Changing the Game, One Step at a Time: The Green Party

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.

 

 

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It’s the (Green) Economy, Stupid. – Pt. 3.


”The proper names of leaders are distractions from concrete economic models.” – Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station


The economy has grown, but real wages have gone down by 10%. One in four British children lives in poverty. Disability benefits have been cut. The people on Britain’s Rich List have become 14% richer only in the last year. Welfare cuts and a lack of affordable housing have caused a homelessness crisis. Renewable energy sources are now cheaper than fossil fuels but the Conservatives prefer to back fracking and dirty energy. Spending per school child is set to fall by 8%. Foodbanks are increasingly in demand. The UK is currently set to miss its 2020 renewable energy targets. University tuition fees have trebled. The NHS is in a state of perpetual crisis.

Now, remind us, again: why is all of this good? (Strong and stable leadership? In the national interest?)

Let’s for a second forget about the fact that Theresa May polls well with people and that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t — at least according to figures released in April — and consider instead, on the basis of the evidence given above, the concrete economic model that she represents:

1) it’s a model of neo-liberal capitalism in which human beings are seen, quite simply, as consumers, and in which ‘society’ is seen as little more than the market place on which these consumers act;
2) it’s a model in which citizens have few civic responsibilities (to participate in the creation of our society), and diminishing or weak civil rights (mass surveillance, the low status of mental health, the gender gap), and in which ‘society’ is ruled by economic movements rather than political decisions;
3) it’s a model which fails to value our natural environment for anything but its unlocked economic potential.

This is an economic model that has disappointed the millions of people who have suffered its consequences, and it is one that will disappoint millions more — unborn generations, even — as it fails to properly address the challenges of climate change. In January this year, “air pollution in London passed levels in Beijing”, which prompted Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to describe London’s air quality as constituting a veritable “health crisis”; and The Economist recently reported that the Arctic will, according to the most recent predictions, be ice free in the summer by 2040. Earlier predictions had indicated that this would not happen before 2070.

The climate crisis is as real as the poverty that affects 25% of British children, and the best way to face both of these problems is not by being passive, but by being realistic and active.

The economic model of Theresa May and the Conservative Party is unsustainable and to market it as “strong and stable” or as “long-term” or as “in the national interest” is to deceive. To vote for it is to vote for nothing to change. It is to bury one’s head in the sand and hope that, eventually, all the bad things will go away on their own. They won’t.

Generally speaking, ‘hope’ wins elections, and I believe that it was ‘hope’ in the Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan” that gave the Tories a majority in the General Election of 2015. In the General Election of 2017, however, I hope that ‘hope’ shall mingle with ‘fear’ and ‘realism’ to such an extent that the Conservatives will fail to renew that majority. Because as much as we need hope in order to believe that a better future is possible, we also need ‘fear’ and ‘realism’ to guide us away from false promises.

Luckily, there is an alternative. There is an option to the voice that says that the best thing is to just maintain the status quo, and to change nothing. There is a model that represents hope, but that also knows that — realistically — society needs to change, and to change quickly. That alternative is the Green Party.

The Green Party represents an economic model that is based on active political decision-making. It’s a model that seeks to end poverty by means of introducing a universal basic income, and to ensure greater welfare by introducing a more progressive taxation system.  It’s a model in which our political representatives will promote sustainble, low-carbon energy industries, and in which they will phase out unsustainble, high-carbon energy industries. It is an economic model that will promote technological innovation in the field of sustainable energy, and that will initiate the construction of an environmentally friendly, state owned transport infrastructure. It is an economic model that means taking control of the NHS, and rolling back previous privatisations. It is a model that means that education should be free, and that it should be of world class quality.

It is, in short terms, an economic model that will restore a sense of civic duty and a social contract, as well as greater civil rights. And, crucially, to market it as “strong and stable”, “long-term” or as “in the national interest” would not be to deceive.

Forget about Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and the others. Instead, look closely at the world. Look at what you’re being offered. Don’t let yourself be distracted.


 

 

 

It’s the (Green) Economy, Stupid.

When more and more new research challenges the notion that the targets set out in the Paris Agreement — targets that were set two years ago — will ever be met, and when the government succeeds in delivering economic growth but fails to protect its population from poverty and homelessness, then it is essential to bring voices of change into Parliament.


“We’d have to say, ‘it was all too difficult’, and [our grandchildren] would reply, ‘well, what was so difficult?’ What was it that was so difficult when the earth was in peril? When sea levels were rising in 2015? When crops were failing? When deserts were expanding? What was it that was so difficult?”

David Cameron, speech to the COP21 summit in Paris, 2015

In December of 2016, the independent think thank The Green Alliance published a report in which they stated that renewables spending in the UK had fallen by £1.1bn in the last six months. The think tank further stated that this spending reduction could not be accounted for by falling renewables costs, and that it was sooner the consequence of a declining number of environmental projects.

“Most significantly,” the report reads, “there is… a 95 per cent fall in investment between 2017 and 2020. This cliff edge needs to be avoided if the UK is to meet its world leading carbon budgets and Paris agreement pledge.”

The report from The Green Alliance followed another report released in September of 2016 by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which stated that the UK, as things were going, would fail to meet its 2020 renewable energy target. Following the release of the report, Committee Chair Angus MacNeil MP said:

“The experts we spoke to were clear: the UK will miss its 2020 renewable energy targets without major policy improvements. Failing to meet these would damage the UK’s reputation for climate change leadership.”

Time and time again, Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May have repeated the statement that the UK cannot be run well if the economy isn’t strong. For the UK to succeed, argue the Tories, it is imperative that the country continues to be governed by the fiscally responsible economic principles of the Conservative Party. In spite of this recommendation, few people seem to understand what it is, in practice, that makes the Tory economy strong, when so many Britons rely on food banks; when so many Britons are homeless; when real wages have gone down by 10%; when the government’s deficit reduction targets demand severe cuts to disability benefits; when poverty affects one in four British children; when the NHS is doing worse and worse for each passing year; and when the government fails to design policies that make meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement a possibility.

When so many people fail to see the benefits of this type of economy, then it may just be that the Tories haven’t got it right. It may just be, that in spite of their good intentions, the Tory economy isn’t strong at all. And it may just be, that GDP isn’t the only indicator of prosperity.

The Green Party won’t win the General Election of 2017, but in light of the current government’s struggle to govern in the best interest of the whole of society, it seems more important than ever that the electorate sends as many Green Party MPs as possible to the House of Commons in 2017. Green Party candidates, it serves to be mentioned, have a slightly different understanding of what makes an economy strong.

For one, they support the emergence of an economy which recognizes the limits of natural systems, and which makes sure that the political ambitions of all of humanity are compatible with those limitations.

For another, they hope to achieve a society in which resources, wealth, opportunity and power is distributed fairly, and in such a way that it enables personal as well social development.

And for a third, they believe that

gross national product (GNP) is a poor indicator of true progress and does not adequately measure people’s sense of well-being. It measures only the activity in the formal sector, regardless of what that activity is. In consequence, current economic theory fails adequately to reflect the real effects of human activity within a finite ecosystem, and is used to ‘validate’ economic activities which are ecologically unsustainable and/or socially unjust.”

When more and more new research challenges the notion that the targets set out in the Paris Agreement — targets that were set two years ago — will ever be met, and when the government succeeds in delivering economic growth but fails to protect its population from poverty and homelessness, then it is essential to bring voices of change into Parliament. It is essential to bring  into Parliament those voice that may offer it an ideological direction that is grounded on principles such as fairness and equality, and in the conviction that the interests of human beings should be put before the interests of corporations. The key to the economy isn’t more austerity or higher taxes — the  key to the economy is to put human beings in the centre of it.

The electoral system may or may not be rigged, but one way to #ChangeTheGame and to make sure that your interests are represented in the House of Commons is to #VoteGreen2017.

Further reading:

“Stress that [you’re] the candidate of change, stress that [you’re] the candidate of the economy, and get mad about something. Don’t be so cool. Show some anger about what’s happened to the country.” – James Carville in reply to the question “How do you think Obama can win in the 2008 election?”