The Greens and the Left

tippingpointahead-sign-readyThis is a guest post from my brother Leo Murray, creator of the climate change animation Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip and various others. We’re in broad agreement about most things.

Interesting times! Today, Green Party membership has overtaken both UKIP and the Lib Dems (editor’s note: this was first written on the 16th of January; four days later the total membership figure for UK Green parties is now over 53,000 and rising):

Greens:    44,713
UKIP:        41,943
Lib Dems: 44,526

You may well have noticed David Cameron’s recently announced cynical position on the TV debates, which is obviously about ensuring that if he has to contend with UKIP then Labour should have to contend with Greens.

There are some very interesting implications from all of this. The Tories have recognised the opportunity the rise of UKIP represents for their own agenda, and leveraged it to shift the middle ground of political discourse in the UK over to the right.

Meanwhile the Labour party, having now only really a barely recognisable semblance of left wing politics or representing labour (= workers) following their total acquiescence to neoliberal economic doctrine under Tony Blair, have had the opposite reaction to the rise in popularity of the Greens – they are shitting themselves, and acutely aware that the Green Party are basically embarrassing them on a daily basis by being proper socialists, and showing up Labour as the rootless flunkies of neoliberal capital interests that they have become.

Unlike the Tories, whose core agenda of dismantling the welfare state, advancing corporate power and protecting capital and elite interests remains unchanged, and have hence been able to use UKIP to help advance this agenda, Labour (at least, the Labour high command, notwithstanding questions about Miliband himself) no longer have any agenda at the core to advance.

Consequently, Labour have entirely missed the opportunity to use Green support (including in Parliament itself via Caroline Lucas) to move the middle ground of political debate to the left. I don’t think they ever saw it as an opportunity! Instead of welcoming a Green voice in the Commons as an ally in the same broad agenda, Labour have chosen to throw everything they have at un-seating Caroline Lucas from Brighton – it’s one of their top target seats! Not a Tory seat, not a Lib Dem seat, but the only serving MP to the left of Labour. They’ve also appointed Sadiq Khan to mount a fightback against the Green vote, and this week got Miliband to sign a letter to broadcasters – an identical letter to the one written by Nigel Farage – saying the TV debates should go ahead with or without Cameron, with no mention of the Green Party.

BUT because of the way politics works here, Labour do recognise the threat the Greens pose to their vote share, and it is already forcing them to make concessions to scramble to hold onto the left wing voter base in the UK.

It is also the case that the BBC and others’ position on the TV debates is starting to look increasingly perverse and untenable now that the Greens actually have more party members than either UKIP or LibDems, both of whom feature heavily in this stuff.
SO
There are some vital tactical considerations for everyone involved in the struggle for social and environmental justice in the UK at this critical juncture. Whether or not you regard the Green Party as an effective vehicle for change here in more general terms (the jury is out – perfectly legitimate to think not!), if there was ever a moment to actually sign up to join the Green Party, it is right now. Even for those of us who are wholly committed to anarchist principles and ideals, there are extremely good tactical reasons for believing that simply adding your name to the Green Party membership at this particular moment in time will help undermine our enemies and take us closer to the kind of world we are working towards creating. And quite apart from all of the party and Westminster political implications of all this, there is a brilliant opportunity here to change popular perceptions of the political makeup of British society.

Leo’s conclusion is that as many people as possible on the British left should be joining the Greens (or Scottish Greens). I would also add to that if you disagree with their characterisation of the Green Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Greens as ‘minor parties’, it would be worth responding to the OfCom consultation on their official guidelines and the BBC’s draft guidelines on electoral coverage. You might also like to contact other media companies directly to protest the exclusion of Greens and other relatively radical voices from debates and coverage.

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To Vote, Or Not To Vote

MPs debate Queen’s Speech
Count the women! Spot the non-white people! Guess how many of those pictured are millionaires! Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

The House of Commons is hopelessly unrepresentative of the population of the UK, both politically and demographically. It has been dominated from its inception by wealthy older white men belonging to one of two or three political parties, and the policies of those parties have converged in recent decades on a so-called ‘centre ground’ which is in many ways far to the right of popular opinion, and which takes for granted a set of economic assumptions which are at best questionable, and at worst both harmful and evidently false.

Although I am focusing on the UK here, the same points can be made in a disturbingly large number of other countries.

So I have a fair bit of sympathy with lines like  ‘don’t vote, engage with politics‘ and ‘if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it‘. I can see why people would want no part in a system there is so much wrong with, and far too many people mistake turning up at a ballot box every few years for meaningful democratic engagement. However, none of this is a good argument for abstention in national elections. Don’t fall for the lazy lie that politicians are all the same, and don’t lose sight of the fact that sometimes they achieve tremendous things like founding the NHS, or exceptionally bad things like starting wars of aggression. We have a shared responsibility for holding them to account for their wrongs, and letting them know what we think they should be doing.

Unless you’re a rich white man, the fact you can vote at all is probably thanks to direct action. There are at least three important lessons in this, the first of which you will doubtless have heard many times before, although it is probably the weakest: (1) Many people have thought it was worth fighting extremely hard for voting rights; (2) Direct action can fundamentally change the way society is run, especially when it forces those with the most power to sit up and take notice; (3) Extending the franchise beyond rich white males is clearly no guarantee that the main power structures will not continue to be dominated by them.

Abstention does not imply apathy, but it is far too easily mistaken for it. Only 44% of 18-24-year-olds voted in the 2010 UK General Election, and the politicians know it. Turning up to vote is not just a way of expressing approval for a particular party or candidate, or disapproval for others. It is a plea for you, and your demographics, to be represented – a message that you won’t just go along with whatever happens, and that elected politicians stand to gain something from taking you into consideration. This works even if you spoil your ballot paper or vote Monster Raving Loony Party, though I would encourage you to rule out the existence of a serious party worth voting for first.

Don’t be put off by the apparent improbability of your preferred candidate winning – there’s no such thing as a wasted vote. When victories like Caroline Lucas’s win for the Green Party in 2010 do come along, it’s possible largely because enough people in previous elections refused to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils‘ to convince much of the rest of the population that it might be worth  doing the same. In recent years, Spain has seen the decades-old dominance of its electoral system by two parties abruptly ended by the rise of Podemos, a new party formed as a result of the Indignados movement that presaged Occupy. In Greece, the ascent of left-wing Syriza has gone some way towards counter-balancing the simultaneous rise of the far right, and may yet see the country find a way out of its current difficulties that works for most of its people and not just its wealthiest. Long-standing political assumptions are often shakier than they look, and profound changes can take place in a surprisingly short time when people get together and demand them.

Britain is not being run well, and that is largely because we have collectively been letting our rulers get away with it for far too long. Voting is a painfully weak mechanism for holding them to account; it’s not enough, but it’s something.  The UK parliament has great power over our lives, for both good and ill, and we have some power to steer it. Huge gains were made for the people of Britain in the decades after the Second World War, which thirty-five years of neoliberal rule have still not fully undone. We can do much better than this, if we’re prepared to fight for it on multiple fronts. If not, we should expect to see it get much worse yet for most of us.

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Jingshan

It's a good place to take photos
It’s a good place to take photos

On our first full day in Beijing, partly by way of helping me get a feeling for the city’s geography, we climbed up Jingshan, the large artificial hill in the historical dead centre of Beijing, overlooking the Forbidden City. The views are stunning from the pavilion at the top of its highest peak, but it’s one of those spots which somehow manages to attract more locals than tourists. We arrived a little while before sunset to find it crowded, but with a relatively peaceful air.

Sunset from JingshanOnce the highest point in the whole city, it is still the highest point for a couple of miles around thanks to strict controls on building height in the city centre. Outside the official city centre seems to be a free-for-all though, with the result that from the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring, you get uninterrupted views over the whole of the oldest part of the city, and beyond it a seemingly unbroken wall of skyscrapers. Beyond those, on a particularly clear day – and this was one of them – you can see rolling hills out to the west.

SwiftsAs the sun goes down, swifts swing lower and lower in the sky till they are swooping right under the arches of the pagoda, chasing the evening’s insects. Big butterflies settle on photographers too focused on distant views to see them.

Once the sun was fully set, we set off down the hill to explore more of old Beijing.

Sonya at Jingshan

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Coming to Beijing

This summer gone I had the rare chance to spend almost two months in China with Sonya – mostly in Beijing, but with some travel towards the south.

XituchengWe arrived in Beijing exhausted but not exactly sleepy. While we waited for our sleep deprivation to catch up with the difference in time zones, we went for a walk in the local park, Xitucheng (literally ‘Western Earth City’, more or less). It’s a long thin park that runs along a canal, incorporating an embankment that was once a city wall. When we visited it was around 9 at night, but it was busier than most British parks get even during the day time – the only times I’ve seen that kind of concentration of people in parks there would be things like Festival fireworks or New Year, but this was just an ordinary Saturday in June.

People in parks
These people aren’t dancing, they’re just sitting around or walking. I’ll post some pictures of dancing later, but not in this park

Still, most of the park wasn’t exactly crowded, just… busy. Most of the people seemed to be congregating for the purpose of public mass-dancing, with groups of about thirty to fifty locals assembling around small sound systems, moving with varying degrees of synchrony. Once I’d ruled out that they were doing Tai Chi, I first assumed they must be actual classes, but they don’t seem to have anyone leading them; it’s more like everyone just copies everyone else in a seemingly self-organised fashion.

They were dancing in a range of styles, but nothing I could really pin down – one group seemed to be doing ceilidh dancing with elements of ballroom thrown in, while others were arguably doing line-dancing, but probably only by the broadest definition, ‘standing in lines, dancing’. We suspect that anyone who turns up in a park with their own music and just starts dancing will soon attract a crowd of people trying to learn their moves, but we haven’t put this hypothesis to the test yet. It may be that it would only work with bad Chinese pop music. Further research is required.

It's like badminton you play with your feet! Or just hackey sack with feathers, depending how you do it
It’s like badminton you play with your feet! Or just hackey sack with feathers, depending how you do it

Besides the dancers there were also an impressively large number of bats; at least two choirs, one of them singing a selection of well-known revolutionary hymns; several groups of people playing Chinese hackey sack, which uses a shuttlecock rather than just a weighted bag; one group practising percussion; and just one old guy doing Tai Chi on his own.

china38_037We returned to the park on our very last afternoon, which is why the photographs here are all taken in daylight. It was less busy than on that first night, perhaps mainly because public mass-dancing is a night time activity. With the benefit of sunlight it became clear what a carefully sculpted and generally well-maintained park it is, and I also had the opportunity to read more of its fascinatingly odd signs.

We're fairly sure 'Simon Park' is meant to be 'west gate (xī mén) of park'.  'Redolent Thistle' and 'Ancient Boat with Tea Fragrance' sound more interesting than they really are.
We’re fairly sure ‘Simon Park’ is meant to be ‘west gate (xī mén) of park’.
‘Redolent Thistle’ and ‘Ancient Boat with Tea Fragrance’ sound more interesting than they really are
Do not Pamage Public Property
No pamaging! Also prohibited: dogs, diving, squatting next to plants and titting about on ladders.
Resonant Herdsman's Song in Ancient City of Yanjing
I didn’t get to hear the Resonant Herdsman’s Song in Ancient City of Yanjing unfortunately, we only found this map just before we got the plane
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On Democracy and Hope

The atmosphere in the run-up to the referendum was electric.
The atmosphere in the run-up to the referendum was electric.

On the 18th of September, 1.6 million people in Scotland voted to break away from the United Kingdom. When asked, about three quarters cited dissatisfaction with Westminster politics as one of their main reasons for voting Yes to independence. No big surprise there: just a quarter of the population here is happy with how the current government is running the country, and our electoral system keeps electing tory governments in spite of how the Scottish population votes.

Evidently, we felt that being shot of the political system we’re saddled with, once and for all, was worth all of the economic and social risks and costs associated with breaking up a country and starting many of its institutions from scratch. That means a lot – independence was never going to be easy, and change is almost always scary.

Democracy cairn
Still, the dream of democracy lives on.

But this is a country where less than a fifth of the population trusts politicians to tell the truth, where the electoral system is set up in such a way that politicians can safely ignore the wishes of the great majority of its citizens if it garners favour with the few who live in ‘swing seats’, and where it has been widely taken for granted that a vote for anyone but the two or three main parties is a ‘wasted’ vote, since the first-past-the-post system makes it so unlikely anyone else will be elected. Less than two thirds of the country even bothered to vote in the 2010 general election; of those who did, most voted against the Conservatives. Only 36% voted for them, country-wide, and only 16.7% in Scotland – far, far behind the 45% who went for Scottish independence, although the media’s been describing that as an ‘overwhelming defeat’. Even if you add up all the Scottish votes for both of the parties ruling us from Westminster, it only comes to 878,326 – not much more than half of the 1,617,989 who voted for independence. It is pretty clear that the Westminster system does not deliver governments, or policies, that most of us particularly want to vote for.

I say all this not to suggest that we were robbed, although some demographics, particularly on social media, were so pro-Yes that many people were genuinely shocked by the result. My point is that this level of engagement is extraordinary in British politics, and we must not allow it to be a one-off.

Less than 64% of people in Scotland voted at all in the last General Election, and only 39.1% in the latest round of council elections. We are very used to politicians and the media bemoaning this as ‘voter apathy‘, as if people didn’t vote because they don’t care, but the 85% turnout for the referendum suggests that overwhelmingly, people will turn out to vote if we think our vote will make a difference. The referendum didn’t just get people voting – it got us debating, researching and imagining. We started taking seriously the idea that that we could help shape the future of our country, and probably should.

Sarah Beatty-Smith, Edinburgh Co-convenor, at Edinburgh Greens
The first post-referendum Edinburgh branch meeting of the Scottish Green Party had to shift to a bigger venue to accommodate all the new members, but then that one filled up too so we had to split up and also fill the original venue.

In light of that, it makes perfect sense that the SNP and the Scottish Greens have both seen massive surges in membership since the referendum, with both parties more than quadrupling their numbers in the space of less than a month. All of that energy, all of that creativity and hope  had to go somewhere – and it was hardly going to go to the big Westminster parties, who all opposed independence with such inspiring slogans as ‘IT’S NOT WORTH THE RISK.’ The ‘Better Together’ campaign started out with that nice, cuddly title, but it turned out to be almost the only glimmer of positivity in a campaign overwhelmingly focused on killing aspirations and playing up fears.

We might object that there are also some fairly alarming risks associated with being ruled by a parliament elected through a hopelessly undemocratic system, dominated by three parties who still take broadly neoliberal economic assumptions for granted in spite of all the evidence against them, most of whose MPs come from profoundly privileged backgrounds and won’t challenge the great transfer of wealth from poor to rich that they like to call ‘austerity’. But these are familiar risks. Better the devil you know, right?

So most of us voted against Scotland becoming an independent country. This was always the likeliest result, whatever social media might have led us to believe – change really is scary, and before the referendum campaign started, the polls showed overwhelming opposition to independence. Factor in all three of the biggest parties currently in Westminster, along with almost the entire mainstream media and several large corporations working to convince us the economy would be terribly imperilled by independence, and scoring as much as 45% of the vote looks like a remarkable achievement.

Independence, for now, cannot be our route to a more just and democratic society. But for many of us it was always a means to an end, not the ultimate prize. We will not stop fighting for more power to be in the hands of the people who are most affected by it; we will not stop fighting for accountability in government, for a fairer economy, for a system and a public discourse which acknowledge that a better world is possible.

Because here’s the thing: with enough of us fighting for it, a better world really is unmistakeably possible. If we don’t keep fighting for it, a much worse world seems pretty much inevitable.

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On Independence

I’m not a nationalist. I thought I should get that out of the way at the start. I don’t think nation states are a good thing to base political structures around, and I was raised to view expressions of patriotism with deep suspicion. What I am is a localist, or a decentralist. Concentrations of power breed corruption and indifference, and they cannot help but disempower individuals and communities. There may be justifications for that, but the presumption should always be in favour of decisions being made as close as possible to the people affected by them.

So I would want to hear some good reasons why it was a good idea for Scotland to be ruled from Westminster before I’d accept that it should be. I have never really heard any*. The closest I’ve known anyone to come up with is that it’s just so much easier staying with the status quo, and radical change is so unpredictable. It would be, and it is. But the status quo is a train wreck, and profound change is the only thing that can get us out of it, however scary that might be.

As an experiment in representative democracy, the parliament at Westminster is a failure. That is, it is neither representative, nor democratic. The British public is overwhelmingly to the left of the main, supposedly left-wing opposition party’s policies on a wide range of issues, and the Scottish public is in many ways well to the left of that. But the mainstream of Westminster politics has an incredible momentum to it, largely thanks to the idiocy of our first-past-the-post electoral system, and Labour is too timid and seemingly too unimaginative to oppose any but the very worst aspects of austerity and capitalist economics. The Green Party is far bolder, constantly pushing for genuine, positive change with well-thought out economic policies, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that Left Unity, or one of those other attempts at grand unification of the left might get somewhere some time, but the system is stacked against them, and the mainstream media make it even harder.

For a long time, my biggest misgiving about Scotland breaking away from the rest of Britain was that it would shift Westminster’s centre of political gravity even further to the right, removing a huge chunk of the support that the Labour Party has been able to take for granted. I don’t worry about that so much any more, because Labour have done so little to justify it in the last twenty years; if losing the Scottish vote helps jolt them out of their complacency, it might even work out for the best for the rest of the UK, too.

The Scottish independence vote is an opportunity for the people of Scotland not to be ruled by tories ever again, unless its population somehow drifts incredibly much further to the right. It’s also the only chance we’re likely to get, any time soon, to experiment with genuinely different ways of doing things. Maybe those experiments will be abject failures, but so is the political economy we’ve inherited – and either way, it’s about time the people of Scotland got the chance to fail, or succeed, on our own terms.

* The strongest argument I’ve heard for a No vote, in fact, is that the deal currently on the table gives insufficient economic independence to Scotland, leaving control of the currency in the hands of Westminster and the bank of England.

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Magnet Mushroom

At the end of 2013 Sonya Hallett and I invented a game. We’re calling it Magnet Mushroom, and you can play it too if you have an iron or steel tray, a bunch of magnets and some small pieces made of iron or steel. We used a baking tray, a pack of polished magnetite from a museum shop and the leftover metal bits from some Ikea bookshelves.

Here are the rules:

  1. Each player gets an equal set of magnets and metal bits.
  2. Take turns to place a magnet, with as many bits of metal as you like, on the tray, or on something which is already on the tray.
  3. If any magnet touches the tray during your turn, you lose. The last player to place a piece wins.
  4. At the end of a round, collect back all your pieces.
  5. The winner starts the next round.

Some Magnet MushroomsThe most basic move is a simple mushroom: a magnet stood on an upright metal piece. Because the metal becomes instantly magnetised, the magnet sits on it quite stably, however unlikely the configuration might look.

In fact, it is possible to make a mushroom two or three pieces tall and only moderately unstable. You can also support a magnet on two or three pieces, making it more stable, or attach more metal to the top or sides for added interest.

The challenge of the game comes mainly from the fact that every magnet is attracted or repelled by every other magnet – if you place one mushroom too close another, those forces will pull them down in an instant. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in leaving the board in a stable enough configuration not to fall down, but unstable enough to make things difficult for the next player. Much of the fun of the game also comes from the creation of beautiful and wildly improbable-looking structures.

Some Magnet MushroomsThe simplest version of the game uses similar magnets and identical metal pieces, but if you want to mix things up a bit – or you run out of the pieces you started with – you can open it up by using  more different pieces. Experiment with it! Let me know what you come up with.

Extended Magnet Mushrooms

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Our Chief Mistakes

And How to Fix Them

Sometimes I like to imagine that people in general are capable of being swayed by strong arguments, and changing their behaviour when it becomes clear they have been making a terrible mistake. In that spirit, here is a list of things that Western society is clearly getting wrong, and strategies for correcting our errors.

This list is not exhaustive, of course. I am focusing here on our political economy, rather than democratic reform or aspects of social justice that go well beyond that, partly because many of the problems in those arenas are fed by economic inequality, but mainly because they bring in thornier questions with less clear resolutions.  I want to stick to a few things which are generally taken for granted by our politicians and mainstream media outlets, even though they are evidently wrong, and fixable. The fact they are taken for granted might have to do with the dominance of vested interests, inertia or sheer incompetence, but in the end, it goes on because we have been letting them get away with peddling this rubbish.

1. Money and markets can never measure the value of everything.

Photo by David Muir.

Markets are reasonably good at assessing the value of certain types of goods, in relatively equal societies. Unfortunately they are hopeless at taking account of any value or cost which cannot be easily tied to a monetary transaction. In highly unequal societies, they also skew priorities radically towards the very rich. Meanwhile, maximising profits often means artificially restricting access to good things. The more we marketise, the more this happens.

These simple, inescapable truths make the entire neoliberal project, which seeks to make markets the arbiter of all things, destructive, inefficient and ultimately futile.  Neoliberalism remains a central assumption of our political discourse not because it makes sense, but through the prominence of voices pushing it forwards, and the historical defeat of Communism, wrongly seen as its main ideological competition.

We can and must get past this by insisting on the importance of things which cannot be monetised without destroying or degrading them, and acknowledging the logical limits of markets.

2. There is no excuse for companies making profit their sole aim.

It’s not even good capitalism. If the only choice we had was between shareholder returns trumping all other considerations, or else state control of everything, it might make sense to choose the former. In fact, however, there are many other possibilities.

There is a strong case to be made for insisting that private corporations make something other than profit their central goal - providing the best possible services in their field, for example – and instituting independent oversight to make them accountable for pursuing that goal.

There is an even stronger case for encouraging the growth of cooperatives. Evidence shows that they employ more people, make them more satisfied, and have more space for ethical considerations alongside financial ones. They are also inherently far more democratic.

In particular, when it comes to natural monopolies – transport networks, distribution networks for power, water and so on – normal market principles like competition simply do not work. At best, regulators can try to bodge them back into place. It is beyond eccentric to expect companies in such positions to do a good job of serving the public as a side-effect of the pursuit of profit, especially given almost all experiences of privatisation to date.

3. GDP growth is a lousy measure of the health of an economy.

Gross Domestic Product is a convenient measure of the size of an economy, but as a proxy for the well-being or even the wealth of a population, its use is indefensible, and not only because of the inability of money to assess value.  Relatedly, limitless growth of GDP is clearly impossible, yet the assumption that it is necessary goes on underlying the political and economic narratives put forward by politicians and the media.

An income-adjusted figure might be a great deal more useful. Recognising the obvious fact that £1000 makes a lot more difference to someone earning £10,000 a year than it does to someone who already makes £1,000,000 suggests a straightforward but revolutionary modification of GDP: weigh changes in income in inverse proportion to their starting point. This would still leave out all the non-monetary aspects of a real economy, but it would at least give us a reasonable starting point. Other approaches to measuring the success of an economy include ‘Gross National Happiness‘ and other efforts to measure well-being, as well as direct measures of inequality.

4. The dole as we know it is unavoidably counterproductive.

Our current system makes payments conditional on claimants regularly jumping through humiliating hoops, and not benefiting from part-time work. It doesn’t need to.

An unconditional basic income, or Citizen’s Income, paid to everyone regardless of circumstances, would almost certainly be vastly more efficient. It would save on administration and lead to more productive work being done, by making the price of employing people more closely reflect its objective cost. Unfortunately, it would be quite a radical break from the way things are done now, and our politicians have become terrified of doing  or even suggesting anything radical at all, however clearly sensible. This would, of course,  be less of a problem if the status quo wasn’t manifestly broken.

All of this naturally leads on to the even bigger question of what we should do about the failings of representative democracy and existing structures of media ownership and control – but as I said at the beginning, I wanted to focus for now on things which are clearly fixable.

We can get onto the thornier questions later…

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Project Wild Thing

Project Wild Thing

Kids in Britain don’t play outside so much these days. Where our parents were left to roam at will, and their parents wandered much further still, the children of the early twenty-first century are mostly kept indoors. It isn’t safe to go out – the traffic is dreadful, kids have terrible accidents, everyone knows that the streets are packed with paedophiles and murderers. Nobody knows their neighbours well enough to be sure they won’t eat their kids if they get half a chance.

What would kids do outdoors, anyway, even if they make it that far? Why would they want to play in the grass and shrubs, up and under the trees, when they can stay at home and spend their time playing on computers and smartphones?

This is a problem, if you believe that humans need time with nature to stay sane and physically healthy – and I think the evidence is strong. This is why David Bond appointed himself Marketing Director for nature, and made this film, Project Wild Thing. Marketing nature might be a faintly obnoxious concept, but it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. The outside world, with its bugs and its plants and its dirt, has to compete for the attention of our children (and adults) against a vast array of highly profitable, heavily advertised consumer goods and activities. What chance does it have?

Bond, the director and star of the film, talks to a range of marketing and branding consultants to brainstorm and market-test ideas on how to ‘sell’ nature to a generation that sometimes seems to have trouble seeing the point of it, and to parents who might think it’s a nice idea, but worry about the dangers of letting their children go wild. The conceit works, as something to hang a film off, and helps to generate some solid practical ideas, but it also underlies its main problems – the film is heavily dominated by upper-middle-class white men, often talking about branding. This is bound to make some viewers wince, understandably, and it’s not clear that it helps that many of the kids he talks to are brown-skinned and often female.

He also talks to a number of conservationists, naturalists and activists, including wildlife presenter Chris Packham and Jay Griffiths, the author of ‘Kith‘, as well as my brother Leo, who talks about outdoors play non-profit Monkey-Do. All make very good points about human nature and our relationships with risk, play and the outdoors, feeding into the strategies suggested for getting kids playing outside.

The film is informative, infuriating and really very entertaining, but I am glad to say it is just one result of the whole process. They also put together a simple, nicely designed app for smartphones, ‘WildTime‘, designed to provide a wealth of ideas about how to engage with the natural world, for anyone for whom it doesn’t seem obvious (and for many children, itisn’t obvious until they actually get out there). Perhaps most importantly, The Wild Network is a growing group of organisations concerned with connecting kids with nature, including the RSPB, the National Trust, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and hundreds of others. Perhaps these trends can be reversed yet, both in Britain and around the world, but it’s going to take a lot of work yet.

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