Written by Mark Kirby
The very first item in the LP 2019 Manifesto was rightly the Green Industrial Revolution. Clearly this is a very urgent issue which we need to take very seriously. The Manifesto states: “That’s why Labour will kick-start a Green Industrial Revolution that will create one million jobs in the UK to transform our industry, energy, transport, agriculture and our buildings, while restoring nature. Our Green New Deal aims to achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 in a way that is evidence-based, just and that delivers an economy that serves the interests of the many, not the few.” (p.12)
The controversy in that relates to the apparent hedging re 2030 but it is clear this relates to concerns by Trade Unions that the date was not totally achievable and it is important to ensure all parts of the Labour Movement are kept on board. Our approach has to based on science and not the warmed over Mathusianism that passes for green policy in some places. This distinctiveness is important and clearly emphasized by Labour for a Green New Deal in their publication Winning Climate Justice on the Labour Doorstep Training Session:
“Labour for a Green New Deal puts class at the centre of our politics. Labour’s Green New Deal acknowledges that the fight for climate justice is inextricably linked to the fight for social and economic justice. Central to Labour’s Green New Deal are organized working-class people”
Given that the voice of the affiliated unions has to be central to this. Providing retraining and opportunities for skilled energy workers whose jobs may disappear is an important aspect of this and makes us distinctive. But we do need clear use of both fiscal and monetary policy to push this through.
The failure to do this previously arises from a failure of belief on the part of the left that they would ever be able to defeat the Tories on tax arguments and therefore there was a shift to reliance on supra-national organisations like the EU and on monetary policy rather than fiscal policy.
We also have the link to the ecological view of the world which tends to be anti-technology. The limitations of the XR mass arrest strategy have been shown up. While I applaud their ability to engage young people, I do fear that they will quickly burn them out with a criminal record. It clearly also underlines the white middle-class nature of this movement since working-class people and BAME would not be so blasé about getting entangled with the police. If I got arrested on this, got a criminal record as a result I would possibly lose my job. XR seem remarkably ill-informed about this claiming that most prison officers are black when in fact over 90% of them are white. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/environment/2019/10/does-extinction-rebellion-have-class-problem
So support and applaud XR by all means, but be aware of the limitations of their theoretical approach. This is because they do not see the world divided along class lines.
There is a great danger in this which is that working-class people at best get left out and at worst get denounced as part of the problem
In France this led to the rise of the gilet jaunes. We have also seen this in the derogatory comments made by Remainers about working-class people who voted leave and who have been denounced as stupid and racist.
Given the complete lack of any intellectual rigour to the Remain case (Project Fear) and the absolute unwillingness of many to engage in anything other than naïve support for the EU it is clear this problem is still with us. Whether we should encourage and amplify this is debateable.
The Approach of the LP with talk of a Green Industrial Revolution does not chime with this approach. It chimes much more with a determination to use technology to solve the problem in line with the accelerationist theories originally associated with Gorbachov but represented more recently by Paul Mason and Aaron Bastani. Neither however does it suggest we can move to zero carbon by 2025. That kind of hype is wrong and will merely demoralise people.
There are class divisions in terms of the environment and environmental risk. You only have to look at the numbers killed by air pollution and the fact that air quality is much worse in working class areas to understand that claims that we are all equally affected by the environment are not true and thus cross-class movements will not work. You can see all this with the kind of left Blairism that flowed out of Marxism Today and in particular the writings of Ulrich Back and Anthony Giddens. In arguing that while poverty is hierarchical, environmental risk is not since we are all affected by it, this attempted to create a cross-class consensus on the environment as a way of flushing out what they saw as old leftism. It is clear that financialisation of the economy and climate change are both key important issues but it is also true that the socialist answers to these are distinct from those offered by anarchists or eco-libertarians
So what exactly is the socialist Labour Green New Deal approach.
There are 9 key concrete demands:
• A commitment to zero-carbon emissions by 2030
• Rapidly phasing out all fossil fuels
• Large scale investment in renewables
• A just transition to well-paid, unionised, green jobs
• Expanding public, democratic ownership
• Free or affordable Green public integrated transport
• Supporting the countries worst affected by climate change in their transition
• Assuring everyone’s basic rights through the provision of universal services
• Welcoming climate refugees and preventing displacement
The link in with Universal Basic Services is essential (the free broadband policy comes directly out of that movement) since unlike UBI this cannot be captured by the right intent on destroying the welfare state but instead is about extending and transforming the welfare state to become a vehicle for solving the climate change problems.
The importance of this issue is shown by the way that £250bn of the total of £400bn to be invested by a Labour government relate to the Green New Deal. The other policies listed in the 2019 Manifesto clearly do largely link to the demands listed above, even if some might be unhappy about fudging on 2030:
Labour Party 2019 Manifesto: Policies on Climate & Environment
• Tackle the climate emergency and meet our international obligations including investing in a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund
• Protect our environment, creating new parks and urban green spaces
• Create 450,000 jobs by installing energy saving measures such as loft insulation and double glazing in almost all of the UK’s 27 million homes
• Legislating for a new Clean Air Act to tackle toxic air
• Investment in a low carbon energy system with solar, offshore and onshore wind and tidal
• Ban fracking
• Stop the sale of County Farms
• Public ownership of energy providers.
One of the key issues has been about how we might raise the sort of money needed for this transformation in the relatively short period of time we have. Here there are two potential answers.
First Richard Murphy has pointed out how to do it https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2019/11/18/the-green-new-deal-how-to-make-it-happen/ but also that in terms of paying for it he and others suggest that the tax reliefs available to pension funds and ISA savers could be used to provide funds for a Green New Deal.
It is also clear that the Labour party is going to try to fund this through the National Transformation Fund which will in part be funded by government bonds. The yields on bonds are at a record low and the reason for this is the price of bonds has shot up. The key reason for that is that investors fear losing their money if they invest in private equities or bonds following the experience of the 2007 financial crash. Therefore, even if they get a negative yield people hold government bonds because they are safe. As a result, the Financial Times points to the rise in demand for government bonds:
“Government bonds issued by big developed economies have surged in price this year — pushing yields to record lows. A key reason is that these “safe assets” are in short supply.
A wide variety of investors and corporations prize the highest-quality government bonds for their cash-like qualities — and the near certainty of getting their money back. This demand has grown since the financial crisis as central banks hoover up a hefty slice of bond markets under quantitative easing programmes.
According to research by Oxford Economics, the resultant global shortage of these safe assets is going to get worse. The consultancy calculates that the supply of these assets will grow by $1.7tn annually over the coming five years — with a $1.2tn issuance of bonds to fund the US budget deficit the largest driver. But demand for these assets is estimated to grow more rapidly, creating a $400bn annual shortfall and indicating that government bond yields are set to remain low.” (FT,19/11/19)
So now is the time to issue the bonds to fuel the Green New Deal.