Jonathan Bartley, the new (Sept 2016) Joint Leader of the Green Party will be on Radio 4 ‘Question Time’ next Friday. Here are some hints from an old hand.
Judging from the Green Party Leadership hustings which we shared in July and August, he will be an able representative of the Green Party who will enhance its credibility in the minds of the general public. But will he say any of the things for which I thought we founded the Green Party in 1973 precisely in order to say, and which no one else will say? Here are some suggestions:
The Green Party was founded in response to ‘Limits to Growth’ which in 1972 warned that continuously expanding economic activity was approaching the point at which it threatened the ability of the ecosphere to cope. The ecosphere is the thin shell round a small ball which is the only place in the universe where life is definitely known to be possible.
Economic growth may still be possible due to technological advances, but we must move to a mind set where growth is an option, not something to be taken for granted.
Pursuant to this aim, a ‘steady state’ economy will need to be available as a policy option for governments, and be acceptable for whole populations. Something is needed which will allow everyone, ieverywhere to observe ecological limits without hardship. The Green Party proposes a Citizens’, Basic income as a way of achieving this. The Basic Income is very similar to ‘Quantitive Easing’, or ‘Helicopter Money’ (giving money to families or individuals instead of to businesses), which have already been used or proposed recently by governments.
There are two respects in which the Green Party is socialist in conventional terms. Living within the planet’s means will entail much less inequality, or to put it bluntly, higher taxes on the better off. The other is that privatization now dominates spheres of influence which should be publicly accountable, where public service should be the first priority, not profit.
But Socialism has never taken ecological realities into consideration. The Green Party is finding ways of doing this which are socially just. Until now only ‘right wing’ parties have offered ways of solving such problems. Observing eco-limits includes not having too many children.
This ought to be the top political preoccupation. Last week the Financial Times and the Guardian published a report that a continent sized block of cold air has been shifted bodily from the Arctic Ocean where it should be, to Siberia. This has never happened before. I am not aware of any other media outlet which mentioned it, and no politician has commented. Last December’s Climate Change Agreement in Paris was a success beyond most observers’ hopes, but is it too little, too late?
John Maynard Keynes famously said “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
There are a number of facts which were not foreseen on 23rd June. The most important is that it has become clear that we must REMAIN in the single market. But I cannot see why the rest of Europe should allow this without open borders. So the promise of taking back control of our borders cannot be kept. It is not a case of accusing anyone of lying, it is a matter of helping those who thought that is what they were voting for to come to terms with the reality. The Scottish and Northern Irish Remain votes also create problems which could not have been foreseen.
Attitudes are polarized: do we accept or exclude? The Green Party has to accept ecological realties, which means eco-footprints and population numbers, and this makes us look as though we are on the ‘exclude’ side.
But is there no middle ground ? Is there a way of assisting people to stay where they are? Even here the Basic Income may be relevant. On the one hand there are impoverished nations such as Lithuania and Bulgaria which are losing their brightest and best, and on the other, rich nations wondering how to ward off a populist backlash which perceives immigrants taking jobs and overwhelming the indigenous culture. Before you dismiss an international Basic Income as worth exploring, do we or do we not need some answer to this two-sided problem?
Fossil fuel must stay in the ground. The atmosphere has had all the CO2 it can take. But the economic case for fracking is as overwhelming as the ecological case against. In other words, it is no use opposing fracking unless you have some way of doing without the economic growth.
Universal Credit and sanctions
If you look at ‘DynamicBenefits’, the report which recommended the Universal Credit (UC), you will find a series of graphs showing the withdrawal of means tested benefits as though they were actual taxes. The Universal Credit was supposed to get rid of this massive work disincentive and make work pay. Iain Duncan Smith announced in 2012 that 1 million would be on UC by 2014, and 7 million in 2017.[You may have access to more up to date figures] In February or March 2016 the Public Accounts Committee was told that 200,000 were receiving UC, almost all singles, not families, and the supposed final roll out date was May 2021. Why should we believe that? The UC failure has been heavily criticised by a succession of Public Accounts Committee reports.
The Universal Credit would not really make work pay. It would just stop making those on low incomes worse off when they find work. Dynamic Benefits is an excellent, unintentional statement of the case for the Basic Income, which will make work pay.
But the entire benefit sanctions regime was supposed to be based on the Universal Credit. Work still does not pay. Sanctions should be withdrawn immediately until the UC, or better still, the Basic Income is implemented.
Richmond by-election and the Progressive Alliance
The Labour Party, in fielding a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election, made it clear that they had no interest in an Anti-Tory Progressive Alliance. This would have been the ideal testing ground. By denying Christian Wolmar his deposit, Labour voters have sent a clear message: they want a Progressive Alliance. But will Labour strategists take any notice? If I were a Labour strategist I would regard a Labour Party in permanent opposition, but permanently able to complain loudly, as a lesser evil than giving the Green Party, which only takes Labour votes, any help whatsoever. The five constituencies where Greens might realistically make a breakthrough are where the Labour Party has made strenuous, and Brighton excepted, successful efforts to prevent it.
This government has an appalling record on the environment, and a demonizing, cruel approach to welfare benefits. To remove it means persuading former Conservative voters who are unhappy with either of these policies to vote Green. In 1989, twice as many voted Green as in 2015, mainly in Conservative heartlands. Targetting climate sceptic Conservatives may not produce more Green MPs immediately, but it might just soften the Labour Party’s understandable hostility to the Green Party. It now only needs 5 marginal seats to change hands for the government to lose its majority.