Caroline’s Courage; Natalie on ‘Westminster Hour’

Caroline Lucas has been vindicated. How can we best use the momentum gained by her courage at Balcombe? Using the Citizens’ Basic Income isn’t the first thing most people would think of. But just as Caroline’s action, knowingly risky, has gained the Green Party, and the opposition to fracking more publicity than anything else the Green Party has done, so, I believe would the ‘risky’ strategy of leading with the CBI. And just as Caroline’s protest was right in principle, so would that be.
Unfortunately that is not how the team leading the Green Party sees it. As I have argued in earlier blogs, opposition to fracking is futile as long as economic growth remains unquestioned as essential. Instead of shale gas exploration being taken seriously, the sheer horror of what it entails should be seen in the same light as a drunk waking up to find just how far he has sunk below normal civilized behaviour. But invasive, disruptive and violent as fracking is, and with the added risk that it involves a considerable but as yet unquantifiable increase in greenhouse gases, it remains absolutely essential – if economic growth is to continue. The USA is streets ahead of the rest in shale gas exploration and exploitation, and any country which gets left behind will become increasingly impotent economically. No one can allow themselves to be left behind in the rat race.
Of course the Tragedy of the Commons comes into it here. The short term logic says that even if we recognise fracking as a serious mistake, if we have shale gas, we must use it, now. But this is where the Green Party should have a unique role. Only the Green Party can establish the link between fracking and the maintenance of economic growth in the minds of the public. Ecologically stupid behaviour will continue regardless until there is a world-wide recognition of the need for the absence of growth to be at least a policy option. The Green Party was founded in response to Limits to Growth. There are elements in the Party now who downplay that connection, but for me it remains its chief raison d’être. Some forms of growth are desirable, necessary even, but it is a dependence on growth, irrespective of what it consists of, which is responsible for the ‘necessity’ of fracking.
But there is another driver of growth: there has to be something governments can tax. But no growth does not mean no economic activity. Revenue is essential, but it can be raised in a steady state economy on activities that do not increase resource depletion or pollution. Two obvious possibilities are Land Value Tax and Wealth Tax. But the unique role of the Green Party as a thought experiment trail blazer brings me back to the Citizens’ Basic Income. We can use fracking to show how pathological growth has become, but it will continue until whole populations can view a recession without fear of insecurity. I am still waiting to hear of a better candidate for this huge job than the CBI.
The pity is that there is a movement in Europe for a Guaranteed Basic (Citizens’) Income purely related to the reduction of inequality. The Green Party could link up with that movement – and incorporate it in the European election campaign –with this more fundamental reason. This is why I was disappointed by Natalie Bennett’s response to Carolyn Quinn’s interview on ‘the Westminster Hour’ (Radio 4) last Sunday night. A large part of the interview was taken up with the Green Party’s stance on immigration.
Divorced from the real world, Natalie’s explanation could be defended, and she did make the important point that no other party will make about the dangerous implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But having heard for example how staffing levels in Bulgarian hospitals are dire now, and deteriorating due to emigration chiefly to Britain, that Britain does indeed benefit from immigration is hardly something to our credit. But in that real world, there is a simplistic party preying successfully on the fears and insecurities of an ill, indeed mis- informed public. So far at they are concerned, hordes of impoverished foreigners are coming and taking both jobs and benefits. Natalie did nothing to disabuse anyone listening of their preconceived, illogical notions.
She could have cut through this by pointing out that if there was a Europe-wide Citizens’ Basic Income, even if it was not uniform (i.e it might be smaller in poorer countries), the intense pressure to emigrate from Bulgaria for example would be reduced considerably. A small Basic Income scheme in Namibia transformed the village of Otjivero where it was trialled. Why didn’t she? She tells me the CBI is too difficult to explain briefly. Natalie, Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works, (click ‘Pubications; Sept 2009) the supposed basis of Iain Duncan Smith’s workfare regime, shows, with graphs, that in Britain, means testing is a particularly nasty form of taxation on the poor. All the CBI does is shift that tax on to the better off. Instead, IDS is removing means testing (a good idea) by work compulsion, at a time of unemployment, and a particularly spiteful sanctions policy.
There, that didn’t take long, did it? At least you wouldn’t have got arrested.

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