“It’s another thing altogether to sell them the idea that we might actually have to change the way we live.” (Dan)

“Government won’t make these changes unless it is convinced that they are palatable to a fair proportion of the electorate.” (Tarquin)

Governments are in it for the hard sell. If politics is the art of the possible, you won’t find out whether something is possible until you try. It’s the job of the party in government to change people’s minds.

Pressure groups can work in two ways: Working to push their agenda inside government, putting pressure on the government to sell ideas to the electorate; or pushing their agenda with the electorate to put pressure on the government. It’s very difficult to do both… Geldof and Bono praised the G8 leaders when the agreements fell far short of what their supporters wanted. But if they denounce the compromise they become marginalised: voices in the wilderness. It has to better to be closer to the machinery of power whilst you have a chance of making any significant difference.

So, Dan, how do we change the way people live? We have to persuade the government to lead, rather than follow. To set the agenda and put the arguments, rather than letting polls or focus groups set it for them. Of course, to do so without alienating the electorate means listening to a diverse range of arguments (focus groups have their place). And bringing people with you make make it a frustratingly slow process (don’t expect everything to be delivered within one parliament).

It’s easy for a party that has never had real power to tempt voters with a menu of desirable but unattainable goals. But even within that part of the political debate that concerns green issues there are conflicting priorities. How can single issue groups hope resolve these? Why should a party which won’t ever be in power worry about being held to account for their incoherent agenda? Parties that win power have to have a larger constitutency, to hear arguments they don’t like, and to wear unpalatable compromises on occassion. That’s the price you have to pay for being able to make actual change.

And that’s not to marginalise serious contributions individuals can make. I love the emissions offset scheme. And we do need individuals and companies to change the infrastructure of our economy “by reducing emissions through developing renewable fuel sources or boosting efficiency”. It’s when serious people seem to be channeling their efforts into fringe movements that have little hope of actually achieving anything that I get depressed…