September 2, 2022 - 5:30pm

Governing is hard. In Michael Oakeshott’s unforgettable nautical metaphor, it consists of navigating “a boundless and bottomless sea” with “neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel”.

Luckily for them, governing is an activity which the Green Party of England and Wales will never have to engage in. This means that they are free to shout from the sidelines, like the old Italian men who go to construction sites loudly offering unsolicited advice to the workers.

But the consequences of the Green Party’s dilettantism are rather more serious. In the middle of an energy crisis in which the poor will freeze and the country wither, it continues to do everything in its power to oppose any constructive solution which does not involve shouting slogans and committing minor acts of public vandalism. But their most successful tactic consists of appealing to the English people’s worst instinct, that nothing should be built that did not exist when they bought their house. And judging by what gets built and what doesn’t, it is working.

Only this week, the Greens came out in opposition to the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant because it is not “oven-ready” and “people need help right now – not in 10 years”. Of course, this is really a “man bites dog” story, were it not for the fact that the Party’s lone MP said the same thing… 12 years ago. For good measure, she told the MPs at the time that she did not believe “the lights will go off in 10 years”. Boris Johnson has promised he would fund Sizewell C; but when the next election’s seat projections in southern Tory seats are returned to CCHQ and the scale of the Green-Lib Dem squeeze on reliable southern Tory voters becomes apparent, will the line hold?

At least Lucas nominally affects to believe in democratic governance through her continued participation in electoral politics. Her comrade-in-arms in Extinction Rebellion does not even bother to keep up the pretence. Only today, several members of the group entered the chamber of the House of Commons and glued themselves to the furniture. Their demand? A “Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice”.

It might be easy to mock and laugh, since they made those demands in the very chamber of the House of Commons. But their idea of a citizens’ assembly has nothing to do with democracy. They rather give away the game in their own guide to citizens’ assemblies, with the gory details of unaccountable “oversight panels” and curated groups of experts with the right views, on whose evidence citizen-assemblymen must rely.

The result is an astroturfed process designed to reach whatever conclusion you want it to reach. After all, if the world is going to end unless drastic measures are taken, why would you waste your time pushing for process-based gimmicks unless you are sure this will give you the correct outcome you want?

Tolerance for eccentrics is one of this country’s most charming traits. But it loses much of its attraction when it results in discredited cranks who should have been driven out of serious discourse decades ago exerting disproportionate influence on the political debate at a time of national crisis. Unlike some of its European peers, the Green movement of this country has never had its enthusiasms tempered by a spell in government, and it shows in their half-baked ideas and policies of national immiseration. Unless they can show that they take the task of governance seriously, they should be treated accordingly.

Yuan Yi Zhu is an assistant professor at Leiden University and a research fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford.