Greens & EU Remain debate

On June 3, 2016, Andrew Cooper, a Green Party councillor in Kirklees and national energy spokesperson (pictured) spoke at a rally here last night here in Newcastle with some 370 people present.

He made a very effective presentation and in the question and answer session made more telling and distinctive points. He also made some good jokes. Without being sectarian, he put clear green water between the Greens and the others on the platform, all Labour supporters. They were Owen Jones (by video link), Chi Onwurah MP and a regional Unison organiser Claire Williams. The chair was a Momentum leader in the NE.

All the Labourites failed to mention in their presentations any of the now desperate ecological issues facing the EU (the MP did say in passing “the climate is changing” but that was it!). Note the silence here too: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/vote-in-another-europe-is-po…

Instead, they simply talked in terms of more and right rights to this, that and the other. There was also a tidal wave of rhetoric from them about how the “workers united will never be defeated” (actually they have been on several occasions and no-one defined what actually is a ‘worker’). At times, the ‘Remain’ case was reduced by the Labour speakers to little more than a defence of the public sector (with zero recognition that it might have had shortcomings pre-cuts and that it will be hard (and in some cases, undesirable) simply to restore the old status quo.

Clare Williams said she was representing UNISON members in the region. I suspect it was a case of what Trotsky once called ‘substitutionism’. She claimed that a consultation had endorsed UNISON support for ‘Another Europe is Possible’. I could not but wonder what percentage of members voted or were at the relevant branch meetings or indeed knew what she was saying on their behalf. It might be suspected that some at least actually back Ukip, given its upsurge in the area. It could not have grown so fast without a lot of support from the said ‘workers’.

[For more on the mythology of the ‘labour movement: see; https://sandyirvineblog.wordpress.com/…/greens-and-the-lab…/]

One of the Labour speakers, I forget which, talked of “levelling everyone up”. Presumably this meant giving everyone in the EU a typical UK living standard. That would mean not a 3 but probably a 5-planet economy! Every problem was blamed by the Labour speakers on insufficient government spending (eg house construction, transport, school building English language classes). The land take and resource implications of building and spending more were simply ignored.

The enemy was deemed to be ‘neo-liberalism; even war in the Middle East was blamed on it. There was total unwillingness on the part of the Labourites to recognise that there might be other factors such as ethnic and religious conflict, forces with quite discrete non-economic dynamics. Actually the seeds of today’s planetary crisis lie not in neo-liberalism but were sown before in the enormous postwar baby boom and parallel boom in consumerism. The big corporations are certainly part of the problem but only one of many parts.

Chi Onwurah’s also asserted that “sustainable growth” was possible. It is a complete oxymoron (she also used another contradiction in terms: ‘green growth’). See: http://dieoff.org/page37.htmhttp://steadystate.org/brian-czech-dispels-five-myths-abou…/http://newstartmag.co.uk/…/why-green-growth-wont-transform…/. What’s more we are in total overshoot: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/…/GFN/…/earth_overshoot_day/. The Labourites cannot/will not see that most fundamental fact of life today.

Onwurah dishonestly or ignorantly argued that the alternative to more growth was “stagnation”. Actually a steady-state economy can have growth in some areas as long as it is balanced by ‘degrowth’ elsewhere and as long as total throughput is sustained by renewable resources and by the assimilative capacities of ecosystems. Parallel concerns about ‘human scale’ do not appear on the Labour radar screen.

Redistribution is the key to poverty relief. Growth, by contrast, produces, beyond a certain point, more losses in every respect than gains (see Richard Heinberg’s ‘End of Growth’, Richard Douthwaite’s ‘The Growth Illusion’, Eben Fodor’s ‘Better Not More’, Serge Latouche’s ‘Farewell to Growth’ and Clive Hamilton’s ‘The Growth Fetish’. We have to think in terms of post-growth (eg http://www.greenhousethinktank.org/post-growth-project1.html)

Andy also countered well the ‘right to move’ with the ‘right not to have to move’. It is an argument well worth developing. We advocate ‘freedom of movement’ without qualifications at our peril. For example, London just cannot keep on growing. Already, its ecological ‘footprint’ is enormous and grossly unsustainable. There is a critical difference between what might be good for individuals and what might be good for the long-term well being of society as a whole. Hiding behind cheap rhetoric does nothing to resolve the difficult choices involved.

It must also be noted, with the regards to the emerging debate about a ‘progressive alliance’ against the Tories, just how deeply hostile are Labourites to our ideas. It is not just ‘tribal’ but deeply ideological. Furthermore, they will also routinely betray any deals with Greens.

Such issues apart, the event as a whole was a big success. As the ‘Another Europe’ representative from London pointed out at the end of the evening, the ‘Brexit’ campaign seems to be picking up momentum. There has to be a drive from all parts of the Remain groupings to counter the outrageous lies being broadcast by Farage, Gove and their cronies. The divisions noted above are fundamental but can still be put aside for joint work to counter the Brexit campaign.

It was also a good night for the Green Party. Ten years ago Greens would not have been invited on the platform. Local GP members also spoke from the floor and a lot of literature was distributed from a stall and at the entrance to the auditorium. Local Young Greens organised the room and take care of the technical side, doing an excellent job.

All in all it was a successful event. Perhaps a crucial challenge is to articulate a more detailed (and attractive) picture of what ‘Another Europe’ would actually look like. For instance, we might no longer be talking about the UK, Germany, Belgium, Italy or Spain but Northumbria, Bavaria, Flanders, Lombardy and Catalonia. A ‘Europe of Regions’ instead of (pseudo-) nation states is part of that alternative.

Sandy Irvine's photo.
Sandy Irvine's photo.
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