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In search of Social Justice: From LibDem to Green

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

As a naive first time voter in 2010, like many people in Bristol (and across the country) I was taken in by the Liberal Democrats. Their pledge to ‘vote against any and all rises to tuition fees in the next parliament and pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative’ (not just a promise but a signed pledge to the NUS); their opposition to trident nuclear weapons; their commitment to electoral and constitutional reform; their opposition to the anti-immigration rhetoric that was just starting to become mainstream; and many other policies all seemed to show them to be committed to the kind of politics of social justice and defence of ordinary people that Labour was increasingly abandoning under Blair and Brown.

The whole style of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats seemed to offer something different than then slick career politicians of the other parties and their big governments and spin doctors.  The Liberal Democrats had until then what seemed like a great record on civil liberties compared to the increasingly draconian and authoritarian surveillance policies Labour was introducing ostensibly to fight terrorism (or the experience of the previous Conservative government).  Nick Clegg fought the whole election on a platform of breaking the cycle of corruption and lies so prevalent in our political system.  The Liberal Democrats 2010 BBC Party Political Broadcast started with Nick Clegg wondering through an empty post-apocalyptic London, largely alone save for thousands of scraps of paper (each displaying a broken Labour or Conservative promise) blowing menacingly in the wind. ‘Broken Promises’ started Clegg ‘there’s been too many in the last few years; there’s been too many in the last 30 years’ but he promises ‘the trail of broken promises can come to an end… we can say goodbye to broken promises’ if we vote for the Liberal Democrats.

I think that’s what made the Liberal Democrats decision to go into coalition and break so many of their core promises for seemingly so little return feel like such a betrayal.  They didn’t just compromise their position to go into government.  They introduced policies fundamental opposed to many of their core policies and completely at variance with the position they stood on; a position that was explicitly critical of the other parties for doing just that.  Initially I hoped they’d at least moderate the conservatives, but became rapidly disillusioned as they turned their back on students, coseyed up to conservative scapegoating of welfare recipients (and the vulnerable in general) for the financial problems caused by our financial and political elite, enabled the increasing (and increasingly disastrous) privatisation of vital public services and generally (and continually) failed to stand up for ordinary people.  On this last bit, their support for the ‘Bedroom’ tax is a case in point.

Labour who pioneered many of the market structures being introduced into our public services (like PFI contracts and the internal market in the NHS), who greatly exacerbated the deregulation of the financial sector (that started with Thatcher and greatly contributed to the 2008 crash), and continually failed to provide an alternative to austerity, seemed to give no real opposition. Instead of breaking with the neoliberal (the economic and social doctrine followed by Thatcher, Blair, Brown and now the coalition) politics of the past; Labour assimilated even further the need to privatise public services, cut benefits (most worrying with Rachel Reeves focus on the unemployed and the removal of benefits to the young) and the drive to reduce all aspects of life to a monetary value.  

I remember seeing the Green Party broadcast in 2010 and finding their politics to be very appealing; but sadly they didn’t stand in my consistency and back then didn’t seem like a realistic option.  This is no longer the case.  Over the course of the parliament they’ve slowly but steadily gained Councillors (and minority control of a council), MEPs (beating the Liberal Democrats in the last European elections), and members.  In the last year this steady growth of membership has turned into a booming surge.  They now have over 58,000 members in England and Wales alone and nearly 70,000 across the UK (for comparison the Liberal Democrats and UKIP both have just over 40,000 members). More and more people are starting to identify with them as a viable force for positive social change.  It is now evident they have become a real force in British politics (albeit a small yet growing one).

Once I started to consider the Green Party as a viable choice, I quickly realised far from being a single issue protest party they have an extremely comprehensive set of policies that offer an actual and radical alternative to business as usual.  These are politics rooted in social and environmental justice.  Whilst the other parties compete to see who can privatise and sell off what remains of our national asserts the quickest; the Green party seeks to restore public ownership to essential services like transport and utilities.  Whilst other parties seek to represent the interests of corporations, and the rich; the Greens seem to be the only ones prepared to stand up for ordinary people.  Whilst the other parties offer so many slightly different shades of neoliberalism and austerity; the Greens are willing to put forward a genuine alternative.

The central tenant of the party, that social and environmental justice goes hand in hand, seems to me like it should be the central preoccupation of our time.  The same set of neoliberal policies that has impoverished our communities and entrenched inequality over the last three decades has also seen an exponential rise in the emission of greenhouse gases and the acceleration of global warming.  Tackling inequality and climate change (the most pressing threats we face) should be the central aim of politics.  For ordinary people things have gotten worse in our country over the last few decades. Our major political parties have been largely converted to a mantra that the state and public sector is automatically inefficient, and that private competition automatically drives up efficiency and cuts cost, that sees faith in the ‘free market’ as the supreme organising principle of human society and the drive for profit as the only justification for human activity. 

The period roughly between the end of the Second World War and the advent of Thatcherism was far from perfect.  But the welfare state ensured decades of full employment and a decent minimum standard of living for everyone.  In 1978 the year of the highest level of equality in modern British history, the richest 1% of our society controlled around 2.8% of wealth.  Today the richest 1% controls over 15% of all wealth in our country.  In the 1970s, the average CEO got around 10 times the pay of the average worker.  Today they receive over 160 times.  Control of the world supply of labour by western multinational corporations, and the flooding of the domestic market with cheaply manufactured good from the Far East (and the inflation of a huge credit economy of debt) has hidden the decline in living standards that goes hand in hand with massive transfers of wealth to the elite like this.  But this can only go so far.  As the richest take more and more there is less and less money for the rest of us.  Less money for wages, less for hospitals and schools, less money for housing and for all public services in general.  Worst of all is the social and human cost of inequality and the poverty it causes.

The tickling down of wealth is a myth.  Allowing the richest to get ridiculously wealthy isn’t good for all of us.  They wealth bubbles up to the top and it just stays there, it never trickles down.  If tax cuts and more wealth for the super-rich created job, surely we’d be drowning in jobs right now?  The 1000 richest individuals in our country have seen their wealth double under this government.  The number of billionaires in this country has also doubled since 2008.  The 5 richest families in the country now control the same amount of wealth as the 12.5 million poorest.  Our politicians have given themselves a nice 11% pay rise (and are now claiming more expenses then during the height of the 2009 scandal), and the bankers who are the most directly responsible for the crash have seen their salaries and bonuses continue to grow far out of all proportion to their worth.  In contrast the other 99% of the people have seen their standards of living fall to pay for both the bailout and the further channelling of wealth to the top.  This has been starkest for those dependent on the welfare state (benefit recipients and service users) those employed in public services, and ordinary working people in general.  Prices have risen far higher than wages for about 90% of this parliament, resulting in a real terms decline in wages of about 8-10%.  900,000 now rely on food banks.  Almost all new jobs have been in insecure zero hours contracts (1.8 million people are on these as of February 2015), part time contracts, or self-employment (where wages have declined by over 20%), as people are forced to take whatever they can find.

They Green party recognises all this and has policies to tackle it.  They would renationalise the railways (a move supported by 2/3rds of the British public that could save around £1.2 billion a year for exactly the same service yet is supported by no other major party).  They would bring locally accountable public ownership to the energy companies (a transformative move in stark contrast to Labour’s cop out on price freezes).  They would drive out the private companies that profit from our NHS, and roll back decades of piecemeal privatisation to reinstate the health service as a unified publicly owned and run service (which could save £10 billion a year).  They would create a truly progressive taxation system that closes the ridiculous loopholes that allow industrial scale tax avoidance and seeks higher contributions from those who can afford it.  They would encourage not just a truly living wage as the minimum wage (rising to £10 an hour by 2020) but would also seek to introduce pay ratios where the highest paid full time employee in an organisation cannot earn more than ten times the lowest paid full time employee.  They would end right to buy (which has ravaged our countries housing supply) and build 500,000 social homes (most of the cost is borrowed by local authorities who pay back the debt with the rent they receive on the homes).  They would create almost 1,000,000 jobs in the transition to a zero carbon economy by investing in local renewable energy supplies, public services, house building, and ordinary people.  These (and many other fantastic policies) are the progressive policies we need to make our society and our lives better.  That is why I support the Green Party, and why I encourage others to do the same!

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