Conservatives go Green after all?

My vision has always been left and right Greens uniting against their still growthist former friends. So why am I not thrilled by the formation of a Conservative Green coalition?

I have written at length on my disappointment that those who come to a Green world view from left of centre in general still see Tories as the enemy, who are assumed to be unanimously un-Green. It is true that much of the drive for economic growth without regard for ecological consequences is driven by those who could be broadly labelled capitalist, but I am told that I am out of date, if not plain wrong when I point out that doorstepping confirms what the 1989 European election showed dramatically: there are vast swathes of conservative heartlands where people are well heeled enough to worry more about saving the planet for their grandchildren than the day to day financial preoccupations common in Labour-voting areas.

Although the Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) is welcomed by socialists as redistributive, when I joined the newly-formed PEOPLE (now the Green Party) in 1973 I was able to persuade the founder members, who were all well off enough to be net payers under such  a scheme, that if saving the planet was to be achieved through democracy rather than a military dictatorship, then social justice in the form of the CBI was essential. I still believe that the CBI can form the basis of social cohesion once two important facts are recognized: 1. zero growth, which will look like a recession, needs to be an option, and the CBI is the only way so far thought of which will allow this, and 2 It is affordable because it merely transfers the massive tax inherent in the withdrawal of means tested benefits from those not quite in need of benefits to the comfortably off.

Some may dismiss my vision of social cohesion on the basis of the CBI as naïve. It has not been tested, but there has never been any likelihood of such a test. The CBI remains in the Green Party long grass. Approximately 19 out of every 20 people think it is a good idea once they have got their heads round it, but for most, the idea that it might bring them closer to their enemies would be unsettling. Green politics belongs to those who believe in social justice.. So there can be no question of a friendly approach any time soon from Conservatives who regard themselves as Green.

Perhaps the attempt by some Conservatives to win the Green agenda back, and somehow present themselves as greener than the socialists is the best that can be hoped for. They do have a major problem. At first sight that Owen Patterson, who is reported to have a closed mind against climate change, is a member of this new conservative Green coalition is bizarre. It certainly is from my perspective, as a member of a Party inspired by Limits to Growth, which warned that expansion of population multiplied by per capita economic expansion must sooner or later meet limits which humans ought to forestall. But in Patterson’s defence I have to admit that some recent members of the Green Party have what are for me equally bizarre ideas, for example that any attempt to help poor nations to limit population growth is a form of capitalist exploitation.

So it is apparent from the outset that the ‘Green’ agenda that can include Owen Patterson is not the same as mine, which aims to bring human economic activity within sustainable limits. But just as the Green Party appears to have become a rather broader church than I expected, is it not possible that some Conservatives are as worried as I am that we are in danger of trashing the planet? If there are, Owen Patterson is the least of their worries. George Osborne is quite clear that the economy must not be hampered by ecological concerns. Cameron has recently said he is worried about Green Issues, but it has not influenced his willingness to grant shale gas exploration licences. Among natural Conservative supporters, and  it is reasonable to assume, backers, are some formidable business interests whose return on investments would be severely curtailed if anything remotely close to what 97% of scientists say is advisable were to become policy. What do I expect any Conservatives to do, who think, as I do that although the Limits to Growth study made some guesses which turned out to be premature, we are still on course for a world-wide Tragedy of the Commons?

I don’t have a complete answer, but I repeat what I said in 1973 to the group who had responded to Limits: It needs to be possible for zero growth to be politically feasible for whole populations. Whether this turns out to be short term or longer is a debate which can be held in due course. Do they accept that proposition? If not, what alternatives do they have? If they do accept a steady state economy as part of the solution, have they any better ideas than the Citizens’ Basic Income to make it feasible? none of these questions are addressed by this conservative initiative.

Actually there is at least one Conservative who I once thought did indeed share my basic view of the ecological threat: Zac Goldsmith MP. His uncle, Edward Goldsmith co-authored Blueprint for Survival, based on the Limits to Growth study. Zac took over the editorship of the Ecologist magazine from Edward, and I agreed with every word either of them wrote. As per the page in this blog, I have already written an open letter to Zac with the above questions. I have reason to believe he read it. Not only did he never reply, but his subsequent career shows no sign of having given them any thought. At present, Zac is a great disappointment to me. So far as I am aware, Zac has not uttered a word on fracking. I cannot help wondering what Edward would make of that. Zac certainly wasn’t shoulder to shoulder with Caroline Lucas at Balcombe. He will no doubt say that as an MP subject to a party whip he is constrained. The same would presumably apply to my other disappointment. Does he or does he not regard social justice in the form of the Citizens’ Basic Income as necessary, or if not, how does he propose to sell the idea of sustainability, which will look like a recession, to large numbers of people? Perhaps he has thought about it, and secretly agrees with me, but he cannot say so because that might be the final straw which brings Iain Duncan Smith’s whole misconceived work compulsion edifice crashing down.

Zac, and his brother, Ben, are members of this new centre-right coalition. According to the Independent (26th February), it also includes Arnold Scharzenegger, Sir Stuart Rose, and Ex New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I shall follow its pronouncements with interest, but from the text as per the link above, we have a long way to go before we see my idea of a realistic Green Conservative movement. No doubt this Greenwash initiative comes now with the European elections in May in mind. I hope no one is fooled by it.

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