How the Progressive Alliance might work


I have serious doubts about the Progressive Alliance. The Greenhouse think-tank have produced a paper local party members should read on this topic which is available here

But for me, the logic appears to be “We are faced with a desperate situation. We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do this.”

All kinds of details need to be worked out. For example, it could be partly a campaigning agreement, but I gather the dominant purpose is electoral, to achieve a Parliament which will bring in proportional representation. If PR is the main, or only aim, is UKIP beyond the pale? Might not some Conservatives agree that PR is patently fairer than FPTP? A major flaw in the underlying assumptions is that there is a solid Conservative phalanx, which will overwhelm all opposition unless everyone else co-operates, whatever their grievous differences.

What I have seen of detailed attempts to look at a ’nuts and bolts’ agreement are not reassuring in terms of gains for Greens, and everything carefully constructed could still be nullified by decisions at grass roots. Some work has been done, but there are agonizing choices to be made: Do we stand down everywhere bar Brighton and give our partners a clear shot at our opponents? Do we stand candidates in say only 1 out of 5 of our previously targeted seats? (bearing in mind how hard up we are), or apart from Brighton and possible negotiated targets, we only stand where Lib/Lab can’t win? This last option might be worth considering in the light of my suggestion, below, and our finances.

Would the sea-change of the 2015 election result persuade every single local Labour Party to abandon their perfectly reasonable hatred of the Greens for taking what they think of as ‘their’ votes and no one else’s?

They might, if it became clear that the Green Party was taking votes from Conservatives. I have a plan, which I believe is better than an ‘Everyone who isn’t Tory’ strategy.

To begin with, we launch a final assault on the Universal Credit, bringing the basic income centre stage. We use the case for the Universal Credit, set out in ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards welfare that works‘ – Iain Duncan Smith’s own report. Agonizing questions which have bedevilled even the recent ‘Compass’ report, are answered by a simple question, which can be asked in Parliament:

“Mr Speaker, it is clear that the Universal Credit is on the point of collapse. Originally announced formally in 2012, with a promised complete roll out by 2014, its latest ‘final’ roll out is May 2021. It currently reaches only a tiny fraction of its intended recipients” [up to date figures here].

“But Mr. Speaker, if one looks at the graphs in Dynamic Benefits used to justify the Universal Credit, they show that those losing means tested benefits suffer what for them is exactly the same as a massive tax, much greater in relation to their total income than the ‘real’ taxes paid on high incomes. I have a simple question: what would it cost to demolish that mountainous claw back on low incomes, shown in those graphs, [e.g. the graph at the top of this post] and reduce it to a straight line so that all incomes lose the same amount in tax, or loss of benefits? Put everyone on the same level playing field.”

“That would be the cost of the Green Party’s Basic Income. It is affordable. It will be redistributive, but it is fair. The Universal Credit was proposed instead of the Basic income because it would cost the better off next to nothing. The Universal Credit was supposed to ‘make work pay’. Mr. Speaker, the Basic income, the case for which is well made by those graphs in ‘Dynamic Benefits’ will be much more effective than the Universal Credit in making work pay.”

Apart from the failure of the Universal Credit even to come into existence to any significant extent, that speech could have been said in Parliament at any time since its the launch in 2012. The point to stress is that the Universal Credit would only have brought the massive tax equivalent caused by means testing down from rates in excess of 70% to 65%. With UC you get to keep 35% of your former benefits. All the Basic Income does is put everyone on the same tax or tax equivalent level, whatever that level turns out to be. We must thank Iain Duncan Smith for producing evidence to show that the Basic income is viable.

Once we have established that the Basic Income is fair, and quite the opposite of a ‘Scroungers’ Charter’, we can turn to ecological issues. I have just read ‘The political Brain’ by Drew Westen (2007)

Westen explains that we must engage emotions to win elections. Unfortunately one hard-wired emotion is loss aversion, so at first sight we have an uphill battle to persuade the better off that ‘fairness’ means that they must pay more tax. But the better off are more likely than those subject to benefit sanctions to be concerned about destruction of the ecosphere – the thin shell round a little ball which is all we have. The loss through paying more in taxes can be presented as a compromise in the context of what they stand to lose if the ’Paris’ Agreement on climate change does not deliver – by far the lesser of two evils.

There were 1 million Green voters in 1989 who are still missing. They must be dismayed by this government’s environmental record, especially in Conservative heartlands about to experience hydraulic fracturing, such as North Yorkshire.

Many of the ‘Green Surge’ who have come from a Labour background will feel uneasy about this appeal to their former enemies. “We must not compromise on our socialist principles or policies” I hear you say. Absolutely. We are socialist in two important respects: redistribution, and a more community based infrastructure, up to and including nationalization. The market must be driven out of health and education.

But these ex-Conservatives will never vote for a party, or an alliance, which stresses how anti-tory it is. We must approach them more in sorrow than in anger. Short term, the only practical effect will be to hand a few marginal seats to Labour, but perhaps enough to cause a hung parliament, and hence proportional representation

In the longer term the Basic income can form the basis of a culture shift – despite being redistributive it can be the basis of a reconciliation between former political enemies. The Progressive Alliance might just be a stepping stone to saving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

This is part of my campaign for the leadership of the Green Party. It is not an official statement on behalf of the Green Party.



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