The Green Party’s future (Answering Katherine Meyles)

On Facebook  Katherine Meyles has questioned my last week’s view of the Green Party. I think she speaks for many Green Party members when she says:

“If there’s a silent majority of right wingers who would flock to the Greens, were they solely concerned with preventing environmental disaster and not environmental justice (and I’m not sure there is [a difference? – typo]), why would they need the green party? As supporters of ruling parties, they should be well placed to see their policy wishes enacted. Even if there’s grass roots support but not further up, if we dropped our social policies to let them join, we would be subject to the same corruption and misreprentation higher up the chain, as they (apparently) experience now with their right wing parties.”

What I envisage should be possible without Katherine’s nightmare. In the first place, anyone who votes Green, let alone joins will have grasped that a society which lives within ecological limits will have to have a fairer, more co-operative culture. They will have accepted significant, possibly drastic redistribution. In passing, if Green policies had been implemented during my salaried life, I would have been among those losing financially.

In the Sedgefield by-election in 2007, when Tony Blair resigned from Parliament, the only previous Green Party presence had been the full slates in each Euro election from 1989 onwards. A small team of us knocked on every door in Sedgefield village, but nowhere else. 70 % of the constituency consists of former collieries, and so is a Labour stronghold, but Sedgefield village is rural. The count confirmed that voters there were predominantly Conservative.

Not everyone necessarily followed my doorstep spiel, but it went as follows:

“We are calling on behalf of the Green Party. Might you vote Green?”

This shuts all doors there is no point in wasting time with. The usual 1% were Green anyway, (the result was 1.2%), but another 24% said:

“We weren’t going to. Why should we?”

The Basic Income would take too long on the doorstep. I said:

“The Green Party was formed to deal with things like climate change, but there are powerful vested interests delaying this. There will have to be a much fairer society if we live within the Earth’s limits, so the only thing we can be sure of is that people like you will pay more tax. But what you will get for your money is a planet fit for your grandchildren. Your vote will help put Caroline Lucas on TV and she will explain.”

The vote in Sedgefield village was 6% Green. Only half the doors were answered, and we normally only spoke to one person. As we had only spoken to ¼ of the electorate, 6% from 24% seemed reasonable. The poll was only 41.6%.I infer that the proportion taking that uncompromising message seriously – in a well heeled area – was at least as high as the 15% who voted Green nationally in 1989, but this time they had been told it would involve redistribution.

Katherine assumes a hostile phalanx simply furthering their own interests with no change in the political culture. That is indeed the starting point for many, but they can be offered a completely different mind-set. They can be detached from those currently relying on their support.

The Basic Income is central. I am continually saddened by how few people understand the malign effect of means testing. To me the graph at the top of this page reveals an effective 90 -100% taxation rate as poor people lose means tested benefits, whilst those on the top tax rate only lose 45% of their income. The Basic Income can be presented as fair, and it ‘makes work pay’. It uses Iain Duncan Smith’s own literature – Dynamic Benefits, (Centre for Social Justice, click Publications, Sept 2009) to show up the obscenity of this government’s approach to welfare.

Couple this with the suggestion that only the Green Party takes threats to the planet’s future seriously, especially with this government’s hostility to renewables, and you have the kind of result, in leafy shires, which I claim was demonstrated in Sedgefield, and in the 1989 Euro elections. Enough to seriously dent the Tories’ prospects. The deal is. what they get  for their money is a planet fit for future generations. Green strength will grow as the new mind-set gains momentum.

Most Green Party policies can remain as they are – education, help for public rather than private transport, incentives for repair and recycling . . . We certainly don’t need to drop any of our social policies. Remember, anyone who is considering these issues has already accepted that redistribution is fair and the Basic Income offers a better work incentive than benefit sanctions and the Universal Credit, and that we all have to heed the global climate.

But there are two issues where I ask socialists to re-think, if they too want a combination of social justice and global sustainability.

Zero hours contracts – evil, or a useful idea? Against the backdrop of benefits sanctions, and the whole draconian sanctions set-up, zero contracts are a form of slavery. Refuse, and you depend on the food bank. But even Jeremy Corbyn did not notice they were a problem prior to October 2012. They had always been an occasional source of exploitation, but it was the unannounced introduction of benefit sanctions which gave employers open season.

The Basic Income introduces persuasion instead of force, a 4,000 year old idea suggested by Aesop, but still not believed by everybody. You may do nothing from leaving school to the grave, but for the first time since the 1603 Poor Law you will not lose benefits if you move from being unemployed to having a job. The Tory clap-trap on zero contracts suddenly makes sense: of course there are people they suit down to the ground, but the would-be employer must make it worth their while.

The next bit may be harder for socialists, but it is still based on persuasion being better than force. The same reasoning applies to the minimum, and living wage, in reverse. Without a Basic income, they seem necessary.

Consider a struggling business from the arbeitgebers point of view. The German word for employer translates ‘work-giver’. If the business folds – no jobs. But if you have a Basic income, you can make an individual decision whether a job is worth your while. Studies showing that the minimum wage does not destroy jobs have only been done when the economy was growing. If the Paris agreement is to achieve anything, a zero growth economy may be necessary for a time. If that happens – even by accident, as in 2008, a minimum wage must reduce the number of jobs available and a Living Wage even more so. I am pleading for recognition that both sides of the old bosses and workers battle-line will have a new incentive to compromise

But an unpleasant problem has recently surfaced in the Green Party: the attitude of some new members to population. I dealt with this on 4th October 2015, following a deplorable session at the last Green Party conference, so I will not repeat what I said, except to point out that a previously self-evident consensual Green view was that we must help populations to remain within the carrying capacity of their environment. Some of the new intake apparently see that as oppression. That capitalism, or the USA are indeed taking a grossly unequal share of resources does not remove the need to combine social justice with a recognition of ecological realities. Failure to take these seriously will result in consequences we Greens deplore as much as do socialists.

The Basic income is not a panacea, but, in addition to its immediately beneficial effects, it can be the catalyst for a shift to a new world wide culture, to which even hard-liners such as Nestlé, Philip Morris and Exxonmobil will initially have to pay lip service, and eventually accept. Why? Aesop told us 4,000 years ago – Persuasion is more effective than force.

I look forward to Katherine’s comments. [Katherine didn’t reply.]







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