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.

 

 

Advertisements

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.


 

 

 

Common Sense, or: The Green Party Youth Manifesto

“The Green Party knows that education and equality are key to an economic model that can deliver a sustainble future for the UK. Not only do they want to do the sensible thing, which is to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt, but they also want to ensure that the UK promotes a type of education that will have long term benefits for all of society.” 



The English philosopher John Locke is known to have said quite many, quite clever things.

One of the things he did not say, is that a university education should cost £27,000, or thereabouts.

Why did he not say that? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just throwing it out there. It’s Saturday, after all, so this is bound to be a Saturday kind of blog post.

But it’s a fact. It’s a fact that he did not say that. At least there’s no historical evidence to suggest that he did. And as I sit here and think about it, I realise that, hm, hey, it’s also a fact that no other major or significant philosopher ever said that a university education should cost £27,000 (or thereabouts).

And, hey, why would they? It is widely accepted that education is a good thing and that it has a positive impact on society. A solid higher education system tends to produce a more skilled and productive labour force, and skilled and productive workers tend to produce innovative products and services. To offer free higher education is to ensure equality of opportunity. It is also to back productivity and innovation.

“But look,” some of you might say, “if we invest in free higher education, then that means we can’t spend that money elsewhere. Not all people want to go to university, so what if instead we were to spend that money on early education and vocational training? That way, we ensure that 18 year olds enter adult life on the best possible terms.”

And I guess that would sound like a pretty good idea, if only it were that the people who trebled tuition fees had done anything to support it in practice. Instead, the opposite of that seems to be happening, as spending per pupil is currently set to fall by 8%.

So what do we have? We have huge tuition fees that saddle graduates with crippling debts that prevent them from investing in the economy, and we’ve got decreased spending on early education which effectively threatens the academic progress of children and adolescents in the UK. We’ve also got increasing numbers of young people who are forced to ask themselves if it’s even worth bothering with university.

The Green Party knows that education and equality are key to an economic model that can deliver a sustainble future for the UK. Not only do they want to do the sensible thing, which is to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt, but they also want to ensure that the UK promotes a type of education that will have long term benefits for all of society.

For example, the Party has pledged to create Green jobs for more women in STEM, renewables and sustainability, and also to offer more such training opportunities, as, at the moment, only 5% of engineering apprentices are women. To encourage women to enter into typically male-dominated sectors of work and education is to promote gender balance in Britain’s work force. It is a fact that female-dominated work sectors were hit hardest by the financial crisis, and that women, as a consequence, have struggled more than men to regain financial power. To encourage women to enter into historically male-dominated work sectors is also to promote greater financial empowerment of women, as these sectors tend to offer higher wages. Of course, as Britain progresses towards a greener economy (though not so much so under a Conservative government), the value and importance of education in science, technology, energy and mathematics can hardly be overestimated.

Let’s be realistic, though. As things currently stand — according to recent predictions, we’re looking at 398 Conservative seats after June 8th — tuition fees will never, ever be scrapped, and student debts will never, ever, ever, ever be cancelled, and the UK’s economy and education system will be grey rather than green, and renewable energy sources — even though they’re cheaper than fossil fuels — will see less backing than fracking and other dirty energy sources, and gender equality and LGBTIQA+ inclusivity will remain but an inconvenient parenthesis as the Conservatives continue to promote a male dominant agenda.

That all is, of course, unless the UK votes for someone else. As Green Party councillor Simon Bull said on Twitter said: “One more Tory backbencher will make no difference, one more Green MP will.”

Take that message to heart and give the Green Party your honest consideration on June 8th, especially if you live in Brighton, Bristol or Sheffield.


Bennett’s Better for Sheffield Central

Photo: Natalie4Sheffield.org


[T]he problem is that the centre is not holding anymore. 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. What we need to do is provide an inspirational, hopeful message that we can do much better than this.” – Natalie Bennett 


There’s Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) in the South East, there’s Molly Scott Cato (Bristol West) in the South West, Siân Berry in London (Holborn & St Pancras), and Vix Lowthion (Isle of Wight) in the English Channel. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Greens are doing well in the South. But what about the North?

It may come as a bit of a surprise — a Labour majority of approximately 17,000 seats is hardly something to scoff at — but there are signs that suggest that former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett may just be able to win Sheffield Central from Paul Blomfield and become the first Green MP in the North. She may just be the better choice, too.

What speaks in Natalie Bennett’s favour?

Well, for one, Sheffield Central is one of few constituencies where voters have a straight choice between the Labour Party and the Green Party. That particular dichotomy of choice presents an interesting situation. On the one hand, you’ve got a Labour candidate who represents a manifesto which, in many respects, seems to draw inspiration from the Green Party manifesto of 2015, but which has been criticised for its many contradictions. As Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said:

“You can’t solve the air pollution crisis while expanding airports and roads. You can’t be a peacebuilder while renewing Trident. You can’t transition to a new economic model while hanging onto 20th century ideas where growth is the only answer. It’s time Labour embraced our full vision for the future instead of cherry picking a few good Green policies, then contradicting them.”

On the other hand, you’ve got a Natalie Bennett who, over many years, has consistently represented a version of environmentally friendly social democracy, and who has championed an economic model where growth isn’t the most important indicator of success. As Bennett said in January this year:

“If you vote Green you know exactly what you’re voting for. Our principles and values are solid and unchanging, based on the evidence that we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. And while we’re trashing the planet we’re also delivering a deeply unequal, unbalanced society. The Greens identify this and offer the real change that we need.” 

In other words: the choice in Sheffield Central is one between a somewhat unstable, shifting version of a social democracy where, as Bennett has said,  “the environment is still very much an add-on at the end”, or a green-oriented social democracy that for long has set an agenda that many other parties have had to follow. The Labour Party purports to represent “the many, not the few”, but it’s worth considering if it’s a party that is capable of delivering real social and economic change.

Secondly, Sheffield — The Outdoor City, the climbing capital of the UK, city of hills and valleys — is a green-minded kind of place that seeks to obtain the status as a European green city. In 2016, the independent Sheffield Green Commission published a report in which they suggested a number of priorities that would work towards ensuring that the city reaches its goal. To elect a Green Party MP in Sheffield Central may be key to ensuring that not only Sheffield, but also the UK, actively pursues the path of developing a more sustainable and eco-conscious way of doing politics.

Thirdly, Natalie Bennett is a singularly determined and principled politician who has chosen to make Sheffield her home, and who has vowed to improve the city for all its inhabitants. She and the Green Party — unlike Labour — unanimously and comprehensively reject fracking; she promotes the building of affordable council homes in order to tackle Sheffield’s homelessness problem; she supports rent control; and she has said that her first priority, if elected, will be to focus on wages.

The Green Party in 2017 presents a comprehensive and distinct political philosophy that puts human beings in the centre of all its pursuits and policies. The party supports an end to tuition fees and a voting system that more fairly represents the will of the British people. It also rejects policies pertaining to mass state surveillance, as well as suggestions to further privatise the NHS.

To vote for Natalie Bennet would not only be to elect a good representative for Sheffield. It would also be to elect a person who will present a different way doing things to the other members of the House of Commons. It would be to elect a person who offers a clear alternative to austerity and to Tory ideology, and it would be to elect an MP who believes that people are more important than GDP.

Now, what speaks against Natalie Bennett?

Well, there’s that margin of 17,000 votes. To win in Sheffield Central would certainly be a “gain” to remember. In other words: she’ll need all the help she can get. But as long as the people of Sheffield Central know that there’s a real opportunity, here — that there is indeed a Green Party candidate who may better serve their and their city’s interests — then there’s a real chance that she could win.

Help Natalie Bennett become the first Green Party MP in the North:

Natalie’s fighting fundhttp://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/natalie-bennett-for-sheffield-…

Join Team Nataliehttps://www.natalie4sheffield.org/pledge;