Is anti-politics viable?

Advocates of a global Green New Deal must think about what position they should take in relation to existing politics. There is a lot of discontent in the UK, and many people feel that representative democracy is not functioning properly. Extinction Rebellion has moved towards a position that supports participatory democracy. This perspective has the advantage of submerging ideological differences within the movement, but it is hard to imagine that this stance can be maintained.

If British activists are honest with themselves, the outcome of the general election was a grave disappointment. Complaining about the vagaries of First Past the Post can be perceived as sour grapes. If Boris Johnson was not Prime Minister then fewer individuals would be opposed to constitutional business as usual. Representative democracy feels good when the good guys win.

George Monbiot is a journalist and campaigner who is overtly contemptuous of the electoral system. He believes that a citizens’ assembly could work wonders. Believers in this model have been impressed by the way that this cooperative model has operated in Ireland. Nevertheless, it is never easy to transfer an innovation from one context to another. Furthermore, not everyone wants to engage in time-consuming politics, as it may feel remote from their everyday interests.

When one thinks about the British constitution, it seems to be unnecessarily opaque. It also appears to be obsolete. Nevertheless, it has the full support of the ruling class. Moreover, ordinary people have not expressed their desire for reform in sufficient numbers. Votes for progressive institutional change have been lost. It looks like a large segment of the population do not mind politics being done for them (and to them). Trust in journalists and politicians remains low.   

Of course, British subjects do get angry. Brexit, austerity and Covid-19 have polarised the country. But there is insufficient organisation to mould the indignation in a positive fashion. For example, the atomised society is held back by weak trade unions. And the mainstream media persists in portraying the political parties as participants in a horse race.

Activism is crucial in driving forward the green agenda. Some of the activists may have strong anti-Establishment opinions. But being anti-politics could well be a dead end. After all, there is nothing more ideological than pretending to be free from ideology. When a meaningful election is held, most activists will ultimately elect to vote.

We Own It is an activist-led organisation that has been around longer than Extinction Rebellion. Its ideological stance is unapologetic. Opposed to privatisation, the group endorse a rethink of the extent of the British public sector. Its media-targeted campaigns can be highly effective, and We Own It is prepared to collaborate with other groups. Since its creation in 2013, the pressure group has secured tangible victories.

Intense hostility to the green agenda is often to be found in political cultures of the right. There is nothing to be gained from concealment of this fact. The disproportionate response of the Conservative Party to Extinction Rebellion is just one indicator of the truth. Any radical movement that attempts to fudge the thorny subject of politics is likely to struggle in the long-term. Being clear about the science is not enough; environmentalists have a duty to be transparent about their political allegiances. Differentiating between left and right is the sine qua non of honest politics. Recruitment to Extinction Rebellion may suffer somewhat if individuals feel that it does not listen to their justice-based concerns. Letting market forces rip is not going to conserve ecosystems going forward. Fortunately, the global Green New Deal has considerable international support from outside the ranks of Extinction Rebellion. 

Burning questions

In 2020, the international community has seen the consequences of climate change. Extreme weather has affected many nations. Biodiversity has been threatened by raging fires, while flooding has also clarified the road that we are on. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how humans can adapt to the Anthropocene. Unfortunately, policymakers have been obliged to focus on Covid-19. This concentration of institutional capacity has made it harder to mitigate climate change.

However, civil society and the media have begun to challenge the ideological hegemony of the British ruling class. Extinction Rebellion has caused minor disruption and sparked necessary debate, whilst the BBC has featured a documentary on the huge dilemmas provoked by human hubris. Scientists have warned us that 1 million species are in peril because of the status quo.

Not much can be done by individuals, but government and business have the power to bring about substantial change. When it comes to feasible reform, the agricultural sector has a major role to play. Farmers and retailers have the potential to lead us to positive consumer choices.

There are progressive individuals who are thinking about Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA). This philosophy may feed into the broader agenda of a global Green New Deal. CSA aims to provide agribusiness with a balanced vision that can help Western societies to adjust. For example, much more can be done to mitigate the impact of agriculture.

Experts have pointed out that CSA may be delivering more change to the Global North than the Global South. However, British agriculture has the opportunity to up its game. This is because the disruption associated with Brexit gives the stakeholders a chance to pursue a fresh start.

Sometimes the scale of the ecological problem is such that it stops us from wanting to act responsibly. After all, it is easy to become apathetic and demoralised. Luckily, there are practical people out there who haven’t given up the struggle.

On the free press

The response to the Extinction Rebellion media protest was interesting, even if it was not unpredictable. Politicians were quick to voice their support for the ‘free’ press. Instead of saying that the campaigners had a point to make about the lack of coverage devoted to climate change, these individuals jumped to complain about the limited interruption to the news.

Regardless of any argument in relation to the ownership of the British press, the politicians think that the status quo is acceptable. Although the ruling class are not always happy with individual stories in the newspapers, there is ultimately a cosy relationship between the traditional media and those who govern us.

Obviously, the ‘free’ status of the British press does not guarantee pluralism or quality. The social media has put a great deal of pressure on journalists to work hard without providing any incentives for them to engage in investigative journalism.

Clearly, a country like China does censor journalists and bloggers more than the UK does. After all, the UK was once a liberal democracy. However, the UK has fallen into populism and reporting of China is seldom fair. Journalists have been instrumental in pulling the UK away from liberalism.

Socialists have often debated the freedom of the media. Karl Kautsky was clear that socialist parties required a liberal press to keep the people informed. In contrast, the Bolsheviks clamped down on opposition newspapers because they wanted their revolution to survive.

Extinction Rebellion has claimed to be post-ideology. It wants to attract support from non-socialist forces. Some of its backers are affluent. Nevertheless, socialists and environmentalists can learn a lot from one another. By stopping some newspaper deliveries, the pressure group has attracted disproportionate opprobrium from the powers that be.

Of course, it is fair to say that public opinion in the UK is polarised. And it is true that we have cognitive dissonance to deal with. However, the idea that the country benefits from a free press appears to be mistaken. The lack of balance was apparent in the referendum on Scottish independence. The absence of impartiality was also clear in the unflattering coverage of Jeremy Corbyn.

It is quite hard to see how the UK could develop a more reasonable fourth estate. Commerce will continue to shape content. Hence, evolution is more likely than revolution. However, the environmental crisis is so severe that journalists must try to be as independent as possible. Only by being autonomous from advert-driven financial influence can individuals become more popular and more relevant than they are now.

Climate change and tax increases?

With Extinction Rebellion hitting the headlines once more, people can expect to see a rise in media content related to the environment. Changes to national taxation systems can be part of a Global Green New Deal. If Britain was serious about addressing climate change, green taxes would be higher than they are now. Whilst the news shows that the Tories are planning to tax companies and wealthy individuals a little more, it also indicates that a reduction in foreign aid is on the cards. This would be an attack on efforts to come up with effective international cooperation- collaboration between countries is central to any hopes we may have for the future.

There is no point in despondency. If the Conservative Party steals from Labour’s manifesto then this might not be a bad thing in itself. Nevertheless, there are risks associated with not being vigilant. The potential attack on foreign aid is particularly egregious because it flies in the face of what has to be done for people and planet.

Of course, there is no easy way out of the Anthropocene. But governments can and must do better. The problem with nationalism is that it adds complexity to the practical questions that must be answered.

With regard to protest, it is important to recognise that the left do not have a monopoly on taking to the streets. The recent anti-health protests in Germany and the UK demonstrate that conspiracy theories are not fading away. The far right may not embrace increased taxation, but cultural issues could preoccupy them to a greater extent.

Taxation increases may not be progressive in themselves. A lot depends on where governments spend their money. A premature attempt to restore ‘sound finance’ by boosting taxation might actually be counterproductive for life chances. When the British economy is in such an unusual place, it is best to wait for the details of the changes before one makes a judgement about them.

How much weather is needed?

The regional weather this week has conformed to the theory of man-made climate change. Intense precipitation and warm sunshine will have made the average person slightly more open to the concept of the Global Green New Deal. However, the weather over several days cannot be counted as evidence of anything specific. Instead, a longer period of climate assessment has been required to back up the climate change thesis. Nevertheless, contrarians, conspiracy theorists and neoliberal economists may all continue to deny the scale of the problem. What is to be done?

Obviously, the movement for a Global Green New Deal does not have to persuade everyone. Success will be uneven at best. Even though time is running out and the Paris deal seems not to be working, action can still make a difference to the prospects for people and planet.

That said, the changing weather shall impact on the perceptions of the public. Therefore, gardeners and other observant people can take the opportunity to broach the subject socially. Members of Extinction Rebellion can make their arguments in more forthright terms, but experience suggests that subtle one-to-one conversations may also change minds. The problem facing Extinction Rebellion is not that they interpret the science wrongly: it is the case that some disruptive activities alienate elements of the social whole. One case where this was evident was when a train service was disrupted, despite the fact that rail is a relatively green transport solution. Hopefully, Extinction Rebellion will learn from this slight error, whilst retaining its dynamism. Meanwhile, gardeners can make a difference by talking to their neighbours when the sun shines strongly.

It was thought that the emergence of COVID-19 would lead to a greener politics. After all, lockdowns must reduce pollution in the short-term. However, the economic imperative is setting in, so people will have to escape from wishful thinking. All in all, the point is that more than a week of ‘good’ weather is necessary, if the people are going to get the sustainable policies that they deserve.

A Food Bailout?

As the support for the economy is being reduced, food has become highly political. In the UK, the elite is keen to focus public attention on obesity. While being overweight might make one more vulnerable in a pandemic, constructing a discourse of blame could be highly problematic. The government is not making the connections between obesity and poverty and inequality, and its approach to obesity is coinciding with a drive to get people to eat out. Regardless of these considerations, the issue of hunger is not being addressed by the contradictory agenda.

Fortunately, backers of a global Green New Deal have a platform of their own. The Leap organisation is demanding a bailout based on food. The emphasis is on addressing food poverty rather than on policing the weight of nations.

For some activists, obesity is a gender issue. Feminists are not keen on shaming fat people. Prejudice against the overweight is commonplace. Essentially, clumsy political narratives can construct responsibility at the level of the individual.

The details of a food bailout do need to be fleshed out. Nonetheless, the proposals could push governments to rethink the obesity debate. The issue of hunger in the postmodern era is more serious than the war on fat. In the UK, some of the warning signs have been flashing for some time. Governments do need to feed their populations properly, regardless of ideology. Not everything can be left to the private sector.

The Leap Forward?

When the global Green New Deal is being discussed, the problem of structure and agency crops up. This dilemma is not an abstract issue for two main reasons. Firstly, the structure of Disaster Monopoly Capitalism militates against the swift adoption of the necessary transformation. Secondly, the groups in favour of the global Green New Deal do not yet have the influence one would desire. With regard to the second point, research highlights that pessimism may be overdone.

The Leap is a coalition which argues in favour of a bailout for the people. We have witnessed bailouts for banks and big corporations in recent years, but we have seen less action to secure the health and wealth of ordinary people. Importantly, The Leap frames its economic platform with deep concern for the way we are living now. Policies that promote the economy over the planet are a priori ruled out. Hence, The Leap may gradually win hearts and minds until a critical mass is attained.

However, The Leap may not overcome the resistance that is massed against it. Vested interests will lobby for the maintenance of Disaster Monopoly Capitalism, using nationalist rhetoric to secure public support. Opponents of progress may try to discredit The Leap by implying that it has something in common with the Great Leap Forward. Of course, the misery associated with the Great Leap Forward has little to do with the reality of contemporary China. Nevertheless, postmodern Sinophobia is so strong that smearing The Leap is quite possible.

Perhaps The Leap can sharpen its self-description. The group clearly has positive intentions. It is crucial for political actors to define themselves. This is because a shortage of self-description may be filled by the criticism of its opponents. The irony is that humans do require a Great Leap Forward, albeit one which has nothing in common with that of Mao Zedong. In the absence of a utopia, we must struggle for sub-optimal goals.

The shape of things to come?

The objective need for a global Green New Deal seems to be increasing as the weeks go by. In the UK, the private sector is shedding jobs before the end of the furlough scheme. Meanwhile, the unsustainable economy of Australia has received coverage in the liberal Guardian. The paper itself has been shrinking its staff. Instead of focusing on the development of the alternative, the British Labour Party is embroiled in a quiet civil war. Critics of the Labour leadership are not impressed by the latest opinion polls and the left is unhappy with the bland management on display. However, there is still some room for optimism.

Because of his forensic brand, the fact remains that Sir Keir Starmer is able to enjoy a more positive press than Jeremy Corbyn. Furthermore, his reputation for being a safe pair of hands has not yet been diminished by some of his questionable decisions.

As a former member of the Labour Party, I find it easier to be detached from Labour’s vicissitudes than when I was a participant in the struggle. It has occurred to me that Starmer can appeal to two specific groups. His centrist style could endear him to natural Liberal Democrats, while his sensible image makes an effective contrast with that of the current Prime Minister. Moreover, a change of leader by the Conservative Party might give Starmer a chance to compete against quite an inexperienced politician.

Labour’s main weakness is its lack of economic credibility. The point here is that the Conservative Party may lose prestige in this area. If the recession is not V-shaped then the organisation should be held culpable for the catastrophe.

Of course, Scotland remains a country of difficulty for Labour. Perhaps this issue could be addressed by some kind of deal with the SNP. Time will tell if such a partnership can emerge in time for the next general election.

When one thinks about the future, the grim environmental news can crowd out some of the good things that are happening around the world. It is always useful to remember that negative news sells. People within the Labour Party would benefit from trying to get on with one another; it is not just Labour who will lose out from continued strife. As for the planet, moping about it is not a winning strategy.

Continuing the global Green New Deal

As the model of monopoly disaster capitalism is rolled out, it becomes imperative to sell the alternative to the public. In this context, selling an agenda does not constitute selling out an agenda. That said, affluent people have to be tempted to alter their lifestyles. This is not an easy task, despite the accumulation of scientific evidence. Two strategies present themselves, and it is not straightforward to pick between them.

The first strategy is to shame people into using less carbon. In rich communities, post-material values may exist. However, the language of guilt can be misinterpreted as a discourse of envy. Furthermore, the history of fat shaming shows that individuals do not respond well to finger-pointing. Hence, a policy platform should not use the concept of reparations too much if it wants to make headway in the Global North.

The second strategy aims to use psychology to get results. Here, the idea is that an individual can be tempted into caring more about the planet. A policy might not have an immediate impact on the amount of global heating, but it could help to get influential people to change their behaviour. A good example of this technique is the celebration of local rewilding. Animals like the bison may add to levels of methane in the atmosphere but the introduction of such beasts into England may lead to a bigger conservation effort than would otherwise have been possible. A small increase in methane production can be offset by consciousness raising.

Clearly, the case for a global Green New Deal might struggle to get traction in the midst of a collapse in employment. A lack of faith in the future may undermine the messaging of activists. In this situation, a moral appeal has to be couched in a sensitive way. Using the framing of reparations will not work when preaching beyond the ranks of the converted. In contrast, rewilding can make conservation into an exciting combination of theory and practice.

Any compelling movement will have idealists and pragmatists within its ranks. The nature of the global Green New Deal will attract idealists. It is important to secure support from pragmatic people as well. This is partly because ad hominem remarks work well against idealists. Celebrity backers can be an asset, but such figures can be accused of hypocrisy. That is why colourful tactics, such as rewilding, may achieve a cut through that ordinary endorsements can fail to secure.

In Sorrow

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of several things about its author. Firstly, I am interested in socioeconomic issues. Secondly, I am concerned about environmental matters. Thirdly, I have witnessed the impact of austerity because of my voluntary work. These three things fused together and meant that I was open to the messaging of the Labour Party during the era of Corbynism. Since the election of Sir Keir Starmer, I have been compelled to reassess my politics. Although I would like the Labour Party to win the next general election, I do not believe that such an event would transform British society. Hence, I have chosen to cancel my party membership.

Several things have influenced my decision. Since Starmer has assumed control over the party machine, the leadership has not articulated a clear economic policy. In addition, the team has failed to foreground the Green New Deal sufficiently. However, this drift to the right is not just a matter of existing policy formation. Further concessions to the right of the parliamentary Labour Party seem to be in the wind. Progressive ideas like a Universal Basic Income or a shorter working week may be received poorly as the focus on ‘electability’ will be maintained.

While the anti-Semitism scandal was not simply the creation of the media, Labour has not managed its communications strategy properly in this sensitive area. During the Corbyn period, big errors were made. And it does appear that the Labour Party was affected by self-sabotage. Starmer was correct to reset the relationship that exists between the party and Jewish communities. Nevertheless, his dismissal of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the frontbench came across as a peremptory deed. Her accidental misdemeanour probably warranted a critical response, but some party members thought that she should have been given a chance. Her hard work on the Green Industrial Revolution has endeared her to practical people in the movement.

Left-leaning individuals who remain in the Labour Party have my respect. Nonetheless, those who want to democratise the organisation are struggling to be heard. Labour may contain some socialists, but the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs is not likely to influence public policy for many years.

The strength (and the weakness) of the Labour Party is that it remains a broad church. From a personal perspective, team Starmer pay too little attention to bread and butter issues. While they have been pursuing an ambiguous approach to the COVID-19 crisis, a million extra people have fallen into the Great British Dole Queue. Thus far, Starmer has not shouted loud enough about the inadequate social security system.

The future of the Labour Party is still of absorbing interest to me. After all, any Labour government has the capacity to implement important reforms. But the party is like an oil tanker that takes a very long time to turn around. The truth is that engaging with people on the right of the party can be a stressful experience. And campaigning is problematic in the absence of mutual respect. At the same time, being outside the party is like stepping outside an echo chamber. It is possible to be less dogmatic when one’s mind is not conditioned by a party line.

Supporters of Starmer may be cheered by the vagaries of the opinion polls. However, the shambolic performance of the Conservative Party is responsible for the growing competitiveness of Labour. Arguably, ordinary Labour members have been treated with a degree of disdain since the electoral debacles of last year. It is not easy to have persuasive conversations with the public, and we did not always have coherent policy packages to sell. In short, I am leaving the party more in sorrow than in anger.