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.