Oil on troubled (immigration) waters?

This is chiefly an appeal to Violeta Vadja through Brightgreenscotland, because I wish to explore reconcilitation. The story so far:

Natalie Bennett speaks publicly condemning the scapegoating of immigrants, and suggesting an ‘open door’ policy on immigration (apologies in that I have not read the text, I have read accounts of it from diametrically opposed viewpoints)

Sandy Irvine, Nicola Watson and Chris Padley, long standing members of the Green Party, get a letter published in the Guardian criticising Natalie’s stance. They are accused of undermining her authority.

Brightgreenscotland publish a letter from Violeta Vadja, a Rumanian immigrant member of the Green Party, taking serious offence at the Guardian letter. She leaves the door open for dialogue, but demands an apology first. This is re-tweeted widely, including demands for an apology to Violeta.

I admit I am not independent. I share the frustrations which led the letter writers to go public at a time they admit is not ideal, with the Euro Elections in the offing (when would be?). The first thing which needs stating is that the Green Party does not have a policy of unrestricted immigration. Natalie was not adhering to party policy. We were not consulted about that, either. Nevertheless I must start with a criticism of the Guardian letter. (I have not read that either, but I do have Violeta’s letter quoting the passages which have offended her) What most definitely IS Party policy is the clear distinction between the issue of numbers, and any personal characteristics of immigrants. This is what distinguishes the Green Party from right wing parties. The letter should have started with a statement of support for Natalie’s condemnation of scapegoating. I have been criticised as ‘patronising’ when I acknowledged the depth and intensity of the experiences Violeta and her community have had to endure in this country, believing that those experiences may have led her to lump the letter writers with the real culprits. A statement simply reiterating the Party’s concern over numbers does NOT justify an accusation of distinguishing between deserving and undeserving immigrants, but a reference in the letter to the Green Party’s attitude to immigrants, as distinct from immigration would have helped Violeta not to make this mistake. Who does distinguish between e.g deserving anthropologists and illiterate gypsies? The Financial Times endlessly quotes advocates of immigration who welcome healthy young individuals who have been educated and highly qualified at some less affluent country’s expense.

So Violeta’s understandable and justified anger has spilled over on to three people who did not make their actual views as clear as they should. But, I am asking that similar allowances are made for them. They too had built up a head of resentment because the current presentation of the Green Party is at variance with the founding ethos – the preservation of a sustainable world fit for future generations. Membership has increased considerably recently. The new intake is passionately concerned with social justice, but due to the under-playing of the ‘sustainability’ pillar of Green policy by our recent leadership and media presenters (not just Natalie), they could be forgiven for hardly noticing it. At all events many recent members give the impression of not understanding the concept of a finite planet, which was the original raison d’etre of the Green Party

This is a plea to Violeta and other new members, to try to understand our viewpoint. From the outset the Green Party made it clear that social justice and sustainability depend on each other. Over the years this has been refined. Although global population numbers, particularly in the affluent west, and the fact that Britain is crowded have always been taken into account, social justice has always been recognized by the Green Party as needing to be world-wide. If every individual world-wide is expected never to do anything which harms the environment, then everyone, everywhere must be given a sense of physical security. The pressures for immigration which are so intense that some risk death in freezer containers or work in Morecambe Bay, should be dealt with by a greater sharing of resources between nations. Accepting that the planet, and Britain, are finite raises problems which do not have to be dealt with by anyone who has up to now been concerned exclusively with oppression and fair shares.

Obviously I cannot explain at the tail end of a blog the difficult balance which the Party has attempted to reach over many years. I was accused of behaving as an ‘aristocrat’ for mentioning that I was a founder member. But the Green Party can achieve what the new, socialist members want without ditching what we longer serving members have built up. Rather than a fight which may well wreck the party, and is unlikely to lead to the result the new members want, please take the trouble to understand how social justice AND a sustainable planet can go hand in hand.

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9 responses to “Oil on troubled (immigration) waters?

  1. I think you misunderstand the philosophy of ‘new members’ like me. I believe very strongly that social justice and environmentalism can’t be separated – we can’t have either without the other. Most of my fellow socialist Greens would agree. The recent increase in our display of our social justice viewpoints has really been to put it on par with our publicising of environmental issues. I think we have a vital role in pointing out the environmental concerns in debates around social justice and the impact to social justice of environmental issues. Ecosocialists believe the environmental crisis is largely a structual crisis due to our economic system and that transitioning to a socialist society is necessary (but not sufficient) to being environmentally sustainable. However, I don’t believe that immigration or population are problems – the real issue is the economic system with its vast inequality, run away consumerism and requirement for endless GDP growth.

    • We appear to agree on essentials. I would simply amend your last line to read
      “The main immediate issue is the economic system with its vast inequality, run away consumerism and requirement for endless GDP growth.”
      But that does not rule out population as a component in achieving sustainability. The recent piece in ‘Green World’ accusing those concerned about population as blaming underdeveloped nations for climate change shows a very different mind set to that previously consensual within the Green Party. Our concern about numbers of immigrants does not mean opposition on principle, but our policy is not the complete open door which I gather Natalie expressed on the Party’s behalf. I will not expand here, except to emphasise that the GP has always firmly tied ecology (subtle difference from ‘the environment’) with social justice for everyone, everywhere. From the standpoint of the Guardian letter-writers and me, there are too many indications that there is a push by some to remove some fundamental policies and significantly change what the Party is about. If you are not a part of that push, and your taking the trouble to comment suggests that you are not, then I hope you can understand how we feel, and enter into dialogue and dissuade those who appear to want to defeat us in battle.

    • Duncan,
      I agree with much of what you write – we both value social justice and the environment – but I think you’re muddled about the relationship between them.

      First you say “social justice and environmentalism can’t be separated – we can’t have either without the other.” But then you say that “a socialist society is necessary (but not sufficient) to being environmentally sustainable”. Both cannot be right.

      I agree with you that the environmental crisis is largely a structural crisis – though I think the ‘system’ includes many non-economic elements, eg politics, media, lobbies and academia. That view, unhappily, makes it harder to see workable solutions.

      And I think that ecosocialists need to work harder both at exposing the system and at explaining the nature of the socialism they favour. The last century saw many atrocities done it its name and it is not good enough to say ‘we’re not like that’. Of course you’re not but the protections must be structural.

  2. I was interested to see you were blogging on this topic. What I fail to see anywhere are any facts. Where are the facts and information that back up your comments re being a finate set of resources in this country? When (in your opinon) would we reach optimum population in the UK and where is the information to decide that?

    • Over the years such facts have been published, but it is more a matter of mind set. There are those who maintain that many more could be accommodated in a given area, whereas others think in terms of optimum amenities, and leaving a margin to spare in our demands on the ecosphere. Resources in one country cannot be isolated from global resources. You are probably aware of the recent survey which revealed that 98.4% of over 2,000 scientific papers confirmed that human activity played a significant part in global warming. Britain has already exceeded its optimum population using its ecological footprint as a guide. Of course to correct this would mean lower demand per capita rather than juggling numbers. But the GP does not oppose immigration on principle, it just doesn’t have a completely open door policy.

    • I am not very sophisticated on the internet, and as a result of your comment I have only just read the full list of comments up to 14th August on the brightgreen article.
      By stating at the end that you would never vote Green, you undermine some perceptive and relevant comments on our internal debate. The Party was founded in response to ‘Limits to growth’, i.e the concept of living sustainably within a finite planet, and we early members very quickly identified this as inextricably bound up with social justice world-wide, however difficult that would be to realize in practice. If you agree with that proposition, then you should be in the Party doing all in your power to correct the failings you identify.
      You are of course technically correct in drawing attention to some admissions which Violeta makes, but there are other aspects much more important to me, in particular the real agenda of most of those demanding an apology. For example I found the following comment by Lynton J. North revealing as well as offensive:
      @Clive. Talk about pouring petrol on the flames! To respond in your conclusion “I can understand why Violeta might be sensitive given her experiences..” Talk about patronising! Fortunately The Green Party is NOT an aristocracy, so your constant inferences as a founding member that the rest of us are betraying YOUR founding ideas are of no relevance. Move on sir. I think the party has.
      He sees an acknowledgement of unpleasant experiences as a possible explanation for a mistake as ‘patronizing’, and then couples this with an attempt to isolate me as an ‘aristocrat’, explicitly stating that in his view the party no longer holds to its founding ideas.
      You hit an important nail on the head when you draw attention to the comment
      We feed into an intrinsically right wing agenda by discussing immigration
      Until the principle of limits to growth became an issue, the only people who expressed concern about immigration did so on racist grounds. The Green Party does have to go out of its way to distinguish our motives from theirs.

  3. The lack of integrity in politics is an open wound. And confusing racism with culture, or accusing culture-harpers of racism, risks shutting down a very cogent argument. A Romanian in a van driving along a country road in southern England looking for the leaded roofs of churches brings something very different to England than a lover of the Thomas Hardy novels, to give just one example of a dangerous focus on people as merely economic agents; it risks putting a price tag on the intangible values that a culture builds up, only to be brushed aside as unimportant by those who think that economic indicators are the lifeblood of a country. It’s not democracy that makes the West the best, it’s meritocracy, and immigrants who insist on preserving their clan and family loyalties uppermost within a meritocracy undermine the very system that attracts them. Quite apart from the limits to growth argument, this is a very real concern and is unrelated to racism. Albanians are as unmeritocratic as Afghans, and Albanians are “white”. Some Britons are decidedly unmeritocratic, but they no longer run Britain. Is this argument really racist?
    Here’s a link I just discovered as I explored this idea of meritocracy and democracy:
    http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2005/05/04/unmeritocratic-india-undermines-democratic-india/
    Meritocracy is an issue worldwide. Maybe the biggest elephant in the whole room.
    A political agenda has to be complex to deal with complex issues.

    • Actually it’s a bit more complex than that. Democracy has direct value in providing the least powerful with some power. For instance, Amartya Sen has argued that democracies don’t have famines because letting voters starve is bad politics.

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