The failure of the international banking system shows our economy is flawed. Photo: Getty
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Market rule isn’t working, but we can build a new world

The way we have run our economy is fundamentally flawed. 

Writing under leaden grey autumn skies, it is easy for a pervasive cloud of pessimism to dull one’s consciousness.

The way we have run our economy is fundamentally flawed.

Listen to Pope Francis: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? . . . Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

And yet the people at the top continue to suggest that our economy is the best attainable.

They argue, for example, that:

  • The market is the most effective and efficient mechanism we have to distribute goods and services. The provision of public services should be left in private hands even when those services are funded by the taxpayer.
  • The government should stand aside in case it ‘crowds out’ the private sector.
  • The town square should only be a commercial market place, rather than a place of everyday encounters between friends, neighbours and acquaintances to share common experiences and even to contest the existing order of things.
  • The rich should be incentivised by filling their boots with gold whilst the poor need to be incentivised by being paid less.
  • Gross inequality is a fundamental condition of human society and the most powerful oligarchs rather than working people are the source of all wealth.

These are the precepts by which people at the top think we should be governed.

But they are mistaken. You only need to see the failure of the international banking system, or the dismal record of the British housing market, or to look to the American health system to see how private provision of social goods can fail. And yet you could be mistaken in believing that they are incontestable truths.

So deeply entrenched are these ideas that it is easier to imagine the end of our planet (or at least the end of humanity as a result of some disaster) than it is to imagine that we human beings can build a different kind of country with a different set of values.

But that has to be our task. And it may not be as hard to achieve as we imagine.

Because most people know that the present system is bust. There is a spirit of dissent in the country. It is the common sense of our times that Britain is not working properly for the millions, though it works well for the millionaires.

There is a cynicism about the media who perpetually fail to report the truth as most people experience it. And there is contempt for a Westminster government which is seen as remote and failing to address the fact that so many are feeling increasingly hard up.

Only this week, the Resolution Foundation found that 5m people are now in low paid jobs – that’s up by 250,000 in one year alone. We have also seen an explosion in zero hour contracts. 1.4m people are now believed to be in a job without a guaranteed number of hours. Underemployment, temporary work and false self-employment have all increased.

Yet David Cameron still stands up in the House of Commons and tells us that more jobs are being created and the economy is growing.  And the masters of the New World Order purr with contentment when he does so. But the utter complacency of the closed circle of the rich and powerful on whose behalf he speaks jars daily with the difficulties of ordinary life as it is experienced by millions.

And so it falls to each one of us to contest the dominant ideas which promise additional riches for the most well-off and continued servility for the rest of us.  It is the task of every citizen to imagine a better future. Because in the absence of hope we will fall into despair. And when the latter gains primacy over the former, social catastrophe looms.

And in undertaking this task each citizen will not be alone. For there are millions who have to one extent or another dreamt of how things might be if there were a different set of social, political and economic arrangements.

I have spent all my life active in the broader Labour movement and for me this remains the best hope for a brighter future.

But there are also all kinds of other organisations and active communities which are equally expressing their dissent from the attempted reduction of human interaction into a set of self-interested commercial exchanges. Or the way in which we have entered into an exploitative and indeed destructive relationship with our beautiful planet and our fellow creatures.

Interestingly, the explosive development of modern technology, the internet and social media now allows direct and informal communication between citizens without mediation by the rich and powerful who throughout history sought to control our thought processes.

And so a new world is possible, and the means are at hand. Our task is to develop the movement which will give expression to the dissent which so many people feel.

Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth, shadow minister without portfolio and deputy chair of the Labour party 

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.