By Robyn Banks
Content warning: mentions transphobia
As the Green Party lets its members elect its third member of the House of Lords, one candidate’s name has jumped to my attention more than the rest: Rupert Read. For those who don’t know, Read is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, a former Green Party Councillor in Norwich and, according to his website, a ‘climate and environmental campaigner’. Whilst this can be seen as an impressive list of roles and beliefs, these aren’t the reason that Read’s name caught my eye.
Read has a long history of choosing to use his significant platform to promote particularly unprogressive stances on a range of issues. The most famous of these is his decision to post transphobic tweets during the 2014 local elections. Whilst he apologised for the tweets, he has also described the trans status as an ‘opt-in version of what it is to be a woman’. Read has since defended this and other similar positions under the guise of ‘academic freedom’ and ‘free debate’. At a time when the trans community is under continued attack from the government and certain public figures, the last thing we need is yet another voice that is open and willing to attack the community being put into a position of power in Parliament and within the Green Party.
further platforming Read’s views in the House of Lords can only be seen as a step backwards
Read’s unprogressive stand points sadly go further than his views on gender. He has, on multiple occasions, called for the ending of free movement and limits on migration to the UK, citing ‘falling wages’ and ‘reduced social cohesion’ as some of the reasons for doing so. While he is able to produce statistics that support his claims, his argument that migration is the problem, rather than other societal inequalities, is both unconvincing and pernicious. Yes, neoliberalism has driven down workers’ wages in recent decades – the dog whistle racism of blaming migrants is clearly meant to distract from this. Yes, society has become more atomised and insular – but this is a cause of intolerance towards migrants, not a result of excessive migration. Ever-comprehensive, Read does suggest some solutions, such as increasing international aid to stop the flow of migration to the UK. This is equally unconvincing, and stinks of white saviourism that ignores the effects the West has had on the areas he highlights as sources of ‘problematic’ migration. Increasing international aid will not undo the damage that bad trade deals and colonialism have done.
Whilst Read may claim to ‘love migrants’, he ultimately fails them in similar ways to many on the right, placing the blame on them for the ills of capitalism. Read enables and reproduces anti-migrant arguments in order to make them fit within his ecological arguments, but in doing so reveals that he ultimately has a warped understanding of the surrounding issues. If the Green Party is to continue being a progressive voice in both chambers of parliament, and keep to its commitment of tackling racism with society, further platforming Read’s views in the House of Lords can only be seen as a step backwards.
Finally, Read’s links with Extinction Rebellion should also be scrutinised. Read has increasingly been at the forefront of XR and their campaigns, and yet has said little when it comes to the group’s failings to deal with their issues around race. His continued silence on this is starting to become deafening, as he writes books on the future of the group but doesn’t comment on their naive attitude to the Metropolitan Police, who they seem to view as a potential ally despite the frequent unjust arrest of XR members, and the Met’s history of violence against people of colour. This silence is ultimately rooted in the belief that XR is ‘beyond politics’, a stance that Read himself applies to his own ideology. For Read, it seems, the urgency of the climate crisis renders all other political concerns irrelevant. This is an obviously harmful and privileged position. Absolutely nothing and no one is beyond politics, and in believing that you are, you allow yourself to remain ignorant to the issues that others face. This should be a cause for concern for Green Party members. It indicates that Read will remain silent when his voice could be the difference in helping end the oppression other people face. If the Greens want to be progressive force, they cannot elect a person like Read who has shown that he does not to care about the oppression of others. Yes, the climate crisis will kill us all if it isn’t resolved, but this doesn’t mean we can’t also fight to defend the lives and rights of people in other ways, something Read genuinely seems to not understand.
Ultimately, Rupert Read’s candidacy represents a serious issue for the Green Party. Read’s interests lie in continuing to promote his conservative-influenced ideology, which can be seen not only in his views on social issues, but also in his wider approach to environmental politics. The Green Party has stood out as the most progressive in England and Wales for a number of years. If it is to maintain that trajectory, it needs to elect a candidate that represents that progressivism. Rupert Read is not that candidate.
Featured image credit: UK Parliament via Wikimedia Commons
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