Not an election post mortem

There are two news items more important than the Euro results which should now guide Green strategy: an incredible admission by ExxonMobil, and the imminent collapse of Universal Credit. I received a FT Alert on Sunday (25th May), just before going to the Euro count, headed “Climate change is a business problem”. After an unvarnished, accurate summary of the true state of climate change projections, it included the following:
“Some investors have started demanding that the companies they invest in find out what their climate risks are and explain how they are dealing with them. Perhaps the biggest fish of them all, ExxonMobil, the US oil group, has just published its assessment of its carbon risks after pressure from investors. While many were dismayed by its view that it faces no risk of its assets becoming stranded because governments lack the political will to implement the policies needed to limit temperature rises, it gives investors a platform on which to engage the company.”
I was told 40 years ago that the Financial Times could be relied on to give accurate information which you would not find elsewhere, however unpopular with most of its assumed readership, because many of them were investors with megabucks to spend. Thank you, FT for this still being the case.
In a recent blog, I outlined my seemingly paranoid view that an important cohort of climate ‘deniers’ were nothing of the kind. On the contrary, they clearly recognize the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, and its inexorable consequences. I postulated that not unreasonably, they would assume that nothing effectual would be done in time to prevent the crisis. On reading the FT alert, I rest my case. Except that I don’t rest there. In another blog I point how almost everything makes me think of the Citizens’ Basic Income. What if the premiss can be falsified, and governments can be given the necessary political will?

On Saturday (24th May) The Independent explains that in a report apparently deliberately timed to ‘bury’ inconvenient news under the election results, the government’s official annual review of around 200 projects of public spending approved all except the one on the introduction of the Universal Credit, which it described as
“Unachievable within reasonable timescales and to a reasonable budget without urgent remedial action.”
As soon as Caroline Lucas was elected as an MP, I pleaded with her to read ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works’, (September 2009) and use it against Iain Duncan smith. Admittedly this must have startled her because IDS had commissioned the report, which introduced the Universal Credit concept, and it is the basis for his appallingly cruel benefit cutting regime. Within the last month she has admitted to me that she still hasn’t read ‘Dynamic’. As soon as Natalie Bennett became Leader of the Green Party, guess what. I lobbied her to start using the Citizens’ Basic Income, pointing her in the same admittedly counter-intuitive direction as Caroline.
The strategy I suggest cannot be introduced in the heat of an election campaign. Now is the time to work towards an expected General Election a year hence. Forget for the moment that ExxonMobil are trashing the planet, and need to be stopped, urgently. Another of my blogs pointed out that Iain Duncan Smith, or more likely his aides, have been extremely skilful in hiding the logic of the first part of Dynamic Benefits, which is the Citizens’ Basic Income. In 1944 Lady Juliet Rhys Williams proposed just that because she realized that means testing would be a serious problem whenever there was not enough work to go round. This government has been allowed to get away with the preposterous project of workfare with draconian benefit sanctions in the teeth of a report, the first part of which unintentionally sets out a comprehensive case for the Citizens’ BI. Dynamic Benefits should have made obvious to everybody what Lady Rhys Williams knew without a report. But no. The Lib Dems are silent. The Labour Party’s Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves apparently see the same scroungers as IDS and Esther McVey, where in reality there are only desperate jobseekers but not enough jobs. But neither Caroline nor Natalie have so far done anything to break this incredible spell.
The cost?? I hear you ask. Just read Dynamic Benefits, and study the graphs (one is at the top of this page) showing the withdrawal of means tested benefits. All the Citizens’ Basic Income does, long before it starts taking on Exxonmobil, is shift that tax burden on to the shoulders of those who should bear it. It will mean a tax increase for the better off in the early stages, but that will be reduced once landlords can no longer force an upward spiral of rents via housing benefits.
A motion was passed at the last Green Party conference that we should give the Citizens’ Income a higher profile. Not being au fait with Party organization these days, what, if anything has been done pursuant to that motion? My starting assumption is that it will be found (or not) in the long grass. Both Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett agree with me in private that the CBI is a jolly good idea, but just now (i.e. any time during the last 40 years, and counting) is not the right time to try to explain it to the public.
Natalie has begun to speak about the Citizens’ Basic Income, but as yet she has not so far as I am aware done so in any mainstream media outlet. A passing reference might sometimes be appropriate for some soundbite snippets, but as per the ‘scripts’ I offered in blogs about a year ago, she has had in depth opportunities where instead, at most she batted an interviewer’s question on it defensively away. She has sent me a video which is illuminating
As you will see, the video is excellent. But Natalie’s contribution is limited by her left wing approach. In fairness, this is in keeping with the current complexion of the Green Party generally, but instead of being pitted against a critic of the principle, it was left to David Orrell to explain the aspects that will enable a reconciliation of old ideological enemies. Wage rates can fall as well as rise according to true, fair market forces, once everyone has the right not to work. I was particularly disappointed by this passage:
Natalie Bennett: “We need to make sure that corporations aren’t freeloading. The problem in Britain is our minimum wage is less than our living wage. You can work for 40 hours a week and not be paid enough money to basically live. And that actually means that things like housing benefit and family tax credit at the moment are actually corporate welfare, which are going straight into the profits of often very large companies that are paying too low a wage.
So what we very much need to do is actually make, now, before we get to a basic income, we need to make minimum wage a living wage. And we need to make sure that people aren’t being exploited under a system with a basic or citizens’ income.”
Natalie, if we want manufacturing to come back to Britain, and provided it is eco-sustainable, we do, then we must do all in our power to facilitate that from the employers’ point of view, be they large or small. You are still seeing employers as the old enemy. Sure, many were quite nasty, and some still are, but you have not fully internalized how the removal of compulsion alongside the reinstatement of a work incentive will play. Here’s a little thought experiment – not just Natalie, all of you. What is your opinion of Zero hours contracts? (Clue: the answers should be radically different with or without the Cits BI in place).
But thank you Natalie. We shall get there in the end.
I was going to comment on the election results, but the foregoing is enough for one blog post. I wasn’t going to do one next week, as I hope to be at the Citizens Income Trust gig at the British Library on Friday, where Natalie is on the platform, so I shall do an election vivisection (not a post mortem, the patient did not die after all) earlier in the week. But I fear my vision of the near future is not all sweetness and light.

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