25 Jun 2008
Green Party must convince on economics if it is to win
I ran into David Fleming a couple of days ago http://another-green-world.blogspot.com/2008/06/dr-david-fleming-presents-energy-and.html. David is one of the most entertaining and thoughtful people I have met in a long time, a political thinker, an academic with a bit of popular bite. He is enthusiastically developing new solutions to climate change . Back in 1978 with Jonathan Porrit and Paul Ekins, he worked hard to get the Green Party (then called the Ecology Party) on its feet. He was a visionary moderniser in the best sense, the Party got a bit more organised, and a bit more media friendly, in 1979 it contest 53 parliamentary seats at the General Election that gave us Thatcher. We had never met before and we enjoyed much mutual verbal back slapping on the lines of ‘Ecology Party Executive, toughest job in the world’.
50 constituencies was a magic number back then, it gave the party a party political broadcast and helped us make a splash. Membership rose from a few hundred in the 1970s to 8,000. Then it fell again and the Party nearly collapsed. In 1989, when I was first Principal Speaker (confusingly there were three of us, Sarah Parkin and the great Jean Lambert), we Greens achieved 15% of the vote at the Euro elections. Membership rose to 20,000 and then fell.
Well without proportional representation, life for we Greens is tough but in the early 1980s and the early 1990s, one of the key factors that stopped us progressing was the economic climate. Recession is not good for Green Party growth. In 2008 recession, despite the odd sign of rising sales, looks on the agenda. Can we make the Green Party grow and place environmental concern at the heart of politics, even as the economy goes into reverse, unemployment rises and prices rocket. The general view is one of pessimism about green politics in the cold climate of recession.
Academics argue over Inglehart’s post-materialist thesis but if correct it suggests that the Green Party will have a very tough time over coming years. Inglehart argued, to vulgarise a little, that with rising prosperity people have the luxury of basing their politics on environmental concern rather than ‘bread and butter’ issues. With rising growth we move from the old social movements based on class and cash, such as trade unions and ratepayers associations on to the New social movements of green, feminism, sexual liberation (gay and straight) and peace. The reverse of course is true if you agree with his basic analysis.
I have never bought this. If you mess up the environment, you suffer in a pretty material way. However, with a cloudy economic outlook we Greens have to make our economic policies clear. Difficult to do when the media just want to ask us about the ozone layer and polar bears. However, unless we can answer tough questions about the PSBR, the golden rule and the deficiencies of ‘neo-classical endogenous growth theory’, we will not be able to win the hearts and minds we need to save the environment.
The good news is the Green Party has excellent economic policies but we need to emphasise them more. Wage rises of at least the rate of inflation are needed for public sector workers. Yet government borrowing is out of control. Why should nurses and teachers pick up the tab for money mistakes made by Gordon and Alistair? Well let us try spending less. Luckily, there is plenty of fat to trim, so both borrowing and fair pay can be achieved. Why spend $70bn on Trident, why contemplate £bns on nuclear power, why waste £bns on the killing fields of Iraq.
Then there is the black stuff, who was stupid enough to waste North Sea oil rather than investing it in creating a post-oil economy, I think that will be Thatcher, Major and Blair. By localising economies, promoting renewables and going for organic agriculture, we can cut our spending on oil. Vital for keeping down inflation and a literal lifesaver if we are to deal with climate change. Just think of Hugo Chavez pouring oil revenue into social services and health care, while trying to diversify the economy of his country so he can stop extracting the stuff.
Green economics, well its everything from economic democracy where we put power into the hands of workers and consumers via coops and mutuals, to promoting prosperity with less energy use. Marketisation is no longer a solution….look at how it is killing postal services. In turn the effect of shifting our economy from industrial production to the city has been a disaster. How are we to build the electric buses and wind generators we need for a Green Britain without reindustrialisation? Equally we are all collectively mortgaged to dodgy high interest home loans to the poorest inhabitants of Miami. Finally city bonuses have fuelled an increasingly unequal society here in Britain. Hey it’s the economy stupid.
The neo-liberal economic agenda is falling apart, greens have to go on the ideological offensive. Economics has to be central to the Green Party message,if we are to make a breakthrough in British politics.