Friday, January 02, 2015

Ten Years : Four : Standing Up To Be Counted


I believe I have been green since I was at infant school in the early seventies. My young, malleable mind was captured by the Doctor Who scripts and books of Barry Letts, Robert Sloman, and Malcolm Hulke. Their accidental mixture of Buddhism, environmentalism and communism informed my earliest values – that we must conserve the common good, prevent irrevocable damage to the environment, and promote peace and understanding.
These values took a bit of a hammering under the onslaught of alcohol and my coming of age in the free-market, home-owning eighties and early nineties. By the age of twenty-five I was an endowment-mortgaged, car-commuting business flyer, and my student political stance of “anyone but the Conservatives” had been numbed into a cynical “don’t vote for any of them – it only encourages them”.
By 2005, I’d started voting Labour again, and then stopped after Blair’s support for Bush’s foreign policy. I voted Green now, in indignant protest that the party I’d though was on my side wasn’t.
In 2001, I had had a serious car accident, in which I caused a head-on collision, and had my licence taken away until I’d passed an extended test (twice as long as the new drivers’ test, and many more times harder as hard to pass). I persevered with this until I’d regained my license, but after two years without a car had learned that private cars are almost completely unnecessary. 
Then, in 2004, the plane from Heathrow to Edinburgh I was on developed a mechanical fault and had to make an emergency landing. I only flew once again after that. I realized that, like running a car, travelling by air is almost completely unnecessary.
Those were the seeds. By 2005, when I stopped drinking, I realized that my values were distinct to most of those of the people I worked with. And significantly, different to those of the people in government and in big business. I was concerned that the people in power weren’t paying attention to the matters I regarded as most important.
Enter Doctor Who again. I’d enjoyed the original Doctor Who novels of Daniel Blythe, and, still more, his literary novels for Penguin. In 2010, he released “X Marks the Box : How To Make Politics Work For You” a guide to the UK political process for the na├»ve or formerly-apathetic. It is a work of effortless clarity. The week I read it, as a direct result, I joined the Scottish Green Party.
By a remarkable coincidence, one of the driving forces of the party lived a few streets away from me, and I found myself roped in to help canvass for the 2010 General Election. That autumn I attended the party’s annual conference, and the following year joined the Edinburgh party’s committee. I have now held an impressive-sounding list of national offices and roles.
My professional life has collapsed in the past decade. I no longer work directly for an employer, but am instead employed by a series of consultancy companies who sell my time on to their clients. I have no sense of professional identity, or of belonging to a shared endeavour. I am grateful to my employers for passing some of the money they make on to me, but that’s about it.
By contrast, the party gives me a tremendous sense of purpose, and I’m willing to put in stints of long hours and suffer high anxiety to help further our aims. I bring the zeal of the recovering alcoholic, the urge to get things right, and the sober aversion to decadence and indulgence that’s needed to sacrifice an evening in front of the telly to instead staple posters to boards in a cold garage, or stay up until the small hours redrafting election leaflets or authorising local candidates.
Looking back, it’s hard not to attribute my political awakening to sobriety. Not only does a clear head bring more usable hours for volunteering, but post-alcohol, I’m motivated to actively bring about what I want in society rather than passively turn away from what I don’t. 
I sometimes feel a bit of an old phoney in the party. I’m conspicuous by being neither a defector from Labour’s ranks or a grown-up former student activist. I’m instead someone who woke up and got involved in his mid-forties. (I wonder if I’ve ever been suspected of being a mole.) Perhaps if I hadn’t had a debilitating drink problem from the age of sixteen, I would have become politically active as a student, and have followed a more orthodox path to politics.
But I got here in the end, and I draw comfort from that. 
That’s what’s emerging as the common lesson of all my ten-years-sober accounts. 
It’s never too late.

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