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What would a Corbyn win mean for the Greens?

Some see his election as a danger for the Greens - competition. On the contrary, his election may prove a major boost for the party.

Rupert Read
3 September 2015
corbyn.jpg

Flickr/lewishamdreamer. Some rights reserved.

The ascension of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Leadership is now unstoppable. The proof? The bookies are already paying out to the lucky few who bet on him in the early days of the campaign. Bookies are not known for parting with money willingly. Corbyn is now a dead cert.

So it’s time already to think 'what next'? What does Corbyn as Labour leader mean for the future of British politics? A big question. This article concerns one particular part of the answer. What difference does Corbyn’s leading of the Labour Party make to the Green Party, and to green politics?

My answer may surprise you. My view is that Corbyn’s becoming Labour leader is good news for green politics, and for the Green Party; because Corbyn is going to make the Labour Party the Labour Party again. And that welcome development in turn makes it easier for us to be the Green Party.

What do I mean by this?

Start with labour. Work. You can bet your bottom pound that Corbyn is going to up the ante in relation to rewarding labour, now that Osborne has had the chutzpah to introduce a so-called ‘Living Wage’. Greens have a different view on this key question. Unlike the old parties, we favour breaking the supposedly umbilical link between work on the one hand and livelihood, security, and self-respect on the other. This is why we favour the Citizens Income policy: an unconditional basic income for all, that we would set at a rate high enough to ensure that the poorest are better off than at present.

As Guy Standing has argued here on OurKingdom, in an age of precarity there is a strong case for ditching the hopeless dream of providing security for all through a Living Wage; far better to be genuinely radical, and institute a Citizens Income. And the extraordinary advantage then of the Citizens Income (CI) over the Living Wage is that it ends wage-slavery, as well as the benefits- and unemployment- traps. Labour, including under Corbyn, dreams of permanently increasing wages. Greens want to end wage-slavery. I know which I believe to be more radical (as well as more realistic).

Secondly, we put a serious emphasis on land, which Labour fails to. There are three core elements to economic production – Land, Labour and Capital - not just the two usually cited by the left (and the right). Thus once more Greens have a fundamentally different starting point for politics, which is all too often seen as two-dimensional (‘left-right’). Greens favour land-reform and the introduction of a Land Value Tax.

A sophisticated Land Value Tax such as the Greens — but not Corbyn’s Labour — have as policy would, moreover, be applied in such a way that it tackled land-use and not just land-value. Picture a system where nature-reserves and other diverse habitats are protected but intensive use of land taxed appropriately. Such a developed version of LVT, which takes account of ‘eco-system services’, could incidentally obviate the need for any separate ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ (PES): this would be a welcome result, given serious green/Green reservations about the whole PES approach: see here and here. LVT, like Citizens Income, is a landmark Green policy.

Next, consider that third factor of production: capital. Consider in particular money, without which a complex economy in a contemporary country is impossible. There is one party in this country that favours treating money as the truly public and social phenomenon that it is. You won’t be surprised to hear the name of that party: it’s the Green Party. Only the Green Party believes in monetary reform, to end the current crazy system that even the Bank of England has now acknowledged: the creation of nearly all our money by private banks.

Citizen's Income, Land Value Tax, monetary reform: these are the names of some of the fundamental pillars of Green thinking, the policies which set us quite apart from Labour, Corbyn or no Corbyn.

And of course these are all brought together for us under the imperative of transitioning to a post-economic-growth society. If we are to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, this imperative is non-negotiable. Anyone who argues (for instance) for the resumption of coal-mining is simply not serious about facing up the climate challenge, no matter how shiny their environmental promises sound. As Jeb Bartlett famously put it: “Clean coal isn’t a new technology, it’s an ad-man’s con”. It remains as true now as when he first said it on ‘The West Wing’. There is no such thing as clean coal. It’s ludicrous to posture about wanting to return to coal-mining, if one is serious about delivering a living civilisation to our grandchildren.

What Corbyn’s unfortunate ongoing dalliance with coal suggests is that, while he has tremendous political courage when it comes to being anti-austerity and anti-nuke, he lacks sufficient political courage and vision when it comes to core ecological issues. This is very telling. What this makes clear is the enduring need for the Green Party.

Labour is basically an unreconstructed pro-growth party, and growth is killing our living planet. This is an absolutely crucial reason why the need for the Green Party, post-Corbyn’s-election, will be as strong as ever.

It will be responded that Corbyn is only looking at bringing back coal-mining in south Wales because of the devastation to employment there that has lasted a generation. This good old ‘jobs’ argument is the standard claim made by anyone who wants to back an industry which actually we should be ashamed of, whether it be arms-trading, chemical waste, or whatever. It is rendered thoroughly irrelevant both by the introduction of CI (see above) and by the scale of employment that will certainly be required by the putting in place of a true Green New Deal. But the plain facts of this case don’t even support the claim on its own terms: south Wales ex-mining-communities don’t want coal back! They have just been fighting hard against it. The last thing the communities in south Wales fighting against Big Coal need is Corbyn and Labour jumping in on their opponent's side.

Now, lest my purpose in writing this article be misunderstood, let me once again be very, very clear: I think Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is a good thing for Labour and for this country. It will be much easier for us Greens to do business with him than it would have been had any of his rivals won. Corbyn is in political terms a breath of fresh air. His election breeds hope.

Still, some will undoubtedly criticise my article for being ‘negative’ about Corbyn. Perhaps the problem is precisely that there is such extreme hope invested in Corbyn at the moment that any kind of caviling at all comes over to some readers as simply 'negative'. Then another way of helpfully putting my point might be this: I think that it is dangerous to over-invest hope in Corbyn. He's a cause for real hope; but to think that his agenda would be enough to solve the problems that the Green Party was founded to address, for example, is foolish.

A final thought as to why Corbyn winning the leadership is a very long way from the Labour Party adopting his policies and even further from Labour winning an election and even then yet further from implementing the Corbyn policies as a government. Why does this matter?

If Corbyn as leader behaves in a collegial way (A ‘Team of Rivals’ has been hinted at), as the decent and fundamentally cooperative man he seems to be would suggest, he will be ground down in policy terms by the weight of his parliamentary colleagues, only a very small minority of whom are as left-wing as him. We’ll see an election manifesto in 2020 with a few Corbyn flourishes (renationalising the railways, for instance) but mainly marked by caution. He’s hamstrung by his (correct) long-held insistence that the leader alone should not determine policy: his more right-wing and more governmentally-experienced colleagues (i.e. almost all of them) will now, ironically, use this point ruthlessly to contain him. The alternative would be that he sticks firm in policy terms, in which case surely the parliamentary party will remove him. Or Labour will descend again into an internal chaos that makes them unelectable. So, while he may enjoy some heady days in September, it is the actual policies of the Labour Party and a prospective Labour Government that should be compared with what the Green Party has to offer, not what Corbyn has said in a leadership campaign.  

With the Green Party you will continue to get what it says on the tin, with Corbyn’s Labour you almost certainly won’t.  He’s a decent, authentic bloke; but in the end he’s unlikely to actually succeed in doing very much more than pasting a new temporary label over the ‘New Labour’ tin. But there is a way in which he could potentially gain strength: by appealing beyond his party, to like-minded people in the Greens, Plaid and the SNP, to work together for some kind of cross-party rainbow progressive alliance.

In conclusion: If the Green Party were to fail to rise to the challenge presented by Corbyn — the challenge to be ourselves, to shout from the rooftops the kind of Green message that I’ve outlined above — then we would risk withering in the face of ‘the Corbyn surge’. But what I’ve outlined above is a powerful set of reasons for believing that Corbyn and the Green Party are complementary. For the rise of Corbyn, I’ve shown, doesn’t for one minute obviate the profound ongoing need for the Green Party. My hope is that Corbyn and us Greens will find ways of working together - to give this country the red-green future it so badly needs.

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