What is our Green economic programme?

“It’s the economy, stupid” has become something of a mantra among many in the Green Party in recent years. Wary of repeating the crash in votes the party experience in the early 1990s recession, we have sought to persuade the public that we have something credible to say on the pressing economic issues of the day.

Caroline Allen has said:

I do not believe we will succeed solely by telling people what we are against, we must articulate a positive alternative. I believe we have a good framework but need to do more work here.

But beyond commentary and our “one million green jobs” proposal, I’m not what our positive economic programme for the nation is.

Let me explain.

Green commentary

Greens have some compelling things to say about our present economic troubles. For example,

  • we have suggested that technological innovation may not be able to keep up with rising resource pressures, leading to rising commodity prices, and we have cautioned against exposing basic commodities to speculative derivative markets as they might – and have – lead to price inflation in basics like food and oil.
  • Caroline Lucas has been a prominent and principled critic of austerity as a response to the deficit in a time of recession, making us one of the only parties in mainstream British politics consistently calling for an alternative.
  • we have criticised the Government for failing to do enough on tax evasion and tax avoidance, pointing out that if we could close all the loopholes we wouldn’t need to make any public spending cuts at all. We have also highlighted examples where savings could be made with less dire social consequences, for example scrapping Trident.
  • here in London we have criticised the loss of manufacturing and the many skilled manual jobs that went with it, leaving an increasingly polarised labour market comprising low and high end jobs with a hollowed out middle.

I genuinely believe we have a lot to offer in debates about the future of our economy, and a way out of our problem of low growth and a stubborn fiscal deficit.

But those are just comments on the present situation, and they tend to be seen by most journalists and experts as peripheral, not part of the core debate. We haven’t succeeded in moving or shaping the debate so that our concerns are central concerns.

Peripheral programmes

We have also developed various positive proposals that go far beyond commentary.

For example, our “one million jobs” programme in the 2010 elections proposed a large amount of government spending in areas including renewable energy, energy efficiency and waste processing. We estimated that these programmes could create one million jobs, delivering the double benefit of jobs in a time of high unemployment and major steps towards a low carbon economy.

This message has been developed and prostelitised by the Green New Deal group and the Green Party in the UK, by the European Green Party and by the United Nations Environment Programme since at least 2007.

But this message has failed to get through to the mainstream. It gets vigorous nods from environmentalists, and that’s as far as it gets.

The main reason is that people think we’re just selling our core environment programme with some recession-busting packaging. Recent focus groups have told us as much. It’s not just that the term “green jobs” starts with the word “green”, it’s also that we are confusing two issues that the public see as separate. They suspect we are really talking about our single issue, the environment, and not really addressing the economic situation as being important in its own right.

This isn’t so surprising when you consider that these industrial sectors are still quite small. We put a picture of a wind turbine on a leaflet, yet there are 94,000 people employed in that industry in a country with 29,280,000 employees. We talk up home insulation, yet in London the Mayor estimates a programme for one million homes could create 14,000 jobs. Even if you add up the entire low carbon economy including waste, water, air pollution, renewables, carbon finance, electric cars, the lot, you still only arrive at 3% of UK employment. It’s hard to imagine it being the big solution to our economic woes.

Green jobs may be a good way to create lots of jobs and reduce unemployment; to transform our energy consumption and so reduce our carbon emissions. It’s a good comment, a good proposal for some of the most pressing problems of the day. But green jobs don’t sound like a future economic programme for the entire nation. It’s hard to see green jobs making us competitive exporters  in the face of countries like Germany and China.

It would be like the Labour Party saying our future prosperity lies in opening more mines, or indeed some Conservatives pinning all of their hopes on the financial services. Those may be unkind and silly comparisons, but it’s probably what we look like to a lot of people when we say green jobs are the answer.

Questions unanswered

When we look for a future for the UK, we often look abroad for inspiration.

Should we adopt the Swedish or the German social democratic models? Should we compete with America to reduce regulations and attract multinationals? Do we want to protect London as the pre-eminent home of the financial services, or are we sanguine about losing this tax haven?

We can also find plenty of challenges and opportunities.

How can we compete with the rising economic stars like Brazil, Russia, India and China? Do we need more aiport capacity, a more flexible labour market, direct investment in infrastructure, or some other basis for a competitive advantage? Do we even care, can we relax about “going south” and becoming a less important economy? Now that Chinese wages are rising and their currency is less competitive, can we take back industries that fled to the east in the 1990s?

Then there are more basic structural challenges we face.

How can we reverse the huge increase in income and wealth inequality over the past sixty years? Do we want a more pronounced Labour approach of redistribution through tax, or do we want to ensure a more equal distribution of income before tax? If the latter, how do we keep jobs in the UK if we raise the minimum wage or seek to cap high pay? How do we pay for an ageing population with the additional demands that will place on pensions, housing benefit and the NHS?

Behind many of these questions lies something more basic: what is our economic programme?

You can sketch another country’s programme, or that of another party, quite easily.

The German social market approach sought to combine a market economy with strong state intervention to secure welfare, workers’ rights, collective bargaining, direct investment and high skills standards (e.g. with compulsory apprenticeships). In the past twenty years they have rolled back a lot of their labour market regulation and welfare spending, but kept a strong emphasis on a skilled industrial workforce and a high level of investment in infrastructure.

The Labour Party through the 1990s and 2000s sought to collect the eggs laid by the golden geese in the City – being intensely relaxed about their activities so long as they provided a tax revenue – and to splash this cash around on redistributive welfare to compensate for the problem that wages and pensions simply didn’t cover the rent, food and childcare. Instead of raising wages and giving workers more power to bargain for higher wages, instead of building homes and regulating the letting market to reduce housing costs, and instead of investing in infrastructure that could unlock industries like wind turbine manufacture, they ramped up revenue spending to compensate for the iniquities of a relatively free market. Their programme was a social market with minimal regulation and minimal investment, and unsurprisingly has come a cropper when the goose stopped laying such big eggs.

The Conservative Party think a more lightly regulated economy with a mobile population will be more likely to support and attract entrepreneurs, and that the rising welfare bill should be tackled by making people work longer, pay more and get less out when they need it. Their absent industrial policy has left their ambition to “rebalance the economy” exposed as empty rhetoric, and the failure of their austerity approach is being laid bare.

What is the Green Party’s economic programme?

Green shoots

One of the wonderful things about political parties is their diversity. You couldn’t possibly bring together tens of thousands of people without embracing different points of view, and rallying around shared values and a manifesto you mostly agree with.

Within the party I can think of a few frameworks, as Caroline put it, that inform our thinking.

Deep in our roots lies an assertion that continuous, exponential economic growth is incompatible with a world of finite resources. Nobody has ever really set out a compelling economic programme that follows from this insight, but Tim Jackson suggested some steps to do this, and the Green House gang are having another go at that challenge. Common features of frameworks that try to take up this challenge are industries that create lots of jobs relative to the economic output, reducing working hours and redefining what we mean by prosperity to be less materialistic.

These deep green frameworks are so radical that, to many of the public, they will either baffle or be seen as peripheral to mainstream debates. What can these frameworks tell us about the challenge from the emerging economies? from an ageing population? from an economy overly dependent on financial services?

They are also rather philosophical. It’s one thing to describe a kind of Platonic Green Republic, an ideal society in which citizens co-operate based on a dematerialised set of values, but it’s a different challenge altogether to articulate an economic programme that could take us from Britain in 2012 to an internationally competitive, vibrant “green” economy in five, ten or fifty years time… and to communicate that to voters in a way that persuades them we have the right ideas for the nation.

We also have a lot of ecosocialists in the party, including members of Green Left. Their “headcorn declaration” and manifesto are heavy on analysis, critique and commentary, and light on describing a coherent alternative. Where their ecosocialist alternative is outlined, it again follows from a critique that is interested in concerns peripheral to mainstream debate. So their proposals – transforming our use of energy, moving away from materialist consumption – are peripheral. It also doesn’t really say how we could get there, what kind of economic management model we should adopt and why they think this would enable us to remain prosperous (redefined) and competitive in a global economy. Between political philosophy and very specific proposals there is a gaping hole of macroeconomic theory.

There are many other currents of thought in the Green Party. I’ve long been attracted to programmes of economic democracy, seeking to put more property and power into the hands of workers’ and housing co-operatives. Some think the monetary system is key and set out a programme of reforms to banks and credit; others subscribe to the idea that we can “green” capitalism and so basically accept the economic programme shared by the past few governments with some big green tweaks.

We also have interesting proposals for welfare. For example, Molly Scott Cato and Brian Heatley of the Green House gang  published a provocative paper criticising the dominant welfare model – that of a safety net to support people back into work, with a focus on cracking down on scroungers. Their mutual security model instead proposes we give less support more freely and more flexibly to support a more creative and humane society. This could provide a programme of welfare spending that answers many of the mainstream questions raised by an ageing society.

How could these be packaged and articulated to answer some of those mainstream questions that remain, in my view, unanswered by Greens? What futures could we map out, what investment programmes, taxation policies and welfare systems could we propose that set us on a path to prosperity? How could these be encapsulated in something shorter than a manifesto, explained to a curious voter or a journalist in a way that sounds convincing, not just a re-run of familiar critiques or a mess of inchoate ideas?

Where does this get us?

Sometimes when I ponder these questions, when I discuss them with friends and colleagues, I get the feeling that we just don’t have enough brainy people working on and thinking about them. It’s not as though Labour, with all of their think tanks, brainy MPs and blue/red/purple movements have managed to set out a compelling economic programme. When the New Political Economy Network set out their prescriptions for the future of the left, they more or less described the Green Party’s recent election manifestos. So maybe we’re doing ok?

I wonder if I am just missing some excellent papers setting out programmes we could adopt, programmes that address mainstream concerns and go beyond the Green New Deal to describe the entire economy. If so, please leave a comment helping me out!

I also worry that none of this really matters. We’re a small party, we get very limited opportunities in the media and the media almost never give parties the space to set out a vision or economic programme. Our elected politicians do a great job of keeping in the major debates of the day and articulating clear, radical Green ideas and values. It’s tempting for philosophers and theorists to retreat into these debates, leaving doorstep campaigning to a sunnier summer, but that would be counterproductive.

I suppose I have written this lengthy blog post because I have reached a point where I am interested to hear others’ views. Am I being too hard on the party, on thinkers and groups like Green House and Green Left? Is there hope in the forthcoming work out policy committee is leading on our industrial policy?

Speak your mind.


  1. mattsellwod said:

    Excellent post, Tom. I don’t think you are being harsh at all. I think that this is a problem across the Left, not just the Green Party…but that it is particularly bad amongst Greens because of an even deeper issue which we have not yet addressed. Namely a lack of agreement or even explicit discussion about how we get to where we want to go. This is not just an issue in terms of economic transition, but political and philosophical, too. The issue that sometimes rears its head in strategy discussions such as those over Brighton cuts, is essentially the same issue that means we do not have a coherent transitional policy for economics. We are a coalition of people who want to get to much the same place (albeit some people want to go further after we get there!), but who have different ideas about how to get there. IMO. 🙂

    17th July 2012
  2. mattsellwood said:

    I should say that I don’t necessarily think that different groups within the Party couldn’t lay out a vision for economic transition, though. I just don’t think we know which is actually Party policy. It can’t be both a GL position (which I think could be explained, actually, in terms of Bookchinite and libertarian communist economic theory for example) and a Darren Johnson style social democratic ‘controlled market’ position. We steer clear of these discussions because they are complex….hence pushing schemes on which we can all pretty much agree without a deeper theoretical position.

    17th July 2012
    • Peter Allen said:

      I read your post with interest Tom . It raises challenging questions . Would be interested in knowing what all the candidates in the leadership and deputy leadership contests think about these crucial issues and wonder whether you might wish to challenge them to write (say) 500 words or so as a contribution to what should be an ongoing debate . I would also like to read a contribution from Jason in Brighton who is dealing with the realities of capitalist crisis in one borough , trying to stick to green party principles whilst making savage cuts . Tricky ( to say the least)

      18th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Ah Bookchin, yes please!

      Actually, though, what I’m getting at is not a vision of where we want to be, and decidedly not a philosophical position. Rather, I want to think about how the policies we put in our manifesto come together into a package that gives us a programme to deal with the big problems I described.

      I suppose the main question is, how do we propose to keep generating 29m jobs and economic output at a level that will provide the tax revenue to sustain all our spending commitments, all without relying on tricks like illusory growth (financial services and land values in the 2000s) or non-green growth (carbon-intensive industry and widening inequality)?

      18th July 2012
  3. Hi Tom. I welcome this critique of the party’s present lack of a credible job creation programme. I wrote about this topic recently – http://alexfordeputy.org.uk/jobs-growth-and-the-next-general-election/ Time is running out for the party to develop answers to the points you have raised. Part of the problem, especially in the way we communicate our policy via mainstream media, is the reliance journalists place on ‘industry experts’ (in reality, either current or former highly-paid, senior managers in the private sector) to determine whether or not a political party’s economic and fiscal programme is credible.

    For me, its not just an issue of articulating a positive alternative, its about actually having a credible alternative economic programme. We need a programme which trade union leaders, SMEs, think-tanks and, yes, journalists, can lend their support (credibility) to. All Greens should welcome the addition of a ‘Policy and Research Officer’ to the national staff, as this will boost our capacity to develop a contemporary set of policy proposals to respond to the current social, economic and political needs of the country.

    I hope my previous post on this topic goes some way in giving you a solid idea of the seriousness in which I take the economic question. But, time is running out for us to produce a credible economic plan – with job creation at the centre – in time before the next General Election.

    18th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Thanks Alex, I really welcome you engaging with these issues, and I agree that the new officer will hopefully help with this sort of problem, namely moving from many policies to compelling programmes.

      In response to your blog and your comment, I think job creation is one half of the challenge. The other is supporting the creation of economic activity which can sustain a healthy tax revenue. There’s a danger that we talk lots about public sector spending and public investment-led job creation, and not enough about the kind of private sector we would support and stimulate and how we fit into a challenging and changing global economy. We run the risk of sounding like spendthrifts, or like ostriches with our head in the sand when arguing against e.g. airport expansion without an alternative story about how we develop our economy.

      18th July 2012
  4. Bob Irving said:

    perhaps someone should talk to Molly Scott Cato – she is supposed to be Green Party’s spokesperson….

    18th July 2012
  5. mattsellwood said:

    “Rather, I want to think about how the policies we put in our manifesto come together into a package”

    Well, indeed. As I read it, our manifesto is actually a bit of a hodge-podge of deep ecologist/Herman Daly/social democrat/Bookchinite economics, depending on which group and outlook was in a majority when that particular bit of policy was voted on at Conference. Which of course doesn’t make a for a coherent transitional programme.

    I’ve never thought that the issue is where we want to get to – the only real disagreement on that is how far we want to keep going away from the current system. The real problem, as you identify, is how we credibly get there in a coherent transition that actually hangs together.


    18th July 2012
  6. Sean Thompson said:

    I don’t think you can have been paying attention Tom; far from having nothing to say about economic policy Green Left published a pamphlet entitled ‘Countering the Crisis – an ecosocialist response to the global recession and the threat of climate change’ in the spring of 2009 which contained both a detailed analysis of the roots of the current crisis and an outline programme for dealing with it, from a critical post-Keynsian position broadly in the tradition of Kaleki, Sweezy and (to some extent) the Cambridge School. You may not agree with this stream of socialist macroeconomic theory, but you can’t claim it doesn’t exist. I don’t see the ,gaping hole, you mention; perhaps you might provide chapter and verse.

    And what’s this about GL having ‘a critique that is interested in concerns peripheral to mainstream debate’? What are these irrelevant concerns? And to what ‘mainstream debate’ are you referring?

    18th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Thanks Sean, as I said “I wonder if I am just missing some excellent papers setting out programmes we could adopt” so I’m very interested in the pamphlet you mention. Is there an URL where I can download it? I did a quick search and couldn’t find a download.

      I think I made fairly clear the mainstream debates I was interested in, and gave some examples of why the Green Left’s critique – in common with other strands of thought within the party – was largely peripheral to those debates.

      18th July 2012
      • Sean Thompson said:

        Sorry Tom, the pamphlet is sold out, but if you check out the GL website http://www.thegreenleft.org there are some useful articles, including ‘Where now for the Green Party’ (modesty forbids me from mentioning the author).

        I mention that article because it seems to me that your concern with the need for a fully developed and detailed programme you are falling into the ever present trap of sectarianism, with the Green Party as the chosen sect.

        I see a political sect as an organisation that claims for itself exclusive rights on the Full and Correct Programme, which builds the programme round itself as an organisational wall and which substitutes itself and its immediate interests for the wider movement. The key political imperative is to ‘build the Party’. A sect counterposes its criterion of programmatic points against the real life measure of actual people in real day-to-day struggle, which may not measure up to its high demands. The touchstone of support, for the sect, is the degree of conformity with its own current shibboleths, whatever they may be – including many programmatic points which are good in themselves of course.

        The problem, for many Greens, is that when the do get involved with actual struggles in the real world being experienced by ordinary people, rather than the issues that our programme expounds on, they find that the consciousness and priorities of those ordinary people is often not all it should be. It is clear, for example, that the lies that working people have been fed about the need to balance the books, the inevitability of cuts and the huge problem that immigration poses, have been effective to a significant degree. And for the vast majority of working people, the threat posed by global warming, the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plight of indigenous peoples are non-issues floating in the celestial clouds above the reality of low pay, unemployment, a chronic housing shortage and the most expensive childcare in Europe.

        To act as an alternative leadership ready to satisfy some future rise in mass consciousness which will sweep us into parliament may be satisfying to the ego but is in reality to place limitations on present activity in order to conform to a rigid perspective. And that perspective skews our perceptions of wider struggles, involving other forces around issues not prescribed or prioritised in our own Full and Correct Programme.

        18th July 2012
      • Tom Chance said:

        Thanks Sean.

        I completely agree about the dangers of developing our own Full and Correct Programme, with which we ostracise members with different approaches and get caught up in pointless internal struggles. There’s too much of this in all kinds of social and political movements.

        What I am after is not the definitive Full and Correct Programme, but some alternative programmes that sit somewhere between a set of policy ideas (of which we have plenty in manifestos and the PfSS) and a grand vision for a truly Green economy.

        As I wrote in the final section of my blog, this head-in-the-clouds thinking can be a distraction from real political action, which is much more important. But it’s something I find interesting, and that is important to my role in the London Green Party (Policy Co-ordinator), in my job, and to those thinking ahead to our manifestos for the 2014 European and 2015 General elections. If we can come up with something compelling we will be better able to persuade the media and the public that we are a serious party with serious big ideas, beyond critiques and individual challenging policies.

        I came across your post on a Green Industrial Revolution, which begins – to my mind – to knit together policies to tell a wider story about the shape of the economic changes we want to see, about how they will add up to a more successful economy in five or ten years time.

        Your suggestions for the training levy, pensions and democratic planning hint at an economic model for the UK that will see all sectors of the economy prospering, except those we think deeply un-Green, and resulting in a more equal, low carbon economy.

        It would be interesting to develop this further, to try and sketch out a general model in a similar way that others have sketched the German or New Labour social market models, and in a way that directly addresses some of the big questions you will see discussed in the mainstream media: meeting the challenge of the BRIC economies, an ageing population, etc.


        18th July 2012
  7. punkscience said:

    Its not the first time I’ve read a review of ‘green’ economics (or ‘radical’, ‘alternative’ or ‘progressive’ economics- choose your buzzword) that’s as unambitious as this one but its the first time I’ve read one from the UK green party. I am ashamed to be a green supporter reading crap like this. You clearly haven’t bothered to spend any time reading about genuine alternatives or about the fundamental contradictions and dysfunction of the globalised perma-growth model you seem incapable of thinking outside of.


    18th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Well thank you for that constructive comment!

      I’m not sure I set out to “review” all green economics, nor have I suggested this blog post tries to cover all of the many insights into the current mainstream economic thinking that we can bring, and I certainly didn’t set out with the ambition of describing a programme that responds to the sorts of problems you pose.

      In fact, your comment pretty much manages to ignore all the central arguments I made, and assumes a straw man “neo-liberal” (as you bizarrely claimed on Twitter) behind the post.

      18th July 2012
  8. Jamie said:

    Hi Tom,

    Great post. I actually just joined the Green Party (on Saturday) and so your post was timely, as it’s a lack of a credible (and more importantly, politically ‘sellable’) economic policy that has frustrated me so much with green politics in the past. I was very excited when the Green New Deal stuff was first published by NEF, and thought that it was a shame just how little it seemed to be taken up in the political arena.

    I have lots of thoughts on this subject, but I’m afraid it’s too much to try and tackle in a blog comment. So I’ll just leave it by saying that it’s fantastic to see how switched on you are, and I will endeavour to find the time to read more around this subject so I can input my thoughts having absorbed some of the relevant reading material you’ve linked to. I’ll also subscribe to your blog, and look forward to reading more from you.



    19th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hi Jamie, glad to hear it! There are some interesting points in the comments too.

      19th July 2012
  9. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for highlighting what I believe is a crucial issue for the party, we tend to be very clear about what we are against- usually quite rightly, but in many areas we have yet to make it really clear what we are actually for, we definitely have work to do in this area.
    When I talk about vision it’s not about having a rigid grand master plan or a mapped out path of exactly where we want to end up. However, there are many people out there who realise our current system is broken; that we have ended up as slaves to the market and we are using resources in a way that simply can’t continue, but they still see the alternative as the lights going out and us all wearing sackcloths. Fear keeps us where we are.
    I spoke to an audience of 150 people on Sunday night, all there to see a film about our food system. No-one who watched that film can be in any doubt that our current system is broken. Many people are making their own small steps, with food growing, community based projects etc, but these are only fiddling around the edges. When I spoke about the sort of changes that can be made politically in a clear and positive way there was genuine enthusiasm.
    If we can speak to people about alternative and address their concerns, which as Sean so rightly says are about feeding their families, paying the rent, holding on to their jobs, then people will want to join us.

    In terms of the economy there are many different ‘frameworks’ out there and there certainly isn’t just one to stick to. Within the party we need to have a broad debate, which means improving how we discuss, learn and share information. I have proposed some changes to Autumn Conference on the spokesperson system and about how we better use the policy expertise and interest in the party. These are just very small first steps- setting down the challenge I suppose. While on Policy Committee I have been frustrated with how difficult it is to communicate what we’re doing, trying to do and what we’ve done. With the food and agriculture review I learnt alot and we managed to build a great team, engaged NGOs, took on a wide variety of views and based policy on evidence. We gained some press coverage, especially in rural areas, but too much good stuff is still hidden away. Some current reviews, in particular industrial policy offer great opportunities and we need as many people engaged as possible. I was very pleased to hear that there will soon be a paid member of staff working on policy research, it something we have needed for some time but its not a panacea, the direction/ priorities given to this member of staff will be crucial.

    More specifically on economic policy I believe we have been constrained by internal wrangles and getting into levels of detail far beyond what is useful. I am keen for our policy to be outward facing and answer the questions voters are asking. So less about fractional reserve banking and more about job creation. Green Left has produced some useful documents and its a shame these haven’t been debated more within the party.
    The Green New Deal is one interesting framework, but in spite of much promise it doesn’t seem to have gained much mainstream coverage. I believe the discussions being had in Europe by European Greens, many in the face of the harshest austerity programmes, are taking this programme forwards. I was in Copenhagen for the European Green Party conference, which was very throught provoking- there is much we can learn, about things that have worked very well and also about traps that we need to be careful of. I have worked on Green New Deal policy with the European Green Party, contributing to the Agriculture paper, illustrating that there are many facets to the Green New Deal. This leads on to what I think is a major problem; when we talk about Green jobs the term of reference is too narrow. Insulation and windfarms are fine but for me green jobs encompases so much more, we really need a different term. More jobs in farming, construction, social care, science, food, transport, co-operatives, to name just a few, are all going to be required as we move into a more equal, low carbon future. At the moment for too many people the idea of such a future seems scary, we need to step up to articulate how this future will actually be better.

    Anyway I’ve probably said enough for now, although I could go on (!) as there are many facets to this discussion and am happy to discuss further caroline.allen@greenparty.org.uk

    20th July 2012
    • Jim Jepps said:

      This is a really useful post Tom, apologies for so long to getting round to reading it.

      To be honest the Green Party has been particularly weak on economics – paralysed, I think, by some entrenched competing camps within the party. It was around 18 months after the financial crisis began that we said anything substantive on economics because those who had been obsessed by economic rows previously simply had nothing of use to say when the collapse came.

      It was one reason why party members grabbed the Green New Deal with both hands when it came because they had been crying out for a coherent, progressive approach to the crisis that didn’t feel like wacky dogma. Normal people could understand it and it is essentially the underpinning of the approach for all local parties to this day.

      What we have not done is a) kept it up to date, arming members with arguments to take on the latest issues (what’s the party’s position on the Euro-crisis? Silence) and b) gone beyond it developing a firm place to stand when it comes to basic economic questions.

      Now, some members feel confident on these issues (and sometimes that confidence is justified… but only sometimes) but, in my opinion, the party is not even attempting to place itself as one of the go to places on economic questions.

      23rd July 2012
      • Tom Chance said:

        Thanks Jim. Perhaps it’s something the Policy Committee could review with the new policy/research officer? Identify people with some grounds for confidence, find out what work we can crib from our MP/MEPs/AMs, and some immediate research projects?

        23rd July 2012
      • Jim Jepps said:

        I certainly think the first thing the new policy person should do is gather together everything that’s already been done and create a resource for members and activists. It’s a key problem that work gets done and then no one gets to read it, complete agree.

        23rd July 2012
  10. Hi Tom, this is a really interesting article. I’m a Labour supporter and don’t agree with everything you’ve said about Labour! but do go along with some of it, in particular toleration of low wages. On Green Party economic policy, I’d welcome your views about growth as this is an area that I think’s a bit confused. Caroline Lucas has said that in the short term the GP would like to see a return to economic growth, but in the longer term we should be moving away from it – but not until some unspecified later date when things are different. This strikes me as rather too convenient a point of view, enabling the party to say different things to different audiences. What is your view?

    Also, I’m interested to read that the GP uses focus groups, apparently to influence policy. I’m not necessarily against them myself (I work in market research) but Labour has been criticised in the past for relying too heavily on focus groups with the result that policy has shifted to the centre. Do you think that’s happening with the GP? and can you say more about how focus groups are used by the party?

    20th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hello there,

      The problem we have on growth is that we (humankind, not just the Green Party) lack good models to deal with zero or negative growth without bad social consequences. So we can’t say we want to stay in the “slump” right now because we don’t have good answers as to how we will reduce unemployment and inequality during the slump. I think Caroline Lucas is just being honest about the challenges we face, we don’t have all the answers.

      We don’t use focus groups to influence policy, just how we communicate it. The same goes for polling data, reports from the doorstep and other methods. All Green Party policy is passed by members at party conferences, something Labour should really move back to.

      20th July 2012
      • Thanks very much. Re the last point, it does strike me though how wide the difference is between GP policies and what appears in leaflets and newsletters, and how little GP voters know about what the party’s policies actually are.

        20th July 2012
      • Tom Chance said:

        Interesting, do you have any examples?

        20th July 2012
        • The citizen’s income doesn’t get a mention too often.

          20th July 2012
      • Tom Chance said:

        Ah, well that would be because leaflets usually focus on policies that we can enact locally. You don’t often see Labour or Conservative leaflets promising to cut and cap housing benefits!

        20th July 2012
  11. Well, I live in Brighton Pavilion and I’ve seen a large number of Green Party leaflets dealing with many aspects of national and international policy. Nothing about the citizens’ income, though. And I’ve never heard Caroline Lucas raise the subject.

    I can’t say I’d noticed that your leaflets only deal with policies you can enact. That doesn’t seem to have been a concern with our local Green Party, is all I can say. If that is the case, why are you so keen to have an national economic policy in the first place? I wonder at the relevance of the whole discussion if you’re not planning on engaging voters with any of it.

    21st July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      I see from your blog that you have quite a bee in your bonnet about the local Green Party in Brighton, who I can’t speak for. I would say, though, that you have brought up one example out of a very wide range of policies. Perhaps they have raised the Citizens Income policy at some point and you missed it? Maybe you should ask them about it at a public meeting? It’s rather a curious criticism of a party that they don’t reprint their full national manifesto over the course of the year in their local leaflets.

      As for why I’m raising this discussion, I made that pretty clear in my original article, and I didn’t suggest in any comment that I wouldn’t engage voters with it. You’re rather putting words into my mouth there.

      21st July 2012
  12. Alex Wood said:

    Hi Tom, this is an excellent blog and agree totally with your great critique of the Green New Deal ala its similarity to that of Labour having a policy of saving the economy by creating a million mining jobs.

    In my opinion the best attempt to deal with these issues is that of American Sociological Association President Erik Olin Wright and his Real Utopia’s Project http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/RealUtopias.htm .
    Most of the chapters of his 2010 book can be found here http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/ERU.htm

    On the issue of growth, I personally see the whole debate as a bit of a red herring. Growth is not the issue, but rather growth of what. There are two forms of value: exchange (value measured relative to other things) and use (value measured in the benefit something has for its user) obviously growth in use values is a positive. Therefore, our economic policy should be focused on expanding socially useful production and we need not concern ourselves with whether there is exchange value growth or not, though in many cases the expansion of exchange value is a fetter on the expansion of use value. For example, the chairman of GM once said that ‘GM is not in the business of making cars, it’s in the business of making money’ and it is for this reason that it makes so many cars, if it were in the business of making cars it would make fewer but better quality and longer lasting cars. Once we add in a notion that a part of the ‘use value’ of production is increasing human welfare it suggests that efficiency gains should in part be used to increase leisure time rather than output. If all the efficiency gains since 1960s had been used to increase leisure time rather than output we would, on average, only have to labour for 5 hours a week. G.A Cohen explains this much better than I in this short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD1YEzd6QzQ&feature=relmfu

    In reality, I think, this means democratic control of economy through state funding of workers’ co-ops and co-op investment banks, soft economic planning to ensure the matching of labour supply and demand, empowering labour through a universal guaranteed basic income and pro union laws and the regulation of capital through capital controls and an international clearing union. See Wright’s work for a framework on how radical change such as this could concretely be achieved.

    24th July 2012
    • Alex, is there a specific book by Wright you’d recommend?

      24th July 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Thanks Alex, I’ll have a look at the links. I really like Jerry Cohen, I read a lot of his work at uni.

      With respect to your final paragraph, and Sebastian’s comments, the problem is the “missing link” between those policies and the outcomes people want – jobs, secure pensions, etc – and a second “missing link” that explains how they ensure we will still create prosperity in the face of the BRIC economies and other emerging economies, how we will weather the Euro crisis, and other big questions of the day.

      I’ve yet to read anything that grapples with these outcomes and concerns, which I have described as “mainstream”. All of our discussions are either at the wrong scale (e.g. the Green New Deal) or they are too general and theoretical (e.g. democratic economics).

      24th July 2012
      • Alex Wood said:

        Hi Tom, yeah I agree about missing links, for me I would say the link is that these abstract aims would lead to us giving people what they really want. Unlike the neo-liberals who say we want growth and all you can be happy with is crap insecure jobs paying poverty wages, we would be saying we want growth in good jobs, jobs that are well paying, secure and rewarding and we will give you longer holidays too! We will force capital (through regulation, planning and controls) to provide them and if capital won’t then will create them ourselves through the funding of co-ops paid for through taxation of those who got rich of your back. Obviously there is an issue about time frames.

        In terms of how this relates to the pressing economic issues of the time, I don’t think this should be the big issue that it is and I think maybe there needs to be well organised working group (or if there is already one then it needs to be better supported) of experts in our ranks, we must have some economists who are members.


        24th July 2012
  13. Excellent post! This is EXACTLY what the GP needs to be grappling with right now. To reiterate what Matt has said above, whilst Party philosophy ranges from Bookchin to social democracy, we nevertheless should be able to bring together a coherent economic policy which at least describes our initial transitional steps away from the current high inequality and lack of economic democracy towards something more democratic and sustainable.

    The key point is we can’t jump from here to ecotopia without properly engaging with society or else we leave everyone behind which is a strategy for disaster.

    We need to engage with the mainstream. How do we do this? Well, not by talking about issues we love to waffle on about such as typically ‘Green’ issues e.g. finite nature of certain resources. But rather we need to meet people on their terms and discuss what concerns them most. This doesn’t mean compromising our radical goals, but rather framing their concerns in a way which is conducive to our eventual goal.

    We need a clear economic vision based on our libertarian socialist values which incorporates sound ideas for economic democracy as well as addressing inequality (two key issues for me) which forms a basis for engaging people’s concerns of joblessness, crap public services, NHS, education etc. This in itself would reinforce engagement through the participatory nature of economic democracy and reducing atomisation and disillusionment.

    Engaging mainstream society in this way – first through our ideas, then through public participation – I think must form an integral part of any transitional strategy.

    24th July 2012
  14. Sam Coates said:

    Brilliant post. I think there is a growing recognition in the party, whatever people’s views, that our economic policy is not up to scratch and needs to adequately respond to the current situation society is in.

    Jim made a good point that there are several groups within the party who have a particular view on economics and perhaps haven’t been brilliant at finding common ground in the past. I think that this problem is compounded by the fact that just like the rest of society, most of us don’t really understand economics so it becomes a debate between different groups who at least claim to understand it and the vote goes the way of whoever makes the more persuasive argument at the time.

    This means we need to be able to educate members more on economics and provide that guidance that a few people have mentioned, and I know members are crying out for that in their campaigning. This also needs to lead to a debate in the party based on census rather than dominating the conference floor so that we can have a credible economic vision we can all unite behind.

    26th July 2012
  15. […] Tom Chance wrote a really excellent analysis of the Green Party’s historical weakness in selling our economic policy coherently, which is very closely aligned with my thinking. I’d really recommend you take a look as it is very compelling.  What both he and other prominent Green activists such as Caroline Allen have consistently argued for, is that we sharpen our policy-making process and expect those who strive to leadership within the party to invest more of their political capital in championing paradigm-shifting policies that can be sold to the party membership and then beyond to the electorate. Whether we disagree fundamentally with the rationale and assumptions on which the current public debate is being fought, we need to address it in the terms that  dominate voter perceptions of the crisis. […]

    14th October 2012
  16. Howard Thorp said:

    What is this post for? It doesn’t offer any answers, and I’m not sure it even poses the right questions. It also contains some revealing passages, such as:-

    “How can we compete with the rising economic stars like Brazil, Russia, India and China? Do we need more aiport capacity, a more flexible labour market, direct investment in infrastructure, or some other basis for a competitive advantage? Do we even care, can we relax about “going south” and becoming a less important economy? Now that Chinese wages are rising and their currency is less competitive, can we take back industries that fled to the east in the 1990s?”

    This reads a bit like an extract from some Tory or Tea Party manifesto. Like the whole piece it lamely accepts the neoliberal economic norms – given by the likes of the BBC – as a given. This is just pandering to a neoliberal agenda. Predictably, alternatives, such as those put forward by the Green Left are dismissed out of hand, amongst the vacuous economic orthodoxy.

    We are in the midst of a crisis, not just a crisis of capitalism, but a crisis of survival. Capitalist accumulation is destroying the environmental systems on which we depend. This isn’t just about climate change but the degradation of resources and destruction of biodiversity – all in the name of profit and worship of the market. Where is the sense of urgency or need for radical change in this post?

    We need to be looking to build a post-capitalist economy. There is no such thing as ‘green capitalism’ or some kind of cuddly capitalist solution despite the fact that some people here seem to want to cling to that vain hope.

    What should GPEW be doing at the next election? keeping it simple and build on our last manifesto i.e.

    * Green QE to create 1 million climate jobs
    * build at least 200,000 sustainable houses per year
    * crack down on tax dodgers
    * nationalise banks and creation of debt
    * reverse privatisation of the NHS and public services

    There’s a 5 point plan for you. If you want to look for economic solutions read my blog.



    Ps. I sent you an email months ago asking for a dialogue on our economic approach and you never responded

    18th October 2012
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hi Howard,

      I suppose the difference between us, here, is that you don’t appear to be concerned to talk to the concerns of voters on the doorstep, or to be relevant to the issues being debated in the mainstream media. I didn’t pose those questions you quote because they are my questions, but because they loom large in the public debate. I’m not content to talk inwards to a group of people who already largely agree, and I’m not so naive as to think that we can succeed where so many other hard left parties have failed in shifting the public debate in a Green direction by sheet force of will.

      Your five point plan looks good to me, but is a level of detail down from what I talked about in this post. In short, how do you generate the tax revenue to pay for that?

      I did respond to your email, unfortunately I deleted my reply so I can’t paste it up here. I also recently (29th Sept) sent you an email with this article on the economic democracy motion and you didn’t respond, maybe you’d like to respond on his blog?


      19th October 2012
    • Alex Wood said:

      “* Green QE to create 1 million climate jobs
      * build at least 200,000 sustainable houses per year
      * crack down on tax dodgers
      * nationalise banks and creation of debt
      * reverse privatisation of the NHS and public services”

      Although I agree with these polices I’m not sure how they would reduce capital accumulation or are in fact anyway ‘post-capitalist’ (or for that matter are even left wing) in fact by making capitalism more stable and boosting AD they would actually increase capital accumulation in the long run and enable the reproduction of capitalism.

      What would genuine radical economic polices, as opposed to the green Keynesian (that you seem to think is radical), look like is the point I think Tom is trying to make in the article. We need to move beyond the limited position of employing simplistic rhetoric about ‘post capitalism’ on the one hand whilst promoting very modest liberal reforms on the other.

      If post-capitalism means anything it means economic democracy and we need polices which would help move us towards achieving that end rather than ‘Green QE’.

      Alex Wood

      19th October 2012

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