Over the course of the last couple of years, it has become increasingly clear that a majority of Britons want to see significant political change in their country. Some 52% of the population gave voice to that desire by voting in favour of Brexit in 2016. Many others are giving voice to that desire through their participation in the current General Election campaign.
As certain, however, as many may be about the need for change, the less certain they seem to be about how that change can be effected on a political level. Indeed, many would seem to think that it can’t — that the current electoral system is rigged against them, that it favours a perptually centrist two-party state, and that their vote is either wasted or meaningless. Yet others might wonder what their votes mean in practice when politicians so often seem to go back on their word. Nearly a year has passed since the EU referendum but there are still few who seem to have much of a clue as to what Brexit will eventually come to mean. And although many are hugely disenchanted with the current government, there is still a large group of voters who doubt that the Labour Party can provide a serious alternative to Tory austerity.
So what can we expect in terms of change as a result of the General Election in 2017?
Well, crassly put, the Conservatives and the Labour Party have both made pretty clear what they want from this General Election. If we disregard the obvious personality differences between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn — personalities which in many ways distract us from concrete political content — and if we simply look at what the two parties are actually saying, we soon find that they’re surprisingly similar.
The Tories? More of the same — protect the status quo, pull your socks up, and things will slowly get better. Hard Brexit.
Labour? Little will change for 95% of the population, but corporations and the richest 5% will have to pay a bit more in order to facilitate greater investment in public services. Somewhat less hard Brexit.
In a way, the Tories are right. There is a choice to be made. The two parties ostensibly represent different economic models and their practical application won’t yield the exact same results. So much is clear.
And yet, in a different way, the Tories are quite wrong. Look a little closer and, sure enough, it’s all rather blurry.
As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out a couple of nights ago, it is hardly revolutionary to raise corporation tax to 26% when it was 28% in 2010. Theresa May obviously doesn’t want to increase corporation tax — she wants to lower it to 17% — but in quite many respects, the two parties appear to see eye to eye. The Tories maintain that immigration ought to go down whereas Labour has effectively promised that it probably won’t be going up. Theresa May wants the best Brexit possible — whatever that actually means — and so does Corbyn. Where the Tories are decidedly weak on the environment, the Labour Party is merely vague. Both parties are in favour of investing a lot money in the building of Hinkley C; both parties will pursue oil interests in the North Sea; and both parties support the renewal of an extremely expensive nuclear weapon supply that must never be used.
Effecting real political change is obviously hard, and it also takes a lot of time. A vote for the Labour Party would be a vote for things to be different, but it’s hard to argue that it would be a vote for change, and there’s something to be said about making that particular distinction. To redistribute wealth but to otherwise do everything more or less the same won’t in any significant way change the face of Britain, nor will it take the country forward. Most likely, it will only take the country to another election, five years from now, where we still debate whether taxes should be one or two per cent higher or lower.
Given the state of the political mainstream, it would appear that those who look for a genuine alternative to the status quo would have to look elsewhere. To locate the voice of real change in 2017, you must go to the periphery. There, we find the Green Party.
Earlier this year, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett argued a point that I believe many agree with:
“You can’t run a centrist position that says, ‘We won’t change anything much.’ People just don’t believe that now. We’re not producing a society that gives people hope for the future, so people are beginning to understand the need for real change.”
In a few sentences, Bennett here neatly sums up the position of the party that she represents. The Labour Party may present an alternative to the Tories, but it’s not a party that signals a new way of going forward. By comparison, the Greens openly recognise the need for large-scale reforms.
During the current General Election campaign, the Greens have made a bit of a slogan out of the hashtag #ChangeTheGame. That may sound ambitious for a party that only has one MP, and that would consider it a great victory to elect a second one, but it isn’t if you take into consideration that parliamentary representation isn’t the sole goal of the party. A significant aspect of the Greens’ political agenda is to push awareness of many of the issues and problems that often figure on the periphery of the mainstream. Eco-consciousness, LGBTIQA+ rights, gender equality and proportional representation are some of the questions that are central to the Greens, and the fact that these questions increasingly make national headlines is testament to the relative influence of the party.
The most important aspect of the Green Party is not, however, that they, as an opposition party, attempt to bring the periphery into the centre. The most important thing is that they envision a comprehensive economic model in which equality and sustainability is at the heart of every policy. To get an idea of what this means, you don’t need to look much further than the joint leader of the party, Caroline Lucas. Only a month ago, Lucas convincingly argued for a future Britain in which people work a four day week, and where the country is significantly better as a result: healthier, more equal, more productive.
Now, how would that work? Well, it’s actually fairly straight-forward, even if it would take a while to fully implement. Take this as an example: currently, 6 million people in the UK work more than 45 hours a week. (As a point of interest, the International Labour Organisation deems anything above 48 hours a week as excessive.) Redistributing these peoples’ workloads to the 1,5 million who are currently unemployed would, in Lucas’s words, “share prosperity and start to tackle the costs associated with unemployment.” More, reduced working hours effectively reduces stress levels which in turn reduces stress-related illnesses, which in turn puts less pressure on the NHS. Countries in which working hours are fewer also tend to leave smaller environmental footprints, which reduces problems associated with air pollution. Who foots the bill, though? Lucas cites a report published by the New Economic Foundation that suggests that the state and employers would share the costs so that “productivity increases could be matched by increased hourly wages.”
Sounds far-fetched? It doesn’t have to. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the four day week, or the three day weekend, has a positive impact on productivity and workers’ happiness. An article in The Atlantic makes the following case:
“Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the U.K. Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company’s growth.”
How long it takes before the four day week is implemented on a national level remains to be seen, but it is evident that the Green Party and its representatives have got their eyes firmly fixed on what’s happening in the world. It’s a party that is serious about political innovation. It’s a party that is serious about finding new solutions where the old one’s just aren’t working. That goes for everything from climate change to the gender gap, from health issues to immigration and electoral reform.
When so many people seem to be crying out for change, and when the mainstream appears unable to significantly depart from political lines designed to barely satisfy, it won’t hurt to look more closely at what people like Caroline Lucas, Molly Scott Cato and Jonathan Bartley are saying. As said: political change is difficult and time-consuming, but with a few more Green MPs in the House of Commons, at least we’re on our way. Caroline Lucas has proven that much ever since her election in 2010, and hopefully she’ll be in an even better position to do so after June 8th.
#VoteGreen2017 to #ChangeTheGame.