The race to be the next Green Party leader

Caroline Lucas is standing down as Green Party leader. Who is in the running to replace her?

Current Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP is standing down, and closing date for the ballot for who will replace her is fast approaching. Although Lucas is the party's only MP, she said at the time of the announcement that she wanted to broaden the focus to the rest of her party. She said:

We're lucky to have a wealth of capability and experience in our Party. Now feels like the right time to step aside, to allow more of that ability to come forward and help the party to grow.

The danger for the Greens, clearly identified by Lucas here, is that the party is still perceived as single-issue. By moving the leadership away from their sole Westminster MP, they perhaps hope to place the focus more on their council seats and broadening local government work.

So who is in the running to replace her? I asked each candidate to make a brief pitch, and reproduce them below with some biographical information. Voting closes on 31 August, and the result will be announced on 3 September. More information is available here.

Pippa Bartolotti

Background Entrepreneur and current leader of the Wales Green Party

Pitch I am standing for leader because this country is at a pivotal time requiring change on every level. The economy is cracking up before our eyes, and government bays for growth, refusing to admit that their type of growth has been the root of our problems. Atmospheric  CO2 has risen beyond the danger point and even the IPCC says we have less than 10 years to mitigate the effects of climate change. Green growth is progressive, sustainable, locally focussed and clean. Our challenge is to be heard above the cacophony of politics as usual.

My background as an entrepreneur brings a fresh perspective to the Green Party. Small businesses are the backbone of the economy we wish to see, and growth in the Green economies is what the world desperately needs. Business people are more likely to listen to someone who understands the issues from their perspective, who has a decent track record, and who is showing them a clear way forward.

The modern Green Party is about facing reality, and it is impossible to talk about climate change without being passionate about the economic and social policies which will establish a way of life concerned with ethical prosperity and greater equality.

Greens must turn round and face outwards. We must engage with the media, the people around us and with other politicians. Our communications, our messaging must change. I would like us to open an online information exchange, encouraging dialogue and interchange of ideas. This could make the difference between us being a party on the margins, to being a positive democratic force.

I am a mature business woman with a forthright manner and a world of experience. Time is not on the side of the fainthearted, and Greens have little to lose by being more radical, more urgent,  and more outspoken.

More at: pippabartolotti.com

Natalie Bennett

Background Former editor of Guardian Weekly, founding chair of Green Party Women, chair of Camden Green Party.

Pitch Today Britons understandably feel insecure, uncertain about their jobs, fearful about the security of their homes, worried about the lives their children will have.

They fear, rightly, for the future of the NHS, which is still being handed over wholesale to outsourcing firms, despite G4S, A4e and PFI.

It's clear that the old neoliberal economics has failed, even in its own terms - yet the three largest political parties still cling to it. 

And Labour and the coalition won't speak up for the low-paid, people with disabilities, benefit recipients, immigrants and refugees - instead they demonise them.

Choosing to specialise in financial services, the running of tax havens and a low wage economy in which a few earn giant bonuses is no long an option - just as we can't continue to treat the planet as though it were a mine and a dumping ground.

The Green Party is the only political party in Britain that understands the need for radical change - and that we can create a society that offers a better life for everyone as we restructure, relocalise and remutualise our economy.

We have the potential to make big strides in the next couple of years, but new Green Party seats in Brussels won't fall into our laps, new councillors won't just appear. We've got to be on the doorsteps and television screens of voters, in their letterboxes and on their Twitter feeds.

As a party we need to work smarter, to make sure every effort is going towards electing more Greens, helping our elected people be more effective, or promoting our policies. As leader, I want to work with Greens around England and Wales to treble to six our number of MEPs in 2014 and see nationwide growth like that in the West Midlands (leaping in two years from three councillors on three councils to 13 on seven.)

More at: natalie4leader.org

Peter Cranie

Background Currently teaches in further and higher education, longstanding Green Party candidate and activist in the north-west of England.

Pitch I’ve had extensive experience of fighting elections at all levels, in wards where we’ve taken council seats from Lib Dems, in a city where we now outpoll the Conservatives in city-wide elections, in a region where in the last Euro-elections I was a hair’s breadth from winning our first MEP seat.

I have experience of being the party’s national Elections Coordinator, of leading a regional election campaign as target candidate, of being a national spokesperson, of dealing effectively with national, regional and local media.

I want to see more Greens win elections in the near future and my leadership would aim to deliver an extra electoral gear for the party.

We need to grow as a party. We have already broadened our appeal in terms of gender, ethnicity and class, but it’s crucial that we see a greater diversity amongst high profile Greens. I speak as someone from a working class background brought up in council housing.

My role would include improving how we raise money. The leader can help focus our fundraising efforts, closely linking-up our media operation with fundraising and recruitment. Fundraising is the key that removes many of barriers to our future success as a party. As leader I would aim to deliver the Green Party’s message to more people than ever before and to communicate that message professionally, and we must raise sufficient funds to be able to do this.

We were never a single issue party but now it is time to dispel that myth once and for all, to reach a broader national audience and connect with people in language that is understandable and relevant. I’d seek to emulate Caroline Lucas’s success in broadening our appeal at a constituency level enabling us to win our first ever Westminster seat.

More at: petercranie.org.uk

Romayne Phoenix

Background Former teacher of Art and Design and mother of three teenagers, Chair of the Coalition of Resistance, National Green Party Trade Union group Co-Convenor and Green Party Social Officer for London.

Pitch The current economic and environmental crises are two sides of the same struggle; neither exists independently of the other. Both have been caused by the greed and recklessness endemic in our economic system, and will not be solved by tax cuts for the very rich and service cuts for the rest of us. We need to create a movement capable of resisting and ultimately replacing this "turbo capitalism". The Green Party can play a key role in the creation of that movement, and as leader of the Green Party I would aim to position us at the heart of the battles against austerity, privatisation and ecological vandalism.

As the Chair of the Coalition of Resistance (COR), I am working closely with MPs, trade union leaders and many other campaign group representatives, building a broad movement of active resistance to the austerity and privatisation agenda. COR is committed to a low carbon and anti-nuclear future, and fighting to prevent the scapegoating of vulnerable social groups. 

The Green Party’s policies point the way to a just transition, to a sustainable future and a more equal society. Environmentalists, trade unionists and socialists should see us as a natural political home.  A 'post growth' steady state economic model may be seen as a challenge to some potential supporters as well as political opponents, but we can cut carbon and create jobs. The Greens are ready to contribute to the debate about the future as we all consider "what sort of society do we want to live in ?"

I want to reinvigorate the party's campaigning spirit and increase our membership and activist base - particularly within working class and minority ethnic communities. Our continuing and increasing electoral successes will be supported by training and resources for our local and regional parties.

More at: romayneandwillforgreenleadership.org.uk

A Green Party campaigner canvassing. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?