We are experiencing an explosion of inequality to levels not seen since the darkest days of the nineteenth century, inequality, not just of wealth but, as George Monbiot suggested (The Guardian, 2nd April 2013), also of ‘decency, honesty and kindness’. His analysis is that the 99% have the virtues, while the 1% have the vices, and the money. It may seem a bit simplistic, but there’s a whole lot of truth in it.
So why does the largely decent majority put up with it? Well, first of all, the media barons, such as Murdoch and Rothermere are still calling the shots. And the corporates continue to invest billions lobbying to pervert true democracy, driving political momentum from the socially minded left of centre to a predatory finance dominated right. The 1% still rule, nurtured by 13 years of New Labour largely driven by the mindless free market ideology. But there is still hope that common sense will prevail over dogmatic belief and practical experience over blind theory. Monbiot suggests that a spark of that hope lies in the Green Party.
The Labour party is now trapped between its dual past: its former support of trade union excess that gave birth to Thatcherism, and the sold-out New Labour, for which the current generation of Labour leadership bear some responsibility and find it difficult to disown. The ‘spark of hope’ Greens are free of any such legacy. Their overall thrust is to focus on fairness: fairness to all including future generations, and irrespective of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion or any other prejudice.
The Green Party believes that everyone has the right to “a job, an adequate wage for a decent living, and every business to be free from unfair competition and monopolistic abuse at home and abroad, every family to have the right to a decent home, and everyone the right to adequate medical care, and economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment, as well as a good education.”
That quotation is a paraphrase of Roosevelt’s ‘second bill of rights’ delivered in his 1944 State of the Union speech, almost 70 years ago. Of course, such brave hopes for the coming peace were never fully realized either in the United States or in the UK. Progress was stifled here, firstly by a fiercely militant trade union movement. Presented by Bullock with the possibility of industrial democracy, the unions themselves rejected it because they feared it might limit their freedom to strike. Instead they rejoiced in an excess of industrial militancy which peaked in the ‘winter of discontent’ that ended the UK’s last real Labour administration. The brave hopes were then finally dashed by the Thatcher government which emerged from the rubble. That administration certainly reduced the negative power of the unions, but it also unleashed the forces of the 1%, with the unforeseen consequences we are only now beginning to experience.
Since those days we have also recognized the imperatives of sustainability and the duty we owe to future generations. That responsibility has to be added to the ‘second bill of rights’ as the basis of any progressive party manifesto.
The current coalition simply does not acknowledge any obligation for the future, or its duty to ensure that, in the present, everyone has the possibility of a real job. Instead they find it easier to denigrate the unemployed as “skivers”, while claiming great virtue in their professed encouragement of “strivers”, though in truth the only ones they actually reward are those on super incomes mostly in the financial sector. Thankfully, such sound-bite trash is starting to lose its lustre.
Monbiot may be right about the Green Party. But it’s easy for them, powerless as they are, to talk fairness. Do they have the hard-nosed policies to reduce inequalities and protect the environment? Are they committed to the essential progressive taxation of wealth as well as income? Adam Smith himself pointed out that it is ‘not unreasonable that the rich should pay a rather more than proportionate rate of taxation’. And the super-rich, rather more than that. Is the Green Party prepared to argue their case in the faces of the Murdochs and Rothermeres? Sure as hell, no other party is.