On BBC Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ on Friday evening, I thought Natalie Bennett received more applause than any other panellist . Indeed, much of what she said merited that. Unfortunately the Saturday morning ‘Any Answers’ follow up rather dented that impression. One email confirmed my own feelings, regretting the apparent downplaying of ecological realities by the Green Party, of all people.
It must look a as though I am rocking the boat in the run up to an election, but for both tactical and philosophical reasons, the Green Party has to get the message right. I admire Natalie’s bravery in defying the otherwise general pandering to the fear of immigration. Objectively she is absolutely right: immigrants do benefit this country, and the problems are not their fault, though sheer numbers do aggravate them. Most immigrants are coming to jobs. At least some of these there were filling vacancies for which there were not sufficient qualified British nationals. I agree with Natalie that free movement of people is something which must be achieved.
But that is not yet possible with the disparities that exist. Fear of immigration is understandable. One ‘Any Answers’ phone-in did give experiences of competing for jobs unsuccessfully against non-english speakers. Racism is wrong, but it doesn’t exist just because some people are evil. We live in a society which takes economic growth for granted. Every so often that growth falters. Expectations are disappointed. The mentality of who gets in the lifeboat is inevitable. A party I refuse to name has captured this feeling, and the justice of what Natalie says will be no match for that.
The Green Party was founded precisely to try to move towards what will look like a recession, so that economic activity can be kept within ecological limits, in a way which does not give rise to the insecurities which in the past have unavoidably led to racism, and are now causing immigrants to be seen as a threat.
The Citizens’ Basic Income is crucial to this new approach in two ways. It removes means testing, and guarantees basic needs without the harsh regime being pursued by this government. Not having a job is not as good as having a job, but it is no longer devastating, and certainly doesn’t need to be the subject of compulsion.
But immigrants are taking the trouble to come to austerity-hit Britain because conditions are even more dire in their own countries. The Citizens’ income is right in principle here. It is right in other countries, and it is right as between countries. The forces driving people here have to be tackled at source.
I know why Natalie did not mention the Citizens’ Basic Income on ‘Any Questions’. It is too difficult to explain briefly. But this is a pain barrier the Green Party has to go though. Natalie has already announced on ‘Buzzfeed’ that the Citizens’ Income, to be referred to as the Basic Income, is to feature in the general election campaign. But when?
Green Party membership is burgeoning. It has passed 22,000 and is still rising. Meetings which used to be of 8 old hands, now have 24 new faces. Yet in by-elections we are still losing deposits, and an upstart party has captured the public imagination. Despite the applause, the Green Party’s current approach will do nothing to dent that Party’s progress.
Started now the Citizens’ Basic Income can appeal in the election to two very different groups, firstly, those who need to get Iain Duncan Smith off their backs. Rachel Reeves has promised that she will be no less harsh, just more efficient. Our manifesto will promise implementation of the Basic Income Scheme in 2020, but when, not if, the idea goes mainstream, it will be just like the fall of the Berlin wall, or not smoking on the London Underground. Something which was out of the question just simply happened. Whoever wins the election will have to bring in the Basic Income.
On the other hand, those who will have to pay more in taxes than they do now are intelligent enough to recognize a fair system. Regardless of any other considerations, all the Citizens’ Basic Income does is to remove the disguised taxation created by the withdrawal of benefits. And the better off are the ones more interested in preserving a planet fit for their grandchildren.
I have a vision of a very different society, and approach. Persuasion, not force, for work, and the possibility of stemming the flow of immigrants because they can create a viable economy at home. We can recruit people who would never identify with socialism, but who will accept the Citizens (Basic) Income as a price worth paying. It would help if the new membership can be educated as to what the Green Party was about when it was founded. This is an appeal to those new members, and to Natalie. It has to be worth a try.