Martin Wolf; Adam Ramsay and Benali Hamdache

When I first mentioned the Citizens Basic Income (CBI) to Martin Wolf, he dismissed it out of hand. So his endorsement of it in the FT has to be good news. He originally rejected it on two grounds:  firstly to pay everybody only to take money back form some was ‘churning’. I was more concerned by his second reason. He persuaded me that instead of trying to sell the CBI at Jobseekers Allowance levels (now £71.70pw) plus the Personal Tax Allowance shared fairly (another £25pw), if the object of the exercise was to remove the poverty trap/scroungers’ charter then housing costs must be included. In Leeds that would add at least £75pw. In that case, Martin Wolf said the standard tax rate would have to be at least 60%.

At first when I read his article in the FT on 11th February I thought he must have read my blog on 3.1.14, but he only mentions the CBI as a means of reducing inequality. In my blog I explained that although reducing inequality was an important beneficial side-effect, the main point of a CBI for Greens was to allow a zero growth economy – a recession – to be an economic policy option, instead of something which only happens by accident. . I don’t hear directly from Martin Wolf these days, so I don’t know whether he reads my blogs or not. Perhaps he can see difficulties I have not thought of, but I still look forward to a FT article on the CBI as a means of making the unthinkable thinkable

Regrettably, the rest of this blog is devoted to internal Green party issues, though I have no objection to bystanders watching the fight. Although the Green Party was founded in response to the MIT study Limits to Growth, it was made clear from the outset that ecological sustainability and social justice were interdependent. The founder members were well heeled, and knew they would be among the net payers when the Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) became a reality. They readily accepted that there would have to be a communal, but not necessarily egalitarian attitude to wealth sharing. The Citizens’ Basic Income would place the Green Party firmly left of centre. Our literature has made this dual raison d’être clear throughout. Even so, my original hope was that the CBI could be the basis for a rapprochement between ex socialists and ex conservatives. If the prosperous founder members could see the sense in this, why not whole swathes of prosperous middle England, who would be the net payers under a CBI scheme? Doorstep canvassing corroborated this hope. I did not mention the CBI, it would take too long, but ballot boxes confirmed that large numbers of people rather like the Green Party founder members did buy the notion that preserving the ecosphere might entail a less unequal society, and that they would be the ones who would have to pay for it. The 1989 Euro elections looked like final proof: the Green Party’s best result, 24.5%, was in Tory heartland Sussex, and our worst in England was 9% in Tyne and Wear, which was also the Conservatives’ worst.

Of course my pipe dream never was a serious possibility. In the main local parties were formed with a preponderance of former Labour inclined individuals, and the persistence of tribal attitudes on both sides meant that any ex Conservatives quietly went home. Once Tony Blair came on the scene Green Party membership more than doubled largely through recruits who were backing away in horror from New Labour rather than being attracted by Green issues. On the other side, although any attempt at dialogue by for example Zac Goldsmith, at one stage Editor of the Ecologist magazine would have been rejected by the new look Green Party, he has proved a disappointment in showing no sign of reacting in the way the founder members did to the logic of sustainability through the democratic process.

By February 2013 a majority of Green Party members were rather vague on its Limits to Growth basis. Nevertheless it was a nasty shock to some of us ‘aristocrats’, as I have been called (it was meant as an insult) when a conference motion was passed which downgraded the ecological side of the Party’s core message. The prime movers were two relative newcomers, Adam Ramsay and Benali Hamdache, though there are several others who form a tightly knit group who tend to speak and vote together. After gently, and in fun, sort of, chiding the Green Party for being an Old Labour refugee camp, a different metaphor became appropriate: Pirates have boarded, and are fighting for control of the ship.

Their approach contrasts sharply with that previously consensual within the Party. Over the years the Green Party has evolved mechanisms which facilitate discussion rather than conflict. We have fought like everybody else when, almost invariably, passionate convictions were involved, but at least we wanted to listen to each other and reach consensus. Not this lot. The Party has a workshop system, where anyone interested in a motion can discuss it prior to it being formally debated a plenary session. The Pirates treat workshops with contempt. The workshop seeking to reinstate the ecological side of the Philosophical Basis was consensually in favour But the Pirates had not attended it. In the Plenary Adam Ramsay rubbished the motion as ‘Environment, environment, environment’. The motion’s proposer was able to point out that that was a gross distortion. The motion did not receive the necessary two thirds majority, though I have seen comment streams where it was falsely reported as ’overwhelmingly rejected’.

Another unique feature at Green Party conferences, and many other meetings, is attunement. This is a minute’s silence at the beginning of every Plenary session, though it has been used from time to time over the years during heated debates, occasionally with clearly therapeutic effect. New members usually briefly find it weird, and then come to like its ‘Buddhist’ overtones Benali Hamdache did not even deign to attend the workshop on his own motion to get rid of attunement. Presumably he would rather fight enemies than try to explore common ground. If that is unfair, it is a pity we did not have the opportunity provided to discuss it. One objection I did hear to attunement was that people with certain disabilities were uncomfortable. After at least 25 years with disabled members attending without complaint, suddenly they are ammunition against quiet reflection. At least the motion fell.

Benali also brought an emergency motion to ban Population Matters from any further association with the Green Party, or attendance at any events. Emergency motions must be based on events which have occurred since the deadline for motions. The event in question was the statement by Population Matters that Britain should not shoulder the burden of refugees from Syria alone. I am not defending that statement, only the way it was handled. Emergency motions do not get a workshop. Almost without exception they are totally consensual and are quickly passed unanimously. On the contrary, if ever a motion needed a workshop, it was this one.

Population Matters have been a matter-of-fact feature of Green party conferences down the years. From time to time Roger Martin would come and give a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ talk which tuned with the Green Party’s approach, that world population was already too large, and that methods to help communities, especially women, to limit family size were advisable. Last February, a fringe debate took place between Roger Martin and Sebastian Power, one of the ‘Pirate’ group who argues for example that any measures to help women in under-developed communities to limit family size is an intrusion. The debate was civil enough. Apart from a vociferous minority sympathetic to Sebastian, I thought Roger Martin won the argument, but I confess to a bias.

But not only did Benali’s motion conflate the specifics of the response to the Syrian situation with this wider aim to remove population issues from the Green Party’s policies, it was yet again a determination to fight, not discuss. I have heard defences of the PM statement on the grounds that it was taken out of context. The appeal was for a wider co-ordinated response. But even if, for the sake of argument, we think the PM statement was misguided or worse, one strike and you are out was an extreme response. We could have censured them, and suggested that they were ‘on Probation’.

Oddly enough, I would like to offer Benali an olive branch, despite the evidence that he does not do reconciliation. He may dismiss what I am about to say as ‘patronizing’, but I have to risk that. I wish I could have a proper conversation with him, but it never seems convenient at conference. I am aware that Benali has been through some nasty experiences, especially as an immigrant. I can only guess how he feels, but I have to try. I think that if I had been treated as he has, my attitudes and life strategies would be rather similar to his, at least to start with. And therein lies my hope that he will change.

But there is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Green Party. Many of the changes the Pirates are pushing for seem perfectly reasonable to members who were comfortable with John Smith’s pre 1994 Old Labour, and haven’t really thought much about the ‘eco’ ideas. Some have started from that position, and changed. Carrie Bowes, for example, has taken the trouble to understand how ecological and social justice aims merge to the point where she could bring the motion to reinstate ecology in the Philosophical Basis. I was told by one Pirate “The Green Party has moved on. You will have to”.


6 responses to “Martin Wolf; Adam Ramsay and Benali Hamdache

  1. Hi Clive,

    a few quick responses:
    1) I don’t get the credit for the excellent new philisophical basis. Josiah Mortimer wrote it. The first time I saw it was at the Spring conference a year ago, when it passed. I think it’s great, but other than voting yes, I did nothing to make it pass.

    2) You discribe me as a relative newcomer, and imply that I haven’t tried to gt to grips with the environmental analysis of the party. So I thought I’d just tell you a few things about me, for context. I grew up on an organic farm in rural Scotland with parents spending their time rewilding as much of the farm as possible, and my dad writing a book “revival of the land” about the need to rewild the Scottish Highlands.

    I joined the (Scottish) Greens in 2001, mostly because of ths concern for the environment I’d learnt from my parents, and also because I’d become interested in the anti-globalisation movement. I was 14. Whilst I’m a relative newcomer compared to you, sure, I’ve been around longer than a significant majority of party members, including both the leader and the deputy leader (though I didn’t join GPEW until 2005).
    At university, I was very involved in the People & Planet group (an environmental and global justice NGO), running its environment sub-group, and ran lots of environmental campaigns in my time there. I went on to work for People & Planet nationally, initially in its climate team, where I helped take the treasury to court in 2009 over their failure to stop bailed out RBS investing in fossil fuels, and touring the country training up young people in environmental problems and solutions. I was then responsible for three years for its university network, again training thousands of young people in my time there in environmental problems and supporting them to campaign against them.
    I left that job six months ago, but am now a trustee of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, and of People & Planet.
    The reason I say all of this is that I think we have misunderstood each other. As I see it, you talk about Citizens’ Income and degrowth a lot because you see them as key to solving the environmental crisis. I think that equalising power relations and challenging capitalism is the key to solving the environmental crisis (and agree that citizens’ income is part of that). We might disagree about some things, but the problem, in my case at least, isn’t that I haven’t tried to understand environmental politics/economics. I train people in them. The problem is that we disagree about environmental politics/economics.

    Finally, if you felt I was, or other people were, confrontational, then I can only apologise. Other than the motion on growth, which I think I missed the workshop on because I was enducting new members, I hadn’t particularly planned on speaking on any of the motions before conference, which is why I didn’t go to the workshops. I only ended up speaking on things when points occured to me which hadn’t been made. On a similar note, Benali didn’t propose the motion on attunement.



    • Thank you Adam for replying at length. I must of course apologise for my factual inaccuracies. On your length of membership, I only became aware of you, and the differences between your world view and mine, around or perhaps slightly before the Nottingham Conference, Feb 2013. We both have firmly held views so that the main purpose of our dialogue must inevitably be each of us appealing to anyone watching. I imagine it could seem patronizing if I hinted that being shorter in the tooth than me, you are the more likely to move.
      I’m not sure if I need to apologise for making it ‘Ad hominem’. I could, if it would help to mitigate such a charge, name several other names who from my perspective, form a tightly knit group whose apparent intention is to wrench the Green Party from its ‘Limits to Growth with social justice’ roots and transform it into an anti-capitalist vehicle. As a necessary digression, I am far from pro-capitalist. My blogs outline my attitude and suggestions for action. I have even, quite recently, come round to the view that there is indeed a 1% conspiracy, completing the electrified fence round us 99% with the TTIP treaty, but their sheer stranglehold of the media, as well as all governments, means that old style anti-capitalism is not a realistic response. You ‘Pirates’ are an understandable, but mistaken response to facts we agree on.
      The worst moment for me, and the reason I singled you out, was your describing the Philosophical Basis motion as purely environmental, which it clearly wasn’t. I am under the impression that no one opposed to the motion attended the workshop.

  2. Hi Clive

    Hopefully I’m hoping this can be an opportunity to start up some constructive and positive dialogue. In the spirit of conference I have a number of “points of information” to proffer

    Firstly I want to start by not taking credit for others work! I’ve actually had no involvement with the rewrite of the Philosophical Basis and as far as I’m aware (I may be forgetting) but I’ve never spoken for/against it on the plenary floor. Equally my main involvement with the PB has been mostly chairing the workshops which I have done for this conference and for Nottingham. On this point I led the discussion on the PB, which did mean that as chair I was neutral and didn’t have the chance to offer my opinion on the document.

    Indeed my own opinion is that the entire document is not fit for basis. It’s far too long, and really should be a few sentences that encapsulate Green Party ideals and be printable on the back of a membership card. As it stands it’s too long, and is not a public facing document which defeats the purpose of it slightly. But then again this is my own personal opinion rather than a majority view! (But it does show that the workshop report (which I gave!) had more to it than just a consensus)

    Regarding the PB I think the chair’s official report was to close to call on whether it was a majority in favour or a majority against, which I think is probably the most fair and accurate summing up of the vote.

    Regarding attunement I must restate that I wasn’t actually the main proposer. On not being able to attend the workshop I hold my hands up. It had been a long and exhausting conference, and I must confess I overslept. I hoped some of my fellow proposers would be able to attend, but please don’t interpret a sense of exhaustion as a desire to avoid discussion. Indeed a massive point of regret is that the discussion regarding attunement did not really cover the issue of accessibility sufficiently. In a fringe afterwards on mental health we ended up discussing how those with anxiety struggle with attunement, and indeed anxiety makes speaking up in front of plenary even harder.

    On Population Matters I want to pull out the action points on the motion. They were:

    We call on conference to state that it strongly believes that the UK has an obligation to accept Syrian refugees, and that Population Matters campaign is condemned by the Green Party. Equally the Green Party reaffirms that scapegoating of refugees and migrants for the environmental crisis is pernicious and has no place in the party

    In my view this is as you described a censure for Population Matters! There is no call for them to be banned from conference, and I feel the motion actually did exactly what you thought was the best option. Nothing in the motion called for an end of discussion of population. I fear a sense of siege mentality of PopMat has clouded what was actually in the motion.

    And on this I really must point out some of the troubling response to that motion. The only reason it was discussed was because of TWO acts of political violence. Where attendees stole the motions to prevent their discussion. Equally troubling are the level of epithets hurled at me regarding the motion. I’ve been called a liar, a sophist and a member of the far left. Also the heckling during motions is once again becoming too much. I really do hope that we can staunch any building toxicity in what should be open and frank discussion of views.

    On my own particular political journey, I’ve never actually been a Labour member/sympathiser. Indeed I’m actually a former Liberal Democrat. I highlight this just to discourage broad brush generalisations. Those that are new to the party come for a wide range of political predilections. We often disagree with each other, and we do engage in frank and honest discussion with each other. Indeed for instance I voted against Adam Ramsay’s proposal to add support for a Crimean referendum into the Ukraine motion. I really do think calling us pirates is an unhelpful way of engaging, and paints a broadset of people with differing political views in a negative light.

    I hope actually we can focus on the things that unite us as Greens, rather than the small or indeed misunderstandings that divide us.

    • Thank you Benali for your reply. As you will be aware, I have also received a comment from Adam Ramsay, and replied to him. Similar ground is covered in both. Apologies for inaccuracies, especially over the PB, but as I said to Adam, from my perspective there is a group who appear to have the aim of converting the Green Party into a purely anti-capitalist party, and is in the process of cutting off the ‘Limits to Growth’ part of its roots. For me that feels quite threatening. I associate you with that group from the motions you have signed along with others whom I identify as being in that group. I deplore the removal of the motion from the display board, and the abuse you received. It did seem to me that a pattern was emerging of not attending workshops, but in time that can be shown to be due to other factors.
      Did you ever read my blog ‘Oil on troubled water’ in response to Violeta Vadja’s comment, on Bright Green I think? Prior to Green, by which I mean sustainability issues becoming relevant, it was true to say that only right wingers with an agenda we deplore addressed either population or immigration. I have seen comments on twitter, etc. that anyone who raises either now must be a fascist. For us oldies, population was riding fast, and land degredation due to over-use was already being reported. For me, population is fundamental to a sustainable planet, but I would never make an issue of it because social justice measures should bring down birth rates just as in most affluent countries. I have never understood why our speakers, and this applies to both Caroline and Natalie, don’t make more of the principle underlying the citizens’ basic income. share necessities however defined unconditionally, and you can allow whatever rules you like for anything else. This could – should – be applied as between nations as well as between individuals within a nation. Remove the pressures to emigrate. It would then make sense to express doubts about growing numbers in a densely populated country in the same breath as abhorrence at demonizing immigrants. I mention this because, as I said in my blog, I think if I had gone through your experiences, I would have reacted as you and Violeta did to the ‘Guardian’ letter. This may have led me to associate you with the ‘Pirates’, who are a real and present danger for me, when from your biography you may be coming from somewhere slightly different.

    • Sorry, your point is not clear to me. I refer to Benali as an immigrant, which he was. Its only relevance was the way he was treated.

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