How Natalie and the press team can redeem themselves

I once knew a girl who made money playing snooker in pubs by being rubbish in the first game, but I don’t think that is Natalie’s strategy. I am impressed by her usual steadiness under hostile questioning during her 2½ years as Green Party Leader. Although the media will now watch her closely, I think the anti-histamines she was taking for her infection had the known side-effect of dulling the intellect. She should have been in bed.

A substantial number of Green Party members share my conviction that the Basic (Citizens’) Income is a key part of the answer to austerity, which would have happened anyway due to environmental limits. Thanks to those who share this vision, the last Green Party conference passed a motion which required the Basic Income to feature in the 2015 Election Manifesto.

Publicity could have been managed for maximum exposure reinforcing the Green surge, but this did not happen, leading to the worst of all worlds. The policy has been publicised belatedly and half-heartedly, and innumerable news items to which it was relevant were ignored. Finally it was predictably attacked, and the Green Party tried to abandon it. The sharp rebuttal on the Citizens’ Income Trust website to the Guardian attack was not used, another squandered opportunity. Instead, anyone who has noticed has been given the impression that the policy is ill thought out or stupid per se, or both, and the Green Party must be stupid.

I am sorry to have to criticize at this late stage in an election campaign, but the damage has been done, and the only way I can see to repair it is to give the Basic Income maximum publicity now. Natalie is going to have to read, learn and inwardly digest the Basic Income, and explain it at every opportunity. This is a tall order, but I think she is a tough cookie who, when fully fit will welcome the opportunity to turn recent lapses to advantage.

I have been trying to brief Natalie for two years, but better late than never. My blog and my book and other books, notably by Philippe van Parijs, Guy Standing, and Malcolm Torry give the full picture. They mostly concentrate on the social justice aspect, with only passing references to the ecological relevance, but all share the new vision of a culture based on persuasion not force.

Specifically, my blog posts of 11.4.13, 17.4.13, 25.4.13, 12.914, and 30.11 14 offered help which could have enabled Natalie to use the ‘car crash’ interview with Andrew Neil to powerful effect. Four recent posts including my answer to the Guardian ‘Euromod’ attack (1.2.15) provide more material, as does my ‘2015 Election Briefing’ page. But Natalie does not have time now to read all that, so here is a quickie to be going on with:

Interrogator: How are you going to find all that money/It sounds half baked/Why pay scroungers to watch telly all day?

Any Green Party Member: Demanding figures first is putting the cart before the horse. Read ‘Dynamic Benefits’, the report that proposed the Universal Credit for why the Basic Income is needed. The withdrawal of means tested benefits always was a higher claw-back rate than bankers’ bonuses, and the purpose of the UC was to remove that work disincentive.

That is exactly what the Basic income will do.

But the failed UC would have tried to do it on the cheap, with a withdrawal rate of 65% – still a higher effective tax rate than bankers’ bonuses.

The Green Party scheme will be quite modest in its demands on the taxpayer. But it is redistributive. It is fairer than means testing and it will reduce inequality, so it will cost the better off something in tax.

But it isn’t just Natalie. Here is a list of news items which should – must – trigger press releases about the Basic Income:

Any mention of the Universal Credit

Food Banks

Any pontification by bishops about poverty

Unemployment figures

Youth unemployment

Benefit Sanctions, Workfare, Work Capability Assessments, or any mention of Maximus, the appalling company willing to take on the work which even ATOS found too nasty to handle, including suicides as a result.

Increases in the personal tax allowance

The spectre of world wide automation

There is a movement for a Europe wide Basic Income, which would reduce the pressure to emigrate from poorer countries. Philippe van Parijs has published a scheme for Greece.

A Basic Income will facilitate start ups of new enterprises. But it does so by allowing them to offer lower wages to begin with. A Living Wage can be implemented more quickly than the Basic Income, but it must be linked to the caveat “Until the Basic income is established”. When it is, no one has to take a job, but businesses can exist which could not if they must pay a fixed amount. Businesses which do not come into existence do not offer jobs.

But I am being unduly hard on Natalie and the press team. Rachel Reeves, Labour’s highly intelligent answer to Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t understand the Basic Income either. Given the chance she will try, but fail, to bring in the Universal Credit with even harsher sanctions on the unemployed. It is vital that the Green Party uses this election to offer the vision of persuasion is better than force.

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