Josiah Mortimer (& others) and ‘Limits to Growth’

This is a plea, not confrontation. Actually the problem can be avoided if the Citizens’ Basic Income becomes the central plank in the Green Party’s platform, as I shall explain later. I was rightly taken to task for criticizing Josiah during the election campaign, but by the same token, if I do it at all it has to be now. But I must stress, it is dialogue I am hoping for. Josiah has said he objected to some comments. If I have written anything I need to explain, defend or apologize for, perhaps he will be specific, but he has certainly upset me. I keep asking that
The Green Party was formed in response to warnings that we were trashing the planet
be inserted in all literature. It very rarely has been, and now that connection has been effectively severed by a motion brought by Josiah to the February 2013 Green Party conference.
Green Party membership began to rise steadily after Blair thatcherized the Labour Party, and that influx appears to have been increased more recently by those who initially gave the Lib Dems the benefit of the doubt, but who have finally become disillusioned, and possibly by more Labour supporters who gave Miliband the benefit of the doubt. I fear that has more to do with a significant rise in Party membership during the recent election campaign than the above one-liner in bold. So a majority and a growing proportion of members have not joined for the original raison d’être of the Green Party. Our first, and every subsequent manifesto until February 2013 made clear that preserving life support systems and global social justice were interdependent. It has never been true, as proponents of the motion said, that social justice was underplayed.
This would not have mattered if new members had gone though some sort of ‘induction’, acquainting them of the Party’s initial philosophy, based on ‘Limits to Growth’ and its efforts to combine the twin pillars. In some areas, notably the Citizens’ Basic income, the link could be made naturally, but in others, such as population and therefore migration an acceptance of ecological limits restricts options in a way not only not obvious, but unacceptable to anyone starting from an ‘Old Labour’ or Lib Dem perspective. But of course no party risks losing new members in this way. Large numbers of local parties became effectively Old Labour refugee camps, either oblivious of the ‘Limits to Growth’ origin, uninterested in it, or actually believing it should have no place in the party.
There are a number of visible tips to this iceberg, and this is where I shall name names, but I am appealing not only to the named individuals, but also to any member to whom any of the above applies, to at least make themselves aware of how the Party originally combined social justice with sustainability. One unpleasant moment occurred at the last GP conference in Liverpool, February 2014. A motion to restore the ‘Limits’ connection failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority. This was greeted with triumph. Not much prospect of dialogue with some. To be fair, Josiah was not there, so I remain hopeful that he for one will re-think his position after hearing the full story.
One of worst examples of the new thinking was a Twitter (I think) exchange with Howard Thorp (who I think was there when the ‘Limits’ motion was discussed).
Me: You see capitalism as an enemy to be defeated before anything else can be done. But how exactly?
Howard: No need. It will collapse under its internal contradictions.
I laughed outright on reading this. But I needed to understand. It could make sense if you ignore or discount the ‘Limits’ approach. Howard may be right, but on my reading capitalists will have wrecked the ecosphere first. Another example was the ‘No growth’ motion, also at the last Green Party conference. At any time prior to 1994, when the ‘Old Labour’ influx began, such a motion would have been meaninglessly unnecessary, but if it reached the Agenda it would have been fast tracked. That such a motion could be defeated on the floor of conference and only scrape through 108 – 105 on a card vote shows vividly how far the party has drifted. But among the speeches against was one by Laura Bannister saying that we needed some types of growth. Of course we do. But is an MEP candidate unaware of the reasoning behind ‘Limits’, that it is a dependency on growth as an unquestioned need that the Green Party was formed to challenge? Will Duckworth was catapulted into prominence in the name of gender balance without a grasp of the ‘Limits’ perspective.
I had a useful conversation with a new member recently.
Him: There are one or two policies I don’t agree with.
Me: What’s your worst beef?
Him: Being against GM crops.
Me: What about fracking?
Him: Oh that’s terrible. I am totally against it.
I explained that for me, growth was the key. The ecological case against fracking is overwhelming, but as long as growth is essential, the economic case for is also overwhelming, so it will continue. The capitalists will make sure of that. The eco-case against GM is similar in that as long as growth is a must, so are GM crops. I think they are a risk we should not need to take, but we can only hold a debate about which new innovations are acceptable and which are dangerous when the option of not expanding the economy is possible.
Before I comment on how the Citizens’ BI may yet save us, an intriguing possibility has occurred to me. Another name. Derek Wall enthusiastically helped the Pirate boarding party up the sides of the Green Party ship because they were saying exactly what he has been saying for around 30 years: capitalism has to be smashed first. But the difference between Derek and Howard Thorp is that Derek does take account of ‘Limits to Growth’. So we have a triangle. We all three agree that capitalists are a serious problem. I am not clear on how Derek would defeat them in time, but I believe our only hope is to get them on side. This should not be as difficult as socialists make out. To avoid the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is in capitalists’ long term interests. But how?
You’ve guessed it: the Citizens’ Basic Income is a first step. At the Citizens’ Income Trust event on 6th June Natalie Bennett spoke on ‘The essential basis for a sustainable economy’. Hers is a socialist perspective, so athough I am slightly disappointed, I must accept that, but I must put a couple of markers down that at some future point the above fault line within the Green party may cause tremors again, if not enough former Labour and Lib Dems have come round to the original Green vision, having been made aware of it. Mind you, at 79.66 years of age, what kind of threat am I making? There are others unhappy about the new look Green Party, but I appear to be the only one of the old guard who sees the Citizens’ Basic Income as an important initial step towards the healing process. For the time being though, we can forget my notion of the Citizens’ Basic Income making a recession a thinkable option for governments, so that they can make realistic plans to prevent environmental destruction, and my hopes of reaching out to former enemies. I must also live with my worry that if the Cits BI merely enabled the poor to spend money confiscated from the rich, we would be no nearer avoiding the ‘Limits’ scenario.
So the route to the few who are the greatest threat will be more circuitous than it should be, but the Green Party, new and old members should be able to agree on a socialist version of the Citizens’ BI. Do any of you read Johnny Void’s blogs? Or BoycottWorkfare? You should. They are full of the latest turns of Iain Duncan Smith’s screw on the weak and vulnerable. But with the occasional exception of the Independent or the Guardian, What should be a cause for protests to dwarf the Poll Tax goes unnoticed. This is a gap in the political landscape open to the Green Party. In case readers have not read all my blogs, I refer you to centreforsocialjustice.org.uk, click ‘Publications’ and find ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works’ (Sept 2009) the first part of which unwittingly gives chapter and verse the case for a Citizens’ Income on social justice grounds.
This is a long way from affecting the big bad guys, but the notion of limiting growth can come later. Not too much later, but one thing at a time. Josiah? Howard? Laura?

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6 responses to “Josiah Mortimer (& others) and ‘Limits to Growth’

  1. You write well and highlight something that’s been of concern to me since the new influx started, that of changing values without proper understanding of the original principles. That I’m right on this isn’t comforting.

    I’d like, though, to pick up on the more worrying kind of unthinking I’d expect from a member of “Green Left” (as opposed to what other kind exactly?), that “capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions”, a line I’d expect more from the SWP and mocked heavily by reformed ex-Trotskyist author Ken MacLeod.

    I’m not going to say that’s not a possibility but I am going to say it must not be allowed for the same reason a drunk bus driver must be stopped before he crashes and kills the passengers. That kind of sentiment is the kind that hungers for bloody revolution and heaven help anyone who suffers that means of change.

    I think it was Peter Tatchell who tweeted an article reckoning that we weren’t that far from civilisational collapse, an article that made no bones that the poorest would suffer first and the richest last under such a collapse. With capitalism woven so heavily into the fabric of our civilisation its collapse would ensure this and great suffering would be ensured.

    Like an old house with a timber frame riddled with rot, allowing the frame to collapse would ensure the collapse of the house itself, instead it is better to bring in temporary scaffold supports that will support the building while the rotten wood is replace with something more healthy.

    That’s pretty much the only way I see of doing things with stability, that anyone with such clumsy and ill-thought out sentiments should have any level of prominence is worrying.

    • Thank you for the support. I am getting fewer hits recently. I think the hard left have decided to ignore me. There is one possibility not ruled out on the evidence as I see it, that at least some on the hard left actually have a strategy of wrecking the Green Party. Some of them keep chopping and changing parties, and the general pattern of events at Brighton would be consistent with this. But whether or not there is a grain of truth in this, my own strategy is to appeal to the influx you identify as having changed our values without a proper understanding of the original principles. People like Laura Bannister for example. I don’t think she is one of the ‘Pirates’, but she has reached a prominent position with unreconstructed views.
      I hope you see the Citizens’ Basic income as scaffolding which will prevent the collapse Peter Tachell envisages. Temporary? Not the underlying principle: everyone has sufficient, on condition they do nothing to harm the environment. Capitalists, no doubt nasty, the lot of ’em, are not by and large stupid, just mostly focussed on the immediate. I actually believe that SOME of them realize that to avoid the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ would be worth paying for, and that a Cits BI would give them value for money. Hey, don’t tell anyone that yet. For now, I’ll settle for the socialist version.

      • I can certainly see the need for basic support, I was more seeing CBI as part of the new structure. I don’t expect change can be made overnight and so a lot of temporary measures will be needed to prevent problems. After all, what are people on ESA and JSA going to do if their time is up before they can be enrolled on a new system for guaranteed income? In that case, automatic extensions and condition-free signing on would be the scaffold until all can be transferred over.

        There will always have to be the extended support structures as well to be restored; NHS, child costs, disability and so-on. As important as a basic income would be, needs vary and I think it could not be sufficient on its own.

        On the hard left, I’m not convinced their intention is to wreck any movement so much. The SWP had a history of hijacking important social issues for their own ends, to turn these into a vehicle for their own agenda. I don’t think it’s necessarily different in the Green Party. There are types who, recognising the popularity of any social-justice centric group, will try to get in through the back door so they can associate their agenda with it in the hope of attracting more people to it.

        Of course, as the outcome is that they usually do wreck these movements it doesn’t make any difference to the problems they bring.

  2. Hi Clive

    Thanks for the mention. I think you must have misheard me. I never used those words. However capitalism is driven by capital accumulation which = compound growth and every environmentalist knows that is impossible to sustain on a finite planet.

    It follows that capitalism will end when limits to growth are reached. The global economy will then become a post-capitalist economy.

    I have been an environmentalist for 40 years and I find odd that some Greens seem to think that they possess a secret knowledge that no one else in the UK is aware of. I think you’ll find that many people outside of GPEW understand what is happening to the planet very well – even people who have recently joined!

    What troubles me us that some Greens don’t understand how our – capitalist – economy functions and are naive enough to think that there can be a capitalist solution to climate change, resource depletion etc.

    I am trying to set up a fringe on ‘Building a Green Economy’ so hope to see you there. That’s the best place to discuss these issues

    Cheers

    Howard

  3. Having re-read that I see you are referring to a tweet not something I’d said. I’d have to check because I don’t recall but I’m quite happy to let capital accumulation stand as an ‘internal contradiction’. There are others I could mention but let’s have that debate at conference.

    • Having denied saying what I quoted, you reiterate that capitalism will end when limits are reached. As I said, you may be right, but too late, There is no point in a long discussion. You and I are hard liners. We can only await what others (if any) watching our debate make of our positions.
      OK, for the sake of argument, let’s say you have been where Derek Wall has been all the time, recognizing that the Green Party was a response to ‘Limits’, but insisting that as long as capitalism remained, any measures towards sustainability were futile. My complete answer is in my book and blogs, but to try to put it in nutshell, cultural inertia – society as a whole – capitalism came into being to service it. There was an incisive comment on a FT alert recently. The Article was by Martin Wolf on investment in climate damaging energy sources. The comment gave a penetrtating isider’s view on why no one in the system could stop its inertia UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE.
      I have had the face to face discussion you suggest with Derek Wall. He discounts the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ because it was used as a pretext for the Highland clearances. Hardin’s essay is spot on in specific circumstances. Hardin himself missed it – he thought he had discovered a general principle, which Elinor Ostrom was able to rubbish. The ‘Tragedy ‘ happens when a culture based on expansion reaches limits. There were no capitalists on Easter Island.
      You don’t comment on my suggested role for the Citizens’ Basic Income. That saddens me.

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