Greens as the ‘Anti-austerity Party’ – a mistake?

We long term Green Party members should be pleased that we are at last getting somewhere, but some of my best friends do not like our stance as the ‘Anti-austerity Party’. Our  high water mark 15% in 1989 was achieved when we were thought of as ‘single issue’, and it wasn’t austerity.

For me the Green Party is the natural Anti-austerity Party, provided there are reminders that the Party was founded to oppose the threat to the ecosphere caused by indiscriminate economic growth.  We thought a recession would be caused by resource exhaustion or pollution, We got a recession early due to the bankers.

The notion of a ‘Steady state’ economy as a policy instead of an accident was advocated by Herman Daly even before the Green Party was formed, but we linked the idea to the 1972 MIT ‘Limits to Growth’ study. I have explained in previous posts why the Basic, or Citizens’ income is central to this view. There may be better ways of making a recession, whether  planned or accidental, acceptable to whole populations, but I am not aware of any such, and I have been waiting for 42 years.

Unfortunately the caveats are generally missing from much Green Party General Election literature. There is talk of ‘red lines’ which must not be crossed in opposing cuts. This offends colleagues who point out that an economy which takes ecological limits seriously cannot make the same promises as one which simply resumes a trajectory of indiscriminate growth.

Rationally I agree with colleagues who point this out, but I think it is a problem which will have to be dealt with later. I am advised that rational argument is all very well, but you have to engage with voters emotionally. If the Basic (Citizens’) Income had been in most people’s minds when the recession broke in 2008, a transition to a mind-set which accepts limitations for the sake of sustainability would have seemed natural. The necessary culture shift could have begun.

But instead, the insecurity which all recessions have caused in the past had the opposite effect. They have after all, all been accidents. The rich, including Rachel Reeves, think Iain DuncanSmith is along the right lines in disciplining the unemployed, whilst the latter rail impotently against benefit sanctions on their way to the nearest food bank.

In this climate, warnings that cuts cannot simply be restored completely, though factually correct, would pointlessly send out a message unlikely to capitalize on the ’Green surge’. I would settle for simple reminders of the original purpose for which the Green Party was founded.

Meanwhile, Green Party activists, especially candidates, will repeatedly have the Basic Income thrown at them as a half-baked ill thought out policy and whoever is  pushing it must be stupid. My blog includes comprehensive explanations that what is becoming a millstone round our necks should actually be the spearhead of our case for sustainability with fairness. Here are a couple of quick ideas to be used whenever enemies think they have us cornered.

The cost.

Asking for figures is putting the cart before the horse. One effect of the Basic Income is to ‘make work pay’.  But that is what the Universal Credit was supposed to do. It has not worked, and could not work because it tried to remove the trap caused by withdrawing means tested benefits on the cheap. The UC would have had a withdfrawal rate of 65%. Bankers on bonus only pay 45% tax. To remove the poverty trap will involve less inequality. It will cost the better off something, but it is fair.

What does anyone who doesn’t think the Basic income will work actually propose? Do  they, along with Rachel Reeves, think that Iain Duncan Smith is right to blame the unemployed for their plight, or do they think that losing benefits at a faster rate than bankers pay tax is a good idea? If, like the Green Party, you think both these are wrong, then you must have some other ideas. What are they?

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