Green issues are red hot. Sort of.

With two weeks to go before the local council elections, Portsmouth's green group last night organised a hustings for representatives of standing parties to present their environmental cases and credentials. Five parties thought it was important enough to send speakers, who found themselves addressing thirty.

Everyone knows the planet's in trouble, everyone knows something drastic has to be done right now, everyone knows politicians have to be involved, but no one wants to do anything drastic and no one wants to talk with politicians.

On the platform:

* Labour Guy. Most professional politicians have to adopt a schizoid approach to their party, loyally defending policies they reject, working for leaders who betray them, and presenting arguments they can see through.

This fellow was more honest than most about the tensions between the principles his party is (supposedly) based upon and the policies it actually follows. This was partly because he really was in a conflicted state, and partly because playing the reluctant advocate gave him an air of plausible deniability.

It's a neat trick - much as hollywood can continue to tell the same tired old stories by giving them a thin gloss of postmodern irony, so some politicians can continue to support their discredited party by loudly protesting that they don't really. A way of having your cake while pretending not to eat it.

* Green Guy. Less conflicted, more knowledgeable about both green issues and politics, and much more able to say one thing while meaning another. Your average slippery local councillor.

Unfortunately for him, drowning difficult questions in waffle and smearing opponents in falsely parenthetical remarks didn't work with this audience. Attacking leftwingers by characterising them as hardfaced stalinists only works when played to listeners ignorant of the real history, defocusing issues only works with unfocused people, and spouting cliches only works with people who think in cliches.

* Respect Guy. Began nervous, halting and earnest. By the end he cam across as clearly the most honest, straightforward and trustworthy speaker on the floor.

* Chair. You meet some interesting blends of psychological types in politics. In this case, a campaigner who tries to avoid conflict, a proselytising leader who doesn't want to stand out or dominate, and a climate scientist advocating economic reforms he knows won't solve the problems in the long term, in the hope they'll be stepping stones to major reforms that will.

* Tory Guy. A lame duck with nothing to say, gamely saying it to people he knows aren't listening. Like Labour Guy, he tried to play the "loyal but independent" role.

Also something of a twit. Twice he presented the slogan "Think global, act local" as though it were a fresh new idea liable to impress progressives. He thought it was invented by Woking Town Council.

* LibDem Guy. His spiel was "I'm just an ordinary fluffy liberal campaigning on social issues, who somehow fell into being a local councillor". It's odd how some professional politicians think they'll seem more trustworthy to the electorate if they present themselves as goofy amateurs. Or rather, it's odd how they're right to think this.

As for the debate itself, it ranged over transport issues (car culture, public transport funding, and why not everyone can convert their cars to run on chip fat), housing (enforcing building regulations, why the poor have ineffective double glazing, and how planning application procedures are a complete and utter blithering mess), and how if only the public were more educated they'd put more pressure on their politicians.

Then, as is traditional, the greens in the audience went home and the reds went down the pub - with Labour Guy in tow. Cue a continuation of the same debate, but this time honest and interesting.

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