An Open Letter to Zac Goldsmith

The following was originally a post on 16th November 2012. Zac did not respond directly, but I have reason to believe he read it.

To: Zac Goldsmith MP

Dear Zac

As you know, your Uncle Edward and I were both members of the Green Party when it was founded in response to the 1972 Limits to Growth study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first serious attempt to assess what will happen when indiscriminate economic expansion reaches the limits of the global environment to cope. We both believed that a political response to Limits was necessary. I think it is fair to say that the Green Party did not turn out quite as either of us envisaged. However, whilst Teddy (we knew each other as Teddy and Clive) quietly dropped out, believing that his efforts and expertise were better used elsewhere, despite my disappointments I remain a loyal foot soldier.

My vision of an ecologically sustainable society remains unchanged. My ideas on the strategy to achieve that end have sharpened, but are intact. I cannot envisage not being a member of the Green Party, but there will be a shift in my tactics away from direct politics. The reason is that despite my bewilderment at the myriad forms of internet social networking, I am learning how to blog. (I still do not understand Twitter or Facebook, though helpers have put me on both). If my attempts at publicity do gain traction, then you and Natalie Bennett, the new Green Party Leader, may need to be ready to answer some awkward questions. We should all be on the same side.

I still believe that an ‘ecological’ Party is essential. It will need the Citizen’s Income, or something serving its intended purpose of enabling a steady state economy to be viewed with equanimity, as its keystone policy. But I now realize that even 40 years after that first clarion call, the party I thought we were founding is still premature, because the policies needed to prevent the consequences of indiscriminate economic growth would still be too unpopular. Electioneering in 1974 revealed that even then, 10% of the population took Limits seriously. That was enough for a group purporting to be a political party to offer a thought experiment – a coherent set of policies necessary to heed ecological constraints, making no concessions to conventional attitudes. If enough of the 10% could be persuaded to vote ‘Green’ to achieve publicity, a real Green Party would emerge from the resulting recruitment.

The actual Green Party adopted a more realistic strategy, of building up from local grass roots. It has had some success, but it meant concentrating on local issues, and it ruled out the thought experiment. Time and time again media opportunities have been ducked, so as not to risk losing hard won electoral gains. But as an MP subject to a party whip, you are even less able to advance a thought experiment than Caroline Lucas. I agreed with every word you or your uncle wrote as editors of ‘The Ecologist’. But George Osborne believes that the economy is more important than the environment. I believe the economy depends on the environment. Where do you stand? Surely you must be dismayed by the gap between Conservative Green promises and the government’s record.

You must read my blogs – or buy my book – for the full picture. I bought, and have just re-read yours – more on that in a moment. But in a nutshell, sustainability –keeping the planet fit for human habitation – and social justice depend on each other. On the one hand, if we trash the global environment, we are no more likely to share the last scraps than were the Easter Islanders. But I am indebted to Richard Wilkinson (see references in the book résumé in my blog) for the following:

“The more equitable the system for the distribution of necessities, the greater the identity of interest within the society when faced with ecological problems.”

Despite the resonance with Marx’s dictum “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, this did not lead me into Socialism as it has most Greens. I envisage a fusion of some socialist ideals with some conservative ideals which make sense in conjunction with a Citizens’ Income, but which are frankly objectionable without it. (For examples see the blog). But Green Socialists and Conservatives must unite against their unreconstructed former friends. This appears impossible. The gulf between the two is immense.

My chief disappointment with the Green Party is its ’Old Labour’ consensus. You are no doubt well aware of the attitude towards you in the Green Party. You are a rich kid and you are in a government which is widening inequality. End of. I remind the current Green Party membership that the pattern up to and including the 1989 Euro election was passionate social justice Party activists, whilst the Green votes were directly proportional to the Conservatives. In 1989 our best result in England was in Sussex (24.5%!), as was one of the Conservatives. Our worst and your worst – Tyne and Wear. This is brushed off by GP activists as ancient history. I point out that it is still the better off, free from more pressing worries, who can think about saving the planet for their grandchildren. After 1989 the Green Party was identified as left of centre, and the correlation with Conservative votes came to an abrupt end. But the droves of Conservatives who voted Green in 1989 who have been put off by the Green Party stance ever since, are still there, and they will identify with you. In those early days Conservative Green sympathisers would turn up at GP meetings, but the gap in mind sets was too great, so they did not return, and the left bias of the GP was reinforced.

But I could not find everything I was looking for in your book. Despite your formidable eco-credentials, in common with those tentative Green sympathisers, there are aspects of sustainability that you have not yet thought through. Its contents are hard hitting, and you graphically outline the problems, but your book does not address my vision or strategy as explained above. The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ does not merit an index entry. You do draw out some of its implications, but not the way that it underpins the general failure to halt the race to destruction. Although the need for a culture shift is implicit in what you say, I did not find anything which would facilitate that in the way a Citizens’ Income can (again, see the blog).You do not directly discuss the notion of a steady state economy, or above all the social justice implications.

I have no problem with your wealth. I shall be as relaxed about extremely wealthy individuals as Peter Mandelson said he was, once everyone has basic needs as of right, and the planet’s future habitability is assured. The rich will simply pay more tax. That should help reduce some ecological footprints. Do you accept the need for all individuals to have an identity of interest when faced with ecological limits? If you do not like the Citizens’ Income as a way of addressing that need, what is your suggestion?

The thought experiment remains as necessary as ever. I make two easy requests and one hard one. Answer this letter publicly, and recommend my blog in your Tweets, and among your social network. Medium term, you could cross the floor of the House of Commons. Not to the Green Party, yet. But negotiations as to your defending your seat as an independent not opposed by the GP could be started. You are of course mentioned in my book, as follows:

“When aides to USA President Lyndon Johnson advised him that a proposed recruit to his administration might be problematic. Johnson said “I want that guy inside my tent pissing outwards”.

Yours in hope,

Clive

 

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