Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lib Dem leader disses the Green Party

I admit it, I'm deeply jealous. When I heard that Floella Benjamin, one of my childhood idols, had spoken at the Lib Dem conference it sent a pang through me from the green eyed monster.

Then, adding insult to injury, Nick Clegg told the world, or at least the section of it that's listening, not to vote for the Green Party. Oh, the blooming cheek of it.

I know, I know. It's hardly news that the leader of one political party tells voters of a different party that they should vote for him instead but I'm not used to the attention. It makes me blush for a start.

Mr Clegg proposed a love in to conference goers; "This is not a time for people who care about the environment to quarrel between ourselves. This is a time for unity." Unity, for the slow to catch up, means everyone voting Lib Dem. Unless he's proposing standing down in our three target constituencies obviously!

As Sam Coates mentions it seems that the Greens are now the only major party who call for the abolition of tuition fees, there's one reason to vote Green for you. After all the Lib Dems are part of the big three consensus of savage cuts which is slightly different from the Green Party's Green New Deal which proposes, well, the exact opposite.

We also have the Scottish experience of Lib Dem ministers which was sadly not one where the environment came front and center to their political practice.

It's interesting that this indecent proposal comes hot on the heels of Tory head honcho Cameron saying you couldn't fit a cigarette paper between the Tories and Lib Dems. I believe Clegg's response to this began with an "f" and did not end in "antastic", I wonder if the Greens are supposed to make the same response? And should we then pick on someone smaller than us and attempt a similarly vacuous courtship?

Mr Clegg also said that "Only a party that has real power and influence at the heart of government will be able to make it happen [action against climate change]." Despite this he asks people to vote Lib Dem instead. Why he made an argument for voting Labour in the middle of his speech is anyone's guess. Let's not dwell on it.

The reality of the matter is that one Lib Dem more or less in the House of Commons will make absolutely no difference to the government's response to climate change.

Two or three Green Party MPs would be a catalyst for real change. Not just because all three main parties would have to start genuinely taking the environment more seriously to cover their collective electoral posteriors, but also because they would be part of that growing movement that exists in every town and city across the country. There is no clearer environmental message at the ballot box that people can send than a vote for the Green Party, but it isn't just a symbolic vote - it opens up a crack in their system for real diversity of opinion.

Caroline Lucas, in the Guardian letters page, says that "The unedifying spectacle of all three main parties vying to "out-cut" one another, comparing the size and sharpness of their respective butcher's knives, scandalously deflects attention from the real issue. Britain's debt as a proportion of national income isn't particularly high by historical standards. At a time when the number of jobless people is nearing 2.5 million, including nearly a million 16- to 24-year-olds, the subject which should be dominating the headlines is unemployment, not the growing frenzy over the government deficit.

"The Green party is the only party advocating a different way forward. Massive investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy would create hundreds of thousands of tax-generating jobs, and address the climate crisis. Tax increases for the very wealthy, plus a crackdown on bonuses and chief executive pay, would raise billions, and start to address the shameful increase in inequality under Labour. Scrapping Trident and ID cards would save billions more."

Clegg can say what he likes and I'm 100% sure there are many good, committed people in the Lib Dems who care just as deeply about the environment as I do, I even know some of them, but this coy agreement the big three have on cuts in public services and restoring the economy to the way it was simply wont do. A Green vote says more than let's stick up a few turbines, we have to change the way we live. We need to challenge the economic system, and I don't see the Lib Dems doing that any time soon, lovely though they are.


Dave Semple said...

It's because in some of the LD target wards, the Greens are all up in his space. Oxford East, for example, is a major target next election, for both of you - the Lib Dems and Greens vie for control of the council but the real prize is Andrew Smith's parliamentary seat - contested for the Greens by Peter Tatchell. Not that this reinforces some prejudices of the Greens being middle class, sandle-wearing (etc)....

David Cox said...

‘Unless he's proposing standing down in our three target constituencies obviously!’ fair point Jim; so why not say to Nick, ok if Liberal Democrats stood down in the Green Party’s three targets, and in return we will stand down in Liberal Democrat held and target seats? Because at the moment head-bangers in my party are looking to stop the Greens getting any MPs and some Greens are quite open in their desire to see Liberal Democrat MPs defeated by Conservatives. We are playing a lose- lose game, we could make it a win-win game.

Greens and Liberal Democrats have worked together before. In 1995 Liberal Democrats introduced and pushed through the Home Energy Conservation Act, a bill written by the Green Party (in consultation with Friends of the Earth and fuel poverty groups). This in fact was, I believe the first time that legislation written by a non-parliamentary political party ever made it onto the Statute books.

Dave Semple said...

LOL @ "introduced and put through". Introduced maybe. Put through? Were the Lib Dems the only ones to turn up to chamber for each reading?

Jim Jay said...

Hi Davids!

Dave 1. you're right of course that people who vote Green have often voted Lib Dem in the past or are part of their potential audience. This is particularly dangerous for them in key constituencies but also at local council level.

In Norwich for example the rise of the Greens has seen the ability of the Lib Dems to pose as the alternative completely undercut and they are a dwindling force in the city.

These people may well share a love of sandals (although I've literally *never* worn a pair!) but it's also policies like abolishing trident, tuition fees and id cards, concern about civil liberties and, of course the environment. All areas where Labour and the Tories are either uncredible or actively opposed to those policies.

David 2. I've got no idea what I'd think if there was such a proposal on the table, it would certainly be very tempting, but as you say the impression I'm getting is that the LDs would prefer to crush us at birth rather than make any agreements.

Greens try to work constructively with everyone so if there were agreeable terms I'm sure we'd accept them. Personally I'd never choose a Tory over a Lib Dem MP.

Adrian Cruden said...

Good piece Jim.

Clegg's call, and the chorus echoing it from many Lib Dems, seems to be predicated on the belief that somehow the Greens are a slightly different version of the Lib Dems, maybe in their minds a nostalgic adjunct back to the days when they had some small scrap of radicalism in their own veins.

But, in the Green Euro-PPB's words, think again!

The Lib Dems and Greens are poles apart on a wide range of issues: the LDs have often backed airport and road expansion, the Greens don't;
- the Lib Dems support a move towards flat income tax, the Greens want a more progressive arrangement than we have now, with the rich paying more;
- the Lib Dems are all signed up to the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum, the Greens aren't;
- the Lib Dems are opposed to ending the opt-out on the working time regulations, the Greens support it;
- the Greens want a citizens' income, the Lib Dems dropped the idea years ago;
- the Lib Dems support the Afghan war, the Greens want to bring the troops home.

Greens support social justice and real action on the environmental crisis: the Lib Dems shift endlessly to accommodate the perceived wishes of Middle England, just as Tories and Labour do. Greens can and do work with other parties, including the Lib Dems sometimes, but there is a big difference between co-operation for the sake of the community and assimilation into the stultifying corporate capitalist consensus the Lib Dems have fully signed up to.

David Cox said...

Adrian, Greens and Liberals are philosophically and ideologically different; however not poles apart otherwise there wouldn’t be such a movement of members between the parties. I don’t think the examples you use are very convincing, Lib Dems have never voted for a ‘flat tax’ and I’m not sure what the Greens problem is with retained fire-fighters (working time opt out), but it’s hardly a major ideological difference, nevertheless a big vote loser for Greens in rural areas.
Do take a look at what your Green sister parties in Europe are doing and saying, on road building, Lisbon Treaty (Daniel Cohn-Bendit doesn’t pull his punches), and military intervention in Afghanistan. Which is the real difference between Greens and Liberals in the UK, Greens have not held power, whereas in Europe they have, and like the Liberal Democrats in the UK, whilst there have been huge achievements, there have also been let downs.
There is an opportunity for both parties to seize the moment and say whilst we are different, we do agree on the urgency of tacking climate change and constitutional change, so we are going to stand down were it could make a difference. It would mean both parties were using their limited resourses to best effect. I guess the innate tribalism in both parties will stop any such thing happening.

Viridis Lumen said...

Sorry but I have to disagree. There may have been some ideological cross-over in the past, but there are fundamental differences which probably are clearest in three issues:
1. the action required on climate change - the Greens advocate an urgent and substantial transformation of the economy to much greater localised production and consumption and much greater regulation; the Lib dems more than ever embrace the market and your last manifesto started with a commitment to a "bonfire" of business regulations - this under the relatively centrist Kennedy as opposed to the more right-wing neo-lib Clegg.

2. Green support redustribution of wealth with a far more progressive tax system, including higher capital gains and income tax rates; the Lib Dems support quite the opposite with their commitment to middle class tax cuts and Clegg/Cable's fostering of flat tax as an objective, as per Euroliberals. And the approach to Europe - the Greens' social Europe or the Lib dems Europe for business are also fundamentally different.

3. The Afghan war and the Iraq war before (which the Lib dems were ambivalent about until opposition became a clear electoral advantage - find out about how reluctant Kennedy's last minute appearance at the Hyde park rally was, and look at how vague his text was) are key tests of where we stand in terms of international relations and peace. There are huge differences here, including your opposition to Trident renewal being purely financial in its nature.

The bottom line is this - the two parties are essentially different in their analysis of the causes of our problems and the solutions. This pretence by Lib dems that the poor Greens are sort of naive Lib Dems who have yet to experience the power and realism that comes with running local authorities which Lib dems claim is frankly patronising at best and dishonest at worst. If the Lib dems have sister parties, they are to be found in the Tories and Labour cosying up to a market consensus, not the Green Party and its very different view of a future society and economy.

Joe Otten said...

Jim, can you clarify something.

You want to challenge the economic system? And you want no cuts in public services?

Now this is the economic system that is taxed to pay for all these public services.

So is this the sort of challenge that lets the system carry on much as it is, so it can still be taxed? Or what?

Or are you in fact talking about much the same sort of system, just with much higher taxes?

Jim Jay said...

Great question Joe! It's one of those knotty questions that the left can debate endlessly on the relationship between long term ultimate aims and short term demands.

I'm looking for a paradigm shift away from a capitalist economy and, as you rightly point out, that would eventually mean doing away with income tax. I'm one of those lefties who thinks that stage is quite some way away and probably isn't worth spending too much time thinking about. And of course the aim is not the abolition of income tax, that's a by product.

So given that the taxation system itself is not one of things I'm actively seeking to abolish (unlike, say the monarchy) I'm happy to use it as a mechanism to help achieve some of the things I do want to achieve - like abolishing trident and funding large scale green industries for example.

It's like working towards retirement I suppose. If someone is looking forward to retiring as soon as they can it doesn't actually mean that working extra hours today contradicts that aim - in fact it should bring it closer.