Another appeal to Natalie (#bbcaq)

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.

6 responses to “Another appeal to Natalie (#bbcaq)

  1. Clive, politics is about starting where people are (and then, if your arguments are correct, bringing them with you to where you want to go). You seem determined that everyone should start where your journey started, a long time ago, despite all the changes that have taken place since then.

    I think a better criticism of The Green Party leadership would be that it does not resonate sufficiently the public outrage against the EU as an undemocratic institution. I have heard people ‘defending’ the EU when there is quite plainly a democratic deficit and the EU is largely lobby-fodder for large multinationals. Criticism of EU imposed austerity is one thing but it tends to be our leaders’ starting and ending point.

    We cannot say we ‘support reform’ of the EU and not spell out what that means, and how our vision differs from the ‘big three’ parties who say the same thing.

    This is what is hurting our electoral prospects, not that we don’t talk about CBE enough.

    • You will have to explain how changes have made the CBI less relevant to either the dangers of growth dependency or widening inequality. I have tried to latch on to specific news events as they happen, for example a large family some months ago where the father had committed some outrage, the family being on mega benefits, how Zero hours contracts, an abomination under the present system, would make sense with a CBI, and Lord Freud’s rightly deplored remarks on pay for the disabled.
      But I am the first to admit that I am no salesman. I have set out the ideas. If anyone who agrees with them, and is better than me at publicising them, then over to you.
      Europe is another issue. You are right that business has gained control of it, but that does not affect the need to publicise the CBI in a European context.

      • I am not saying that there are changes that made CBI irrelevant or less relevant.

        I am saying that in politics you start with where people are: what are the issues that the millions are grappling with, and struggling about. Start there, not where you are. This is not about ‘sales’ in my view.

        To put it differently, it is a bit rich for you to criticise Natalie for not mentioning CBI when she has a TV appearance of less than 10 minutes (absolute tops, because mostly she is only able to provide a sound bite) when you, who has been grappling with the topic for years, are not able to immediately link it to the issues and problems faced by ordinary people today. And by ‘link it’ I don’t mean academically, I mean link it for ordinary people, i.e. for millions of people.

        Also I should point out for fairness that I only heard of CBI because Natalie mentioned it on TV. I googled it, and found your blog. So I do think that Natalie has tried to make the links between CBI and people’s day to day issues, to move people from a narrow view of the current crisis.

      • I have an idea which is not mainstream, and I think should be. How can it not be about sales? However, there are two groups whose immediate issues are addressed by the CBI. The most urgent is those subject to workfare, benefit sanctions, and work capability assessments. For the other group, the better off, Green concerns have slipped a bit. The economy is seen as more of a problem, and the deniers, whose motives and strategy I can understand, have been effective in the media. OK, the economy being dependent on ecology is where I am at, and the aren’t, but an aid to sustainability coupled with the sheer fairness of removing means testing shouldn’t be too difficult to get across.
        But I am the first to admit I am obviously the world’s worst teacher. If you agree with me, and are better at starting where people are, and can bring them round to the CBI, please do.
        Natalie has had in depth opportunities. My badgering her may or may not have been a factor persuading her to mention the CBI, but it is quite a recent development. You will have to go back into archive material to see a couple of early blog posts where I offer, for her future use, alternative scripts based on interviews she had with Andrew Neil and Caroline Quinn when they challenged her with the CBI.

  2. Hi Clive.

    I was hoping I might have a word with you about the citizens income model being expanded into eastern Europe.

    The workshop yesterday was perfect for me, I have a project model that is receiving interest in Hungary. I’ve been looking for a way of connecting that would have a local effect.

    I believe that the citizens income is a good step to achieving our objectives.

    I’ve emailed Pete Kennedy, I’m hoping he’ll be able to come up with a simple graphical explanation of how CI compares to the system now. With a few words, a ‘sound bite’ if you will.

    I was discussing last night about expansion into Hungary last night.

    One thing that is massively important! – it has to ‘bottom up’.

    hope you might be available for a chat?


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