General Election 2017: a Green realignment of British politics?

This article was first published in The Ecologist.

Theresa May has called an election allegedly to secure her ‘mandate' for a hard Brexit - although in practice it is difficult not to see this as cynical party political maneuver to elect more Conservative MPs in the face of a weak opposition.

Despite the slew of positive opinion polls for the Conservatives that have become a distressing feature of this year's politics, the reality is that their ideology, Neoliberalism, is in deep crisis...

- The Financial crisis has been stark, is still ongoing, and is likely to get worse in this country due to the instability caused by Brexit.
- The Political crisis came searingly into view in 2016; with trust in politicians and, more worryingly, experts, at an all-time low.
- The Ecological crisis, the most serious of all, is still, like a vaster-than-vast iceberg, only just beginning to come, titanically, into view.

Moreover, with the Brexit vote, the kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us seize this moment and reorder this world around us.

In case you didn't recognise it, that previous little paragraph is a lightly-edited version of the climactic moment in Tony Blair's famous October 2001 speech.

This is what our intelligent enemies do. They think strategically and, at the same time, they ruthlessly seize opportunities. They try to reshape hegemony.

We must do the same. We must seize this moment, where the Brexit vote has put the pieces of our politics into flux.

The events of the last year are cause for sorrow, and for reflection, and for reorientation. They're cause for a reboot. And fortunately, this election on June 8th gives us just such an opportunity.

If we do not want ourselves and everything decent about us to be buried by the angry nationalist populism and authoritarianism that is at present insurgent, then we must become popular. If we do not want to act as the brilliant allies of our own gravediggers, then we need a way of handling this multi-crisis - a way which rises to the occasion and offers new direction.

The think tank I chair, Green House, has sought to outline just such a way, in our most recent and now more timely than ever report, commissioned by Molly Scott Cato MEP. In this report, we take on the task of articulating what a Green Brexit could look like.

Our recommendations are numerous, but the key theme uniting them is the question of how we can address and reverse the rising tide of unfettered globalisation that has eroded democratic sovereignty and led to deteriorating living standards globally for all but the super-rich.

Crucially, we need to show those who voted to ‘take back control' in June 2016 just how threatened democratic accountability is by the looming free trade deals that Theresa May and her team are intent on pursuing.

The Green Response to Brexit

The Green response to Brexit must be to resist these deals and instead pursue a radical economic and democratic localisation processes. These twin localisation processes are intimately linked... Rarely is the question posed of how much democratic control a country has if it is dependent on trade for its food and energy? But the answer is clear: not much control.

The ecological case for localisation is a crucial part to this pitch. The air miles expended by transporting large quantities of products across the globe when they can be produced at home is an obscene facet of global trade.

Equally important is the fact that production and jobs are incentivised to relocate to wherever labour regulations, tax laws, and environmental protections are weakest. This does not operate in anyone's interest as the poorer countries where jobs relocate to are often deprived of the profits of their labour by large multinationals.

(For a more complete intellectual picture of the case for localization, do read Helena Norberg-Hodge's classic text, 'Ancient Futures'. Norberg-Hodge's work underpinned the content of Green House's recent report.)

Our report calls for Greens to renew their unabashed criticisms of the globalisation process. This way, if followed, could result in nothing less than a realignment of British politics. If the Green Party is ever to become a mass party, capable of winning significant numbers of First-Past-The-Post elections, then we need to construct a much wider voter-base: an alliance between working-class and middle-class voters, like Labour had, until recently.

Brexit gives us the opportunity to create such a new voter-base-alliance. If we rest content within a narrow base of Remainers, and try simply to resist Brexit, we are severely limiting our vote potential. Green House's report outlines another way: one where those who voted Brexit can feel welcomed into a radical ecological and redistributive movement that addresses the lack of control so many feel.

Moreover, it allows Brexit to, against all the odds, achieve something worthwhile ... And it could allow Greens to become the popular movement that the planet and future generations desperately need us to be.

We can in this way move onto the front foot on the issue which will determine the outcome of the 2017 General Election: Namely, what kind of Britain should post-Brexit Britain be. The next Government will largely determine the actual nature and trajectory of this country, post-the-EU.

Now let's think about this potential realignment in electoral demographic terms. To adopt the 'Values-Modes' threefold division of the electorate into ethical Pioneers, 'me'-directed Prospectors and tradition-oriented Settlers: the standard main appeal of Greens has for some years been only to Pioneers. But what if we could cement an alliance between Pioneers and Settlers?

We must reclaim the word 'protection' from the slough of abuse that it has been systematically subject to from the dogmatic 'free-traders'. Politics ought to be centrally about protecting those who are not able to protect themselves: the most vulnerable abroad and at home, our descendants including voiceless future generations, non-human animals.

Protecting them, and protecting nature, and protecting workers rand democratic rights, protecting the places where we live, protecting everything we love and value: this is an agenda around which many 'Pioneers' and 'Settlers' can unite. It was an agenda pioneered by Caroline Lucas' superb book with Mike Woodin Green Alternatives to Globalisation (2004).

A 'Communitarian' Ethic

What we need in the 21st century is a deeply ‘communitarian' ethic. ‘Settlers' have a mentality that is in some key respects far from that of the ‘pioneers' whose way of being tends to be closest to the psychology sought after by Green Party activists. But settlers and pioneers meet in ‘we', in community.

The pioneers' sense of community, as inclusive as possible, should deliberately seek to include settlers and their need for a sense of security and belonging, genuine desiderata that are seriously under threat in our hyper-open, hyper-mobile, hyper-global world. Pioneers should seek common cause with settlers.

Only something like this will enable us to reach out beyond an urban ghetto of hardcore Green support to create an alliance between rural and urban voters. Only a coming together of (mainly rural) ‘settlers' with (mainly urban) ‘pioneers' will enable us to assemble a truly substantial voter-base.

If the Green Party is ever to become a mass party it will need to win not just in places like Brighton Pavillion and Bristol West but also in places like (for instance) the Isle of Wight.

So: The ‘alternative', openly pro-protective (of all that, collectively, we most value) vision embodied in our report offers a basis for unifying Pioneers and Settlers. This is an offer that is strongly oriented toward more self-reliance and self-governance. The heart's desire of many Settlers is a viable, more secure, post-globalisation Britain. That is what we are outlining, offering.

This is an offer whose time has come, as so many turn against globalisation, and as a more resilient future becomes necessary, given the rising tide of dangerous climate change and given incipient resource scarcities.

What we have here is potentially the seed of nothing less than a realignment of British politics. A Green realignment that, at last, could see people and place, plus people and planet, coming out on top.

Let the 2017 Election be when that started to happen. With the kaleidoscope in flux, it's time for a Green vision of Brexit to prevail.

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