Rainbow Messiah

first_imgRanjit Majundar visits Peter Tatchell, the man who arrested Mugabe I had no apprehensions about approaching the highly secure abode of the country’s best known human rights’ activist. He had shown a reassuring level of enthusiasm about speaking to a student newspaper and every time I had spoken with him I was struck by his politeness and easy charm – a far cry, it would seem, from the man the Daily Mail once called a ‘Homosexual Terrorist.’ But this derogatory title had been given to Tatchell twelve years before, at a time when he was the thorn in the side of political and religious bigots and all manner of hypocritical closet queens. His peaceful though direct approach, while inspiring to many, also proved particularly provocative to others. Despite his laudable aims, some felt that Tatchell’s tactics were too aggressive, and even those who shared his sexual preferences reflected at times that he did more harm than good for their cause. Yet attitudes towards Tatchell changed dramatically after his courageous citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in Brussels in 2001, in which Tatchell suffered senseless beating at the hands of Mugabe’s bodyguards. His bravery rightly earned him the praise of a generation whose human rights had long been suppressed. When in March 2001 the Daily Mail declared Tatchell ‘Heroic…..an example to us all,’ it was clear how far attitudes had changed.Having left the Labour Party in 2004, Peter Tatchell joined the Greens. He is currently a prominent member of the Green Left, which he describes as ‘an inner grouping within the party which has a particular focus on social justice.’ From this platform, he hopes to defeat former Cabinet Minister Andrew Smith in Oxford East at the next General Election. According to Tatchell, Andrew Smith is not simply a high profile candidate parachuted into a potentially winnable seat in Oxford with no interest in local issues. Quite the reverse. Although the election could be up to three years away, Smith is already living in Oxford for half the week. Tatchell is keen to confront an opponent whose ideas he finds so disagreeable. Smith supported the Iraq War, ID Cards, Foundation Hospitals and student top-up fees. Labour won the seat with only a thousand votes to spare from the Liberal Democrats – could Tatchell split the vote and keep Smith in Parliament? ‘I might,’ Tatchell acknowledged, but he thinks not, summoning a scribbled graph to show me how he might capture the seat. That victory is even conceivable is testament to his heavyweight presence on the ticket. Since the Greens polled only 1800 votes in 2005, they would have no chance of winning Oxford East without Tatchell.We know what Tatchell contributes to the Greens, but what do they add to him? Surely the growing awareness of green issues within the three major parties has marginalised the Greens, reducing them to the level of a pressure group? Is this just a ‘Greenwash’? But Tatchell cites the adherence of the two main parties to nuclear power as an indication that their immersion in green issues is not authentic. The Greens, by contrast, are strongly opposed to nuclear power. ‘It will cost £50bn to decommission and dispose of the waste from existing nuclear power stations – Just think how that money could be better used.’ Tatchell argues that for the same cost, and within the same time frame, equivalent concentrated solar power stations could be built in North Africa. We then discuss the Green Party’s ambitions for a more ethical United Kingdom – what might it be like? ‘It’s absolutely obvious [that] we’ve got to do something to stop traffic pollution and in so doing we’re going to have healthier and happier people.’ How can this be effected? ‘Reduce car journeys, move to cleaner fuels and hybrid cars, and plant more trees along roads to absorb toxic emissions. Make walking safer and more pleasant by widening pavements – make cities look and feel beautiful.’ That’s the vision, but what about the policies? ‘Labour plans to waste over £70 billion on Trident, ID cards, road building and nuclear power stations. The Greens would invest this money in energy conservation, renewable power, affordable green housing, and cheaper, faster public transport.’ They also favour a more creative approach to taxation, where the focus is shifted from taxing employment and production, to taxing waste and consumption. Thus under the Greens, those guilty of ecological violations will pay and the ethical will prosper. Except if you’re wealthy – they propose to introduce a tax rate of 60% for all earnings over £100,000. According to Peter, ‘people aren’t going to mind.’ The policies of high taxation are reminiscent of the terrible times for Britain in the 1970s – how then are Tatchell’s policies any different? Tatchell claims that he wants to create a ‘socialism infused with a Green perspective and updated to the 21st Century.’ He wants public services ‘run by the public for the public. We all gain if we live in a more caring, equitable society.’ Likewise, he feels we should be less materialistic, less consumerist, less interested in celebrity. I admire Tatchell’s Utopian vision of society, but I am less than convinced that it is attainable in reality. Do people really want to be told that their lives are wrong? That their pleasures are worthless? I enquired how the Green Party could encourage better human stewardship of the world without recourse to apocalyptic language. ‘Climate change is the biggest threat to global security, peace, health and economic prosperity. But we mustn’t be disempowered by a sense of doom, gloom and helplessness. The Green Party is motivated by the optimism that we can take the necessary steps to avert climate disaster and ensure our future as a green and pleasant land.’ A positive note to end on. I wish him luck.last_img read more