Shahrar Ali Speech

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The maxim may betray false patriarchy, but generally it is men who wage war. Women and children disproportionately suffer and die in anonymous villages or from a place, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, made infamous by our own brutality. If it isn’t at the mercy of a weapon of mass destruction deployed in anger, let it be corporate negligence. The Bhopal chemical disaster, generations afflicted by stunted foetal development, compounded by 30 years of legal ineffectualism in not providing compensation. These women and children had done nothing to bring upon themselves the evil that men can do.

I want to talk about truth in Green politics. Truth is our ultimate, fantastic value. To the inner conscience it is our light, just as for the would-be deceiver it is the enemy within. There is no escape from truth, but it is our choice whether to live by it or to live in denial of it. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955 in Alabama, her strength came from the truth within. She later said, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was … no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” The obscenity of racial discrimination on buses, backed up by police sanction, did not survive the civil rights movement which she helped to inspire. Here I sit I can do no other?

Truth is inconvenient. It carries corrective consequences for those intent on perpetrating wickedness, but for the true Green it is our weapon of choice. We may insulate our parliamentarians from accusations of lying under the pretext of civility but the truth will out either way. There’s a reason why Blair most regrets, of all his actions in government, the Freedom of Information Act. For the very same reason that true Greens seek insight into decisions taken on our behalf that we have every right to know about. Blair has a contorted relationship with truth – he even had a word named after him, Bliar. When there were no weapons of mass destruction to speak of he resorted to shifting the goalposts to weapons-of-mass-destruction-programme-related-activities. We await the doctored Chilcot report for a verdict on this easier-to-obtain empirical threshold. Blair would have history be his judge, in a deluded attempt at legacy manipulation. It’s inconvenient for his contemporaries to write the first draft of history – that would be far too close to the bone.

Truth is non-violent direct action. True Greens do not resort to violence, we do not counsel intimidation when faced with threats, we practice the power of speech, to challenge, to question, and to submit others as we do ourselves to truth. Action speaks louder than words but words are also acts and when we are true to our conviction our action becomes clear. Rarely will you come across such an example as Peter Tatchell. Recently, alas, Peter had to undergo major eye surgery as a result of blows he received from President Mugabe’s minders in Brussels in 2001 and by neo-Nazis in Moscow in 2007. With characteristic selflessness and humility he said, “By comparison to the abuses inflicted on human rights defenders in countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Syria and Iran, my injuries are very minor… Others have paid a far higher personal price, including the complete and permanent loss of their eye-sight, hearing, mobility or mental capacity. I salute them.” You salute them, Peter. We salute you!

Here’s a tweet of a card made for him soon after the operation “#OnlyInTheGreenParty would national leaders personally make this get well card for an unwell activist @TheGreenParty”.

Truth honours the democratic will of the people. There’s a reason why many an emergency motion calls on spokespersons and officers to enact calls and campaigns. If we do not practice what we preach internally, then we shan’t be fit for governance externally and don’t deserve to be so. After the election, I hope she won’t mind me revealing, I swapped notes with Natalie about some of the abuse we might both have had to endure. With the highs of office come some inevitable lows. We will always have our detractors, most play fair, some play dirty. At least we stand for something worthy. Let's not forget some of the pressure we get put under for telling it as it is, for example, in the fight for justice and peace in the Middle East. Natalie, I applaud you for holding our line on just causes, despite a sometimes intensely hostile reaction. For speaking truth to power.

On my way to the annual Republic conference, a Green supporter tweeted that they weren't really into the disestablishment of the constitutional and legal powers of the monarchy, and that it would lose us votes. Principle without power benefits no one, he complained. To the contrary, power without principle is not worth having.

Truth serves humanity. The ring of truth survives cynicism. At a TV panel debate in the wake of Cameron's despicable "swarm" comment, I challenged the two Tories on the panel, "What kind of people do you want to be? I believe the people of Britain to be hospitable not hostile!" Some weeks later Cameron made conciliatory talk of "moral responsibility" and, although we may wish to question his motives or its proportion, he has now taken some initiative. I don't take personal credit for his change of heart, but nor do I claim Tories are beyond moral reach (okay, maybe I draw the line at IDS). Our benchmark for revolution should not be to leave our detractors behind, but to bring them with us. Those who are part of the problem need to be part of the solution.

Why weren't we told the name of the dead Sudanese man, killed by an articulated lorry in Calais? Yet that same day, we learned about the fate of Cecil the lion. It isn't that animals aren't important, we care about them, but what lies behind the anonymisation of human beings who have travelled continents, crossing the open cemetery which has become the Mediterranean. Is it because I’m black? I asked about this man when visiting the Calais Jungle camp with Amelia. They knew about him, that he had family in the UK but we had no way of contacting them to tell them of the news. The people we met in the camp were dignified and resourceful, despite impoverishment and desperation. They deserve our respect and help beyond humanitarian relief. We can choose to deny the collective responsibility we share for the problems of this world, the instability of regions which foreign armies have been responsible for over generations. We can choose to deny the harms attendant upon the manufacture and sale of arms to despotic regimes, or the negative impact on our atmosphere of sales frenzies that do nothing to mitigate our overconsumptive lifestyles. Or we can take ownership of them. People do not flee their place of birth without good reason, or for any old reason. They are suffering the effects of climate change and war. It's forced migration. Greens look to identify causes and to tackle them. Alan Kurdi and all like him, we hang our heads in shame. Greens say, refugees are welcome here!

Truth is active. Truths once known but rarely challenged risk becoming dead dogmas. We do not choose to suffer the harm associated with propagation of hatred and lies, but nor should we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to know it and to defeat it. Forewarned is forearmed. I understand the anxiety associated with unconscionable acts of terror perpetrated on a civility, but the Prevent strategy is not the way to combat it. Our places of learning, from nursery through to secondary and university education, are becoming oppressive spaces, due to the institutionalisation of a UK-style Patriot Act. Why should a child not feel free to be able to express all their opinions, to explore their ideas, without fear of recrimination? We live in a pretty messed up world, which I too can fail to articulate on any one day of the week. Intent to prevent terrorism by this means is counterproductive on its own terms. Let's have the confidence to take on ignorance through the power of speech, both to grant the misguided an opportunity to disabuse themselves and, as JS Mill understood, to avail ourselves of the opportunity to have a truth become an active, living force; omnipresent in our consciousness and helping us to remain vigilant.

Truth is not about saying what you think the public want to hear. It's about telling it as it is in spite of short term unpopularity. Don't underestimate the intelligence of those we serve. They have at least as much intelligence as you take yourself to have. Our membership surge is the culmination of years of electoral and campaigning graft on the part of our activists – catalysed by all means by a sense of injustice at exclusion from the leader debates. We don't do initiation ceremonies. We don't even administer membership cards, but we do ask for members to confirm their allegiance to our values.

Let's not fetishize about figures either, impressive though our growth has been. One activist has always been incomparable to however many inactive members. Let's harness the potential of our members in their taking ownership of a collective crisis of global proportions. It's not for us to dissuade you from defection to other parties, it's for you to discover that a group of persons united by a common purpose carries with it the destiny of our tomorrow. As we witness the dissonance in Corbyn's party on Trident renewal and Nato withdrawal, let's reflect on the unity of purpose in our party. It is that which will carry the day. These aren't off the peg follow-the-leader policies for us; they are in our heart, in our head, in our bones.

So what is truth in politics? We know it better than we realise. Truth is the personal in the political. Truth is inconvenient, for the right reasons. Truth is non-violence. Truth is confronting illicit power. Truth preserves free speech but is not populist for the sake of it.

Truth is, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman Monica Lewinsky." I understand that PM Cameron is seeking legal advice from President Clinton as we speak, "I did not have sexual relations with a dead sow at Piers Gaveston’s dining club!" Bliar!

Green politics is truth. Truth is Green politics.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good Greens to do nothing!

 

 


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