Copeland and Stoke by-elections – and Climate Change

Guardian Editorial yesterday:

What happens when you know all about an impending catastrophe, but somehow cannot take it seriously?”

But the Guardian was talking about Labour’s fate, not climate change.

Rupert Read has produced an account of the real impending catastrophe, but first, here are a few thoughts on Thursday’s two by-elections, from a different perspective.

The first thing which must be said is that Copeland was not quite the Conservative victory claimed by the Prime Minster, despite the stunning fact of a government gain The winner polled 438 votes, 3% fewer than her predecessor in 2015. I agree with the Guardian that the night was a disaster for Labour, who not only lost over 5,000 votes in Copeland, but more than 4,000 where they ‘won’ in Stoke Central, about 1/3 in each case.

The main message from the voters was more worrying than their verdict, if that is what it is, on Jeremy Corbyn: they have lost faith in democracy. In Copeland, 7,742 fewer voted than in 2015, and in Stoke, 116 short of 10.000 fewer – the turnout was 38% of the electorate.

UKIP lost ground in both constituencies: over 4,000 in Copeland was a more grievous loss than Labour’s in proportion to their 2015 tally. But catastrophic losses were also suffered by the Green Party, which lost over half of their originally modest, deposit-losing 2015 totals in both seats..

Only the Lib Dems gained, up 884 in Copeland, and 787 in Stoke. This is particularly ominous for the Green Party. We have always been ‘squeezed’ in by-elections, because they usually occur where we have little or no presence on the ground. But nobody voted Lib Dem thinking they were going to win. The most serious lesson from the election night for me is that despite their treachery during the coalition years, the Lib Dems are already seen as more credible than the Greens purely as a protest. Or for signalling, where there is no prospect of winning, which brings us back to the climate.

I have said many times that ‘Limits to Growth’ was the Green Party’s raison d’être. I could go on at great length as to why that purpose did not last, but the point about us losing credibility vis á vis the discredited Lib Dems now renders it urgent to rediscover our original, unique selling point, which Rupert Read sets out.

Unfortunately there are very cogent reasons why it has been, and will continue to be an uphill struggle. Rather than make this blog too long, I shall discuss the formidable difficulties next week, but I outline below a number of steps which might just bring Rupert’s vision within the bounds of possibility. (That will postpone my view of how the world basic income is relevant to migration, but surely, I cannot be the only person who can see this?)

My understanding has recently been sharpened by reading ‘The Political Brain’ by Drew Westen. Not only do rational arguments stand no chance unless aligned with emotions, fear is the most potent emotion, and humans are hard-wired to avoid loss. We Greens were naïve in founding a party intended to forestall ecological doom. Westen’s insight could help to explain why those who have the most to lose put so much effort into climate denial. Many, including President Trump may actually believe their preposterous version, but Rex Tillerson, the new USA Secretary of State knows better. I digress, but that fact could be crucial in the forthcoming months.

The early Green Party was clear that a ‘steady state’ economy’ was needed, at least as an option, so that a ‘soft landing’ was possible, instead of the serious economic crash if the ‘Limits’ warnings were not heeded. In due course Zero growth was quietly dropped from our publicity. It must be reinstated.

Bu that is of course out of the question because everybody is hard wired . . .

A ‘steady state’ economy will look like a recession, feel like a recession, it will quack like a recession, even our version will be a recession, whatever we try to call it. It is no use explaining that not settling for a steady state economy might be worse. We might be wrong. Recessions have always caused serious hardship. That is fact, not conjecture. So to get over this formidable obstacle, we need something which will enable everyone, everywhere to feel materially secure or no one will agree to a steady state, whatever trouble we are storing up for later.

I am still waiting to hear of a better idea, but until then, the Basic income would serve this purpose. But a Basic income sufficient to do this would be drastically redistributive. We can certainly sell the idea to many who are now unemployed or in the poverty trap of means testing on low incomes, but for the better off it would still be loss, which they are hard wired to avoid. In passing, due to the Basic Income removing means testing, although at first sight it looks as though it is paying shirkers, it is actually the opposite – it makes work pay. At least with the better off fear should not be an issue, just inconvenience. They might just be receptive to the rational argument of redistribution avoiding worse than inconvenience. I am suggesting a high risk strategy. I shall discuss the dangers next week. If someone can come up with a better plan, please do.

In our first by-election, Walsall North in November 1975, the Green Party polled 150 votes. We were unknown. We were squeezed. In more favourable circumstances 41 years later, where we have already stood, and with climate change the subject of a series of international conferences, we have reached  the dizzy heights of 294 and 550. What is the point of the Green Party? I really can’t join the Guardian wondering about the fate of Jeremy Corbyn.


4 responses to “Copeland and Stoke by-elections – and Climate Change

  1. A legitimate argument against a basic income is redistribution actually leads to a structural increase in net consumption due the incipient and latent demand of recipients most in need. The well-off and especially the wealthy tend not to spend all their income, instead saving or putting it at risk in investments which in an economy encountering limits to growth is a net loss, and contractionary.

    There is of course an overwhelming moral argument for a basic income, but it risks putting even more pressure on ecosystem stability as those who will benefit so greatly outnumber those with much to lose.

    All that said, I’m actually in favour, there is even the possibility that the popular argument against – rewarding shirkers* – is actually it’s potentially the greatest potential. But I think I recognise where the risk lies.

    * Shirkers; those people who would rather live low impact lives disengaged from the organised industrial disintegration of our global bio-physical support structure and Ecosystem? Low entropy individuals.

    • I claim, (but I would, wouldn’t I) that you will find a complete answer to your points somewhere in my c.150 blog posts. Briefly, there will have to be tax, though in forms not related, as now, to CO2 producing economic activity, and there will be fiscal measures ‘guiding’ us all into eco-consumerism. But I will cut through all that by making the outrageous forecast that a Cits BI will become necessary when ‘Paris’ fails to keep the temperature down. Are you aware that something similar was hastily implemented in Iran to stop food riots? I have not heard otherwise, so I assume it is still in operation.

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