13th September

tree with small red post box
Entwistle, Lancashire this morning

Jeremy Corbyn is not the Antichrist.  He is not planning to confiscate our savings to be spent on scarlet flags, feast on our children in the company of terrorists or to leave us huddled on a rock in the midst of the Atlantic, with only a stick of organic celery to defend what was once our proud nation.

But neither is he the Messiah. The achievement of his campaign in winning fifty-nine percent of the leadership ballot is incredibly impressive and inspirational.  Like thousands, I am heartened by his victory and by the sense of hope, of compassion, justice and common sense which it represents.  But winning the contest was the easy part.

Golden age myths are pervasive, persuasive and usually wrong.  The one that underpins the confident optimism of many Corbyn supporters is as romantic and misleading as any other.  It narrates that, pre-Blair, the Labour Party was a haven of left-wing consensus, a united and progressive community in which Jeremy Corbyn and those like him were mainstream and central.

This, as anyone who has dipped into Tony Benn’s diaries of the period will know, is emphatically not the case.  It is true, as I have written before, that the window of acceptable policy has shifted sharply rightwards in the past thirty years.  Tony Blair and Gordon Brown bear a heavy responsibility for completing the transformation of Labour into Tory-lite.  But they did not do it alone, or from a standing start. Neither Corbyn nor Benn were any more popular with Neil Kinnock than Corbyn is with senior Labour figures today.  Although some of the suggestions put forward by Corbyn now, such as public ownership of the railways,  were once unremarkable party policy, the change has generally been brought about by historical events rather than ideological alteration.  On issues of defence, foreign policy etc., Corbyn, like his mentor Benn, has always been viewed as a dangerous rebel.

There is a second myth,  accompanying the Golden Age one, that local Labour constituency associations are full of proto-Corbynites, only awaiting Jeremy’s coronation to throw off their Blairite chains.  As new, young, idealistic members flood into the party, these old stalwarts will totter forward, grateful tears streaming down their gnarled cheeks, and embrace their courageous liberators.  Councillors, officials and local activists, who have spent decades of their lives doing mundane and tedious tasks to attain their positions in middle-of-the-road Labour, will happily stand aside for the newbies, many of whose previous political activities have been limited to liking a Facebook page or clicking on an online petition.

Let’s see, shall we?

Meanwhile there is a political party, active across the UK, for which Corbyn’s plans for economic stimulus, banking reform, opposition to Trident, extrication from American foreign policy excesses, common ownership of essential public services and a more redistributive tax system are not wild notions to be quixotically championed but established and detailed policy, set on a firm foundation of philosophical and political principle.  This party actively welcomes new members and encourages them to become involved and influential at every level.  It is growing fast, respected widely, and, in the House of Commons, its sole current MP has worked closely with Jeremy Corbyn, far more closely than any of his own party colleagues, on many vital issues and campaigns.

The future does not belong to one or two monoliths.  There is space in our political system, especially in the regions and at European level, for a creative coalition of progressive parties and movements.  Those people who have been inspired to join the Labour Party by Jeremy Corbyn’s example are doing a good thing.  But they should not imagine that his victory is going to bring about an immediate or easy transformation of the party.  It may never do so.  They will have to put much of their time and energy, not into campaigning for Corbyn’s policies among the wider electorate, but into internal struggles with their new comrades.  It will be a long, depressing and thankless business.

For some people, this is the kind of politics that they enjoy.  I’m grateful, on behalf of all of us, that there are those ready to take on this task, and hopeful, for our shared future, that they succeed. Meanwhile, for those who don’t relish the internal as much as the external battles, who thrive on the camaraderie of colleagues and the positive energy of a common vision, who want to be part of an existing global movement that has firm roots in social and economic justice, environmental sustainability, non-violence and grassroots democracy, the Green Party offers a warm welcome.




14th August

0811Surprise, surprise, a few hours after the profile of Saint Yvette was published by the Guardian yesterday, it released an editorial advising its readers to vote for her.  At least that’s an end to the charade of even-handedness.

Meanwhile I’ve had a good response to my posts over the past few days about the profile series.  Thanks to everyone who tweeted, shared etc.  One question that everyone has been too polite to ask is whether it’s any of my business.  As a Green Party member in Northern Ireland, where Labour doesn’t even stand candidates, what right do I have to comment on the internal workings of this leadership contest?  Isn’t it just mischief-making, on a par with paying my £3 and trying to get my own vote in the contest? I haven’t done that, by the way, though I did manage a prescient tweet, a fortnight before Corbyn’s announcement, when Harriet Harman was still smiling (see below).

According to some arguments, of course, the last thing I as a Green should be doing is expressing sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.  The similarity between his platform and Green Party policy has been widely noted – are we supportive Greens simply dismantling our gains, squashing our surge and handing out our clothes to cover Jeremy’s famous vest?  I don’t think so.

It’s true that some of the increased Green vote across the British Isles has come from disaffected Labour voters, and, conversely, that a Labour Party with a more visionary and radical leadership would attract some of those votes back again.  It’s a mistake, though, to think that there is a finite pool of ‘left-wing’ votes over which progressive parties need to compete.  A comparable mistake would have been to assume that, in Fermanagh & South Tyrone this year, there were a limited number of  potential ‘cross-community’ electors.  According to this logic, votes which I received in the Westminster election would have been gained at the expense of the Alliance Party. In fact Alliance increased both their number and share of the vote, but we still got more.

And, of course, perverse as it may seem to say it on this blog, elections aren’t the most important thing.  I decided to become more involved in the Green Party, as I’ve explained before, because getting more Greens into every level of government is, in my view, the best way to create a fair, sustainable and peaceful world.  It’s the best way, but it’s not the only way.  Whenever members of other political parties do the right thing, take wise decisions, adopt policies to make life better for us all, we can rejoice and be glad. We’re not ideological purists, we don’t need to fear contamination and we’re happy to work with others to make the changes our society and our environment so desperately need. And however radical, however ‘green’ the Labour Party could conceivably become (not actually very, I suspect) there would still be plenty of work for us to do, plenty that could be made better, plenty of people inspired and energized by the distinctive vision of capital-G Green politics.

But for the Labour mainstream it seems that elections are all that matters.  The key accusation levelled at Jeremy Corbyn isn’t that he’s weak or misguided, or that his policies are wrong, but that he would make the party ‘unelectable’.  The worst fate for the country, according to this line of thinking, would be Labour failing to win the 2020 election.

There are two separate points here. I’m not convinced about the unelectability.  Corbyn’s policies, as many have pointed out, were fairly mainstream in the not-so recent past, when giving Labour a turn was a standard electoral event.  And even those with shorter memories have more radical instincts than the media and politicians give them credit for – I found that out very quickly during my little campaign.

But even if it’s true, that a left-leaning Labour Party couldn’t win in 2020, would that be the worst possible outcome?

It would be truly terrible to have another Tory government like this one; I don’t deny that for a moment.  The mean cruelty, the ideological dishonesty, the sheer nastiness of this crew is just about impossible to overstate.  And with Osborne as PM … I can only shudder.  But what is it that has made this nastiness possible: this scapegoating of the innocent poor, this triumphant destruction of the environment, this adulation of an unrestrained, bloated, bailed-out, gambling-addicted financial capitalism?

Without underplaying the individual moral responsibility of current ministers for their actions, decisions and statements, which is huge,  I believe that what has made them able to act so is the normalisation of something only slightly less nasty.  When the mainstream position, shared by the main parties, is to be a bit sceptical of the rights of disabled people, a bit condemnatory of the unemployed, a bit dismissive of ‘green crap’ and more than a bit liable to cosy up to the banks and the mega-rich, how else can the Right distinguish itself except by being more so?  It’s not true that they’re all as bad as each other; life, especially for children and the working poor, is considerably worse under the Tories than it would be under Labour.  But it was Labour governments, under Blair and Brown, which, as Simon Jenkins pointed out,’supercharged’ Thatcherism, and a Labour Opposition which, despite Miliband’s honest but feeble efforts, failed to stop the rightward shift.  (I don’t discount, of course, Nick Clegg’s destruction of the Liberal Democrats as any kind of effective brake.)

As Owen Jones has pointed out in the New Statesman, the concept of the Overton window, though recognised and mainly referred to by the American Right, is an important tool in understanding what is going on.  As Wikipedia explains, Joseph Overton:

“claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within [the window], rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.”

It is this window, of perceived acceptability, which has shifted sharply rightwards over the past thirty-five years, and outside which Corbyn’s policies are viewed as falling.  But of course the very act of defining the window, of placing one’s position safely within its limits, pushes it a little further along its trajectory.  This is presumably why the Right like it so much.  Once it’s moving in the direction you want it to, all you need do is make sure that everyone knows how powerful it is and adjusts their behaviour accordingly.

Yes, under Cooper or Burnham, Labour might be given their turn in 2020, as a sort of reward for good behaviour.  But by then the window will have moved so far to the right that the chances of recovering anything close to equality, of being able to do anything about climate change, of reining in the banking behemoths, will be miniscule.  Our only hope is to start shifting it back again, at least towards what used to be the centre.

That’s what we in the Green Party are doing; inch by inch, doorstep by doorstep, giving people the courage to rediscover their own best instincts.  It isn’t easy; we don’t have the heavy lifting equipment of the media, of corporate funding or of mainstream discourse.  But it’s absolutely essential if our children are to have any chance of a decent life; one in which they can breathe and eat and drink and grow and look their sisters and brothers in the face without being ashamed.

We need all the help we can get.  And that’s why I hope Jeremy Corbyn wins.



23rd July

My sister was wondering on Twitter this morning why it is that so many Labour MPs are clamouring to declare their own party, if led by Jeremy Corbyn, ‘unelectable’, and thereby sabotaging their own 2020 campaigns.  She doesn’t seem to have received any answer, and I haven’t got one for her either. It might, of course, simply be a crude playground “this is our game and if you want to change the rules then we’ll just smash up the whole thing” (cue SDP Mark II?).  Or maybe they were so brainwashed by Blair in their formative years that they genuinely think Jeremy Corbyn is the hard-left* monster of tabloid nightmare.  Of course the other candidates want to win (and must be further infuriated by the fact that Corbyn doesn’t, particularly) but this much, jeopardising not only their future working relationships and careers, but the very existence of their party?

This isn’t schadenfreude.  There are Labour Party tribulations that I admit to finding funny, but this is definitely not one of them.  For the first time since the early hours of May 8th, when the exit polls proved horribly accurate, we have a little hope for the future of Westminster politics.  The Green Party is growing rapidly and sturdily, but an overall majority in a first-past-the-post system is, even I concede, beyond us for a little while.  But a Labour Party with rediscovered principle, with a vision of what compassionate socialism really means in the twenty-first century, in partnership with the Greens and other progressive parties, that could make a huge difference.  It could make a revolutionary difference at the next general election, to how the next government acts on climate change, on inequality, on peace and war, on all the crucial issues for generations to come.  But it could also make a difference right now, giving us an opposition that, as the wise Andrew Rilstone writes: “criticizes them, attacks them, campaigns against them, picks holes in their laws at committee stage, supports protesters and strikers and generally makes life as hard as possible for the government.”

This is, of course, just what Jeremy Corbyn, along with Caroline Lucas, has been doing for the past five-and-a-bit years.  But as Labour leader, I trust that he would be able to encourage his fellow MPs to discover a little backbone, and lead them to realise that the role of the Opposition is about more than keeping your seat warm.

*(I don’t know what ‘hard left’ means, any more.  I used to think I did, but whatever humourless authoritarian ideologue I’d pictured, it certainly wasn’t this mild and compassionate man, whose radical policies: unprivatising the railways, getting the rich to pay a bit of tax, not renewing the useless Trident, are not only shared by the Green Party, but by a majority of the UK public.



11th February

Tanya and DanielleLots more going on today.  We had a great meeting of the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party this evening.  In all the busy conversation, I completely forgot to take a photograph, so here’s one of Danielle, one of our new 2015 members, and me on our way out canvassing recently.  We had a lot of positive things to discuss, including the motions that we’re going to put forward at the forthcoming Green Party in Northern Ireland AGM.  There will be two of them (motions from us, that is, not AGMs) – watch this space for details.

We got home to find our optimistic mood plummeted by the news that that the notorious ‘bedroom tax’, famous for its cruel imbecility across Britain, has now been imposed in Northern Ireland.  It was voted for by Sinn Fein, the DUP, UUP and Alliance, with only the SDLP, independent MLA Claire Sugden and the Green Party opposing it.  Earlier in the evening, benefit sanctions up to eighteen months had been voted for by every MLA in the chamber except for Basil McCrea and our Steven Agnew.

We’re in a pretty unusual position here in Northern Ireland at the moment.  We’ve watched, across the Irish Sea, the terrible effects of the coalition attack on the easiest targets: of the ‘bedroom tax’ that particularly penalises disabled people and single parents; the arbitrary ‘benefit sanctions’ that deprive people, often for no rational reason, of even the barest income; and the idiotically-administered ‘work capability tests’ that drag seriously, often terminally, ill people through months of needless anguish.  We’ve seen the enormous growth in the need of ordinary people for foodbanks, the most shocking indictment of a brutal and heartless regime.  And, having seen all this, the Northern Ireland Executive parties, including those who once claimed to speak for the poor and disadvantaged, have voted to bring in exactly the same cruelties here, unleavened by the slightest compassion.

And the political betrayal isn’t even over yet.  When I got in, another debate on the Infrastructure Bill was taking place in the House of Commons.  You’ll remember, if you read my previous post, that at its last vote in the Commons, the Bill was amended at the behest of the Labour Party to include a few tweaks.  These, minor though they were, gave Labour MPs a semblance of excuse for not voting in favour of a moratorium on fracking, as proposed by Caroline Lucas and others.

What happened next could no doubt have been predicted, and probably was, by the fossil fuel industry and its willing Parliamentary pawns.  The Bill went to the House of Lords, where the most important concession, that fracking should not take place in land which is located within the boundary of a groundwater source, was amended to allow that:

4)     The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory
instrument, specify—

(a)   the descriptions of areas which are “protected groundwater
source areas”, and

(b)   the descriptions of areas which are “other protected areas”,

for the purposes of section 4A”

In other words, a ‘groundwater protection zone” would now mean, as Humpty Dumpty would approve, whatever the government chooses it to mean.

It was the crucial debate on these amendments for which, as Caroline Lucas pointed out, a measy hour of Parliamentary time was allowed.  And upon which, as I have been writing this, the Commons has voted by a smallish majority (257 to 203), to follow the Lords, and remove all semblance of special protection for our drinking water from the clear and demonstrable threat of fracking contamination.

When I first switched on the BBC Parliament Channel this evening, Anne McIntosh, who would have been our MP, had we stayed in Yorkshire thirteen years ago, was speaking.  She said, of the fracking and groundwater issue, that “the detail should appear on the face of the Bill” and that not to do so was to offer a “hostage to fortune”.  It is true in relation to fracking, and it is just as true with regard to the NI Welfare Reform Bill, as Steven pointed out yesterday.  If our elected representatives cannot be trusted to speak and vote on primary legislation that affects the most basic and essential needs of ourselves and our children, how on earth can we expect them to give proper scrutiny to secondary regulations, far outside the public gaze?

Of course we cannot.  What events on both sides of the Irish Sea have shown is that only a very few are prepared to speak and vote for what they know is right.  Steven Agnew and Caroline Lucas are among those few, and we in the Green Party are proud to stand beside them.

27th January

0127So, what happened yesterday?

I managed to watch quite a bit of the debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday (via its website; not in person) though I missed the actual vote, as I was teaching by then.  All went well, and Steven Agnew’s bill passed through its second stage unopposed. Congratulations to Steven and all those who have worked so hard on this.

I also watched some of the Infrastructure Bill debate in the House of Commons but again had to go (to an Erne Integrated College governors’ meeting) before the messy bit.  Basically what happened was that the government made a few apparent concessions (this site has a good summary) which were sufficient to stem most of its own threatened backbench revolt, and to allow the Labour Party to claim that it had achieved something. Within moments, Labour MPs were tweeting that the Tories had made a ‘U-turn on fracking’, a line enthusiastically taken up by the Guardian.

This was no U-turn.  This wasn’t even a change of gear.  At the very most, this was a brief glance in the rear view mirror before accelerating ahead.  As the Department for Energy and Climate Change has said:

Labour’s proposals are already Government policy, carried out voluntarily by industry or as part of Environment Agency or HSE every day working practice. We have agreed to accept this amendment, to provide clear reassurance in law, and to give this nascent industry has the best possible chance of success.”

All this left no time for the moratorium amendment by Caroline Lucas and others to be debated.  It went to a vote, and was defeated by 308 votes to 52.  The list of those voting in favour comprises:

20 Labour

14 Lib Dem

6 Conservative

5 Scottish National Party

2 Social Democratic and Labour Party

2 Plaid Cymru

1 Alliance

1 Green

1 Respect

Readers of this blog may be interested to know how MPs representing Northern Ireland constituencies voted (or didn’t).  All of the NI members must by now be fully aware of the issue, of the effects of fracking and of the importance of this vote. Here they are:

1 Belfast East Naomi Long Alliance – voted for moratorium
2 Belfast North  Nigel Dodds DUP – didn’t vote
3 Belfast South  Alasdair McDonnell SDLP – didn’t vote
4 Belfast West Paul Maskey SF – didn’t vote
5 East Antrim Sammy Wilson DUP – voted against moratorium
6 East Londonderry  Gregory Campbell DUP – didn’t vote
7 Fermanagh & South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew SF – didn’t vote
8 Foyle Mark Durkan SDLP – voted for moratorium
9 Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson DUP – didn’t vote
10 Mid Ulster Francie Molloy SF- didn’t vote
11 Newry & Armagh  Conor Murphy SF – didn’t vote
12 North Antrim  Ian Paisley DUP – didn’t vote
13 North Down Sylvia Hermon Ind – didn’t vote
14 South Antrim William NcCrea DUP – didn’t vote
15 South Down Margaret Ritchie SDLP – voted for moratorium
16 Strangford Jim Shannon DUP – didn’t vote
17 Upper Bann David Simpson DUP – didn’t vote
18 West Tyrone  Pat Doherty SF – didn’t vote

Within the fourteen ‘didn’t votes’ I haven’t distinguished between any who might have been present but abstained (unlikely), those who have anachronistic ideological reasons for not taking their seats, those whose ‘double-jobbing’ kept them busy elsewhere (though Sammy Wilson managed to play an active part in the Stormont debate and to get to the House of Commons in time to cast his vote firmly in favour of fracking; a fact his Carrickfergus constituents will no doubt wish to note) and those who simply didn’t care, or not quite enough.  In the end, it hardly matters.  They let us down just the same way, no matter what their excuse.


15th January

0115Well, this has been a good day, if not quite the one I expected.  My plan was to spend the morning on book things, and the afternoon writing the rest of my TTIP/CETA post.  However, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky  – so sorry – Dave, Nige, Ed and Nick had other ideas.

For those of you who, by geography or inclination, manage to avoid the UK political news, I’ll explain very briefly.

In recent elections, the UK broadcasters have been following the American example by hosting televised debates.  Before the last general election in 2010, the main BBC debate was between what were seen as the ‘three main parties’: Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  The consensus was that the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg, had acquitted himself particularly well.  A phenomenon known as ‘Cleggmania’ ensued, leading to the LibDems, with their principled pledge to abolish student tuition fees, obtaining enough MPs to, er, go into coaltion with the Conservatives and triple tuition fees.

Five years later, the BBC decided that they would do things a bit differently this time.  Rather than restrict the debate to the same three parties, they would include an alternative, a new party that offered something different and challenged the stale orthodoxies of the old guard. And that party was – UKIP.  Yes, the UK Independence Party, that caricature of right-wing Conservatism, with its ex-City, privately educated leader, populist anti-immigration stance, pro-corporate, anti-environment agenda and tendency towards spectacular own goals, as one after another of its candidates lets slip a racist or homophobic epithet that, even in its chosen habitat of 1950s Croydon, would be not quite the thing, old chap.

So, there was to be a debate with Call Me Dave Cameron, Nick the Now Contrite (‘It wasn’t my fault, sir, the big boys made me do it’), the Labour leader Not-so-Red-Ed Milliband and the nonentity that is UKIP’s Nigel Farage, a man so lacking in basic being-a-proper-personhood that the British public, congratulating itself on its sense of humour, has decided that he’s this year’s joke ornament.  A bit like those irritating singing fish we used to see everywhere, which have now disappeared off the face of the nation’s lounges, Nigel is to be stuck on the telly to give us all a good laugh.  The trouble is, if they decide to buy one, there’s not a a charity shop in the land that’ll take  a slightly soiled UKIP MP when the fun wears off.

Where was I?  Oh yes, the BBC debate.  It then occurred to a few million people that if the BBC wanted to invite a fourth person along, there was a leader of a real alternative party, one with a proper MP, not to mention lots of councillors and members of the European Parliament, a party that had been ahead of the LibDems in several recent polls and that actually had some interesting policies to put forward, rather than relying on xenophobic bluster.  So quite a lot of these millions of people asked the BBC to change its mind, at least to add Natalie Bennett of the Green Party and make it a five-way debate.  And the British Broadcasting Corporation, being a public institution with a duty to foster democracy and fairness, said,


Upon which Dave, who wasn’t very keen on these debate-things anyway, having sustained a nasty puncture in the self-importance last time, hit on a wheeze.  (Or one of his advisors did.)  He announced, with grave dignity, that he wouldn’t take part in the debate unless the BBC invited the Greens as well.  Now, no one imagines that he said this out of a sense of Etonian fair play or a sudden respect for Green Party policies.  No, it was quite obvious that having Natalie Bennett there would be a huge and scary challenge to Labour and the LibDems, calling them out on their feeble nods towards red-and-greenery.  It would also distract attention from Cameron’s own possibly dismal performance.

We all knew it, so it didn’t mean anything.  All the other party leaders needed to do was to make vaguely regretful noises, ‘wish Natalie could have taken part, would have welcomed her perspective,  but sadly BBC has to make own decisions, can’t interfere, blah-blah’.  They could have done it in their sleep, having had, between them, a hundred and twenty-odd years of experience in not letting girls join in with their games (‘too dangerous, physical strength, male and female brains…’).  Instead, they decided to get together, Ed, Nick and Nigel, like lazy schoolboys cribbing their homework, and each write an identical letter to the BBC asking for a debate without either Dave or Natalie, but with an empty naughty seat in the middle.

It would be a stupid enough thing to do if they were political allies.  As so-called enemies, it was absolutely bonkers.   I don’t know what they imagined would happen, but I can’t think that the consequences were exactly intended.  The row was all over the news, with the word ‘Green’ being used more often within a single bulletin than over weeks of normal coverage.  The sheer silly pettiness of the boys was right out in the open, and the person who came out of it with honour and dignity was Natalie.

So what happened then was that the Green Surge, the increase in membership that had been building throughout 2014, burst into what our friend Maurice has called a Green Geyser.  Thousands of people flocked to the Green Party’s websites and signed up as members.  By this morning the UK Green membership had overtaken that of UKIP and by the evening it had passed the Liberal Democrats as well.  And, small though we are here, with Northern Ireland’s tiny population and weird political landscape, we caught quite a welcome soaking from the geyser as well.  So, as GPNI membership secretary, I’ve spent most of the day slaving over a hot spreadsheet. Never has formatting cells been so satisfying.

28th December

Sylvia Pankhurst
Sylvia Pankhurst

Today I’m finishing my reply to Sue (‘Kitty’) Jones’s article about the Green Party, which I began on the 26th.

There is probably not a great deal more to say about this. The conclusions of the article are wrong because the premises are wrong. The Green Party is not Malthusian in its view of population and certainly does not, as Ms Jones claims, “propose a limitation on births”. Indeed, the webpage to which she refers specifically states that “The Green Party holds that the number of children people have should be a matter of free choice.”

Similarly, the idea that human beings “cannot abolish poverty, because poverty has its base in nature” (apparently a Marxist paraphrase of Malthus, taken from this short piece by Brendan O’Neill) has no resonance in Green philosophy. On the contrary, the natural state of individuals and communities is to obtain all that they need: food, energy, the raw materials of leisure, art and trade, from the resources around them. It is only when those resources are stolen, poisoned and destroyed that poverty results. Green social justice policies are specifically constructed precisely to remove poverty here and now, while our policies of environmental sustainability will reduce the major causes of poverty in the majority world and for future generations.

Also borrowed from the Brendan O’Neill post is this quotation from Sylvia Pankhurst, defining socialism.

“It means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance… We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.”

Both O’Neill and Jones claim that this is the opposite of our Green vision, which O’Neill characterises as a ‘gospel of scarcity’. It is interesting, however, to look more fully at Sylvia Pankhurst’s article and at the nature of the abundance which she envisions.

” Under Socialism the land, the means of production and transport are no longer privately owned: they belong to all the people. The title to be one of the joint owners of the earth and its products and the inheritance of collective human labour does not rest on any question of inheritance or purchase; the only title required is that one is alive on this planet. Under Socialism no one can be disinherited; no one can lose the right to a share or the common possession.

The share is not so many feet of land, so much food, so many manufactured goods, so much money with which to buy, sell, and carry on trade. The share of a member of the Socialist Commonwealth is the right and the possibility of the abundant satisfaction of the needs from the common store-house, the right to be served by the common service, the right to assist as an equal in the common production.

Under Socialism production will be for use, not profit. The community will ascertain what are the requirements of the people in food, clothing, housing, transport, educational facilities, books, pictures, music, theatres, flowers, statuary, wireless telegraphy – anything and everything that the people desire. Food, clothing, housing, transport, sanitation — these come first; all effort will be bent first to supply these; everyone will feel it a duty to take some part in supplying these. Then will follow the adornments and amusements, a comfortable, cultured and leisured people will produce artistic and scientific work for pleasure, and with spontaneity. Large numbers of people will have the ability and the desire to paint, to carve, to embroider, to play, and to compose music.

They will adorn their dwellings with their artistic productions, and will give them freely to whoever admires them.

When a book is written the fact will be made known, and whoever desires a copy of it, either to read or to keep, will make that known to the printers in order that enough copies may be printed to supply all who desire the book. So with a musical composition, so with a piece of statuary.

So, too, with the necessaries of life. Each person, each household, will notify the necessary agency the requirements in milk, in bread, and all the various foods, in footwear, in clothing. Very soon the average consumption in all continuous staples will be ascertained. Consumption will be much higher than at present, but production will be vastly increased: all those who are to-day unemployed or employed in the useless toil involved in the private property and commercial system, will be taking part in actual productive work; all effort will be concentrated on supplying the popular needs.”

The ‘great production’ then, is of the ‘requirements of the people’; for the necessities of life and also for all that makes us truly civilised: art, music, literature and science. And it is a vision of enough for all; “the only title required is that one is alive on this planet”.

But she also writes of the obstacles to the fulfillment of this scheme: private deer forests, country estates, speculative land purchases, the whole ‘private property and commercial system’ and the “whirligig of finance”. This is not a socialism which is “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, that would bail out the banks and make personal fortunes by advising multinational corporations.

The abundance of which Sylvia Pankhurst writes is a fair distribution of the world’s resources, an equality which would make the lives of all comfortable, secure and fulfilled. This is the same equality for which we in the Green Party are working. What is more, we recognise the same barriers to its achievement; the self-interest of the very rich and of the multinational corporations and neoliberal governments who do their bidding. This is why the Green Party accepts no corporate donations, and why we are open and transparent about our funding, including in Northern Ireland where there is no obligation to disclose this.

Both Marx and Pankhurst, were they alive and active now, would recognise that the major threats to our freedom, prosperity and well-being are now global: not only environmental challenges such as climate change and destructive resource extraction, but also political and economic assaults such as TTIP. The global Green movement has been at the forefront of campaigns in all these areas, working together to find international solutions to international challenges.

In its history the Labour Party has brought about enormous benefits for the people of the United Kingdom, and we owe a perpetual debt of gratitude and respect to those women and men who transformed our society throughout the early and mid twentieth century. In recognition of their contribution, many have continued to vote Labour, more in hope than confidence, over the last few decades. But we have been let down so often, and so painfully.

The Green Party is, I believe, the closest we have here and now to an inheritor of Keir Hardie’s legacy. As such, it is inevitable that there should be a degree of sibling rivalry between Green and Labour supporters. But there is, too, much common ground, and many opportunities to work together. The Labour movement has bequeathed a positive and progressive tradition in Britain and Ireland, a foundation on which future achievements can be built. The Green movement offers a twenty-first century perspective with a global scope and an integrated vision of a just and sustainable society. Perhaps the Labour Left could take courage and confidence from our growth, encouraging its own leadership to be more radical, take more risks, and disengage from the mistakes of the past. Let’s look beyond the next election, beyond the dying embers of the first-past-the-post zero-sum game, and concentrate together on the desperate needs of our vulnerable world.

26th December

St Pancras workhouse
St Pancras workhouse, part of an oppressive system which sought legitimacy from Malthusian economic ideas.

Just before Christmas, my attention was drawn to an article by “Kitty” aka Sue, Jones (no relation!)  a Labour Party supporter in Britain, strongly criticising the Green Party. While there are issues regarding the tone of the article and the images which the writer has used to illustrate her assertions, I am restricting my comments to addressing some of the specific claims which are made.  I don’t expect I’ll be able to complete my analysis today, so will be continuing it in future posts.

Quotations from the original article are in bold and from other sources in italics.

Ms Jones writes that: “The Green Party has philosophical roots that may be traced back to the thinking of the Reverend Thomas Malthus.”

Not really, no. The only point of agreement between Green politics and Malthusian economics is the observation that the earth’s resources are inevitably limited. What is important is not the fact of this observation but how we respond to it. The traditional ‘Malthusian’ response would postulate an inevitable conflict between these limited resources and population levels. It would include an acceptance of war, disease and natural catastrophe, moral pressure towards celibacy on the part of the poor, and social and economic policies designed to undermine and punish poor families.

None of these conclusions form part of a Green political philosophy, which derives far more from the ideas of Rousseau than those of Malthus. For Green thinkers, the problems of poverty result rather from the unjust distribution and destruction of our limited resources than from population levels per se. Green politics recognises war, disease and ‘natural’ disasters as fundamental wrongs, to be challenged through our key principles of non-violence, social justice, environmental sustainability and grassroots democracy. The destruction of resources, which jeopardises both present and future generations, is being carried out by the rich, notably multinational corporations, and not the poor; and it is the rich whose behaviour Green policies seek to change.

A page on the website of the Green Party in England and Wales [Ms Jones refers to the England and Wales party throughout her article and I shall therefore do the same] entitled “The Philosophical Basis of the Green Party” makes this clear, stating that:
A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism.
A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.

Ms Jones goes on to say that:

“The Green Party have the following listed amongst their aims regarding population:

In the short-term, to promote debate on sustainable population levels for the UK. In the long-term, to achieve consumption and population levels that are globally sustainable and respect carrying capacity – the term used to describe the population that can, according to the Green Party, be sustainably supported in any given region. In theory it varies, depending on consumption patterns.”

This is a conflation of two (actually one long-term and one medium-term) policy objectives taken from the policy chapter on population from the Green Party’s website. I would recommend that anyone interested in this issue read this page in full, as it covers many areas which have been excluded from the extract quoted. In particular, it includes the principles that tackling inequality is fundamental to addressing population issues, that family size should be a matter of free choice and that sustainable land use, regional development, health and energy decisions need to reflect population needs. Crucial to the Green Party’s thinking in this area are a humane and compassionate migration policy which benefits both migrants and long-standing residents, support for developing economies in the majority world and empowerment of women, especially in terms of reproductive rights.

The article goes on to point out, correctly, that “during times of greater social equality and prosperity, rather than the population growth predicted by Malthus, families actually reduced the numbers of children they had, with the emergence of the small nuclear family unit.” This is all in accordance with Green thinking, and in accordance with the priority we give to social justice when considering the issue of population. “Prosperity, equality, social development and growth contribute to population reduction and greater resources“, says Ms Jones, and I would wholeheartedly agree with her, provided, of course, that the prosperity acquired is not confined to the rich and that the growth is sustainable and just, an enhancing, rather than a destruction, of our natural resources.

So far, therefore, we haven’t got much of a story.  Malthus was wrong in thinking that only negative pressure, whether natural, military, legal, economic or moral, would affect population levels.  In fact, the best way to reduce family size is to increase equality, empower women and invest in education, health and and sustainable economic development.  On this, it seems that Ms Jones and the Greens are at one.  Tomorrow I’ll look at what she says about ‘environmentalism’.  I suspect, again, that we may have more common ground than she thinks…