A Green New Deal?

In her newstatesman.com blog, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas says it's time to make finance the s

After the bursting of the credit bubble in August, 2007 Alastair Darling repeatedly assured us that Britain’s ‘economic fundamentals’ are sound. The implication was that the ‘real’ economy was quite distinct from the bubble economy inhabited by bankers, short-sellers and hedge fund managers. Consumers were given the impression that a firewall existed between them and the bursting credit bubble.

It now turns out that there is no firewall; even the chancellor has to acknowledge negative feedback loops between the financial economy and the real economy. It is not possible, after all, to compartmentalise within the economy, any more than it is possible to erect firewalls between the ‘real economy’, the credit bubble, and climate change.

It is clear that the three are inextricably linked.

Easy money has financed easy shopping, and easy shopping has boosted production and energy use in countries around the world. As we re-financed mortgages, maxed out on credit cards, invested in buy-to-lets, shopped for 4x4s, handbags and sports trainers.

So we burned more finite supplies of oil and coal, and this boosted manufacturing and production in far-away places, and powered economic growth. And as we burned up these precious, scarce resources, as we stripped more forests, farmed more land, fished more fish – so the earth grew more dangerously warm and less diverse.

Somehow, something, somewhere had give. These old ideas - that we could live forever on borrowed money and on borrowed time and that there are no limits to the earth’s resources – were a series of bubbles that had to burst.

The credit bubble was the first to go - on 9th August, 2007 when banks froze lending and plunged the global economy into a crisis that is still unfolding today, and becomes more terrifying as each day passes.

The shopping bubble has proved more resilient. While there are signs that UK consumer confidence is waning, the government’s national statistics office announced in August that growth, albeit moderate growth “in retail sales volume is driven by strength in clothing and footwear stores.”

So we are still shopping for clothes and shoes. So much so that developers are confident enough to open three new massive shopping centres in London, Liverpool and Bristol.

But while we shop, an even graver threat than the financial crisis is looming: the ‘bursting’ of the greenhouse gas bubble.

The melting of Arctic sea-ice, the rise in methane emissions, rapid de-forestation and increased droughts all create positive feedback effects. Forests are no longer carbon dioxide absorbers, but instead produce carbon dioxide. Thick permafrost no longer bottles up methane; instead it melts, spewing out methane and magnifying climate change.

And still the Labour government baulks at the scale and urgency of the threat to our security. And at the scale of adjustment, adaptation and investment needed to address the threat. Britain’s economy must undergo a major structural adjustment, to adapt to the threat posed to our security by climate change.

But, while the financial adjustment is already happening - albeit chaotically - the economic adjustment has yet to be addressed.

Just two weeks ago Labour ministers seemed to promise an expansion of airports, motorways and coal-fired power stations. We were offered no leadership, no vision of the much more ambitious drive for energy efficiency that is needed, or of the large-scale alternative energy investment that is vital to our security.

What is the way forward? Along with eight other green economics experts, I have co-authored a report that shows us the new direction we need.

We need a Green New Deal, based on increased regulation of the finance sector, so that finance once again becomes servant to the economy. As in the New Deal era of the 1930s, we need low interest rates and minimal tax evasion if we are to finance the massive investment needed for a multi-billion pound crash programme to make every building in the country a power station, while maximising the UK’s use of small and large-scale renewables. We need to mobilise a carbon army of green-collar workers to implement this programme. Finally we need to localise the production of food, and build a more sustainable local economy in food and other resources.

It is only such a programme that could give the people of Britain hope; that could help Britain survive this crisis, and enable our citizens to live better, more happily, and within the limits of our ecological budgets.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.