Labour’s workfare; More on the Pirates

Johnny Void says it all this week. All I need add is a reminder that the social justice case for a Citizens’ Basic Income is in Dynamic Benefits: towards welfare that works. Search for click ‘Publications’ and go to September 2009. It is the bedrock of Iain Duncan Smith’s Workhouse state. In case the link does not work, here it is again:

Can Labour really be just as nasty as Iain Duncan Smith? Just to highlight what a preposterous con trick Labour, and everybody else, are letting IDS get away with, in my blog on 21st February I pointed out that in 1942 Lady Rhys Williams tried to tell the Beveridge Commission that without a Citizens’ Basic Income, means testing would create a serious work disincentive if there was any unemployment. Means testing would be a serious problem, but only if there was less than full employment. Iain Duncan Smith’s inhumane forced work regime is based on a report that gives details of exactly what Lady Rhys Williams said would happen but only when there wasn’t enough work to go round. IDS is being described as both nasty and incompetent. Maybe so, but as Lady Rhys Williams could have told him without a report, anything short of the full Citizens’ Income was bound to fail no matter how brilliant he was. It is approaching collapse, but Labour, instead of giving it the coup de grace, well, as I say, just read Johnny void.

There may be an intriguing sequel. There is a scheme similar to a Basic Income in Iran. The Iranian government had no such intention, but a means tested scheme introduced to deal with price rises collapsed. The Iranians hadn’t heard of Lady Rhys Williams either. As Labour doesn’t even recognize the opportunity for applying the coup de grace, the Green Party could.

Back to last week. Benali takes me to task for calling him and others ‘Pirates’. But for me that describes something that is all too real. He personally may not be as closely associated as I first thought. I intend to reply to him at greater length, possibly next week. But there is a group bent on cutting the Green Party’s ‘Limits to Growth’ roots, and turning it into an anti-capitalist vehicle. Do they deny doing this or defend it? The gleeful exchange of Tweets and retweets pointing out my irrelevant inaccuracy (Thank you Josiah Mortimer for ‘fessing up as a Pirate) was all of a piece with the triumphalist approval in conference when an attempt to reinstate that link failed. The atmosphere for me, was very much that of victors and vanquished.

Carrie Bowes’ motion was an attempt to reinstate the ‘Limits’ connection. Had any of the Pirates deigned to attend and discuss it at the workshop, it would have been possible to explain that it was also an appeal to them to enter into dialogue, but given their attitude all we can do is appeal over their heads to the large number of Green Party members who have joined because they wanted the nearest thing to what the Labour party used to be, rather than being attracted by our fusion of social justice as essential, with a view of the Earth as a little ball in space, with the ecosphere –within which all known life exists – a thin shell around it.

Although the Pirate group is small, it is embedded within ‘Green Left’. I can understand the motivation. For anyone who really wanted to be a member of a Party that stood for what the Labour party stood for pre-Blair, the ’Limits to Growth’ aspect would seem neither here nor there, assuming they were even aware of it. Green Left, although a Party within a Party, tolerated the ‘Limits’ association, but the changes sprung on the Nottingham Conference in February 2013 by the Pirates would seem natural and obvious to anyone who came into the Green Party for its social justice policies, and who were at best extremely hazy about the eco-connection.

Just how serious a problem this is was highlighted by another conference motion, on Anti-Growth. At any time prior to 16th May 1994 (John Smith’s fatal heart attack) a motion urging the leadership to question the dominant growth shibboleth would have been fast tracked, if it was even needed. It is needed now, because the statements being put out on behalf of the Green Party recently are as likely as not to suggest ‘getting the economy moving again’. Caroline and Natalie have not recently questioned the growth paradigm, but Jenny Jones bless her, did do just this on a recent BBC Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’. It was a first for several years, to my knowledge.

Without exception the conference speeches against the Anti-Growth motion indicated that the speaker was either not aware of or not interested in ‘Limits’, or the motivation which led to the formation of the Green Party. That such a motion could actually be defeated on the floor of a Green Party conference was dreadful. On a card vote, it passed by 108 votes to 105.

I believe there needs to be a process of education on this aspect of Green politics for anyone who has joined only on the basis of its social justice policies. I shall no doubt be accused of patronising, but I rebut that by pointing out that Carrie Bowes, the proposer of the motion to restore elements of the original Philosophical Basis started from just that position. She took the trouble to find out. What she found was – and I make no apology for repeating this – that a fusion of social justice with a view of the Earth as a little ball in space, with the ecosphere –within which all known life exists – a thin shell around it, was essential. Yes of course there are sectors of the economy that need to grow!! But population growth multiplied by increasing per capita consumption must at some point outstrip the Earth’s capacity to cope. There can be a debate between those who think Enough is enough , and oppose growth on principle, and those who point out the unimaginable technological progress to date, and argue that continuing advances will facilitate growth within eco-limits, perhaps indefinitely. But that debate can wait. What is needed now, is for the absence of economic growth to be an option. (Hint: can anybody think of something which might facilitate this?)

Why is this option needed? (I cannot believe I have to ask that question). If there are members of the Green Party who do not think increasing economic activity is playing a significant part in extreme weather events, then consider fracking. It is an appalling technology. The ecological case against it is overwhelming. The effect on vast swathes of countryside is awful, but what terrifies me most is gas escape. Contractors claim that ‘only’ between 4% and 9% of methane escapes. It has been pointed out that anything more than 2% makes shale gas worse than coal as a greenhouse gas emitter. But how can they make such a claim with such a clumsy, violent technology? How can they know what proportion they are ’capturing’? As growth drives an ever more desperate search for shale gas, more and more gas is likely to escape.

But as long as growth is the dominant paradigm the economic case for fracking is also overwhelming. Shale gas has halved fuel prices in the USA. The Tragedy of the Commons dictates that anyone who fails to exploit resources will be at a disadvantage in the rat race. There is no point in opposing fracking unless you oppose aggregate economic growth. (How do we protect ourselves from economic weakness anyway? If you haven’t read it in my book (see link), it will have to wait until a future blog).

I did not get called to speak in the Anti-growth motion at  the green Party conference. No matter I thought, I was able to speak to Natalie Bennett afterwards. So it is worrying that she is reported as concerned at the narrowness of the vote. I suggested to her that she should, like Jenny, have been doing what the motion asked for anyway. I gave her the metaphor of smoking. Smoking may or not be therapeutic if you do it where no one else is affected, but what if you have to break into people’s houses because your are dependent on drugs?, Natalie. Please tell the Great British public that we need to get away from a dependency on growth. The vote helps you, albeit not as much as it should. That such a dreadful technology as fracking is even contemplated is evidence of a serious drug dependency. It is the equivalent of breaking into people’s houses. Come to think of it, it is breaking into people’s houses.

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