back to another Lefty conference. The combined creativity of the entire pharmaceutical industry has yet to manufacture anything that would combat the depression Left unity gatherings induce.

Fluent in both Spanish and French, with some understanding of German, the one language Lindsay Whitcroft won't brook is that spoken by the sexist. According to a survey conducted last year by University College Cork, young female candidates perform better than their rivals when ballot papers carry photographs. Don't even think about raising that finding with her. Years ago a male interviewer may have been tempted to describe her as an attractive woman with a mane of blond hair. To do so today would be to invite scorn. One of the first comments she made on meeting me was that Steven King had penned a piece on the appealing physical attributes of female candidates. This led to a 'juvenile debate on the Slugger O'Toole site assessing the attractiveness of female candidates.' She was bitter about the quality, feeling that the viciousness of the comments was something that inhibited women from participating to a greater degree in politics. She was 'absolutely disgusted' at the abuse Sinn Fein women were subjected to. 'There was nothing political about it. They were being attacked for purely personal reasons.' Finding out that Lindsay is a strong believer in feminism is hardly the catalyst for open mouthed surprise.

Coming from a working class background, Lindsay professed little tolerance for rampaging capitalism. She believes that the Greens are a very left party and stated her outright hostility to any neo-liberal economic agenda and is resolutely against privatisation. The Socialist Environmental Alliance which was also contesting the seat in last year's European elections, was viewed by her as an ally rather than a rival, although she expressed a hope that the SEA would at some point in the future put its energy into Green politics. That this atypical generous attitude to other sections on the Left is not merely the private view of one party individual is evident from the call by John Barry for voters to turn out for Eamonn McCann in Derry: 'a vote for Eamonn McCann will send a powerful message across this island.'

Lindsay Whitcroft's involvement in the Green Party led on from previous association with the Alliance Party. Although she is quick to point out that before any party involvement she worked with Greenpeace and had involvement in Green politics. Her political instinct led her to join Alliance when she was about 21, believing it to be a party of equality. 'Alliance Party at that time had the highest number of female representatives.' Between 1993 and 2002 she twice served on the party's executive, only to find herself disillusioned, as many of the radicals she joined the party with had since moved on. She found the Greens to be much more family oriented party. There are many young parents in it and it has a younger age profile than Alliance.

One of the things that made her so interesting is that she was completely devoid of the self-importance that accompanies politicians. She feels the community and voluntary sector, where there are lots of women, do more work than the politicians. Her experience of that sector led her to the Greens:

The Greens are a bottom up party. There is an appreciation that the politicians are not the only ones involved in the party. There is a much wider political process. Many people not in the Green Party are heavily involved in green politics. Their role is vital.

But she had few illusions about the task confronting the Green Party.

One problem with the party is that so many people believe that their message is so self evidently right that they do not have to persuade people of it. 'We need better communication. Green politics are long term and that makes it hard to sell to people who want quick results. It is not reducible to sound bites.

I don't expect the Greens to do particularly well. I wish it were otherwise but this deeply polarised society in its drive towards a firmly entrenched authoritarian two party state shows little inclination towards the type of intellectual pluralism that the Green Party offers. In 1993 the German Green, Jurgen Maier drew a distinction between the causes that people struggle for and the party political apparatuses that just look for power. In the battle to strengthen those causes against the apparatuses the absence of people like Lindsay Whitcroft from the electoral battlefield, will console only the power chasers. Still, her continued association with the party and her work on its behalf means that the Greens will continue to be informed by a mixture of intelligence and passion - that combination considered by George Monbiot to be a prerequisite to the success of justice struggles.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 May 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Daily Ireland: It's Not Over til It's Over
Mick Hall

Education Cuts
Sean Smyth

Rate My Teachers Blocked
Michael Hussey

* Election Coverage *

Greens Endorse McCann
John Barry and Kelly Andrews, Greens

Young People Are Not the Problem
Tish Murray Campaign Press Release

Liam Kennedy and West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

Coulter's Choice
Dr John Coulter

Send Mitchel to London
Brian Mór

Flashback: A Coversation with Lindsay Whitcroft
Anthony McIntyre

29 April 2005

I Believe
Eamon Sweeney

Behaving Justly
Anthony McIntyre

Stop the Cover Up -- Give Us Peace
Kathleen Coyle

Justice Needs Done
Damien Okado-Gough

More Than Politics to NI Process
David Adams

Jude the Obscure Republican
Anthony McIntyre

Shared Ultra Conservatism
Dr John Coulter

* More Election Coverage *

Europe and the General Election
John O'Farrell




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