Spaghetti Trees, Lyrebirds and Radical Politics

Fifty-eight years ago today, the BBC carried a faux documentary, explaining how spaghetti is farmed from trees, a story which apparently fooled a lot of people. From a technical point of view, the prank is well executed – getting the tone of BBC news stories spot on, complete with deadpan narration.
It’s easy to laugh looking back at the naïve trust placed in the BBC by those who were fooled. But we’ve probably gone too far the other way, from naïve trust to naïve cynicism. As a counter-example, there’s an Australian bird, the superb lyrebird (yes, that’s it’s actual name), that I’m convinced can’t actually exist.
If you’ve never heard of superb lyrebirds before, you may well think I’ve fallen for a trick in the same way those who believed in spaghetti trees did, there are other pieces of evidence available.

It does seem that only a limited number of lyrebirds, often with prolonged exposure to human activity, are able to pull off this trick, but it’s still an absolutely amazing piece of mimickry.

The naïve cynicism I’m sure many people feel towards the superb lyrebird is mirrored by a broader cynicism, which also finds it’s way into our political discussions.
One of the most common clichés in political discourse is that “they’re all as bad as each other”, and that, as a result, there’s no point engaging in politics.

This isn’t true – George Osborne’s ruthless redistributions from the poor to the rich are worse than Ed Balls meekly going along with them; Michael Gove’s propagandistic redesign of the education system is worse than Tristram Hunt’s ignorance of the highly respected Finnish system; David Cameron’s idea to ban “non-violent extremism” is worse than Tony Blair’s plans to introduce mandatory ID cards.

It’s been a consistent law of the last two decades that Labour are bad, the Tories somehow manage to consistently be worse.
That’s still cynicism of course, but I’d argue it’s more rational cynicism, rather than a broader dismissal of the system as a whole. (You’re entitled to disagree with my individual conclusions.)

That got pretty heavy – here’s another video of the superb lyrebird to lighten the mood.

Standing opposed to the limited range of options we’re generally presented with in the political centre ground, where the layman often can’t tell the bad from the worse, there are potentially transformative, utterly radical ideas.

I’m not a fan of the Labour Party as a whole, but it’s only fair to point out that their renewable energy plans, to make Britain carbon neutral by 2030, are genuinely radical.  The plan is not only bold, but probably achievable – Scotland already gets almost half it’s energy from renewables.

The reason I’m a member of the Green Party is that it’s full of these bold ideas.

The Green Party calls for the minimum wage to be raised to a living wage immediately, and £10 an hour by 2020,with the idea being that moving money from the executives of corporations to those nearer the bottom will move money around local economies. The Green Party calls for the end to all private sector involvement in the NHS and the railways, supported by evidence that vast sums are wasted not only on shareholder dividends, but on an unnecessary NHS bidding process. The Green Party calls for a ‘universal basic income’ which would eventually provide enough money for each citizen to live on and pay into their local economy, even if they chose not to be part of the workforce themselves.

Of course, with radical politics, it’s hard to be certain they’ll work. Is Miliband right to argue that it’s possible to completely de-carbonise the British economy? Personally I’m no expert on the technology, but the evidence from Scotland suggests it might be possible in a decade and a half. Similarly with each of the Greens’ policies listed, I view the main obstacles as being political willpower, rather than flaws in the ideas themselves. (The links will take you to supporting arguments, unrelated to the Green Party or any particular political party, which make the case for these bold ideas.)

The problem is that, in Britain and much of the world, we’ve lost the appetite for political boldness. We’ve gotten used to being given a choice between two flavours of gruel, and being told that feeling a lack of enthusiasm for the choice is our problem, not a problem of the system.

A better world is possible. Believe in radical politics. Believe in the superb lyrebird.